Why bother? Politics, opinions and musicians.
Why bother? Politics, opinions and musicians.
Of course it is every person’s right to express a political opinion. And it is also every person’s right to ignore the political opinions of others.
Sometimes when I ponder the political utterings of some fellow musicians, I would wish the latter was always possible. But it isn’t, as some of these colleagues are famous, and one of the side effects of being famous is that one gives constant interviews and is asked about a lot of things, not always about music. And if one is a not-too-shy human being it is very easy to express an opinion…. or give a comment on current affairs. Or rather use the opportunity to say something completely stupid, which is more often the case.
But what I simply don’t get is why so many people are so interested in what we as musicians have to say.
Let’s put it like that: If I have a toothache I think the person most suited to give me any kind of advice about it would very probably be my dentist. And not George Clooney.
Vice versa: if I had a question about acting or the film business, my dentist would not be the first person that came to my mind.
When 9/11 happened, who would be the first person you would think of to say something either consoling or at least sensible about the tragedy? No way anybody in their right mind would think immediately of Karlheinz bloody Stockhausen!!!! But this is – as we all know – exactly what happened. And see what good it did. It wasn’t really Stockhausen’s fault….if you think about it, it was like asking a hot dog salesman about the current state of quantum physics.
A lot of prominent musicians (and artists in general) like to help a political cause. Henze and Nono were fervent (and naïve) communists, and perhaps they acted as a kind of necessary public conscience. But still – it always felt slightly wrong when Henze was talking about the necessity of the liberation of the working class while sipping red wine on the veranda of his house that was cared for by an army of servants under his command.
A lot of Russian artists are currently supporters of Putin’s politics. They are seen at Olympic ceremonies, get medals from Putin himself, and publicly support all of his political positions, like his anti-gay agenda or the annexation of the Krim region (Alexander Strauch reported about Valery Gergiev here). If they do this in their home country, everything they do and say is probably open to discussion. But if they do it outside of it?
If I really wanted to seriously discuss these difficult themes in Germany, is actually Anna Netrebko (as charming a person and as good a singer she might be) the person that I would be interested to hear an opinion from? What makes Anna Netrebko’s or Valery Gergiev’s opinion more erudite, wiser or more knowledgeable than the opinion from a random person from the street? On ANY street for that matter? Do they know more? Have they studied the history of the gay rights movement in Russia? Have they personally experienced the suppression of gay people? Have they deep and profound knowledge about the Krim region and what would be the best way of action there – geologically, politically, historically? No, I didn’t think so.
But still, these are the people whose opinion seems so much more important than the opinion of “average” people. The only difference is that average people are usually not interviewed. And also one has to admit that it is perfectly alright for Netrebko and Gergiev to like the politics of their home country, even if we don’t agree with them. That’s the principle of free speech. As long as Gergiev doesn’t divert his monthly Munich fee to support concentration camps for homosexuals (which is not likely to happen) he is simply uttering an opinion that most of us wouldn’t agree with. I see a much bigger problem in the fact that it will alienate him from musicians in his orchestra with who he has to work with every day. In personal relationships opinions of course DO matter.
But it is strange how being famous suddenly seems to mean you are more important. Because fame and importance are two entirely different beasts.
We could probably all agree that Justin Timberlake for example is currently really famous, but nobody would think of him as really important for the affairs of the world, as the next schoolgirl crush is already groomed somewhere else, ready to take his place with a slightly different face.
If I knew that my neighbor, who I don’t really see often and who I don’t personally know at all, is a fervent supporter of Putin…would I care? Probably not. So what is the difference if that neighbor’s name would be Gergiev or Netrebko instead?
But if a politician voices an opinion about these things, it actually becomes important, because this politician is an embodiment of the democratic will of the people and acts in their behalf (at least in theory). It is important because I might either vote for this person or not, it will influence that decision.
Ok, one might rightly argue here that in Gergiev’s case for example there is a difference, as Gergiev actually actively seeks the spotlight to voice his support. He lets himself – probably willingly and in return for favors – be used as a spokesman. But then I would say that the other side probably evaluates his “importance” too highly.
Or perhaps I think too highly of the “people”, and they really do think like: “Hey, this hot Russian singer really admires Putin, so he must be legit”. But I can’t help it, I find that thought laughable. Putin should be judged by his actual actions, not by what his lackeys say to praise him, if I may say so.
But even if it was true – if the people’s opinion is really so much influenced by what famous people have to say, wouldn’t it then be a necessary strategy to completely ignore what the famous pawns have to say? To foil their use? To not talk about it? To not promote what they say the next time they have a microphone in their face?
I think: yes. And this is why I think: why bother?
And perhaps you shouldn’t as well.