“During the 1930s Goodall made several visits to Germany, the last in 1935 when the Nazis were in full control. On his return he extolled the virtues of Germany under the Nazis, and was vocal both in his concerns over the influx of refugee Jewish musicians, and in his criticism of the BBC for employing them. Goodall’s views may have been influenced by his wife who was a strict Roman Catholic, at a time when the Catholic press was taking an anti-Bolshevik and pro-Mussolini position. In September 1939 three important events occurred. On Sept 1 Hitler invaded Poland, two days later Britain declared war on Germany, and on Sept 8 Reginald Goodall joined the British Union of Fascists.”—
I got kind of randomly spun onto a Wagner tangent last night by listening to a Radiolab episode about Das Rheingold, and via the magic of the internet (downloadio goo-glownus!), I’ve been listening to the ring operas in English. They’re really great, and sort of interesting philosophically. A few points, though.
There seems to be A) lots of talk about the tea party debates, and how [whatever] they are; and B) an ongoing agreement, which I apparently could not abnegate by blog post, to not bring up Hitler or the Nazis. I would like to point out, here, then, how commonplace it was/is to be on the wrong side of history, and also to be a pretty outwardly terrible person. You can be a famously terrible person, and no one really cares. History doesn’t care.
This Reginald Goodall, who I’m only starting to read about here, is a major conductor of the 20th century, famously linked to Benjamin Britten (himself one of the preeminent composers of the 20th century). He’s also quite famous for conducting (and meticulously training the singers for) Wagner operas in English. (Eg, what I’m listening to.) He was also, see above, anti-semitic pro-Mussolini, and pro-Hitler. This all from a person who — while not at the peak of his fame or artistic power — was not a nobody. I’m not precisely sure, but he would perhaps be analogous to a Katherine Heigl or David Archuleta, fame-wise. Which is to say, not super famous but I think kind of famous. (The comparison is adjusted for fame-flation, since there are so many more famous people now-a-day.)
Oh yeah, Goodall was also knighted at some point in his life.
I suppose my point is that there are really talented people who have terrible ideas (morally- and/or practically-speaking). There are also massively popular swaths of opinion that, in less than 100 year’s hindsight, were terrible swaths of opinion! There’s something of a paradox to me in that one the one hand, life goes on and people tend to forget what you’d charitably call ‘missteps’, and on the other hand, that real evil is perpetrated every day. Call it the “‘History will vindicate us’ false-apologia paradox”, if you want? (TM me, (c) 2011, ofc.) It’s just that, you can’t really tell how large and sinister will be the effects of each incidence of public jackass-ery, but you also can’t whole-cloth condemn someone for his actions at one time. These tea party debate things are weird to me because they seem like they should be much bigger stories, but I also know that they’re also mostly inconsequential, historically.
I mean, I’m not even talking about Wagner himself, but just like the third- or fourth-most popular Wagner conductor — a sort of famous, but not really famous person. He seems like he probably was an unpleasant person to be around. Still, I kind of love being able to listen to Wagner in English. What does it mean that I don’t really care he was pro-Nazi, or that Wagner was probably certifiably not well and pro-Nazi, or that Heidegger was pro-Nazi? From my limited understanding, there’s a lot of literature generated about these questions, and it’s probably all kind of boring because, in the end, who cares? These people did one thing, and they did another thing, and the other thing has resulted in this piece of art that’s bigger than any of the other things. Bigger than the other things, except, for evil and death, which seem like they’re probably bigger even than the ring operas.
So I don’t know. There is no final analysis. I suppose this is just the closest I’ll ever come to defending the tea party, by saying that even in the last few hundred years (which, let’s be honest, is the only period I have even a tenuous grasp on, history-wise) there have been much worse things. But also that those worse things probably started out pretty subtly.
We’re all born sinners, each with our own flaws. Worse, we join a group, or believe ideas, or friend people that we have limited knowledge of. And one day there will be reckoning; I just hope mine happens in history books not at a dinner party.