January 18, 2018

Should Art Be Political? You Mean...It Isn't Already?

YES in Neon

Whenever I'm talking with others on Twitter or Facebook (it's almost never in person, for reasons that will soon become apparent), there's always a line of conversation. Usually, it's white dudes over 40 years of age (like me) who say something like this. (Although I admit that I had a conversation with a white woman over 40 years old who expressed similar sentiments over Doctor Who).

Usually, the line of conversation usually results in someone making a variation of the following:
"You know, I'm tired of this movie/show/book/genre being so political? Why can't we just have things the way they used to be, with good old fashioned escapism/entertainment"
And the problem with that statement is that there was never a golden age when things weren't political. I would argue that the act of creating - especially now, in the age of the current GOP administration - that creativity is an especially powerful political statement.

Nostalgia is a tricky thing: it allows the person to momentarily escape the Doctor Who conversation I mentioned previously? We were at a Chicago Doctor Who Meetup event, and she spent so much time complaining about a female Doctor/
difficulties of the present by engaging in an idealized past. Yet paradoxically, escaping into that idealized past prevents you from even enjoying the present experience of that media.

That Doctor Who conversation that I mentioned? In the background, a Tom Baker story was playing. You know, the guy who was the David Tennant of the 1970s? The Doctor for many people? And ironically, this woman could not understand that she was spending more time complaining about Jodie Whittaker than watching the show she loved.

But how does this play into politics? No creative act - writing, music, dance, what have you - exists in a vacuum. Politics permeates any piece, and many writing is a reaction to the politics of the time. Even "simple escapist fare" is a political statement because it serves to relieve the tensions of modern living. (And one the things I've learned about the Operator 5 Purple Invasion and the Spider Empire State Pulp arcs of the 1930s...they weren't done on the whim. Harry Steeger, the editor of Popular Publications, wanted those storylines written in response to the then-prevalent isolationist movement in the United States). So the idea that there was this "golden age" when politics was never involved in art - whether through individual motivation or editorial mandate - is simply naive, choosing to avoid present reality and emphasize an unhealthy nostalgia.

[And yes, many people who wish to "go back" to a golden age are a reaction to greater inclusion/creators of color. My response - just where do you expect new readers and creators to come from? And yes, I am aware that the Spider arc was known as the "Black Police" arc. In a time when we have a movement called "Black Lives Matter", I think renaming it "Empire State" is much cooler and more respectful. My blog, my rules]

Even in my own writing, I'm finding that certain political themes are creeping into my writing. Even before I deliberately chose to insert themes into works like AKA THE SINNER: Cover of Night, there's been an emphasis on portraying white supremacy as a malevolent force. (This was way before Charlottesville). Being more inclusive in my writing, and trying to "get" representation right, has been a focus, preferring not to "insert generic Indians/Asians", for example, or actually working to balance a 21st century understanding of gender and racial roles and attitudes with the less enlightened roles and attitudes of the past.

[Yes, I have actually been told - by fellow white writers - to use "generic" types of diverse cultures. And also, yes, I'm willing to get representation wrong and get called out on it.]

So yes, art should be political...because it's already political. Creating a unique statement, or crafting a story, is always influenced by external politics. We are living in a time when many voices are being extinguished or stifled (whether it's DACA or net neutrality), and quite honestly, we need to hear more diverse voices.

And we also need to let go of the past, because it's never coming back.

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