excerpts from “Bush’s cultural legacy” – The Guardian, Friday October 31 2008. … What’s Helen’s?

Joyce Carol Oates:
If Obama wins, very likely there would be an efflorescence of a kind, perhaps most evident in the more public artforms – dance, music, theatre.

Gore Vidal:
Oliver Stone, I gather, is doing father-and-son stories. I’m very fond of Oliver, but you don’t need Freud when you’re dealing with Caligula.

Art is always needed in a country that doesn’t much like it. Performance is all anybody cares about.

Paul Miller:
Usually when you have a rightwing lunatic such as Nixon, or more cynical regimes such as Reagan or Bush I’s administration, there’s a counterpoint. What ended up happening with Bush II is that the counter-culture response became incoherent.

The “culture-entertainment” industry is different now. They realise that the idea of rebellion can be made into an echo-chamber and sold back to you.

Britney Spears giving herself a haircut or the “hyper-realism” of the execution of Saddam Hussein spreading like video wildfire on people’s cellphones. It’s incoherence – montaged and edited a la Oliver Stone.

Elizabeth LeCompte:
The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and South Park are all political works of art. Without the Bush administration I don’t think satire would have been as strong. It revived irony.

Theatre in America is in decline, however. A lot of the people who would have been writing for the theatre 100 years ago are now writing in television. In America, all art is denigrated, basically, with the possible exception of music. Written and spoken arts aren’t taken seriously here, and I don’t think they’ve ever been.

Edward Albee:
We have an administration of criminality, complicity and incompetence but no cultural legacy whatever from those eight years. It doesn’t seem to have produced the kind of rage that I would have expected it to. It shows me that we have a far more passive and ignorant society than I thought we had.

Somebody asked Beckett once why he writes if he’s such a pessimist. He said, “If I were a pessimist I wouldn’t write.”

Alex Gibney:
Unintentionally, the administration provoked a lot of political art that I think was very valuable.

It contributed to an extraordinary flowering of political documentaries – and not necessarily pure anti-Bush ones. The administration provoked a thoughtfulness, both in aesthetic terms and in terms of political thinking, that expressed itself in documentaries in a very exciting way. Iraq in Fragments, for instance, was a beautiful film – not overtly political but political in a deeper sense.

Lionel Shriver:
Hate figures are far more motivating than heroes, and W has graciously provided the collectively leftwing artistic community an embarrassment of riches. In fact, the biggest problem with the Bush era’s artistic legacy is that this widely despised president has tended to inspire polemics and agitprop. Many novels, films, plays, and artworks from the last eight years have been spitting with indignation, painfully obvious in their political intent, sledgehammer subtle in their execution, and clubby – since most of these works are preaching to the converted. Thus W may have bequeathed a whack of subject matter, but whether any of this stuff will be of enduring value is open to question. You have to ask yourself whether the diatribes denouncing Bush in a novel, such as JM Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year (a book trying enough when it was published in 2007), will hold the faintest interest after January 2009.

And here’s the really bad news: Obama could be terrible for the arts. Why, when there’s barely an artist in the States who doesn’t support him? Art thrives on resistance.

Trisha Brown:
I was so in love with art-making – but I’m tired of the suppression of arts and I’ve shifted into other disciplines to find vitality and exchange.

Naomi Wolf:
there’s something about the brute force of this administration, and the fetishisation of brute force by this administration, which literally stands in opposition to civilisation and the arts.

I’ve done a lot of work on Germany from the Weimar period to the late 30s. There was a similar hostility then to the cosmopolitan, the urbanite, the avant garde, to any originality in art. Some of the most interesting visual artists we’ve seen in recent times, for example, were working behind the iron curtain, and of course, they had to work allegorically.

Much of the protest work I’ve seen [in America] has been very bad, pedantic, heavy-handed. I’ve seen so many bad monologues about the Iraq war, so many dreadful photo-montages. I think it’s because Americans don’t quite understand repression yet.

Usually writers are at the forefront of denouncing a regime: look at Václav Havel. Here, people have complained a lot, but in terms of organising a vanguard of resistance, of people getting out there and saying this is not the American way … Where is the Arthur Miller of this generation? Who is out front, somewhere visible and tricky and scary?

Daniel Libeskind:
At Ground Zero, we’re not sure if the performing arts centre planned will ever happen. This was a key part of the masterplan, but all that’s mattered in the World of Bush is the workings, and failures, of the market economy. So, Ground Zero could yet end up, unless we get a sympathetic new president, as a purely commercial venture.

[full text available here]

Where is there a similar attempt to question, articulate or even consider Helen Clark’s legacy? Whether political, polemical or cultural?

You are welcome to a submit comment to this post … by way of protest, restitution or recapitulation: What is Helen Clark’s cultural legacy?