Socialism, nepotism and art as public good

Here’s a conundrum. Why is culture, and institutions and politics, in socialist societies so nepotistic and elitist?
I saw a statement in the Independent about the passing of David Bowie and Alan Rickman and it asked whether “the people” own culture, whether it is a public good and thus needs more and more public support and more funding from government. The concept was that poorer people and those from diverse backgrounds were not making it into movies or theatre or other cultural events and that more public money might produce more Bowie or more Rickman, who according to the discussion came from poor or different non-elite backgrounds.

But it got me thinking. Is there evidence that the cultural sphere in many socialist or even communist countries, is so diverse? Does massive government funding of the arts, in a sense government intervention, produce more diversity? When there are numerous boards and committees who decide which art projects and films to fund, who sits on those committees. Are they so diverse? Or do they have a nod to diversity for diversities sake? For instance, yes, they fund a film about some obscure minority group, like lesbian aboriginal teenagers who do parkour, but its just a nod, it’s not real diversity is it? Who benefits really from numerous NGOs and boards and things like that when there is largesse? Is there evidence really that NGO-culture, for instance, and public funding of it, is diverse, or is it basically welfare for the rich white elites, the very people who always dominated culture, the “right sort”?

Look behind the curtain. Let’s ask, for instance, would Hollywood be more diverse if it made mostly government subsidized movies? Would it have had more of a role in encouraging diversity (think Star Trek) or public acceptance of homosexuality? Ask yourself, if you look at “culture” and its guardians in the big socialist economies of Europe, do we find diversity of background, or mostly the old elites? “Acting families”, just as we find NGOs where daddy, mommy, son, and grandpa, all work for the same little group of NGOs.

Nepotism of course spans the political spectrum, the French Left and Right are both full of “families” of politicians.  But the question that is interesting is whether all these supposed “social” programs, all this money from the public till, thrown at things, makes them diverse or insulates an elite crowd into them that is then put in charge of the dole?  When the state gives out the money it simply replaces whatever structure did that before.  It isn’t like Communism in the Soviet Union was so different than Czarist Russia, it also had its leading families.  Chavez’s “Bolivarian” revolution or Castro’s Cuba are full of government machinery stuffed with the brothers, cousins and sons of the leaders.  All these have done is replace one feudal system with another, one system benefited one class and then another class took it over.

The most interesting thing about the arts and capitalism however is whether capitalism actually produce more meritocracy in art, more diversity, because of the lean and predatory nature of it all, what’s to stop the poor artist from achieving any less under one system than another system in which government connections and networking might mean more?  Are capitalist companies, for instance, really more nepotistic and elitist than large political machines, or large institutions?  Have you ever looked behind the curtain at a university to find that every professors wife somehow has a job in some other part of it, his kid gets some recommendations from “friends”, everybody has a connection.

The arts need not necessarily by diverse, but if it is the public’s “right” to have all this art, then there should not be an elite caste that produces it and judges it, but rather the public whose “right” it is.  And that public may be more democratic than the elite “judges” from the insular backgrounds of the establishment.  Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 4.29.26 PM

One response to “Socialism, nepotism and art as public good

  1. The bigger question is, “what does it matter how ‘diverse’ or ‘high-quality’ the arts are?” Art appreciation is purely subjective, and nobody’s life is the slightest bit diminished by only enjoying arts deemed “narrow” or “lowbrow” by somebody else. (Indeed, some of us consider our lives immeasurably enriched by ignoring the arrogant artistic judgments of others.) Contrived standards of “diversity” or “quality” serve only to perpetuate snobbish class distinctions by relegating the tastes of others to lower status. And obliging them to subsidize such standards with their taxes is nothing more than pure coercion of the powerless by the powerful.

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