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Coined “Czar” and it’s negative implications in our battle for The Arts

I understand that the term “Czar” for positions specific to tackle certain issues in all levels of government has become a coined term in the U.S….but can we just take a moment to notice that we are actually calling people czars?

Russian Czar/Tsar Nicholas II

I guess once you’ve said it enough you forget what it feels like to say it the first time and what kind of natural implications come with that term. It comes from the Russian “Tsar” but also spelled “Czar” meaning the emperor or king of Russia. Originally, even from the Latin “Caesar”. Also implies a tyrant or autocrat, a ruler with absolute power, ruling in absolute monarchy and now expanded to any person with great authority or power in a particular field. And all of that kind of flashes through our brains from knowing the history of the term, now using it in Boston to describe our new “Cabinet-level Chief of Arts and Culture”.

We have a tricky relationship with our American government and its relation to the arts. And by having more official positions in the government that do focus on the arts, we are invoking change and attention to the importance of the arts in our society. Ideally, this will eventually fuel a larger budget in government funding for the arts. I do wonder, however, that the negative connotations with calling all our cabinet positions/chairpersons, and specifically our chief of arts and culture, a “czar” it can bring negative implications of tyrannical power to a beloved position.

After the Federal Theatre Project and other New Deal programs were deemed to be no longer necessary, we’ve started to get more involved in the commercial side of the arts inevitably intermingling with the ideals of capitalism. An example is accepting the commercial theatre to help fun nonprofit theatre. But I think, by gaining a stronger standing with the American government, an institution that has historically been at times admired for trying to avoid negatives of capitalism i.e. monopolies and corruption in our social structure, will help the arts in the long run in dealing with being “in the intersection” of commerical and non proft.

Furthermore, there is an argument that the government shouldn’t get involved in the arts and vice versa with an example being that religion is kept separate from the state. As an opponent to this argument, I don’t think adding in the term “czar” helps to emphasize that the position isn’t about politics and getting “entangled in the government”.

Shouldn’t we, arts advocates who want our representatives that finally get a place in the government to succeed, refer to them through supporting, (non-tyrannical ruler invoking) language?

President Obama and the White House Administration have been noted to not endorse the term. A recent example is when Jake Tapper wrote about the “Ebola Czar” quoting press secretary Josh Earnest in a CNN article:

And as for the term “Ebola czar,” it is not officially endorsed by the White House. “As far as I’m concerned, you can call him anything you want,” Earnest told reporters. “We call him the Ebola Response Coordinator.”

I also know President Obama is wary of these terms for old rulers and what they can mean when used maliciously, i.e. “Emperor Obama”. Obviously, many Presidents throughout history have been victims of being called dictators, kings, emperors but this implication of a tyrannical ruler should not be ignored in our usage of “Czar” as well.

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