JUST WHEN Iraq is challenging U.S. status as a military superpower, our troublesome ally, France, is using state power to challenge on another front. A young bureaucrat named Bruno Lion has been given a budget of $7.8 million and titles variously translated as chief of mission or junior minister for rock, or just Monsieur Rock, and told to put France back on the map of the music of youth.
There will be subsidies to artists, perhaps new performing spaces in the provinces, junkets to New York, official protests at U.S. immigration restrictions on artists, but France has used state power to support opera and classical French drama and painting and museums and will leave no stone, rolling or otherwise, unturned in this quest.
The East Germans used state power to climb to the pinnacle of Olympic sport. Now France is trying the same in another sphere. It will, of course, run into the problem that bedevils the National Endowment for the Arts in this country: Can officialdom subsidize art without imposing society's official values and, if it overcomes that problem, is an officially approved counterculture still the counterculture?
Tune in next decade and find out how they managed.
* * * SOME intellectuals can always find something different to get lathered up about. The latest example comes from PEN, the literary group.
Ken Auletta, a newly elected member of PEN's board, thanked the group's benefactors, financier Saul Steinberg and his wife Gayfryd, by writing a New York magazine article labeling them "wealthy people gaining respectability on the backs of writers." This prompted other board members who feared the Steinbergs might quit helping to raise money for the group, which defends the civil liberties of writers around the world. They wrote a letter of apology for Daily News writer Auletta's behavior.
The author, though, is unrepentant, and he has been supported by such authors as Gay Talese, who says it's a matter of free speech. Mr. Auletta says he's concerned about "PEN and writers becoming trophies for wealthy people generally, not just the Steinbergs."
Gallimaufry is firmly against writers becoming trophies, too. We hadn't realized that had happened to PEN. Perhaps Mr. Auletta would like to stop ranting in generalities and give us the specifics.
* * * NOW THAT Saddam Hussein is squeezing the oil spigot, American industry is taking a second look at nuclear power. Could this be the way to become "energy independent"? Maybe not. Since uranium, like oil, mostly comes from outside the country these days, what's to stop the rise of a NUPEC (Nuclear Power Exporting Countries) to take over where OPEC left off?