Yesterday, many of my Facebook and Twitter contacts posted the following video;
An impassioned plea. And a mostly well-stated one; except for that Churchill quote, which is almost surely a falsification. And now bloggers are posting that Spacey made it up, though he is not the source; I heard it a over year ago, thought it too good to be true and did some research. In the version I heard, Churchill was being briefed by the Director of the National Gallery, Kenneth Clark, who suggested that the paintings in the National Gallery be sent from London to Canada. Churchill stated his opposition emphatically; “If we’re not fighting for this, what are we fighting for?”
Except he didn’t say that. He actually said, on this particular occasion, “No, bury them in caves and cellars. None must go. We are going to beat them.”
In the version of the story Spacey told on MSNBC, Churchill’s emphatic support of the arts came when it was suggested that England cut arts funding to free up monies to support the war effort. This version is wholly undocumented.
So when you google “Kevin Spacey, Arts Funding, Churchill” the video that gets top billing is entitled, “Actor Kevin Spacey Makes Up Churchill Quote To Demand Tax Payer $ For Arts.”
And this is a damn shame. Because now Spacey’s statements supporting the arts have a taint; Lincoln was a devoted theater-goer, a dollar spent on the arts provides a remarkably healthy return on investment, we ought to be as patriotic about our arts as we are about other aspects of American life, countries may go to war but culture unites us as a human race.
Poof. Points well-made lost because of an erroneous Churchill quote.
We have to be careful as we fight for the arts. We have to be logical and calm, emphatic but not judgmental, reasonable but passionate. We have to check our facts. We can’t just preach to the choir; we must find a way to resonate with those folks not in the choir. And get them to join the choir.
And we have to watch how we quote. I use quotes to highlight support for the arts all the time on Facebook and Twitter. They are a fine tool for our sound bite society. They put large ideas into few words and then give those ideas integrity through attribution to a respected historical figure. But quotes can also be twisted all out of proportion.
Some time ago, I wrote the following in my personal blog;
Buzzword propaganda never gives us the whole story. Obviously. But the media caters to our hunger for abbreviation and gives us buzzword propaganda instead of news. And though we might think that this is a recent development (and, certainly, it has gotten more epidemic with the onset of 24-hour news channels and web-based news), I would guess that, since the dawn of human communication, purveyors of news have understood that people crave easy answers and condensed digests of simplicity rather than the cluttered aggregate of reality that would leave us free to form our own opinions. Thomas Jefferson said, “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”
And I just did what I’m railing against; I quoted Jefferson and made him support my point. Propaganda. It turns out that I can make Jefferson support a variety of different ideas.
Jefferson is a Liberal
“Aristocrats fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society.”
Jefferson is a Conservative
“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
Jefferson is an Atheist
“Question with boldness even the existence of God”
Jefferson is a Spiritualist
“Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life: if it has been honest and dutiful to society the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.”
Jefferson is a true follower of Jesus
“Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus Christ] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence…”
In every one of these instances, we’re missing context. And context changes meaning. Kate Walbert, in her novel A Short History of Women, wrote, “Conversation is now just approximations of opinions adopted from other opinions that were approximations of opinions, etcetera, etcetera. I’m just trying to be real when everything is an approximation.”
When we’re arguing for the arts, let us argue with context. Let us argue with thought and research and facts. Let us argue with passion and heart and soul. Let us argue with our own ideas. Our own beliefs.
Let us be real in a world of approximation.
posted by Krista Lang Blackwood, artistic director