Commentary: What can the arts do at a time like this?

Barry Hessenius, WESTAF Blog, 12/16/12

The last line in William Golding's Lord of the Flies is "And Ralph wept for the end of innocence and the darkness of man's heart". In the face of the senseless carnage at the Sandy Hook Elementary school this past weekend,  America again shed tears in the continuing erosion of its innocence, and the recognition of the darkness in the heart of one seriously disturbed young man. The horrific, unfathomable act left the world shocked and stunned.  No words are adequate to capture the profound numbness of the aftermath.  We desperately want to make some sense of it. Life will go on.  It always does.  The nation will return to the daily grind.  We will recover.  But it will not be so easy for those in that town.  In the short run, the outpouring of support may help them to keep busy and not think too much about their loss, though the rituals of the season most assuredly will be hard reminders of what their lives were. But that diversion will ebb, and they will be left inconsolable with their pain.  Those who have a deep, abiding faith may find some comfort and solace there.  I cannot imagine that any soul in the universe is more disconsolate, more profoundly saddened than the deity we call God. We in the arts -- whether directly as artists or those who support them in some way -- have the great and good gift of dealing with beauty, with joy and hope -- even in the face of despair; with redemption, salvation and the wellspring of epiphany.  We do this in a world that is sometimes unimaginably ugly.   What can we now do?  Nothing more than to keep doing what we do; to continue to be part of what makes life good, what makes it worthwhile, what gives hope and joy and brings smiles to faces.


FROM TC: On Sunday, the theater composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown posted to his blog a new song, "Twenty-Six Names" as a musical memorial to the children, teachers and school staff who were killed Friday in Newtown CT. Today, on his Facebook page, he commented: "Some of you have asked why there are only 26 names and not 27; I used the list of those who were students or staff at the school. I do think the mother was a victim; to an extent I even think the shooter was a victim, and I mourn for them and for the little chip of belief in my family's safety that disappeared on Friday. Peace to all, and a desperate last hope for my faith to be restored, somehow, some way."


SNL opts to open Saturday night's program with "the pure sounds of children"

David Itzkoff, The New York Times ArtsBeat blog, 12/16/12

The moment that will most likely endure from the year-ending episode of "Saturday Night Live" is the quietly powerful opening of a children's chorus singing "Silent Night," which began a holiday-theme broadcast. Mary Wannamaker Huff, artistic director of the NYC Children's Chorus, said her group was first contacted on Monday to perform with Paul McCartney, who was looking for accompaniment on his song "Wonderful Christmastime." "As the situation in Connecticut evolved," Ms. Huff said, "everybody realized that we needed to do something meaningful, to remember the folks in Connecticut. So 'Silent Night' was just a natural piece to do... When something tragic happens like this, you have to love the people you're with. One thing that can help you love and heal and talk and grieve is music. Especially the pure sounds of children. I hope that it at least allows people to feel and to grieve and to hug their own children tighter."


= = = 


Commentary: One reason for school violence is we've taken music out of schools

Drew McManus, Inside The Arts blog Adaptistration, 12/17/12

"One of the reasons we have violence in the schools is we've taken music out of the schools." [This] quote from legendary jazz artist Byard Lancaster cuts to the quick with the problems related to a society that sees culture as a luxury rather than a basic building block of becoming a happy and healthy member of society. Holly Mulcahy wrote about this very point following a school shooting last September. In her article, she referenced Lancaster's quote as well as a letter written to the L.A. District Elementary Schools by world renowned cellist Lynn Harrell, pleading with them not to cut art and music programs. Harrell is no stranger to the positive impact music and art possess as a coping mechanism. Two years ago, Harrell and his wife, violinist Helen Nightengale, co-founded the HEARTbeats Foundation, a charity to develop programs that use music to help children in need better cope with, and recover from, the extreme challenges of poverty and conflict. It's been my honor to serve as a founding member of the HEARTbeats Foundation executive board and we're in the process of raising the funds needed to establish a year-round program that provides direct services to children and families of need in the form of on-site musical and artistic involvement within a therapeutic context. The services are specially designed to build lifelong skills that will help recipients express grief, improve their emotional well being, and build resilience to overcome environmental challenges. Last week's tragedy reinforces the need to get this program up and running more than ever. Moreover, it demonstrates the need in our own country to realize that if we continue down a path where our educational culture is devoid of music and art, we can only expect more of the same.


Director and stars of new film discuss societal impact of violence in movies

BBC News, 12/17/12

Director Quentin Tarantino's latest film, spaghetti western Django Unchained, features graphic violence, including buckets of blood exploding from characters as they are shot. He said at a press junket in New York for the film on Saturday that he was tired of defending his films each time the US is shocked by gun violence. "I just think, you know, there's violence in the world, tragedies happen, blame the playmakers," he said, adding: "It's a western. Give me a break." Django Unchained is nominated for five Golden Globes at next year's awards. The Oscar-nominated director, whose work includes Inglourious Basterds and the Palme d'Or winning Pulp Fiction, said blame for violence should fall on those guilty of the crimes. But lead actor Jamie Foxx said he believes big-screen violence can influence people. Foxx said: "We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn't have a sort of influence. It does." Actor Christoph Waltz, who is also in the film, said he thought films did not provoke violence. "The media's responsibility is greater than the story teller is because... Django is violent, but it's not inspiring violence. Because actually, to me, I find violence... to that degree repulsive. The fact that it looks so impressive is because it's on a big screen." He added that violence was part of the film because it tells the story of American history. Kerry Washington, who plays Django's wife Broomhilda, said she believes the film's explicit brutality serves an important purpose in educating audiences about the atrocities of slavery. "I do think that it's important when we have the opportunity to talk about violence and not just kind of have it as entertainment, but connect it to the wrongs, the injustices, the social ills," she said.


Related: News coverage, not movies, helps trigger Newtown-type tragedies

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 12/15/12

The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for [NBC Nightly News]. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. "Wouldn't you say," she asked, 'that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?" No, I said, I wouldn't say that. "But what about The Basketball Diaries?" she asked. "Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machinegun?" The obscure 1995 movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it. The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. "Events like this," I said, "if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. Kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory." In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of "explaining" them. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Please consider the environment before printing out this email.  Thanks.
YOU'VE COTT MAIL is a free service for professionals in the arts.  Emails are sent most weekdays. 
If you are not already on the distribution list and would like to sign up, please click here:

Join Our Mailing List      Follow me on Twitter     
Click here to view an archive of recent past editions of "You've Cott Mail."