Opposition Arts Spokesman Brendan Smyth has again attacked Arts Minister Joy Burch for providing funding for a controversial artistic production. Funding of $19,000 will be awarded to the Aspen Island Theatre Company for the development of a production titled Kill Climate Deniers. The controversy exists in the context of the Opposition’s attack, earlier this year, on Burch for funding the Fringe Festival which produced a burlesque performance involving a performer dressed as Hitler.
If you don’t like, or don’t understand, the purpose of satirical writing, you might like to stop reading this article now…
I have just finished reading Johnathan Swift’s A Modest proposal. Written in 1729, the satirical essay suggests that the economic turmoil experienced at that time by the Irish could be alleviated by the eating of children. The proposal suggests that children would be sold to the aristocracy, who would pay a handsome sum, and would then have the little nippers prepared in an assortment of stews and roasts. In fact, Swift explains his economic reasoning in persuasive and delectable detail, and argues that Irish sons and daughters ‘are a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food’!
One could be forgiven for not realising that Swift’s essay follows the rules and structure of classical Latin satires, but after a little consideration it should be obvious, even to the Canberra Liberals, that Swift was not proposing infanticide and cannibalism. Swift was making a striking and humane comment on the aristocracy’s attitudes towards the poor whilst mocking them with brilliant execution.
But of course the best form of satire is not restricted to brilliant execution; sometimes the best form of satire is the satire that writes itself.
I can think of two examples.
The first being the dissuading irony with which this year the Canberra Liberals attacked the ACT Fringe Festival for producing a burlesque performance with Nazi references, yet whilst one of the very hallmarks of Nazism was to restrict and punish those who created art deemed unfit by the regime. Such art was deemed by the Nazis ‘Entartete Kunst’, translated into English as ‘Degenerate Art’.
My point being that to condemn those who produce art on the basis of one’s ignorance is to repeat the same kinds of mistakes of the Nazi regime, or, for instance the trials of Oscar Wilde.
Another great satire that writes itself is the recent commentary so graciously afforded to the people of Canberra by the puppeteer of the Federal Attorney General, the master of liberty and great champion of freedom of speech Andrew bolt, where he condemns the funding of art in the ACT which exercises, well… freedom of speech.
If either Brendan Smyth or Andrew Bolt would like to debate me on the issue, this is my number: 0400419404. Of course, Andrew would not need me to give him my number as the Murdoch Press already has it.
Satire aside, the funding afforded by the ACT Government to the Aspen Island Theatre Company will partly go to the writer David Finnigan who is undoubtedly one of the best writers Canberra has ever produced.
To conclude on less of a satirical note, funding for the arts in the ACT is a national, and international, embarrassment. With the Arts ACT Project Funding for 2015 amounting to less than $750,000, the Government should be ashamed of itself. Our Fringe Festival is funded to the tune of $20,000, which I estimate to be less than any other capital city in the first world.
Cultivating citizenship through the arts is central to the wellbeing of society. Indeed, for even commerce and the sciences to succeed they need to be driven by a creative and humanistic imagination. Never before has there been more evidence to suggest that the ability to think creatively and critically, to reason, and to ask questions, are the fundamental components to the development of a compassionate society. It is the moral responsibility of politicians to understand this. To not understand this and yet aspire to be the Arts Minister is an indictment of one’s public purpose.
(For more on this debate from Steven, check out his discussion with Markus Paul last week here)