Wednesday, November 12, 2008

California Musical Theater AD resigns over Prop 8

I must say that I am conflicted over the recent news that Scott Eckern of California Musical Theater has resigned as Artistic Director.  Eckern was a proponent of Proposition 8 in California - more than proponent, he donated $1000, which is a sizable amount for anyone who makes theater their main business.  He is also a Mormon, and was following his religious beliefs.

When the donation came to light, he faced threats of a boycott of the theater.  He quickly responded by resigning, stating he never meant to hurt anybody, and offering to donate $1000 to a gay rights charity.

What to make of this?  According to the New York Times, nobody is happy, not even those who threatened to boycott the theater, such as Marc Shaiman.  Eckern, for his part, said "I honestly had no idea that this would be the reaction."

I have to wonder how someone who makes his living in musical theater could have been surprised that homosexuals feel strongly about achieving equal rights.  I almost feel bad for him, alone in a small section of society where almost everyone supports gay rights, while the majority of America still fights against them.

But would I feel bad for him if he had voted against a woman's right to vote, or for school segregation?  Would I feel bad for him if he had voted that Jews should not have the right to marry?

I don't think Mr. Eckern is a bad person.  But I cannot forgive his prejudice, either.

Yet let us also bear in mind that, publicly at least, our Democratic President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden have stated that they do not believe in gay marriage, either.  Secretly, I was hoping that maybe they were lying when they said it.  After all, they did not want it to become the center of the campaign.  And they certainly didn't contribute money to the cause - that in itself puts Eckern in a totally different category.

And yet, how sad.  And how hopeless Eckern's battle was.  Because, for all the hubub about Proposition 8, those who are fighting against gay marriage have already lost.  Yes, there has been a setback.  But it is a only matter of time.  The ads for Prop 8 focused on the children.  The children will learn that being gay is acceptable, the ads implied.

They will already learn that, of course.  And soon those children will vote.  And someday they will look back at people such as Eckern and shake their heads in wonder, maybe even feeling a little melancholy for those caught in an old belief system, a belief system destined someday to die.

I hope soon.


Henry Akona said...

It is impossible to know if Mr. Eckern's resignation was entirely voluntary or if it was encouraged by the board. Nonetheless, as artistic director he was not merely a "employee" of the company: he was an executive and the public face of the organization. Executives and politicians are (and should be) held to a higher standard. They resign all the time for saying stupid things (just ask Larry Summers or Trent Lott). What they say (and here I'm using the Republican definition of political contributions as "speech") is not illegal, but, if it undermines their capacity for leadership, they have no choice but to go. Mr. Eckern has admitted to being (at best) a careless dupe, which is enough to cast doubt upon his fitness to lead any organization. It's a tragedy but not a witch-hunt. He brought it upon himself and, if he could not maintain the trust and goodwill of the patrons, members, artists and employees of the organization, he was right to resign.

Kasheri said...

“What to make of this?”

An excellent question. Prop 8 is such an embarrassment. How can discrimination be placed on the ballot? How can we just blithely ask “Well, what do you think? Shall we deny a huge chunk of the population equal rights under the law?” It’s just boggling.
That’s where the problem really resides, if you ask me. Eckern should never have been in a position to contribute money to such a cause. Of course a boycott was threatened. I personally stopped patronizing Carl’s Jr. back when it became known that Carl Karcher was putting the fortune that he made from the business toward anti-abortion and anti-gay initiatives. In 1978, he provided $1 million dollars to California's Proposition 6. The proposition was a ballot measure requiring the termination of all gays and lesbians from employment in public schools. (It was soundly defeated. Who would believe that Californians were wiser back then?)
I join you in your doubt that Eckern is a bad person. This proposition, and the opportunity for Eckern to financially back discrimination, should never have been placed on the ballot at all. Some things should not be subject to the will of the majority. They are inalienable rights, whether you like the folks exercising them or not. I just wish that had been clear to everyone else as it had been to me.

Theater of Ideas said...

There is no doubt in my mind, Henry, that Mr. Eckern did bring this problem on himself, or that he should have resigned. I myself would have joined the boycott, if I had been in Marc Shaiman's position. And running a musical theater shunned by much of the theater community is obviously untenable.

I suppose what's sad about this particular case is that Eckern wasn't an ideologue, just a man caught in the same unfortunate mindset that apparently besets the majority of Californians, still.

Carl Karcher seems to have been a man who wore his intolerance proudly and defiantly, and something of a different case.

As to whether gay marriage should be subject to the will of the majority...I would argue, that in the end, most of society is always subject to the will of the majority. Perhaps we can protect society from the temporary whim of the majority, but the will of the majority...that's what has to be changed, for real progress to be made.