arts, culture and environment

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About a week ago I went to a candidate’s forum focused on environmental questions. The Green Party, Liberal, Conservative and First People’s National Party were there. The Conservative candidate didn’t bother showing up, but that’s another rant for another time. Right now what I want to write about is one of the questions that was asked. The question was regarding the topic of good green jobs and promoting a green economy, and the question was, have the candidates ever considered the arts as a source of green jobs?

It was an interesting question, I thought, and the mainstream candidates were all struck dumb. The First People’s National Party candidate, Will Morin, was not. He willingly responded talking first about his experience as an artist and the idea that artists in general tend to know how to survive on very little resources, and maybe if we had more of them in government we would have better balanced budgets. He said a few other things (I won’t try to paraphrase for fear of misrepresenting him) and the other candidates generally responded with “I’d never thought of the arts as environmentally friendly jobs, but I like what Mr. Morin said.”

So I was thinking about that today as I was reading a book called The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. In the forward by Robert Reich there is a comparison between what Clark Gable earned per picture in the 1940s ($800,000 when adjusted for inflation) and what Tom Hanks earns per film today ($20 million). It isn’t that Tom Hanks is necessarily a better actor than Clark Gable, but the way things are companies are willing to pay him the big money because they can make so much off of him.

Mr. Reich continues:

The economic explanation for these startling levels of pay does not justify them socially or morally. It only means that in our roles as consumers and investors we implicitly think that CEOs, star athletes, and Hollywood celebrities are worth it. As citizens, though, most of us disapprove. polls
continue to show that a great majority of CEOs areĀ  verpaid, and that inequality of income and wealth is a large problem. (Emphasis in the origional.)

Somehow the two ideas suddenly click in my brain. How can we really struggle against inequality and yet at the same time continue to throw money towards big companies and celebrities? I guess the argument would be ‘because we like the movies’ but I’m wondering how often it is worth it. Why not make efforts to attend local theatre productions instead? Doesn’t that help encourage employment? In many cases it is probably more ecological as well. And when I think about the movies I’ve watched verse the theatre performances I’ve seen… the theatre wins hands down, and particularily, particularily when it is small local productions that rely on good plots and good actors and less on special effects.

There is something about the movies that amazes me. It is the idea that small amounts of money from so many people can come together to be huge amounts of money that together creates something. I can’t help wishing though, that we were better at coming together with money for other things. That’s part of why some charities and nonprofit organizations are amazing, though there budgets tend to be so limited compared to blockbusters. Imagine what the world could be like if it was the other way around.

One last slightly related but really unrelated comment before I close this post. Canadian culture. Does Canada have its own unique culture worth trying to preserve? Having lived now in Alberta, Quebec and Ontario I’m pretty sure Canada does have its own culture or at least a collection of regional cultures each worth celebrating. There are ideas and voices that can come out of Canada that are not the same as the voices and ideas that come to use through the world media. It is worth having those ideas heard.

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