Sunday, January 21, 2007

Arts & Humanities Clans

Many people who are not, or are no longer, A&H members have positive memories and historical affection for this tribe. The surgeons who played the viola, the attorneys who were in highschool drama, and the many English or History majors who went on to be employed in other fields were often born into the tribe and retain association. These folks sometimes go to considerable lengths to retain good standing and become patrons of the arts or part-time participants. They are often talented and treated well, but in important attitudes are not regarded as in full membership.

These often have better descriptors in other popular culture names: Yuppies, DINKs, Bobos, and whatever else Time is telling us is trendy this year. I recognize these clans (when Newsweek announced yuppies in the mid-80’s, William and Mary had representatives on 5 of the 7 pages), but I’m still breaking things down differently.

I am increasingly convinced that I will change the naming from A&H to Humanist Tribe, or Humanist Class.

There are A&H subgroups, with varying degrees of adherence to the larger group’s values. Musicians are clearly eligible for membership in the arts community, but their social and political beliefs are more idiosyncratic than A&H in general. Because folksingers and boomer rockers are liberal to radical and classical musicians retain an affection for NPR, we tend to assume a general leftist slant for the whole clan. Think church choir directors. Think country musicians. Think barbershop, brass quartets, ethnic performers, piano teachers, and the whole evangelical music subculture. These are not hotbeds of liberalism.

Theater, especially academic and professional theater, is a liberal to radical core. Highschools in the very blue area of western Mass might do a production of The Vagina Monologues,or . There is no musical or film equivalent to this, even among highschool garage bands or cameraheads. Community theater groups don’t get this radical, because they depend on, uh, actually selling tickets, but the participants are reliably liberal in outlook. This may result from the snob hierarchy in theater, which grants pride of intellectual place to those who have participated in the avant-garde and transgressive. On the other hand, theater people have contributed one of the great acts of cultural preservation by continuing to perform Shakespeare despite the language difficulties. It is true that they have a fondness for reworking the Great Elizabethan into motorcycle leathers or banana republics, but this may be something of a plus. While the attempts are usually ridiculous, it remains true that live Shakespeare is almost impossible to understand in its original.

One would expect technical theater people to be different, and they usually are in personality. On social and political issues, however, I don’t see a gap.

Dancers, like musicians, are more eclectic, but tend to track like theater people on social issues.

Visual artists, the painters and sculptors, have something of the same snob hierarchy that one finds in theater, elevating the controversial and and inaccessible to prominence, and that sector is beyond liberal. The great majority of painters are more representational, capturing understandable things like light, mood, and contrast. Their social and political views are all over the map, though they have a disproportionate share of liberals.

Photographers and filmmakers I don’t think I have enough of a handle on to comment. What I have seen of famous work would suggest they run leftward, but that is true for the more prominent artists in other arts. Poets? I don’t know and I don’t care.

Teachers of the arts and humanities are clear tribe members, and it is among these that the continuity with the older iterations of A&H are preserved. This is hardly surprising, but it is worth mentioning, as they are also among the most aggressively political liberals, considering it their duty to “awaken” the consciousness of their charges to ideas they would not otherwise have encountered. There is some truth to this, of course, as there are many children who are exposed only to traditional, unadventurous, conservative ideas at home and in the cultures they move in. But there are also children that are only exposed to traditional, unadventurous, liberal ideas at home, and somehow it seems less important to teachers to rescue them from this. There is a some tendency in this clan to group all values which are not theirs as “conservative.” If their students are pop-culture, gadget-obsessed, and shallow, overly focused on romance and boy-girl relationships, this is seen as popular American materialist culture, and part of what they need to be rescued from with alternative ideas. That’s fine, but it’s a short jump from there to regarding all of it as somehow “conservative.” Cars, driving, and consumption are not environmentally focused and so can’t be liberal; they must be conservative. Pop-culture and boy-girl focus have too much cultural stereotype and so can’t be liberal; they must be conservative. Acquisition and materialism must be derived from evil free-market attitudes – there’s those conservatives again, mucking up a potentially beautiful world.

That’s not everyone, of course. I went through another crisis of thinking that I was unfairly generalizing about this group, when right on schedule in less than five minutes, I saw a minivan with four bumperstickers and a decal. (Multiple stickers used to always mean fundamentalists. It more often means liberals now.)

Decal: local highschool.


Feminism is the radical notion that women have rights

Peace through Music

It’s too bad that the people who know how to run the world are too busy teaching school

This is what a feminist looks like.

What I have described above applies more to teachers of highschool and college. Middle school and elementary school teachers shade away from this. Elementary school teachers have their own clan and clan-markers: clothing with familiar objects embroidered, appliqued, or woven onto them; jewelry in the shapes of animals, pins with cute sayings. For the men, there are silly ties. As this group is A&H trained (they were seldom science or math majors) and members of government unions, they are reliably Democrat in their voting. They are not, however, especially radical. They are not especially marxist or anti-military in their opinions, and they have a focus on deportment and the primacy of reading that conservatives get along with pretty well. Call them Liberal Lite, if you will, often caught up in the various rescuing, multi-culti, environmental, and self-esteem movements, but not bomb-throwers.

Librarians, my wife assures me, continue to be quite liberal. I see this as becoming more intense in the power areas of the clan, where the journals are published and the officers elected, but I don’t doubt it’s pretty widespread. In addition to their initial A&H tribal membership, they have several other factors which push them leftward. They have gotten themselves into a froth that even challenging a book’s presence or appropriateness for its location is censorship and a threat to freedom of speech everywhere. Though they encounter many conservatives during each day, they don’t especially perceive it unless a book or program is challenged. They attribute these challenges to conservatives, which is only partially true. Many of the challenges are of course silly, stemming from portions of works taken out of context or stretched to sound like something different. As librarians are more knowledgeable about a variety of topics than the average bear, the people challenging them are often less articulate, system-savvy, or socially adept. Thus, stupid, rigid, or dangerous, because one shouldn’t be challenging books anyway.

Secondly, an enormous percentage of librarians rely on governments for their salaries. It is a tendency of human nature, not just artists, teachers, and librarians, for those who are receiving support to regard those managing the purse as not quite understanding the situation. This is usually true. Even brilliant and supportive people, it they are at a distance, seldom know as much about your job as you think they should. So trustees, budget committees, and taxpayers can come to seem like opponents. Opponents who know less than you do. It is hardly surprising that people in these positions seldom become fans of tax revolts and drastic cutbacks in the system. To librarians, all these attacks come from people who can be labeled “conservative,” often because conservatives are prominent among the voices of challenge.


Jerub-Baal said...

Hmmm...raised by a librarian, studied theatre in university, am now working as an artist.

Why am I a conservative? I've always been one...

Maybe it was growing up on a farm with well-water.

That's it, no fluoride in the water when I was a kid! I knew it was a conspiracy!

Jerub-Baal said...

Woody, do I get conservative brownie-points if I wear my "Win With Wilkie" button?

Your observation on inherited politics is good, which makes me wonder where mine came from....

Linda Fox said...

I'm not sure about any inheritance of political leaning, but personality/inherent temperament is, I believe, highly heritable. Introverts/Extroverts, Sociable/Not a People Person, Sunny temperament/Gloomy outlook, Careful thinker/Quick to make a decision.

THAT might be the thing that influences political leanings.