LEO MORRIS: It’s time to rise up for offended sports and arts patrons

Leo Morris, NS Editorial Page Editor

“How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

That sentence has been stuck in my head for as long as I can remember. By making it the last line of his great “Among School Children,” William Butler Yeats was summarizing his belief and the theme of the poem that we cannot understand a life by its parts but must consider the whole of it and, further, that we should not dwell on life and death separately but think of them together.

But the beauty of poetry is that we are free to find the meaning that speaks to us, whether or not that meaning was intended by the poet. So I have always found the dancing analogy useful to separate what people do from who they are, especially when it comes to art and politics. Shouldn’t it be possible to enjoy the creative output of great artists despite their political beliefs that we might find deplorable?

I even wrote a column or two about the subject early in my career. My liberal friends, I advised, should admire the power of John Wayne’s performance in “The Searchers” even if they loathed his support of the Vietnam War, and they should delight in the taste of a certain pizza despite the right-wing rants of the company’s owner. And I felt free to enjoy a certain brand of ice cream though its owners were clearly left-wing loonies, and to salute Jane Fonda’s performance in “Klute” despite my belief that she should get down on her knees every night and thank God she wasn’t in prison for treason where she belonged.

But that was back in a more innocent America, when we were able to draw such bright lines. The movie stars and musicians and writers and painters we admired had a sense of mystery about them, and they did not feel compelled to constantly share their profound philosophical ramblings with an adoring public.

Now, because of the bitter political divide we’re immersed in, and thanks to social media that reinforces and even deepens it, we cannot escape each other’s contempt for those with an opposing view. That means we don’t just know that Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the stars of the deceptive, ahistorical movie “The Post,” despise President Trump. We also know that they think those who voted for him – roughly half the country – are either delusional or evil or both.

Which means those of us in that half must ask ourselves: Should we keep rewarding people who despise us by plunking down our hard-earned money to see their movie?

My answer – arrived at not as reluctantly as I might have thought – is, “Hell, no.”

I never thought I’d say this, but I will also start being careful about the TV shows and movies I consume, the music I listen to, the paintings I enjoy and even the comedians I let try to make me laugh. I will lose something in the process, but I think I will have gained something more precious. I’m not the one who declared this war.

It is relatively easy to overlook the indiscretions of the artists whose sins died with them. Yes, Wagner was a raging anti-Semite, and Byron was incestuous. Charles Dickens was a bad parent and worse husband, and Pablo Picasso was just, in general, a miserable human being. And let’s not even get started on Hemingway.

But the art they created still can ennoble us, and enjoying it does not make us enablers of their crimes against decency. However, patronizing still-living artists who have nothing but contempt for us does more than encourage their wickedness. It makes us volunteers in our own marginalization from the culture that should belong to us all.

And that’s a tune to which I no longer care to dance.

Leo Morris is the former editorial editor of The News-Sentinel.