Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beggars for Capitalism

The artists’ tax exemption scheme should be scrapped and replaced with an arrangement where artists are assessed on all their income over a five-year period. None of us likes paying taxes, yet, proverbially at least they are as inevitable as death. Taxes are what we rely on to pay for health care, education provision, culture spend and much else besides.
I’m opposed to the Artists’ tax exemption scheme because I believe it is morally indefensible and not of real benefit to real artists anyhow. Most artists in Ireland do not earn enough to pay taxes and most people who benefit from the artist’s tax exemption are not artists. Bono is not an artist: he is a composer of pop ephemera and no qualification is necessary to dismiss Celia Ahern (millionaire chicklit author and Mrs to another millionaire pop ephemerist) as an artist. The argument that these millionaires and others should be exempt from tax while an individual on the minimum wage supporting an unemployed spouse and children in rented accommodation should contribute tax towards the funds needed to provide policing, roads, street lighting etc. that these millionaires also benefit from is morally indefensible.

Most poets, visual artists, dramatists etc do not earn enough from their imagination to make a living, let alone pay taxes. If someone does not earn enough to pay taxes, then they don’t pay taxes, nothing could be simpler than that fact. The less money you earn, the less complicated your relationship to tax is. The problem for most artists who do earn enough to pay tax is that they have good years followed by fallow years. A novel which earns its author €200,000 in a single year may have taken five or more years to write. It would not be unusual for this to be the only significant earning for a novelist in a long, long time. Assessed over a five year period these earning would equal an annual salary of 40,000 a year – the average industrial earnings. Someone on this wage with a single parent or marriage tax allowance would currently face annual deductions of about 5,000 euro. If the novelist deducted as business expenses her spend on computer and peripheral costs, stationery, post, phone, internet, web design etc. she could arguably reduce her tax liability to close to zero. I would propose that the artist/poet/novelist be assessed on their earnings over a five year period to allow for this situation. In any case most artists would still not earn enough from their creative efforts to pay tax.
Currently, if you are a writer who earns from giving readings or lectures or workshops you are obliged to declare these earnings for tax purposes. Most writers earn more from readings and workshops than they do from royalties. If all of a writer’s earnings, not just royalties, were assessed over a five year period, most writers would legally benefit more than from the present situation – and they would still be paying their fair share of tax – the same as anyone else on the same earnings level.
If all the millionaires and other high earners benefiting from the artist’s tax exemption paid their fair share the government would have more money available to increase bursaries to those artists who need them.
One of the biggest drawbacks in the current system is that not the Arts Council, not Aosdana, nor any artists’ representative organisation is consulted by the Revenue as to who should qualify for the exemption. The Revenue decide for themselves. And the sort of individual who is benefiting most often is bringing the scheme and the reputation of the arts sector in to disrepute. Why should a professional historian already receiving an exorbitant salary or pension from a university qualify for a tax exemption on his book royalties? Why should a brainless popular broadcaster whose book was ghostwritten? Why shouldn’t “ordinary tax payers” be enraged when they hear of these examples? Why should anyone on a good income from whatever source not pay their fair share of tax?

Artists are codding themselves by supporting the tax exemption scheme. Most of them will never earn enough to be charged tax and if there were fewer tax exemptions in all spheres of Irish life there would be more money in state coffers to provide for artist bursaries, grants, commissions etc.

Artists are special in the irregularity of their earnings – this reality should be accommodated by assessing them for tax over a five year period, not by exempting them entirely and obliging even poorer people to shoulder the burden of financing state services on artists’ behalf.

The average artist or writer who supports the current tax exemption scheme is like a street beggar who supports extreme capitalism just in case he one day becomes a millionaire.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lolita proves Lyne is a Langer

In spite of being a Nabokov fan since the age of seventeen (the short story collection Tyrants Destroyed being my first purchase. The story “Music” and the one about the cocainist remain my favourites) I spent twelve years avoiding viewing Adrian Lyne’s “movie” Lolita. In 1986 I had been dragged to see 9 and one half weeks by my future ex-wife. It was a cause celebre of a film in spite of not being the sort of material to excite the average Sundance film festival aficionado. It was in fact cinematically illiterate.
So when I heard in 1995 Langer Lyne had decided to adapt Lolita for the screen I groaned like a goat in labour. When it was released in 1997 I avoided it like the proverbial plague. I avoided it in the cinema. I avoided it on television, I avoided it in the video cassette and later DVD emporia. I avoided buying it at full price. I avoided buying it at discount price. I avoided buying it in any ten for the price of one dvd promotion sales. I would even have avoided accepting it as a freebie giveaway with a Sunday broadsheet had it been offered that way.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1960’s adaptation was a less than adequate representation of the novel but was a very successfully realised film with its own artistic qualities. At the very least it captured the dark irony and malevolent humour of Nabokov.
Last week Lyne’s crime against aesthetes and anti-paedophiles was broadcast on film four and I decided to record it on my skybox (the European version of a tivo whatsit).
I lasted six minutes before I decided to fast forward through the rest of the movie. Lyne’s movie was not without its redeeming features. There were at least two. 1st it portrayed Lolita as an innocent prepubescent at the start of the story, thereby underscoring the tragedy of her abuse (something Kubrick missed out on) The second redeeming feature was the casting of the American character actor (whose name I’ve never learned) in the role of Quilty. Everything else about the film was vomit-inducing.
Ironically Lyne’s version tracks the arc of Nabokov’s plot more faithfully than Kubrick’s, proving if proof were necessary that the appeal of Nabokov’s novel is not in its subject matter. Its appeal resides in its language, in its structure/form; in its dark, dark humour juxtaposed with the subject matter.
A further irony to Lyne’s “movie” is that whenever he believes he needs to sexually arouse the viewer he attempts it by presenting an animated parody of a Balthus painting where his leading actress’s long legs are on display in all sorts of configuration. Fast forwarding reveals that a good 15% of the film is taken up with this sort of crap. The irony of this Lyne stratagem is that Nabokov wrote an earlier novel called Laughter in the Dark which features an idiot of an anti-hero whose life ambition is to produce animated films where the paintings of the great masters come to life.
Nabokov would piss himself with laughter watching this movie if he wasn’t already spouting blood from every orifice with apoplexy.
Last point: Jeremy Irons might be a nice man but what a ham. He makes the worst Humbert Humbert. I’m convinced he’s the reason I didn’t like the film Swann’s Way. Try to visualise Irons in the Daniel Day Lewis role in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and you’ll understand exactly what I mean. He recently murdered some Yeats' poems by declamation on Irish radio.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Joyce Estate to sue Enda Kenny

The Joyce Estate has announced that it is to sue Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael for infringement of copyright. They say that at the post Lisbon referendum press conference Kenny's declamation of the word "yes" consecutively four times was a shameless plagiarism of Molly Bloom's soliloquy. Lawyers for Stephen Joyce said: "Saying 'yes' three times consecutively is arguably an infringement, but in such cases we have been leniant. However when Mr Kenny decided to say 'yes' four consecutive times it was a 'yes' too far and my client had no alternative but to intervene and safeguard his intellectual property rights. Arguably James Joyce's moral rights as an author have also been sullied by Mr Kenny uttering the words without the correct intonation but we will not be pursuing that matter at this juncture."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Read it and Weep

I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry reading this so I did both. (Blog title is link)