Pretend you’re a museum director and a painting of a lovely mountain scene is offered to you. The painter is Adolph Hitler. Do you buy it and display it as art?
Let’s try another example. You work for a major publishing house and someone comes to you with a diary that has just been discovered–-a detailed first hand account written by a slaveholder, which includes descriptions of his punishment techniques. Do you buy it and publish it?
Is something that has all the attributes of art––a painting, a novel, a piece of music––worthy of being displayed or performed if it has a direct connection to evil, either through the artist or the subject?
Now try this one: You’re the general manager of the New York Metropolitan Opera and you are offered for your upcoming season an opera that tells the story from the hijackers’ point of view of the hijacking of a cruise ship and the killing of a passenger?
I made up the first examples; the last one is true. The Met, has decided they will perform John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer” in the fall of 2014, which they justify by typical liberal relativist thinking.
According to the Met’s director of customer relations, the composer “has said that in writing the opera he tried to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for the humanity in the terrorists, as well as in their victims.”
By the logic, it must also be acceptable to look for the humanity in a concentration camp guard, a slave holder, or a man responsible for the deaths of millions, and, if embodied in a work of art created by “one of America’s greatest living composers,” it is a legitimate choice for an institution whose works will be seen by millions world-wide.
But what happens when one looks for the humanity of murders? It’s not as if this doesn’t color one’s portrait of the events, perhaps by taking the focus away from their actions and pointing instead to what made them turn out that way.
For the title of his opera Adams chose “The Death of Klinghoffer” not “The Murder of Klinghoffer”––muting the evil and suggesting the manner of Klinghoffer’s death was in some way justifiable.
All acts are justifiable if we look for the humanity in the perpetrators. Hitler must have been justified in hating Jews because a Jew didn’t like his paintings. The young man who murdered seven and injured thirteen in California recently was upset because he didn’t have a girl friend. He felt justified in his actions.
Adams has the right to tell whatever story he wishes to tell, but doesn’t the Met have an obligation to consider the consequences of their choices? After all, they can only choose a limited number of operas to perform each season. In this case the opera should have been rejected not just because it distorts the facts of the case and borders on being anti-Semitic, although those faults ought to be sufficient, but because it makes a case for the commission of murder whenever one believes one’s cause is great.
The Met has chosen to be on the side of the slaveholder, the concentration camp guard, the ethnic cleanser, and the young man who feels rejected by society. For shame.