Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The First Thing We Do Is Kill All The Tenors

So, I know all the reasons not to like Michael Moore, but I think there are a lot of things to admire about him too. In amongst the vanity, the sometimes-misleading agitprop, and the harrassing of receptionists and security guards, I do think there is someone who largely thinks the right things and says them loudly and insistently.

But there was one image right at the beginning of his fascinating and entertaining new film 'Capitalism: A Love Story' that really pissed me off. The film opens with an old newsreel about the fall of the Roman Empire, intercutting the images of togas and corruption with images of fatcattery, war and poverty in our own age. And there, among the latter, in the film's first minute, is an image of the Metropolitan Opera House. Enron, Katrina, subprime, the Goldman bailout, and the Met. Just as I was deciding that it was maybe not a deliberate attempt to connect an art form with the excesses and injustices of the free market, Moore removed all possible doubt with some footage of a spiffed-up audience in an opera house under a discussion about the gap between the world's richest and its poorest.

Now, I know that opera is expensive and it's undeniable and regrettable that the audiences of most major opera houses are made up largely of the rich and the very rich. But it is disingenuous in the extreme to try and put even any of the blame for the world's injustices on the arts. It's the same as the tired, spurious old right wing argument that money for the arts means less money for schools and hospitals; it is surely the role of a government in a civilised country to make sure there is room for both. But Moore prefers the cheap populism of saying 'look, an opera house. That's why you're poor.'

Yes, of course I'm partial as an opera lover. But I can't stand ballet, and believe equally passionately in its importance to public cultural life. Besides, if Moore really wanted to use a cultural icon to illustrate sharp practice, greed and an obscenely-paid powerful elite, he could surely have used the Hollywood sign as a much more relevant example. I wonder why he didn't?