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Dubya: Patron Saint of Arts & Letters

If Michael Moore’s new film does record box office, he’ll have Bush to thank. How the president has been better for culture than the NEA.

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Bush prefers baseball to Broadway, duck-hunting to gallery-hopping, and mangled, experimental speeches to mangled, experimental poetry. But under his presidency, corners of the arts have been flourishing—foremost, publishing houses flush with profits from anti-Bush screeds and pro-Bush paeans. Now independent film studios IFC and Lions Gate hope that Michael Moore’s vitriolic Fahrenheit 9/11 will produce similar profits. No doubt such sales will fund the filmmakers, poets, and novelists of tomorrow. (Laura Bush’s stuffy, NEA-sponsored “American Masterpieces” tour of art surely won’t.) Who’d have thought that a Bush presidency would be so good for the arts?


Film
Sales of Robert Greenwald’s DVD documentary Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War raised more than a million dollars for MoveOn—and enough money to kick-start production on a new lefty documentary. But on June 25, all eyes will be on Michael Moore’s Palme d’Or winner, Fahrenheit 9/11, as it barrels onto an anticipated 1,000 screens. “This could very well break all doc box-office records,” boasts IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring. Meanwhile, controversy-to-profit studio Newmarket Films (The Passion of the Christ) is hoping to have the first John Sayles hit in years: His satirical thriller Silver City opens on September 17, starring Chris Cooper as Dickie Pilager, a Bush clone who discovers a bloated corpse at an environmental photo op.

Theater
The underdog Tony winner Avenue Q may owe some of its surging goodwill—and lucrative Vegas deal—to its anthem “For Now,” in which the puppets’ line “George Bush is only for now” typically leaves the audience hooting (RNC guests will not be visiting Broadway’s Best Musical this summer, but will be attending Wicked). At the Public, Tim Robbins’s satire Embedded was one of the most successful plays of the Off Broadway season, extending twice and playing to 95 percent capacity for fifteen weeks. Up next: Karen Finley’s George & Martha, about Bush and, yes, Martha Stewart.

Poetry
Who would have guessed that a Laura Bush literary luncheon would make news—that is, before a group used the event to launch Poets Against the War. “The White House did us an extraordinary favor,” said the group’s Sam Hamill, whose anthology has sold at least 35,000 copies—a huge number for poesy.

Music
Bush critiquers the Dixie Chicks’ 2003 “Top of the World” North American tour grossed $60 million. (Their 2000 “Fly” tour grossed just $46 million.)

Books
“It really gets me when the critics say I haven’t done enough for the economy,” the president recently joked. “Look what I’ve done for the book-publishing industry.” Indeed, as subject material, Bush has been about as profitable for the book business as sex, weight loss, or, novelty-wise, fart jokes. (See Bushisms, The I Hate Republicans Reader, and The I Hate George W. Bush Reader.) A sampling:

TRAILBLAZERS In 1999, J. H. Hatfield’s Fortunate Son set the pace, selling 60,000 for tiny Soft Skull Press. Meanwhile, Molly Ivins’s Shrub, written with Lou Dubose, quickly sold out its 85,000 initial print run.

INSIDE SCOOPS Among writers with all-access passes, Bob Woodward has dominated, selling more than 850,000 copies of Plan of Attack; Richard A. Clarke (Against All Enemies) is not far behind—with 750,000, while former ambassador Joseph Wilson and Ron Suskind (with former Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill) have both sold in the six-figures.

SCREEDS The most profitable anti-Bush author is Al Franken, whose Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them has broken the million mark. Meanwhile, Noam Chomsky’s 9-11 has sold more than a million worldwide, followed closely by the latest from Gore Vidal (Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace) and Michael Moore.

FAN FARE Thinking positive is only slightly less profitable: Bill O’Reilly has sold 983,000 copies of Who’s Looking Out for You?, while pro-Bush books by Sean Hannity and Karen Hughes have sold in the mid-to-low six-figures.


FORTHCOMING That’s not all: Houses are stocked with upcoming books by Gore Vidal, columnist Maureen Dowd, Senator Robert C. Byrd, comic Jon Stewart, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter—even Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen. So many, says Carl Bromley, editorial director of Nation Books, that “I’m not entertaining proposals about Bush-bashing books anymore—it’s saturated.”

Fine Art
Artists have been rallying for “Majority Whipped” traveling group shows and the “Terrorvision” group show at Exit Art in Chelsea. (One artwork’s title: I Am Terrified of the Patriot Act.) Bush has also catalyzed one of the most high-profile benefit auctions in years: On June 29, at least 197 artists, from Matthew Barney to Bill Viola, will auction off their works for a fund-raiser titled “Bye-Bye Bush.” But if Bush does leave office, parting could be surprisingly bittersweet sorrow.


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