Asked about whether he would perform at the January 20 Inauguration or its subsequent official celebrations in Washington, D.C., country music super-star Garth Brooks said, simply, “It’s always about serving. It’s what you do.”
Right answer. This marked him as a professional, a patriot, and an adult (or perhaps as a lying hypocrite, since for whatever reason, he is not performing). The opposite reaction of so many of his show business colleagues mark them, in contrast, as divisive, arrogant, ignorant and unprofessional jerks.
Performers fit all the requirements for being regarded and respected as professionals, who are those who use their skills and talents for the benefit of humankind and society. The traditional definition adds that professionals do this service at some personal sacrifice, a virtue that most doctors and many lawyers can no longer claim. Performers, however, are largely impoverished, devoting their lives to making people gasp, laugh, weep, cheer or most important of all, think, because they love what they do, and understand the importance of art to society and civilization.
It is as unprofessional for a singer, dancer, juggler or actor to refuse to entertain audience members whose politics or character they oppose as it is for a doctor to refuse to treat them, for a lawyer to refuse to represent them, or a clergyman to withhold from them spiritual guidance. The problem unique to performers as professionals is that they are not educated to appreciate their responsibilities like typical professionals, nor do their professions exercise any ethical oversight. As a result, we get the current display of divisive and ignorant grandstanding over performing—or not performing— at Donald Trump’s inauguration.
In Honolulu, Hawaii, yet another partisan and bigoted establishment has ordered anyone who voted for Trump to take its business elsewhere, as a local cafe posted a sign that reads: “If you voted for Trump you cannot eat here! No Nazis.” It has become clear that if many progressives have their way, their efforts to divide the nation into the Good and the Bad, with the fairly elected President of the United States as the defining feature of the latter, will shatter societal bonds coast to coast like nothing the U.S. has seen since the Civil War. The sooner the Angry Turned Vicious Left comes to its senses, the safer and healthier we all will be.
Performers, as professionals, are supposed to understand that they have a higher calling than restaurant owners. They are here to bind society together, for what we all experience in a diverse audience brings us closer in sentiment, emotion, empathy and enlightenment. For performers to decide to excise certain audience members from that process is madness, as well as a betrayal of their mission and art.
Not surprisingly, many of the tiny percentage of elite and wealthy performers feel entitled to pretend they have a different mission. Had they always required political or character vetting for admission into their performances, of course, they would be neither wealthy nor famous enough to grandstand now. Nearing the level of intensity capable of causing my Hypocrisy Detector to blow up is any singer, dancer or actor using Trump’s sexism and misogyny as a justification for not performing at his Inauguration. If they are successful professionals in the entertainment industry, they have accepted, enabled and profited from a culture in which powerful people like Donald Trump are the norm, not the exception.
Let’s put that aside, however. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the Inauguration is not a ceremony for one man, but for the entire nation. An entertainer performing at the Inauguration is not performing for Donald Trump—indeed, Barack Obama will also be in that audience. Such an entertainer is performing as part of an important and historic tradition that celebrates and embodies the strength, values and virtues of the United States of America, all of which have allowed every one of these petulant performers to achieve what they have. Their insult to Trump is really an insult to the nation’s institutions and all of us. Like the “Hamilton” cast’s insufferable decision that it should single out an individual audience member to criticize, the refusal of performers to participate in America’s celebration of democracy shows ignorance and ethics abandonment.
The Radio City Music Hall’s Rockettes have been the focus of this controversy of late, and the dancers’ “dilemma” is the focus of a recent article in Marie Claire, which only demonstrates—surprise!—that those who make their living high-kicking are not deep-thinkers in political or ethical matters. That’s not a problem, as long as they understand what their professional duties are: to dance. This article, sadly, is a parade of one uninformed, biased, dumb or unprofessional quote after another. Like:
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable standing near a man like that in our costumes,” said another dancer in an email to her colleagues.
Gee, how many of the gawking men in a typical audience at Radio City would you feel comfortable standing next to? How about Bill Clinton? Joe Biden? Do you ever stand next to anyone but another Rockette when you’re performing?
“If I had to lose my job over this, I would. It’s too important. And I think the rest of the performing arts community would happily stand behind me.”
What’s the ethical principle “the performing arts community” would “happily stand behind’? That no performer should ever feel obligated to perform in front of an audience containing anyone with whose beliefs and statements he or she strongly disagrees? That’s what the principle being asserted is, if it has any ethical validity. Or is what they really would stand behind is “Anything that undermines this particular President who defeated our beloved, corrupt and manipulating champion is acceptable, because the end justifies the means”?
“But dancers are worried that their choice to sit out now means they’ll be sitting out for good; it’s not as if dancing makes for a stable career, even without hurdles like this one to jump. Mary knows of three full-time dancers who have chosen to decline to perform, and at least one of them is fearful of losing her standing as a result. “It will be interesting to see who doesn’t get their job back,” Mary says. ‘But do you really want to work for a company that supports this? I just don’t know. It’s become a moral issue at this point.'”
Go ahead, genius, define that “moral issue.” The dancer who fears she might not get hired back because she refused to perform with the Rockettes at a national ceremony on every TV station, promoting her colleagues and employer, should fear it, because she shouldn’t be hired again. She can’t be trusted or relied upon, unless her moral position is “Donald Trump justifies suspending professional ethics”-–call it “The Hamilton Theory.”
I wouldn’t hire her. Who knows when she’d pull out of a performance because someone she disapproved of bought a ticket?
This posturing by performing artists can’t be defended by precedent, art or logic. Ethics Alarms has repeatedly defended performers who accepted large fees to perform for foreign dictators. This is a common occurrence: among the U.S. stars who didn’t find it too repulsive to give private performances—not for the nation but for the man–for human rights violators are Nelly Furtato, Mariah Carey, Usher, Lionel Richie, Beyoncé, Hillary Swank, Jennifer Lopez, Sting, and the late Michael Jackson. Yet our principled celebrities are unified in their refusal to honor their nation in order to show their disgust with Donald Trump, and are choosing, given a chance to heal and unify the nation, to further divide it.
It isn’t just an attack on Trump. This disrespect for the nation and its institutions, and those responsible will either succeed in tearing the country apart, or pay a painfully high price for their irresponsible response to the election. One way to facilitate the latter would be for Trump’s Inauguration committee to deliberately seek the most talented unknown performers possible—there are many thousands of them—and give younger and equally talented entertainers the exposure necessary to help them take some big performing fees right out of the hands of those who turned their backs on the Inauguration and their fellow citizens.