If you want to keep your blood pressure under control, better to skip the comment sections on stories and opinion columns on most newspaper Web sites.
Comments posted on personal blogs (even this friendly little one) certainly can turn rude, crude and mean-spirited, too, but nothing, it seems, brings out the venom like a regular news story or an op-ed piece. (The few times I've been tempted to see how readers are reacting to something my favorite political writers have written, I end up getting depressed.)
One topic guaranteed to ignite angry, suspicious, resentful, spiteful types is an article about problems faced in the arts world. Just the mere reporting of an orchestra struggling with budget woes, for example, is blood in the water to the anti-cultural sharks in any community.
I was reminded of this the other day, when I checked out a news report in a Kentucky paper about the troubled Louisville Orchestra, which has been sadly sliding into bankruptcy.
Here is a sample of opinions proudly posted by Louisville citizens:
An unpopular music genre doesn't make a city 'world class' ... The phrase 'world class' is
a propaganda technique used by those who want to shove things down our throats.
Get rid of them, the Ballet and any other useless tax funded 'entertainment' that isnt self supporting.
Face it, this isn't about the music. It is about Louisville being able to say, 'We have an orchestra.' Then all the old stuffed shirts go to the concerts to be seen by other old stuffed shirts. Boring. Hire some clowns to spice things up.
Pack up your fiddles and go home boys and girls. Maybe find real jobs. Go to Nashville and vie for some sessions work. If you are worth your salt you'll survive there, maybe even flourish.
Sale all of assets to pay these people off, fire them all and get rid of the Orchestra. It isnt popular with the residents or they would have packed crowds and not have to worry about $$$.
This whole thing is stupid. The orchestra creates a product. That product has lost public appeal. Just like any business, this one needs to shut down. If your product isn't selling there is no reason to continue in business.
It makes no difference whether these are widely shared views or held only by a few (it makes no difference if they're expressed without regard to spelling or grammar, either). This attitude can be extremely powerful, extremely dangerous.
You can detect something similar to the tone of those Louisville comment writers in the current wave of anti-public servant sentiment all over the country -- the belief that government workers are all shirkers, unworthy of a decent wage or benefits (but they had better respond immediately whenever the citizenry demands a service like, say, snow removal).
Vilifying people who perform or listen to classical music, or participate in any other of the arts, is such a cheap and thoughtless practice, but it seems to enjoy amazing traction in this country. I suspect this contempt will only grow, especially since it so easily dovetails with the attitudes of those now heading into Washington to "take back their government" from, among other horrors, "the elitists."
The cultural community is going to need more fortitude and imagination than ever to combat this sort of thinking in 2011 and beyond.
LOUISVILLE ORCHESTRA MUSICIANS ASSOCIATION PHOTO