Culture yes, government no
These days, it seems that supporters of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting cannot finish a sentence without telling you what great "bargains" and sound "investments" those organizations represent.
NEA Chairwoman Jane Alexander never tires of pointing out that her agency's draw of $167 million breaks down to "64 cents" per taxpayer - "the price of two postage stamps." "Our small investment reaps enormous returns," she says. And CPB's allowance of $285 million works out to only "$1.09 per person, per year, 80 cents of it for television, [29 for radio]" says Ervin Duggan, the chief executive officer. of the Public Broadcasting Service. "If you bought just about any Sunday newspaper in the country,...you paid more for that newspaper than you paid for public broadcasting in an entire year."
But even as they try to dazzle you with bargain-basement budgeting, NEA boosters and PBS fans also feel an urgent need to inform you that much more is on the line than the infinitesimal amount of money these programs soak up: Civilization itself hangs in the balance. The barbarians are howling at the gates once again, and this time they're registered Republicans. If we fail to maintain - or, better yet, increase - current levels of public spending on the arts, radio, and TV, imply the aesthetes, we will usher in the new Dark Ages.
"[Newt] Gingrich is the Second Coming of Attila the Hun," proclaims minimalist artist Sol LeWitt to The Village Voice. Painter Chuck Close asks the rhetorical question, "Are we destined to become a nation of boobs, rubes, and philistines?" "We must not let this new crop of petty-minded, misguided destroyers of culture dismantle [the NEA], one of the few things that is still good and beautiful in this country," fumes an angry letter writer to The Buffalo News.
"PBS remains the only channel in front of which it is entirely safe to park your child," claims The New Republic's Michael Lewis. PBS's Duggan, who likens the elimination of federal funds to "assisted suicide," tells us that public broadcasting is a counterweight against "steadily coarsening, ever more tawdry popular culture."
"All great civilizations have supported the arts," Barbra Streisand lectures an audience at Harvard. "There's [something] Gingrich, [Majority Leader Dick] Armey and company don't like to stress," opines the San Diego Union-Tribune's theater critic, Michael Phillips. "Among all First...