So, last night I was reading a post on BigHollywood about a cool move from the administration. It seems that Patrick Courrielsche, filmmaker and arts consultant, was invited to join a conference call hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts, the White House office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve. During the call, about 75 filmmakers, artists, poets, promoters, “or just plain cool people” (according to the invite) were encouraged to use their talents to help create public awareness and enthusiasm for the Big Four Obama initiatives: health care, education, energy and environment. These cool people had played a part in getting Obama elected, and he wanted them to know he appreciated it and valued their contributions for the future.
Actually, I’m a little miffed I wasn’t invited. Don’t children’s book authors have a part to play? I couldn’t help recalling a picture book we used to read to our children when they were little: Timmy Goes to the Doctor. Just as that story was designed to reassure kids who might soon be facing a six-inch hypodermic needle, I think children’s authors could contribute some soothing medicine to the health care debate . . . .
“Hi, Timmy!” said Nurse Molly, as a nervous little boy entered the sunny office of the Ministry of Public Health with his Mom. “I’m glad you came to see us today.”
“Is it time for one of my shots?” Timmy asked.
“No, no,” Nurse Molly laughed. “I have your file right here and you’re not scheduled for any shots today. Maybe later . . .” Her voice trailed off as she looked at Mother.
But Mother was looking at all the puppy and kitty photos on the wall and didn’t seem to notice. “These are nice,” she said.
“The committee–er, doctor, will see you in a moment, Timmy. Please have a seat,” said the nurse. While waiting, Timmy and his mother looked at the colorful storybooks in the office, like Your Life, Your Choice–For Kids! and Let’s Take a Number and Smoke And Die!
Finally Nurse Connie opened a door and said, “Timmy?” Mother stood up.
“No mothers,” said the nurse. “Just him.”
“Oh,” said Mother, sitting down again. “Sorry.” Nurse Connie led Timmy down a long hallway and stopped beside the very last door. After one short knock, she swung open the door.
“Hello, Timmy,” said a voice from inside. “Go in,” said Nurse Connie. Timmy walked into a big room with soft lights and nice music playing. Three people sat at a black table, two ladies and one man. All wore white jackets and had very kind faces.
“Come and have a seat,” said the lady who was sitting in the middle. “Do you like chocolate chip cookies?”
Timmy saw a plate of fat gooey cookies on the table beside an empty chair. This might not be so bad! Usually they just sat him down butt-naked on a slab and poked him over.
He climbed into the chair and took a bite of cookie. It was still warm. He ate it all while the man and two ladies smiled at him. Then, swallowing, he asked, “Are you going to listen to my heart and look into my ears and stuff?”
“No Timmy,” said the lady in the middle, “We’d like to talk to you about your life. You like to run and jump and ride your bike, don’t you?”
“Uh . . . Yeah.” Timmy was getting a little nervous again but couldn’t say why.
“It wouldn’t be much fun if you couldn’t do those things, would it?”
“Uh . . . No.”
The man said, “Let me show you something, Timmy.” He picked up a remote and clicked it toward a screen built in the wall. A picture of a sad-looking boy in a wheelchair filled the screen. He was watching a Little League game, holding an empty catcher’s mitt in his limp hands. “Do you like to play baseball?”
“No,” Timmy said. “I like soccer, though.”
Suddenly the picture changed and there was that same boy in the wheelchair holding a soccer ball in his lap, while a game went on in the background. “That boy looks pretty unhappy, doesn’t he?” asked the man.
“Uh . . . I guess so.”
The lady in the middle said, “We want to talk to you for a few minutes about–”
Suddenly the door flew open and Nurse Connie hurried in with a file folder. She slammed it down in front of the middle lady, picked up the folder that was lying there, and hurried back out.
The three grownups leaned together over the folder. “Well!” said the middle lady.
“That was a close one!” said the man.
The other lady didn’t say anything but she wasn’t smiling any more.
“Well then,” said the man. “We don’t need this little chat after all. You can go. Don’t touch that other cookie!”
Out in the waiting room, Mother and Nurse Molly were having a good laugh. “Just think!” Mother told Timmy. “They got your file mixed up with another Timmy, who has MD!”
“It was an honest mistake,” said Nurse Molly. “Actuarial Unit 34,578,625 looks very much like Actuarial Unit 34,578,635.”
“No harm done.” Mother opened her purse and took out her SecureHealth Card. “How much do we owe you?”
“Oh, nothing today,” smiled Nurse Molly. “The bill will come due when Timmy is about twenty-three, and it’ll crush him. Have a nice day.”
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If you’re opposed to the administration’s health care plan, you may think this is amusing. If you’re in favor, you probably won’t. If you’re like me, you’d be thinking, Isn’t there some place on this great, pulsing, wonderfully varied Internet where we can get away from politics??
Just one point, and I’m done. I posted this of my own volition; no one from the RNC invited me to a conference call and suggested I use my talents to fight the opposition’s health care plan. What does it say when the largest source of funding for the arts in the nation encourages artists to get on board for the President’s initiatives? Might artists who cooperate be looked upon with favor when the NEA is handing out funds in the future? Have artists ever been told by a government agency that “We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government” (actual quote from the conference call)? Is that what the NEA was established to do?
Final discussion question: When art is recruited for political purposes, should it still be called ‘art’?