COLUMN: Being cultured is taxing

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to CacheValleyDaily.com. His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

The only problem I have with RAPZ is that whomever invented the acronym missed a great opportunity for something much more catchier. RAPZ stands for Recreation, Arts, Parks and Zoos. It is a tax that is levied by Cache County to fund various public goods. It should have been Zoos, Arts, Recreation and Parks. Aka, ZARP.

That is much easier for people to remember. And being pro-ZARP or anti-ZARP has just the right amount of sci-fi flavor to it. ZARP! Man, they blew that one.

Every time one of these taxes comes up for debate–and RAPZ is up for renewal through popular vote by all Cache County voters on November 6th–the small government, quasi-libertarian, our-Founding-Fathers-spoke-to-me-directly-by-revelation wingnuts start frothing from the mouth about the oppression of taxes and big government spending gone awry.

Piffle.

RAPZ, if renewed, would cost each Cache County resident one single penny for every $10 they spend. These pennies would not only fund musical productions in the various venues for entertainment throughout the county, but also goes to such threats to freedom and liberty like repairs and upgrades to parks.

Communism, I say! Why not fly the old Hammer and Sickle outside the Eccles Theatre? When will the statue of Lenin be erected in Central Park? How dare you take a penny from me by force that I could have accidentally dropped on the ground and not bothered to pick up! Moochers!

On and on the wailing goes that people are forced to fund the arts. Of course, this tax is up for a vote. So, if the majority of people want it, then it really isn’t forced, now is it? But, hey! Why let the facts get in the way of a fantastically misinformed, short-sighted, moronic lamentation about the evils of publicly-funded opera?

Was that too condescending? I really hope it was.

The standard argument against government funding of anything artsy-fartsy is that it is not what the Founding Fathers wanted. The ad hoc argument states that the people, through free will and the free market, determine how much culture exists through the various mediums for entertainment. I can obliterate that argument with four words:

Dog the Bounty Hunter.

For years, those who wanted to completely gut PBS pointed to cable networks like A&E and Bravo as the archetypes for high end television programming that did not have the audacity to ask for public funding. It was a valid argument…until the focus groups shimmied their way into the room.

Soon, A&E started plaguing the airwaves with garbage like Dog and Growing Up Gotti. And Bravo, which at times could make PBS look like professional wrestling, followed A&E down the path of brain-numbing, slow cultural death with their own reality lineup.

I do not think it is a stretch to proclaim that if the Founding Fathers watched one episode of The Real Housewives of New Jersey that the Bill of Rights would have contained an amendment demanding funding to ensure a culturally vibrant society.

Capitalism, in spite of its wonders and virtues, often woos buyers by appealing to the lowest common denominator. It gets rich off of our desire to be fat, stupid and content. (RE: Facebook) If PBS and RAPZ can be vessels by which we sail to more intelligent shores of culture, then by all means send in the fascist paratroopers to extract by force the loose change we all have wedged inside our couches.

Taxation for the promotion of intellectual snobbery is no vice.

And in my opinion that is a salient point in the anti-RAPZ argument. There are some people who feel inadequate regarding cultured entertainment. I truly believe that if the revenue was only used to maintain parks those opposed would grumble, but they would let the measure pass without much of a fuss. Fund opera, or Shakespeare, or music where the performers dress in funny clothes and those same people get defensive. It is not so much a philosophical argument regarding the role of government as it is a defense of redneckery.

RAPZ is good policy. It helps maintain our parks. It funds programs that enrich our lives. It opens avenues for our children to experience new things that will make them more artistically creative and diverse. It allows us the opportunity to be a cultured, literate society.

Vote YES on RAPZ. You will feel smarter if you do.

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