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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sins of Symphony Space

My ongoing search for illegal electioneering by 501(c)(3) theater companies has turned up another example, and this one may be the most blatant to date.  Symphony Space, it turns out, has an incredibly awful evening of skits and songs purporting to be comedy which it calls the Thalia Follies.  And this year, their show was called Primary Colors, an all out attack on every Republican candidate for president.  What is great about this example though, is that they did this show back in 2008, when President Obama was running, and the differences between the ways the candidates are treated are quite telling.  Lets look at a song from this year’s follies called “Anybody but Mitt”, don’t feel compelled to watch the whole thing.  Now lets contrast that with a song from the 2008 follies, called “How do you make fun of Obama?”.  Isn’t it interesting that with all these marvelous comedy writers, they couldn’t find one joke to poke at then candidate Obama, but seem to find such an easy target in Mitt Romney?
As has recently been my want I contacted Symphony Space to find out why they thought such programming was in keeping with the Tax Code’s prohibition on statements in favor of, or opposed to a political candidate.  

As you can see in the email exchange, I was assured that this political cabaret is not exclusively in support of or against any one political party.  I mean, come on.  This is simply, plainly and demonstrably not true.  So I replied, hoping for an example of Follies material that was as critical of the President, or any Democratic candidate as it is of Republicans,  The response was, I suppose somewhat predictable.

Equal opportunity satirists?  Does Johanna, the Director of Marketing just think I’m stupid?  It is as clear as is the summer sun that both iterations of this show are just wildly partisan.  The evidence is right there on YouTube.  
As I always point out when dealing with this issue, everyone has the right to make shows, even purulent and pathetic shows, embracing any politics they want.  But nobody has the right to do so using public funds donated through the 501(c)(3) tax exemption.  Symphony Space’s blatant disregard for this important feature of the tax code, and their absurd assertion that their political musings are not biased expose the bubble that theater exists in.  Has Artistic Director Isiah Sheffer ever considered that Americans who pay taxes, are willing to give money to the arts to create art, not to create political ads?  That the money Symphony Space receives through charitable deductions are not his private theatrical fun fund, but rather a trust he holds to promote theater for everyone?  Even Republicans?  My guess is he has not.


At May 24, 2012 at 7:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, if it were me, Anything But Mitt would be sung by disenchanted Republicans. And, making fun of Obama is stupendously easy. Just write a lofty, incredibly uplifting speech with no content behind it whatsoever. But it somehow makes you feel REALLY good! And this coming from a liberal. It's easy to satirize politics in a bipartisan manner because, well, it's easy to make fun of politics.

At May 24, 2012 at 8:43 AM , Blogger Dave Marcus said...

You make a great point, I mean how hard is it to heap the satire on both sides. But the thing is, even if the show was balanced, or fair, or whatever, it would still run afoul of the tax code. The 501(c)(3) limitations on statements about candidates say nothing about fairness, they are rather a blanket prohibition against any statements for or against a candidate. And it makes sense, the reason that 501(c)(4) companies (such as Citizens United) exist, is to make sure that people can't take tax deductions for donations used for political speech. The fact that the context is theater, and not a 30 second ad, really makes no difference. Thanks for checking out the blog.


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