The institute vector | ParkRecord.com

The institute vector

Jay Meehan, Park Record columnist

"Look at him! He looks like the grandkid of every Midwestern couple." — David Carr

When word first arrived that the Park City Institute would be presenting a "virtual" appearance by mega-whistleblower Edward Snowden at the Eccles Center to kick off their 2015-16 season, I immediately thought: "What balls!"

Not that such a seemingly audacious move is totally out of the box for the cultural organization formerly known as "The Park City Performing Arts Foundation." Certainly, they have, in their infinite wisdom, challenged mainstream schools of thought when filling out their programming schedules in the past. Fear of diversity never had a seat at their table.

It’s probably fairly obvious to those who have spent time perusing this space that I’ve been attracted to many of their quite eclectic choices over the years. That is not to say that these selections always find themselves within my cultural crosshairs, however.

Au contraire! When looking back on my initial reactions to their annual performance guides, I seldom find myself familiar with even half of the headliners in question, let alone having a favorable predisposition toward them.

But, in continuing this disclaimer, I have never been disappointed in any of the shows I’ve attended. Maybe conflicted, but never disappointed. My cultural horizons have been expanded at most every turn. To have such top-shelf mind-candy so easily accessible helps make living in the Wasatch outback much more of a no-brainer than it would be otherwise.

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But back to the Snowden affair and what it says about the current programming vector of Park City Institute. One thing is for sure: It demonstrates a velocity (a quite comfortable cruise) specified by a magnitude (the size of a huge heart) and a direction (outward).

The coolest thing about the Snowden pick, of course, is that it will make people nervous. Maybe even stimulate some finger-pointing and name-calling. Do I dare suggest questions pertaining to how the leaks relate to patriotism? And who has the moral high ground here, anyway: the "leaker" or the intelligence agencies?

Snowden, the former CIA, NSA, and DIA intelligence officer and contractor, obviously thought it was he who had "right" on his side when he chose to release a massive amount of classified documents that would later prove to expose illegal government surveillance.

I couldn’t help but recall going through similar changes and assessments when, a few years back, the Bookshop sponsors of Sundance Resort’s Author Series program invited me to share a luncheon table with the activist and former U.S. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg.

Admittedly, I felt pretty full of myself.

Ellsberg, of course, was at the center of his own controversy back in 1971 when, as an employee of the RAND Corporation, he released what became known as the "Pentagon Papers," a top-secret investigation of U.S. government decision-making policies relating to the Vietnam War. Well, of course, to us ’60s anti-war types, he became an instant folk-hero.

Ellsberg’s appearance, some 30 years after the episode in question, however, didn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t be expected to have generated the same kind of electricity as that of the upcoming Snowden interview. Handling those chores, by the way, will be KUER’s excellent Radio West moderator Doug Fabrizio.

Sharing the Eccles Center stage with Fabrizio and the on-screen Snowden will be special guest Ben Wisner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. Snowden, if you haven’t heard, will be featured in real-time from Russia via some sort of interactive Internet hook-up, the technology of which momentarily escapes me.

I did get in a practice session on just such an encounter, however — that being a video of the late David Carr of the New York Times interviewing the principals of the now Oscar-winning Edward Snowden documentary "Citizenfour." I recently learned that he appeared via "Google Hangout" from Russia for that one.

I have a feeling that attending the Doug & Edward show this weekend at the Eccles might be well worth the effort! Snowden certainly seems at peace with himself.

"At the end of the day," he said, "as long as I’m able to support the relationships I have with the people I love and work on things that matter to me, I’ll have a fulfilled life."

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.