The “Hamilton” fiasco, with self-righteous Leftist cast members of the hit Broadway show berating Vice President-elect Mike Pence from the stage, brought to mind another New York event from 44 years ago, when entertainers – at least some of them – had a vastly different idea of their place in American culture.
On June 9, 1972, Elvis Presley, about to perform a series of sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden, held a press conference in New York City. It being 1972, it was inevitable that he would be asked about what was then a new phenomenon: the politicization of the arts. One questioner asked him, “Mr. Presley, as you’ve mentioned your time in the service, what is your opinion of war protesters and would you today refuse to be drafted?”
Elvis answered: “Honey, I’d just sooner keep my own personal views about that to myself cause I’m just an entertainer and I’d rather not say.” Nowadays he would be pilloried for calling the reporter “honey,” and the rest of the press conference would have been ignored, but those were different times, and he got two more questions about political involvement, both of which he refused to engage.
Asked “Do you think other entertainers should refuse to be drafted?,” he answered: “No, I can’t even say that!” Then later: “There are a lot of stars today joining politics. Are you campaigning or…?” Elvis said: “No, sir, I’m not. I’m not involved in that at all, I’m just an entertainer.”
Elvis was right. The cast of “Hamilton,” and the legions of today’s virtue-signaling Leftist performers, are wrong. Elvis, unlike them, grasped that audiences might enjoy “Heartbreak Hotel” or “Suspicious Minds,” or “Hamilton” or any other work of art of any genre, without necessarily subscribing to, or caring about, or even knowing, the political views of the artist. For decades now, I have read material about Bob Dylan written by reviewers who assumed that everyone who must enjoy his songs must be a leftist; this was especially ironic given the elusiveness of Mr. Dylan himself, and his expressed distaste for serving as a political artist (see “My Back Pages”).
The cast of “Hamilton” and other Leftist artists are so ensnared in their own narcissism and their sense of their own righteousness that they can’t even conceive of the possibility that someone who doesn’t share their political views might like how they sing, or dance, or paint, or act. If they become aware of the possibility that they might have fans who aren’t Leftists, they willingly take on the burden of enlightening them as to the ways of righteousness – as the “Hamilton” cast did to Mike Pence.
What remains mysterious is what they expected to happen next. Did they hope Pence would stand up, renounce his sins, and declare his repentance and conversion? Did they expect the audience to rise up in a righteous fury and tar and feather the miscreant? Most likely they were trying to avoid the taint of that shopworn Leftist tactic for smearing its foes, guilt by association. The panicked cast probably gathered together backstage when they found out that Pence was in the audience, and someone said something like, “We’ve got to do something! If our friends find out that Pence was here and we didn’t say anything, we will never work in this town again!” They had to denounce and humiliate Pence from the stage in order to maintain their Leftist bona fides.
That’s how people behave when they live in a totalitarian state, and that’s what the Left is: an authoritarian society that demands total allegiance from its adherents, and exercises thought control over them. That’s why the performing arts are growing increasingly politicized, and why it is harder and harder to find apolitical entertainers like Elvis nowadays (yes, he went to see Nixon, but that was, in Elvis’ mind, to enlist in the war on drugs; he would have gone to see whoever was in the White House in the same spirit).
Performers who don’t toe the line simply don’t work again – when was the last time you saw a conservative such as James Woods or Jon Voight in a prominent role in a major motion picture? Combine that totalitarian imperative with the narcissism from which many performers suffer and the self-righteousness that is pandemic on the Left, and you get the Vice President-elect being berated by a bunch of actors who don’t know the first thing about politics except that Donald Trump is a wicked racist who is going to make life miserable for all good people. It’s nonsense, but the upside and downside for the actors was clear: engage in ridiculous virtue-signaling, or face career and possibly also personal destruction.
It will take performers of courage to remember that the Left does not own the culture, and to regain the spirit of Elvis and go back to being simply entertainers. Until those performers emerge, the preening Leftists of stage and screen will find their audiences steadily diminishing, and fewer and fewer political enemies in the audience to lecture. Those on the Right will vote with their feet. If the “Hamilton” cast doesn’t want them around, there are plenty of Elvis records to play to while away the evening.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Iran. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.