The story goes that George Bernard Shaw was at a dinner beside a beautiful woman and asked her if she would sleep with him for a million dollars. She said ‘yes.’ He then asked if she would sleep with him for ten dollars. She said, ‘What do you take me for, a prostitute?’ He said, ‘Madame, the principle has already been established; now, we are just haggling over price.’
It is a commonplace insight to say that capitalism makes prostitutes of us all. As an artist, I am forced to reconsider what I create in order to make a living. And the more I dilute the fun, intensity, joy, exhilaration etc., that is, the more middle of the road I make my work, the more people I will interest and consequently, the more money I can make. What is one to do? To take a recent example: ‘Death at a Funeral’ in its first British production was truly hilarious and dead serious; but it made little or no money. The US version, over-exaggerated and playing off prejudices of race, sexuality and little people, was nowhere near as funny, and nowhere near as serious. Nor was it as finely orchestrated, or as well structured, but because it was ‘not really serious,’ and the marketing was probably more slick (I don’t know this) more people found themselves open to it, and therefore the movie made more money. Is it that the less true a work of art is, the more money it can make; or, conversely, the more beauty is truth in a story, the less likely it is to be lucrative?
There’s no simple or single answer to these questions, and there are always exceptions to the rule. Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is a best seller. Nabokov’s Lolita made him famous. But generally speaking, what is stated above holds more than a little truth. Finding ways to follow Emily Dickinson’s advice seems like a good idea in terms of both artistic integrity and in terms of reaching an audience:
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—
If politics is war by other means, then politicians lie by definition because you cannot battle without deception. But because they are not blood-stained and brutalized, politicians think they can be considered honest. This is nonsense and we really should cop on as voters. The only politicians you can trust are those that are on your side, that is, those that lie with your best interests at heart. So, we cannot trust what politicians say, and must interrogate carefully what they do, because actions can also be a smokescreen. You can see where I’m going with this: our politicians, more than ever in the history of our country, and because of the influence of money, are prostitutes. If this is true — that they jump to the tune of the biggest bidder — then we really should revise the way we treat and think about them. The first revision is that they are, in reality, very clearly, only prostitutes figuratively. Because the women who work the streets and sell their affections are most often poor and powerless. In other words, they are most often victims. Our politicians are not victims. They are Fausts. They have sold their soul to the highest bidder for power. Not for youth. Not for love. Not for immortality. But for money and power. It says more about our humanity than I care to admit: that is, we are truly puny insects; and when fine souls do rise above the moral morass (MLK, JFK, Jesus, Gandhi, John Lennon, Harvey Milk…) what do we do? We kill them.
If we are to be very straight with ourselves, our culture can only be seen as saturated with lies on almost every front: advertizing, popular media, corporate-speak, politics, popular arts, our courts etc., all on account of money. Where money rules, there can be no democracy. We have to understand this and we have to say it loud and clear.