Artists Speak Truth To Power

We cans sure use some can’t we?


John Lennon would have turned 80 this week.

That’s kind of a jarring fact. It’s also jarring that he has been gone as long as he lived, having been murdered outside his home in 1980. He was only 40 years old.
I was 16 when John Lennon died and his shocking loss was a traumatic experience for me and my friends.
It was so hard to fathom—how someone so young, so accomplished, so brilliant and so important could be taken away in an instant.
How could John be gone? He was a Beatle. He had just made a comeback with an album tragically and sadly called “Starting Over.”
How could someone so amazing and important be gone forever?
Forty years later, we all know how fragile life is. Tomorrow never knows, as The Beatles song goes.
When John died, we ventured to Central Park to attend a vigil. It’s a memory I will never forget, hundreds of thousands of grief stricken people gathering to pay tribute to an artist who touched their lives deeply.
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Truer words have never been spoken.
The great ones touch our minds and our hearts. Great music and  great art can make us happy or sad, it can force us to confront truths we are sometimes uncomfortable to acknowledge.
The best artists hang it all out there. John Lennon was not afraid to take risks, he was not content to be trapped in a box and labeled as one of four cute mop tops.
John wanted more. He was daring and that spoke to me even if I winced at some of his work. That’s another characteristic of the truly great. They push their audience. We won’t like everything they do, but it will surely be interesting.
I wonder what John would have been like at 80; what he would have made of today’s scene.
2020 has been quite a year.
We are fighting a pandemic, a recession and confronting racism, inequality and calamitous climate change all at once.
These are the times that we turn to our great artists for insights.
Art can be clarifying, but it seems in 2020 we are lacking clarity.
I may be too old to be be current, but I just don’t see the artists leading the way these days.
They don’t seem to have the cultural relevance that they did back in John Lennon’s day. If I’m wrong, I’d love to know.
Recently, the social critic Bob Lefsetz wrote a piece about artists. It was fascinating.
An artist, Lefsetz wrote:

Endures negative feedback.

Takes risks on a regular basis.

Does not create to satiate the audience but themselves.

Creates because they need to.

Works without the audience in mind.

Knows that they will oftentimes be ahead of the audience.

Knows to ignore their most vocal critics. It’s usually more about the person who is criticizing than the work.

John Lennon did all of those things—-all those years ago.
All I know is we miss that kind of leadership and artistry and we need artists/leaders more now than maybe ever.

The Truth Matters

“Get it all on record now – get the films – get the witnesses -because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened.” ― Dwight D. Eisenhower

At the risk of piling on, I just can’t let go of the story of the former Spanish River High School Principal who questioned whether the Holocaust happened.

The story made headlines all over the world and prompted quite a local outcry as well with Boca Mayor Scott Singer and County Commissioner Bob Weinroth among others weighing in with strong words on social media. Here’s what the mayor said:

“Holocaust denial is a sadly frequent effort by bigots to rewrite history. Deniers’ attempts to lie about the incomprehensible suffering of the millions who perished outrages me as a human being. The Holocaust is a fact. It is a very painful fact for all of humanity, and not merely the families of the six million Jews and millions of others who were systematically murdered because of hate. Those families happen to include my own, as my children are the great-grandchildren of a Holocaust survivor.”

Bravo, Mr. Mayor.

In case you somehow missed it, William Latson got in hot water when The Palm Beach Post reported that he wrote an email that stated  “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.”

He went on to write: “I can’t say that Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”

Really? That’s preposterous.

The email was sent to a parent who reached out to Mr. Latson after being concerned about Holocaust education at the school.  Since 1994, Florida law has required that the history of the Holocaust be taught in public schools.

Mr. Latson apologized for his comments, before issuing a bizarre parting email to staff that made things worse.
Regardless, he’s gone from Spanish River High as he should be.

But the stench remains and it bothers me. It bothers me to my core.

Apparently, there are some folks who don’t think we should teach the Holocaust because they don’t believe it happened.

Tell that to the six million who perished or to my late uncle who survived a Concentration Camp and bore the emotional scars for the rest of his life.
What’s annoying these days is this notion that we are entitled to our own set of facts.

So if you don’t believe the Holocaust occurred, or if you don’t think slavery happened or if you don’t like what settled science says well you can just adopt your own reality.

Former Senator Daniel Moynihan used to say that you are entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to your own set of facts. He was right of course. But these days…we’ll just turn the channel and join your own echo chamber.

For society to function, we need to agree on objective facts.

You can’t wipe out a Holocaust  because a few fringe characters didn’t think it happened. You shouldn’t be able to double down on lies when you’re exposed and then insist that your viewpoint is as legitimate as those backed by the historical record, or scientific inquiry.
Friends it just doesn’t work.

Back when I was a young reporter, “Schindler’s List” came out and director Steven Spielberg created a project called “Survivors of The Shoah.”
The purpose was to film and document the stories of Holocaust survivors so that humanity would never forget.

I volunteered, went for training and was selected to conduct interviews with local survivors.
It was a transformative experience.

We sat across from aging survivors and urged them to tell their stories so that future generations could bear witness.

I would tell those who question whether the Holocaust was real to watch the videos of the survivors and ask themselves whether they are lying.
They are most assuredly not.

The Holocaust happened. Slavery was real.
A lie is a lie.

All of us are entitled to an opinion.
None of us are entitled to deny reality. And educators who can’t tell the difference between facts and bull crap have no business teaching our kids.