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Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

At the editorial board

Margaret Atwood, uncensored Add to ...

Mr. Geiger: Do you think, speaking to that point, if a campaign is boring, which you keep hearing people saying - it's become almost a mantra in some media...

Ms. Atwood: Well maybe things need to get a little more locked-down and then it'll be less boring. Maybe the needle has to go further towards the dictatorship and maybe people will wake up and think, "Hey, just a minute, what happened?"

Mr. Geiger: I was wondering if maybe that was maybe a too cynical view. Do you think that could be potentially a strategy? If you suppress voter interest in turnout then...

Ms. Atwood: How these outfits always come in is, "We're going to make things better. Everything is under control. The trains will run on time. You have nothing to worry about."

Now in the thirties, there was a real fight going on and it was between the Communists and the National Socialists in Germany, and between the Socialists and the Francos in Spain. And between the Mussolinis and, essentially, Socialist Communists in Italy. So the scare tactic was "The rabid Bolsheviks will come in and eat your kids."

That is actually not the case here. There are no rabid Socialists who are going to come in and eat your kids. So maybe people just don't see, or maybe they don't care, maybe they think it's fine that somebody's going to take their tax money for the next thirty years and put it in a lot of places, the cost of which we don't know, and a use for which we do not have.

Where are these planes going to fly? Who are we going to bomb? What's being defended? Better to put it into the army, says I. And I was one of those people who was quite appalled when Trudeau did away with the regimental uniforms. I thought that was a bad thing.

Mr. Owen: Again, under Pearson, under Paul Hellyer

Ms. Atwood: Oh was it? But he let it go forward. Yeah, it was Pearson come to think of it. And I think they did it in the interest of national unity, which was actually not how things really worked, especially not in the army.

Ms. Traves: You mentioned copyright. I was wondering if there were other cultural issues that were under the radar?

Ms. Atwood: Well, you're always going to get a lot of hoo-ha around the issue of culture. Because a certain kind of people do think of artists as lolling around eating grapes and going to arts galas. And somehow making lots of money from the public which, in fact, doesn't happen.

What does happen is the public makes a lot of money from artists and those numbers are freely available. But, still, if your dad wanted to be a doctor, it's still up his nose that you didn't become a doctor but are instead this artist person that's not entirely respectable.

We are in trouble when artists become entirely respectable because then they become apparatchiks, and, indeed, Nazi Germany had lots of artists. Hitler was a big art collector. These are the kinds of pictures he collected. You can see them in a movie called The Architecture of Doom. The main message of which was that if Hitler hadn't gotten into art school, none of this would have happened.

Because what he really liked doing was designing the uniforms. He collected pictures of flowers, pictures of fruit and bowls, pictures of noble landscapes with mountains in them, pictures of waving wheat. Pictures of noble workers with tans and muscles. And pictures of noble soldiers and nice blondes in ethnic outfits. He collected those pictures and he had a huge collection of them. And his big idea was to have a huge museum in Linz, in which he'd put all of these pictures, and all the pictures he'd stolen from everybody else. Except the pictures he decided were corrupt, bad art. Which are now the ones worth a lot of money.

So, connecting the state and the artist is always a bad idea. It's the same as connecting the state and media. It's the other thing that makes people nervous. So if you have any kind of support for the arts, doesn't that mean it's going to be some kind of mouthpiece for the incumbent government and some grievily way, and that all you will be doing is supporting mediocre, within-the-box art, which is why any such organization has to be arm's length.

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