Freelining with Mike Freeman: The Death of Conservatism

I was touring a local business one evening when I happened to notice them hanging on the wall: state licenses. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

Now, you’re probably thinking that everything gets licensed these days by the state, so what’s the big deal? Was I in a doctor’s office?  A restaurant?

No, actually, I was in a tattoo parlor.  It was run by a man who designs the tattoos and a woman who does piercings, and just like every business these days, this tattoo shop is required to follow strict health care guidelines set by the state. That means the Florida Department of Health oversees the piercing aspects of this business, requiring the woman to undergo continuing education each year and to obtain a body piercing and biomedical waste license before she could work in the field.

Do we really need the state to protect us from tattoos and piercings?

A body piercing Florida license.  Now I’ve heard it all.

As I stood there looking at those licenses so prominently framed on the wall, I couldn’t help but think about one thing: the sad death of conservatism.

Conservatism, which I don’t think exists much these days, is supposed to be on the rise — even the dominant cultural strain in our society.  The Republicans just won a sweeping victory in last November’s election, including here in Florida.

Conservative talk radio easily crushes its liberal competitors. Conservative Fox News dominates the ratings over liberal alternatives like MSNBC.  Polls suggest far more people, up to 40 percent of the general public, consider themselves conservative, compared to those who view themselves as liberals (20 percent or less, depending on the polls).

Furthermore, the GOP victories were supposed to have been fueled by the rise of the Tea Party movement, which calls for a return to a very strict interpretation of the Constitution: remove powers from the government, and hand them back to the people.  Above all else, value and charish one thing: the free market, the very entity that the Obama administration and the former Democratic majority in Congress were supposed to be savaging with the health care law and other big government initiatives.

And yet … stop for a moment and listen to the speeches made by members of the Tea Party movement.  Listen to what those Fox News and conservative talk radio commenators rail about.  None of them sounds like a dominant movement that controls the government or the social trends in this country.  On the contrary, they almost sound like a tiny minority railing against a society that believes in the exact opposite of what they do — and they sound angry, frustrated, and fed up.

So if conservatism is truly dominant in our society, why do so many of these Tea Party or talk radio conservatives sound like they’re in the minority?

That’s easy.

They are.

The truth is, there’s so little genuine conservatism in our society today.  We abandoned that long ago, and I think the Tea Party folks know it.  Yes, we may rail against high taxes, and we may hate “big spending,” and we may think government does a lousy job at improving a bad economy or fixing the collapsed housing market, and we vote accordingly.  But the majority in this country shows little impatience with government itself.  In fact, we tend to look to it to solve every problem we have.  The free market, it seems, is too scary to contemplate.

Take that little tattoo parlor.

Why does a woman who sticks a needle in your ear or lip or tongue need a state license and continuing education?  Well, the “rational” argument goes, that license is there to protect you. If that woman isn’t licensed, she could run a dirty, unsanitary tattoo shop and unsuspecting customers would go in there, get pierced with a dirty needle, and get sick.

You can see a conservative politician, who just railed against the stimulus bill and health care reform, looking on nervously as his 18-year-old daughter says, “Dad, I’m ready to get pierced.” He wants Suzie to be safe when she visits that piercing shop, so what better way to protect her than to have Florida government regulate it.  And doesn’t a state license and health and safety regulations protect us from anything bad happening?

Uh … well, no. I actually think the free market — the very thing conservatives used to believe in — does a better job here.

Let’s say you have two rival tattoo parlors next door to one another. One is fully licensed and regulated, the other one isn’t. Common sense dictates that the fully licensed one will be clean and sanitary, while the one operating illegally won’t be.

But what if the “illegal” one takes great precautions, but the woman running the licensed one gets sloppy? Or maybe she’s going through a rough time financially or personally, and stops caring about standards.  If you think everyone who is licensed by the state will behave in a proper manner, just ask the lawyers who have stolen money from clients — after going to law school and passing the state bar.  Just ask the doctors who have committed malpractice — after completing medical school and getting licensed by the state.  Just ask any airline pilot at Orlando International Airport who stopped at the bar and had a few drinks before takeoff.  Good or bad behavior comes from responsible or irresponsible individuals — not state regulations.

And yet … how embarrassingly tempting these regulations are, even in a state that’s been dominated by “conservative” Republicans since 1998.  Funny how government always becomes so much more attractive when it serves to protect us, just like mom used to do when she warned us not to touch hot stoves or climb trees that we might fall out of.  How comforting to know that even after we turned 18 and left home, mommy will always be by our side — courtesy of that caring Florida government.

When did we all become such big government-loving woosies?

And why did we abandon the free market so hastily?

What happened in the days before tattoo shops were licensed? Were they all dirty and disgusting?  My guess is that responsible owners that wanted to stay in business made sure they operated in safe manner, knowing the first sick customer could ruin them.  Furthermore, in the Internet age we can always go online and do our own research to see which shops have a good — or bad — reputation, just as we can before hiring a contractor to fix our roof.  Too bad we tend to prefer the government doing it all for us instead.

It’s hard to believe conservatism is truly on the rise when we keep looking to the government to set a seemingly endless array of rules and regulations for how we behave — all in the false hope that if the government can’t protect us, nobody can.

I’m supposed to be grateful for all this, for the idea that if I do decide to get my ear pierced, the bureaucrats running Florida government are there to protect me.

But I don’t.

Instead, I think those angry Tea Party members who sounded like a lonely voice in the wilderness have a good point: they are a minority if they truly want the government to do less, not more.  Because right now, we’ve got a “conservative” Republican government in Florida that regulates like nobody’s business.

Contact Mike Freeman at

In-Cite by John DiDonna: The woes of Spider Man

Editor’s Note: John DiDonna is a professor at Rollins College, Valencia Community College and Seminole State College, a prominent actor, director and playwright, and the co-artistic director of the Empty Spaces Theatre Co. and a board of directors member of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Central Florida. John now joins the team at Freeline Media Orlando for a new column, In-Cite, that encourages readers to join in the discussion.  To debate.  To let their voices be heard.
INCITE – From the latin incitare – “to put in motion.”
INSIGHT – The power or act of seeing into a situation.
IN-CITE is a column that is merely a prompt for CONVERSATION and dialogue on up to date social/political/theatrical news.
The author holds a firm belief that it is pleasant but oftentimes insulating to talk to only those who agree – the most growth can be had by discussing with those we do NOT agree with!
With that being said, only civil discourse is encouraged, finger pointing or diversion discouraged, and premade agendas heavily disdained! 
Let the debate begin on  …  Spider Man and the future of Broadway.
The “talk of the town” – and not just of New York – is the Broadway spectacle “Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark” currently in previews and now slated to open at the beginning of February (after countless delays and changing dates).

Spider Man goes from comic books to hit movies and now Broadway ... but the latest transformation has been an awfully bumpy one for the producers.

Unfortunately, the talk isn’t all good.  Multiple injuries (two quite serious) and shutdowns, an unfinished script and story, and countless technical problems have haunted this production from the start of previews.

But as a theatrical artist myself, the bigger puzzle come from those who are not questioning just the safety issues, but the human element itself.  Too many perceptions are that the show itself has sacrificed story, connection and acting/singing in lieu of spectacle — for spectacle’s sake.

It’s been pointed out oftentimes that Julie Taymor, the visionary and remarkable director of Tempest, The Lion King and countless others on both stage and screen, excels at spectacle.  (And it must be pointed out that as a director, I certainly revere her).  And this is certainly true.  However, to this date her spectacles have existed to further the story, to illuminate rather than replace the human condition.

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed Piece published on Jan. 1, 2010, Jennifer George, the producer George W. George’s (Via Galactica) daughter, implored Julie Taymor and the production team in a manner I have put forth for the last month:  “But I’d like to urge them, take a moment — now if you can.  Step back and look at what you have.  Put the play’s human moments front and center.  There’s still time.”

A number of Broadway stars including Anthony Rapp and Alice Ripley have called for lawsuits and more.  Ripley’s oft repeated Twitter feed does ask an important question:  “Does someone have to die? Where is the line for the decision makers, I am curious.” (Hollywood Reporter 12/22/10)

In the creator’s defense, Taymor’s spirit of creativity and exploration must be applauded.  In an interview in Vogue magazine published in December of ‘10, that spirit of a pioneer was alive and well:  “I know it’s too much, but is that bad?  Seriously, if you don’t want to do something ambitious that’s never been seen before, why do you bother?”

But there also seems to be warring elements of that quote.  The inspiring last part is partly undone by the first part.  “I know it’s too much, but is that bad?” seems to be the question on the minds of many.  My simple answer is it is too much if that is all there is.

If this show fails, what is its legacy?  In a recent debate with a friend of mine (who, while remaining nameless, has starred in numerous shows on Broadway), I mentioned that even if the show failed, it would hopefully create ideas that can be used to greater effect and potential in future shows.  This person mentioned to me (paraphrased, of course) a far more dangerous outcome – they posed the question, You know what is worse than it failing? What if the show succeeds?  They questioned what would happen if that were the case — if it succeeds, what will become of budgets in the future?  They would skyrocket.  You would have to top $65 million, $100 million, $120 million.  Spectacle will become the norm with one Broadway producer trying to outdo another Broadway producer with more money being thrown down.

We have watched that happen in films over the last two decades;  God forbid it happens to stage, where money and spectacle might replace substance and humanity and immediacy.

So where is that line that Alice Ripley refers to?




What are your thoughts? Time for your in-cite.

Contact John DiDonna at

Freelining with Mike Freeman: Of Sweat and Snow

ORLANDO – There’s something particularly weird about watching heavy snow falling, and seeing people outside heavily bundled up in thick jackets and wool hats, and you’re standing in a T-shirt and shorts — sweating profusely.

Maybe that’s partially because this happened to me at 6:30 in the morning, and a part of me was still waking up.  Mostly it was flashback time for me, to all the blizzards I endured growing up in Fall River, Massachusetts —  including that Big Daddy of them all, the Blizzard of ’78, which is still the snow storm to compare all of them to, in my lifetime, anyway. Folks in Alaska, Minnesota and North Dakota may have their own distinctive memories to substitute.

Still, going up and down on a Stair Master at my local gym so early in the morning, watching the small TV screen attached to it broadcast blizzard coverage on all the national and local news shows, was a strange experience indeed. I was warm, even quite sweaty, but it wasn’t warm outside – odd for Florida in December, where air conditioners are still known to be running in the middle of the day.

But it was not only freezing outside, but actually below freezing – and people coming into the gym looked like travelers headed to some arctic destination. This is a big change from the usual Orlando mornings, where more than a few folks show up in shorts and change clothes after they shower.

Why do people love Florida in the winter? Cold spells don't last and the pool is always calling out to you.

Watching the news as I climbed stair after stair, I noticed that camera crews truly relish a hefty blizzard in the same way that our own local meteorologists seem thrilled at any hint of a hurricane coming on. For most of us, hurricanes are scary and unpredictable – and for that matter, so are blizzards. Ever gotten caught driving in one and found yourself stranded on a highway in huge drifts of snow? I know people who have. For a year in 1995, I lived in a small three room cabin on the picturesque shores of Long Pond, a lake in E. Freetown, Massachusetts, where at least one blizzard – and a few lighter storms – knocked out my power, taking with it such niceties as electricity, running water and an operating toilet. I’ve lived through two hurricanes in Central Florida, and know what it feels like to have your power go off and your air conditioning shut down in 90-plus weather, and then to feel the heat seep in ever more oppressively as you sit there waiting for the storm to pass.

But I also know what it feels like to sit in a small cabin during a blizzard and, power gone, feel the cold seep in when it’s below freezing outside and the snow keeps falling. I think I’ll take the heat and humidity any day.

“It’s supposed to rain this afternoon,” my dad told me on the day after Christmas, when I called him to chat. He still lives in the Fall River home I was born and raised in.

“But we’re getting a blizzard tonight,” he sighed.

At age 77, I’d figured my father had long since abandoned the idea that blizzards were pretty to look at or fun to play in, and just a complete and total hassle and complete endurance test. But he’s a creature of habit and loves his home, so he hasn’t followed me down to Orlando.

People I know locally who grew up in a heavy snow state have asked me if I’d watched the news reports of the big blizzard, and more than a few have said, “There’s no way I could ever move back up north.” Some of these folks are the same ones who, about mid-July, say “I hate Florida. The heat is terrible. I can’t stand it.” Ah, the grass is always a tad bit greener …

For me, the bitterly cold (I thought, anyway) walk from my car in the gym parking lot to the building itself  was enough to convince me that short cold spells in Orlando are better than months of this stuff up north, even if my friends in Fall River call me in May, June, and sometimes August to brag about their temperatures in the low-70s with no humidity. Is there a single place in the world with perfect weather year round? I know San Diego likes to brag, but I’ve been there when it’s unpleasantly cold in February.

Florida will warm up, and we’ll toss off our sweaters – probably within days. Fall River will dig out. It all depends on what we’re looking for in life.

As for me, watching the excitement of the northern meteorologists as they report blizzard conditions next to a highway with no traffic on it is always a happy reminder of why I moved in the first place – and of why Florida, high home foreclosure rate and all, will eventually regain its popularity as the place for t-shirts when the north needs plows.

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