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Cultural propaganda and its underlying lies

December 4, 2014

The arts have always been a powerful method of disseminating propaganda, for good or ill. Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” was an extraordinarily potent weapon against McCarthyism in the 1950s. The anti-war songs of the 1960s and 1970s (such as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind”) were rallying cries for popular opposition to the Vietnam conflict. At this point in history’s cycle, the just-cited examples are considered by most to have been positive influences that resulted in beneficial changes in the direction of this country.


However, history is also replete with examples of propaganda that were effectively used in the service of malignant and unrelieved evil. The films of Leni Riefenstahl, like “Triumph of the Will,” are universally acclaimed for their brilliance in the execution of the filmmaker’s art, but precisely because of their brilliance they were incredibly powerful in spreading the evil Nazi dogma. It was propaganda at its highest (or lowest) level. Today, the propagandists are in full flower and much of their output is aimed at the destruction of the state of Israel.


On the morning of Sunday, October 26, I received a call from Sandra Lipton, widow of the late Dr. Morey Lipton, whose column appeared for many years in the Charleston Mercury and to whose memory my columns are dedicated. She asked me to look at an item in that morning’s Post and Courier announcing the performance of a play in Charleston that very afternoon. The play was titled “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” and was co-authored by actor Alan Rickman.


Rachel Corrie was a young do-gooder who went to Gaza in 2003, at the height of the second intifada. She had decided that it was her mission to stand up for the “poor” Palestinians who were being oppressed by the “vicious” Israelis. During a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Rafah, this naive young woman stood directly in front of an Israeli bulldozer, thinking she would block it from destroying a building. But the bulldozer was facing uphill, its driver could not see her and she was accidentally crushed when it moved forward. Although the court cleared the driver and the army of wrongdoing, anti-Israel propagandists went into high gear, creating the Rachel-Corrie-as-martyr myth.


It is this myth, constructed around a very silly young woman who didn’t know enough to get out of the way of a bulldozer, which Alan Rickman (an actor whose only facial expression is snarky disdain) has memorialized in this sophomoric monodrama. When I went to see the performance, I was relieved to find that instead of a large contingent of impressionable college students, the audience consisted of nothing more than a few refugees from the 1960s who were still mourning the passing of their last stab at relevance over forty years ago. However, it should be noted that “My Name is Rachel Corrie” won two awards in London and is treated as a respected piece of theater conveying the story of a valiant martyr instead of a piece of cultural detritus — anti-Israel propaganda covered in a thin artistic veneer.


Which brings me to my next example. Recently, the New York Metropolitan Opera saw fit to mount a production of another piece of cultural propaganda masquerading as high art, an opera entitled “The Death of Klinghoffer.” The opera is based in the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by four members of the Palestinian Liberation Front. As you may recall, once they had captured the ship, these Arab terrorists separated out the Jewish passengers and selected a 70-year-old man named Leon Klinghoffer, who was confined to a wheelchair, for execution. After shooting Mr. Klinghoffer — but while he was still alive — they savagely threw him overboard, still strapped into his wheelchair. Although the basics of the story told in the opera are true, the composer and librettist of this piece of “art” chose to present this viciously anti-Semitic incident sympathetically, with the stated purpose of humanizing the less than human terrorists. What was a vile and despicable murder is called simply a death. And the libretto is so full of anti-Semitic lines that it could have been written by Joseph Goebbels.


That the respected New York Metropolitan Opera chose to mount this production is a testament to the power of cultural elites treating as art what is, in truth, a piece of sophisticated but false, propaganda. The vicious lies contained in pieces like “My Name is Rachel Corrie” or “The Death of Klinghoffer” become truths with every performance, because they have been accepted as “art” and, as such, are treated with a respect they do not deserve. This is cultural propaganda of the worst sort.


Unless these lies are challenged, they will be accepted by the cognoscenti as truth and then spread like a malignant cloud of methane. The anti-Semitic, anti-Israel hogwash contained in these and other “works of art” needs to be recognized for what it is. Each one of us is under an affirmative obligation to confront these works when they are raised up for public viewing. To be silent in the face of these cultural obscenities is to be a party to their propagation.


Stuart Kaufman is a retired lawyer, investment banker and businessman. He relocated from New York to Mount Pleasant in 2012. A friend recently told him that he has been a South Carolinian all of his life ... but he just didn’t know it.


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