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AFTERWORD Public Morality BY JAMES McCARTY YEAGER IT IS AN OLD, if not respectable, fear that art or entertainment will corrupt a weakminded public. Various Old Testament prophets had nasty things to say about graven images. Roman Emperors forbade certain forms of public entertainment almost as often as other varieties of them were encouraged. “Iconoclast” means “breaker of images,” and stems from a reform movement in the Byzantine Church around the turn of the last millenium. The early Christians razed “heathen” temples; later, Protestants removed statuary and stained glass images from formerly Catholic churches with grim satisfaction. Some 44 years ago a political party in a land famed in Western philosophy struggled to, among other things, prevent public entertainments it considered immoral. But it could not suppress \(until thieves, unwed mothers, and “those who took money for the pleasure they gave,” as Canadian poet Leonard Cohen subsequently put it. Deliberate ignorance of social reality has enabled a large part of Republican political theory to exist for an entire century. In the blueeyed, almost Aryan world of the incumbent Vice President whose repeated and relished attacks on minorities, cities and the educated follow the fragrant footsteps of former vice presidents Agnew and Nixon in being made at the behest of their masters higher up the Republican food chain those with trust funds are forever entitled to lecture those on food stamps. However, a sense of history sufficiently welldeveloped to recall previous efforts at entertainment purity is hardly to be expected of the current, though shortly to be deposed, deputy leader of our empire. As a public service to those who might labor under as much cultural deprivation as the Vice President, the following lyric is adduced from Act II, Scene 3, The Threepenny “Second Threepenny-Finale “Now all you gentlemen who wish to lead us, I Who teach us to desist from mortal sin, I Your prior obligation is to feed us: / When we’ve had lunch, your preaching can begin. “All you who love your paunch and our Former Houstonian James McCarty Yeager, who edits Minority Business Report, a Bethesda, Md, newsletter, has witnessed several productions of The Threepenny Opera. propriety [Take note of this one thing \(for it fine philosophy I But till you feed us, right and wrong can wait! “Or is it only those who have the money I Can enter in the land of milk and honey?” Of course, neither actress Candace Bergen nor the character she plays on television in “Murphy Brown” is in imminent danger of starvation. In fact, no character on television is ever in danger of starvation, unlike several million American children every night. But the song is pointed at the critic, not the audience or the entertainment. The song suggests that remarks from a powerful white man in a suit about “poverty of values” might more easily apply to the speaker than to those he criticizes. Possibly the social conditions which require certain portions of the population to be economically deprived may simultaneously lead to others being rich. Or has that notion been quite exploded nowadays, rendering the poor by some means obsolete? The interwar German stage was a much more daring place than contemporary Hollywood. Subjects which barely make the news nowadays and never become prime-time shows were presented to a public whose tastes were hardly as jaded as they were later made out to be by the musical “Cabaret,” a famously nonBrechtian entertainment which cannot accurately be called a, drama. The singer of Brecht’s mordant but irrefutable sentiments about the contingency of moral feelings, one Captain MacHeath, is depicted in the play as a small independent businessman in the crime line. He is proud to be unaffiliated with any large criminal conspiracies such as the government, espionage, big business or the black market. Brecht, who wrote the play in his preCommunist days, has remarked, “The gangster MacHeath should be presented by the actor as a bourgeois phenomenon. He is thoroughly staid, has not the least sense of humor, and his solid respectability is expressed by the mere fact that his commercial activity is aimed not so much at robbing strangers as at exploiting his own employees.” \(Notes to The Threepenny Opera, translator unnamed, appended to the 1964 Grove Press edition of the Desmond Vesey In Act III, Scene 3, as MacHeath is about to be hanged \(less for his criminal activities than the business and social conditions that have brought about his downfall. “Ladies and gentlemen, you see here the vanishing representative of a vanishing class. We bourgeois artisans, who work with honest jimmies on the cash boxes of small shopkeepers, are being swallowed up by large concerns backed by banks. What is a picklock [compared] to a bank share? What is the burgling of a bank [compared] to the founding of a bank? What is the murder of a. man [compared] to the employment of a man?” An alternate translation of the songs is often used in productions of the play. The Blitzstein lyrics are considered by many actors and directors as more faithful to the spirit, if not to the exact language, of the original German. “Now those among you MI of pious teaching, I Who teach us to renounce the major sins, I Should know before you do your heavy preaching: I Our middle’s empty. There it all begins. “Your vices and our virtues are so dear to you, I So learn the simple truth of this our song: I Wherever you aspire, whatever you may do, I First feed the face, and then talk right and wrong. “For even honest folk may act like sinners I Unless they’ve had their customary dinners:: Republican efforts to ignite the fears of the middle class against “cultural elites” \(which used to be a code-word for “the Jews” I wonder if Indiana newspaper heirs can properly be expected such efforts are commonplace and predictable, are unlikely to work in recessionary times. In a full-blown economic crash, maybe such postSchicklegruberian manipulations might succeed, when all hope is lost and only violence is offered. As it is, the people of America are already scared about their jobs, about their homes, about their debts and do not currently have room for any false targets on their screens. Otherwise the vicious and contemptible efforts of the Republicans to divide the nation into “real Americans” and “cultural liberals,” which were so successfully left to persimmon-mouthed Vice Presidential candidates in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988, might work in 1992. But in the current state of affairs of the nation, the electorate appears to judge that that corruption which comes from knowledge is to be preferred to any ignorance which is rooted in policy. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23 r -,41,4 .