The story behind the creation of the novel “Frankenstein” is legendary. In 1973, a U.S. government committee got together and, upon discussing what would be most politically expedient, voted to take tax money from citizens and give it to an NPR hostess named Mary Shelley to write a book that could hit the Oprah list and be featured on The View. The rest, as they say, is history.
Since the publication of Ms. Shelley’s novel – which actually came out on New Year’s Day 1818, and, of course, was not commissioned by the government – has had such a long-lasting effect on world culture, ranging from literature, to films, to music, the National Endowment for the Humanities has seen fit to prep for the Bicentennial of the “Modern Prometheus” by grabbing a third of a million in taxpayer dollars and shoveling it to Indiana so the Indiana Humanities gaggle can put on a horror-themed show starting on Sept. 1.
Not only will they open up the taxpayer-subsidized Indiana Medical History Museum to the party, which will include themes from the Netflix series “Stranger Things” (because everyone knows Mary Shelley spent time in Hawkins, Indiana, where the series is based), the organizers plan to open:
“…an onsite Franks-N-Steins beer garden featuring Central State Brewing beers and King David Dogs…”
Because nothing better evokes the gorgeous symmetry of Ms. Shelley’s prose or echoes the tragic revenge tale of the “Frankenstein” plot than a double-hyphen play on names for your beer and dog garden.
Let’s get something as clear as possible. Criticizing the seizure of taxpayer money by the government to facilitate a celebration of a remarkable novel is not a criticism of the novel or novelist, nor is it a criticism of the fans. It is a criticism of legalized theft, regardless of the use. In this case, the use just happens to be a mix of neat ideas and really dumb ideas, but the genius or lack thereof behind the celebration is irrelevant. There is a principle at stake, as there always is when taxpayer money is taken by people with high-minded ideas such as the “promotion of literature and literacy," which would undoubtedly be one of the defenses offered by art-snobbers for their tax-funded party.
Simply put, value is reflected by individuals. The very fact that Ms. Shelley’s creation has been published and republished for nearly two centuries, and that her story and characters have “lived” in print, in films, on shirts, in music, poetry, conversation, and fine art is testament to the fact that society has found her ideas worthwhile and exciting. The answer is already here: government isn’t needed to promote her work. People show every day that they value it, and they do so without the force of the state. And if people weren’t interested in “Frankenstein” any more? There certainly isn’t any more prerogative for their so-called government “representatives” to force them to pay to celebrate it.
Consumers show their value themselves. Not through state-run parties, no matter how cute those parties might sound.
The morality of a man using the body parts of others to house a brain he brings back from the grave was one of the central themes of Shelley’s work. In her book, she shows that it was a bad, immoral idea.
It’s a shame people in government don’t see that taking $300,000 from others to create an event – no matter how supposedly laudable – to promote literature, is immoral as well.