Selling Our National Soul

by Suzanne Calvin

“I have a recurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo’s incomparable fresco of the “Creation of Man.” I see God stretching out his arm to touch the reclining Adam’s finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is holding a Diet Pepsi.”

This humorously disturbing image was cited by the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in his recent commencement address at Stanford University. As presented in a condensed version in the June 19th edition of “The Wall Street Journal,” the NEA’s Dana Gioia makes a compelling case for restoring opera singers, jazz musicians, poets and the like to the list of possible guests on general interest television shows.

Why? For the common good.

“When virtually all of a culture’s celebrated figures are in sports or (popular) entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young….Adult life begins in a child’s imagination, and we’ve relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.”

Just last week, while enjoying a break from work myself, I was listening to a TV report about a teenaged girl with a disability. As she talked about her lifelong dream to become a fashion model and how she was determined to overcome the odds to achieve that dream my brain practically split in two:

Left brain: Good for her for passionately pursuing her dream!

Right brain: What a stupifying waste of effort! Will no one encourage this young lady to pursue a halfway realistic, healthy and meaningful career with a potential shelf life of more than five years?

But, no.

We live in a world that worships at the altar of celebrity. Celebrity based on looks, money and notoriety rather than talent, intelligence, or heart. So long as we, as a society, continue to dream at the level of the lowest common denominator, we can expect no higher calling for our children.

Shame on the producers, the people who book guests, the publishers, the assignments editors, the readers, the viewers, the listeners.

Shame on me. Shame on us.

Suzanne Calvin, The Dallas Opera

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