J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

NY1 Group Think

If you thought NY1’s panel discussion on civil liberties post-9/11 was one-sided, you do not want to see their forum on the response of the arts, which aired Friday night. There is possibly no more perfect example of group think than the panel assembled for the program. David Friend of Vanity Fair, John Hoffman of HBO Documentaries, Oskar Eustis of the Public Theater, and Catharine Stimpson of NYU spoke with one collective voice. Of the four, Hoffman was came off as the most moderate and least political, but tipped his ideological hand with praise for the documentaries of Michael Moore and Spike Lee. Eustis primarily used the forum as a platform to criticize the Bush administration and the War to liberate Iraq. Friend and Stimpson were happy to echo Eustis.

In response to a question, Stimpson was particularly vehement denouncing ABC’s The Path to 9-11, disparaging her perception of the producer’s decision “to use the occasion—the search for truth, pretend you’re searching for truth, and then give it a really vicious political spin.” Someone who studies media should know the issue of historical accuracy in docudramas is hardly new. Unless she was equally vociferous in condemning Oliver Stone’s JFK and CBS’ The Reagans, she is now being disingenuous.

The truth is there was relatively little discussion of the arts at all, particularly artistic responses to 9-11. Hoffman discussed the making of HBO’s In Memoriam: September 11, 2001 in some detail during his opening segment. Again, The Path to 9-11 was dutifully criticized, and Oliver Stone was actually taken to task for not addressing the root causes of terrorism in World Trade Center. Aside from that, Anne Nelson’s The Guys, Neil LaBute’s The Mercy Seat were featured in the opening video, and were briefly mentioned later by Eustis, but very few actual works of art, film, or theater discussed. United 93 for instance, never passed the lips of the panelists, and musicians who responded to 9-11 (like jazz artists Geri Allen and Charles Lloyd) were entirely ignored. The participants were more interested in scoring points against the administration.

Surely NY1 could have found at least one right of center panelist knowledgeable in the arts to participate, if they had simply contacted The New Criterion. They preferred to present an exercise in group think. I constantly hear people in New York say dissent is patriotic. There was not a hint of dissent from anyone on the lockstep panel, making NY1’s presentation most unpatriotic by New York standards.