There are probably more than a few Americans who can remember when NPR endeavored to speak to and for a much larger piece of the public than it does now.
I was once a regular listener. This was way back in the days of Garrison Keillor, who was unpersoned by #MeToo a few years back, and the Magliozzi brothers, with their hilarious show of automotive fix-it tips. The audience differed from today’s urban progressive NPR crowd in that at least some listeners had seen underneath a car’s hood once or twice.
In recent years, NPR has descended into full-blooded wokeness. It is close to unlistenable now because of this political evangelism in nearly every minute of airtime. The same lens is applied to every topic under the sun and mercilessly forced into every segment.
During the day, my local affiliate still plays music from the Western artistic tradition. I have asked myself how long they can get away with this programming. Eventually, I expect station higher-ups will condemn it as inconsistent with the national headquarters’ blazing obsession with so-called antiracism.
Isn’t that music, after all, white supremacist to its very core? There are no eighteenth-century European symphonies vigorously denouncing slavery, whiteness, and the structural racism that made the music possible. Where is the self-flagellating required by the new cult? It seems the only artistic work that merits being made trashes the Western music tradition as exclusionary and elitist.
The researcher in me still sometimes tunes in to NPR for a few minutes. Most of the time, I’m listening to find juicy imbecilities to write about.
Last week, there was a segment on an opera singer. That’s outside the realm of expectation, I thought to myself. Why would they be paying any attention to the obviously elitist art form that is opera when there’s so much woke contemporary music to talk about (and indeed they spend a lot of time on that)?
The host says the opera singer’s name: Latonia Moore.
From that, and from her speaking voice, I discern her race. Now, I am certain of the direction the program will take: “Opera is full of racism! What can be done to revolutionize it?” I’m waiting, finger poised on the record button on my phone so I can speak some notes for the eventual writing I’ll do on this latest example of woke NPR.
But then, Ms. Moore gloriously refuses to play the game.
The host is a new person at NPR, Leila Fadel, and she is an immaculately politically correct Arab Muslim woman who grew up in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Fadel tries mightily to get Moore to go where she wants: Isn’t it difficult to participate as a black woman in an art form so (ick!) European? Are there racial barriers to her success there (hint, hint: of course, there must be)? What does she think of white singers playing the roles of non-white characters (harmful in every conceivable way, yes?)
Moore is having none of it. “The challenge of being a black opera singer, not a challenge—not really,” she says. “I have no obstacles.”
I’m listening attentively now.
The art form is what matters, she says, and anyone with the performative and vocal chops can do any role.
In the interview, Moore also talks about members of her family trying to move her away from opera and back into jazz where she had started:
“[They said] you’ll be more successful in jazz. You’ll go further. But I didn’t care, you see, because when it came down to it, what was going to give me fulfillment? And even as a teenager, as an 18-year-old, I knew this. I said, this is what I’m supposed to do. I feel it in my bones.”
“I mean, I don’t know. When I started into opera, I didn’t really think about the fact that I was black. That didn’t matter to me at all because my whole idea was becoming this chameleon and being, you know, someone Italian, being a 15-year-old geisha in Nagasaki, Japan. So for me, it didn’t matter what my skin was because this is an art form that’s based on suspension of disbelief.”
Fadel makes one last courageous effort to get Moore away from this thoughtcrime: “But we live in a world where skin color comes up so often because of the history and because of the world where a lot of these operas were written.”
Moore responds: “I’ll tell you this: Very little causes me offense … I don’t take my preconceived notions and judgments and prejudices and bring them into the opera house or into any form of art because … that means you’re not embracing it.”
God bless Latonia Moore. She has made a new fan.
But lest you think this is anything more than a rare exception to the rule at NPR, I’d suggest tuning in at any random time for a few minutes to see what’s going on.
I did that as I was drafting this article and found a hilarious textbook case of pot meet kettle on “All Things Considered” as two female hosts, voices dripping with sniffy disdain, described terrifying right-wing conspiracy theorists on tour. Nothing like a little moral preaching about dangerous conspiracies from an organization that endlessly tells its listeners how fearful they should be about non-existent horrors like an epidemic of police violence against unarmed and non-resisting black men.
Never fear, loyally woke NPR listeners. It’s a near certainty that work is underway there to make sure what happened in the Latonia Moore story doesn’t happen again!
Image credit: Flickr-Ben Schumin, CC BY-SA 2.011 comments