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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, April 5, 2010

Biting the Media Hand

In the April 5, 2010 edition of the New Yorker, Michael Schulman speaks with the British-American actor, Alfred Molina.

Molina is appearing on Broadway in the play "Red" about the abstract painter Mark Rothko. In 1958, Rothko was paid $35,000 (quite a lot of money then and now) to paint a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, stating, "I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room."

Rothko never completed the commission. Dining with his wife in the restaurant, he was heard to remark, "Anyone who will eat that kind of food for those kinds of prices will never look at a painting of mine!" He canceled the deal. It's not known whether he finished dessert.

That about-face on the relationship of art and money is the subject of the play. Molina is quoted as saying, "In the 70s in England, theatre groups would have that kind of discussion all the time. I worked for years in theatre groups funded by government money and we were all doing radical, left wing plays about bringing down the government...People hardly talk about that now because most reliant on private sponsorship..."

The article concludes by quoting Molina saying, "We need Rothkos in the world to remind us just how far we can improve ourselves.

Journalism in general and public broadcasting in particular used to pride itself on biting the hands that fed them. Part of it was to show that it was not the best journalism money could buy. Sometimes, the rebelliousness went too far, and there was an adolescent feeling of "I'll show them" in the newsrooms.

As government funding has dried up and public belief in public broadcasting has shifted, the mood in middle and upper management is about not rattling any cages, especially cages with money.

Imagine Mark Rothko as your newsroom editor. His attitude could be an excellent corrective in these nervous times.

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