Morris: Offended Sport and Art Patrons, Rise Up!

January 8, 2018

by Leo Morris

“How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

That sentence has been stuck in my head for as long as I can remember. By making it the last line of his great “Among School Children,” William Butler Yeats was summarizing his belief and the theme of the poem that we cannot understand a life by its parts but must consider the whole of it and, further, that we should not dwell on life and death separately but think of them together.

But the beauty of poetry is that we are free to find the meaning that speaks to us, whether or not that meaning was intended by the poet. So I have always found the dancing analogy useful to separate what people do from who they are, especially when it comes to art and politics. Shouldn’t it be possible to enjoy the creative output of great artists despite their political beliefs that we might find deplorable?

I even wrote a column or two about the subject early in my career. My liberal friends, I advised, should admire the power of John Wayne’s performance in “The Searchers” even if they loathed his support of the Vietnam War, and they should delight in the taste of a certain pizza despite the right-wing rants of the company’s owner. And I felt free to enjoy a certain brand of ice cream though its owners were clearly left-wing loonies, and to salute Jane Fonda’s performance in “Klute” despite my belief that she should get down on her knees every night and thank God she wasn’t in prison for treason where she belonged.

But that was back in a more innocent America, when we were able to draw such bright lines. The movie stars and musicians and writers and painters we admired had a sense of mystery about them, and they did not feel compelled to constantly share their profound philosophical ramblings with an adoring public.

Now, because of the bitter political divide we’re immersed in, and thanks to the social media that reinforce and even deepen it, we cannot escape each other’s contempt for those with an opposing view. That means we don’t just know that Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the stars of the deceptive, ahistorical movie “The Post,” despise President Trump. We also know that they think those who voted for him – roughly half the country – are either delusional or evil or both.

Which means those of us in that half must ask ourselves: Should we keep rewarding people who despise us by plunking down our hard-earned money to see their movie? My answer – arrived at not as reluctantly as I might have thought – is, “Hell, no.”

State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, proposes a solution to the disgrace of spoiled, overpaid National Football League players who take a knee for the National Anthem, blindly joining a mob whose deep hatred they don’t understand, protesting something that doesn’t exist by spitting on those who love this country and disrespecting those who fought for its flag: Allow fans who are upset by players taking a knee (their own team’s players, not the visiting athletes) to request a refund during the first quarter of home games.

My sister, who takes her rights seriously, is offended by Smith’s presumption. This is the land of the free, she reasons, and if people aren’t free to do stupid stuff, the guarantee means nothing.

I agree with her that Smith is misguided, though I would quibble with those who insist it’s a First Amendment issue. At the least, Smith is trying to insert government into a commercial transaction where it does not belong.
Football is a business. Its employees and owners and the commissioner who oversees the enterprise are free to do whatever they see fit, including insulting their most loyal fans. It is their right in a free society.

And it is our right, as those loyal fans, to take our business elsewhere. To stop attending the games and buying the merchandise and watching the action on TV and patronizing the sponsors who underwrite the whole obscenity. I was one of those fans, first of the Bears and then of the Colts, and I will go back to football only when it comes back to me.

I never thought I’d say this, but I will also start being careful about the TV shows and movies I consume, the music I listen to, the paintings I enjoy and even the comedians I let try to make me laugh. I will lose something in the process, but I think I will have gained something more precious. I’m not the one who declared this war.

It is relatively easy to overlook the indiscretions of the artists whose sins died with them. Yes, Wagner was a raging anti-Semite, and Byron was incestuous. Charles Dickens was a bad parent and worse husband, and Pablo Picasso as just in general a miserable human being. And let’s not even get started on Hemingway.

But the art they created still can ennoble us, and enjoying it does not make us enablers of their crimes against decency. However, patronizing still-living artists who have nothing for contempt for us does more than encourage their wickedness. It makes us volunteers in our own marginalization from the culture that should belong to us all.

And that’s a tune to which I no longer care to dance.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at


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