Monday, June 06, 2005

Inspired Expression

First of all, this post grabbed me because I am also passionate about the state of the arts and expressive media in this country.

The comments, however, are even more riveting than the post.

Regarding the comment about how if the majority of Americans want Starbucks, Britney Spears, the Apprentice (and I’ll throw “The Idiot’s Guide to Wedding Planning” in the mix, just to have a book of some sort – or maybe the fact that no books are really “pop” culture is a more telling indicator?) then that’s what they should have: The issue is that this says bad things about America, and where we are going. Yes, I said BAD things.

(I must point out that “Britney” exists in my MS Word spell-checker. I sincerely hope this is either because someone who previously used this computer added it, or because a list of several hundred names has been added to the program, eliminating the common user need to add personal names individually. But… I can’t help but wonder if we are seeing Ms. Spears’ cultural influence even here.)

I’m not going to expand this beyond America, because right now, my primary interest is in my home country, America. I’m primarily concerned about whether or not there will be a culturally rich, open-minded society of free thinkers in which I might grow old and die, or – even more daunting – raise a child.

Too many Americans are having “do it our way or you’re facing rejection” shoved in their faces. It’s easy to apply this to the religious right, but if you’ve ever been to a party with a lot of ultra-liberal vegans who wear all synthetic materials, having leather on your shoes will engender the same response. Rejecting differences and trying to eliminate the possibility of them inhibits freedom of expression. For those who are still developing their ability to express (children, students, etc.), it limits (I worked hard to resist using more florid language here) the future of our people. All of our people.

Why would people reject differences? Because they fear being challenged. So many people need very badly to be constantly assured that what they are doing is right, and how they are living is best. Not just best for them – best, period. The idea of individuality – that something might be best for one person while another is best for someone else – doesn’t provide them the validation they need. Some people need to win, need to be right, need to be thought of as “doing it right.” I can’t condemn this, as it is very human, but it is, frankly, immature, and the product of a lack of self-identity and self-worth.

There is something even deeper and more sinister at work: the power structures which are built upon masses of people believing that only a person who professes certain positions should be followed. Who determines cultural trends? Do you really think the network and producers of “American Idol” are interested in music? And exactly how big of a star is Kelly Clarkson anyway? Once all the cash was collected from her first album, she seems to be a minor star. Hardly the American Idol she was supposed to be. This isn’t about discovering the next great artistic talent. This is about finding the next great cash cow.

But I don’t want to turn this into a rant against Reality TV. My point is that this country, for the most part, has lost sight of the importance of challenging viewpoints, and I believe this is reflected in the art, music, books, and TV that is now “popular” – making all the money. People have always been told what to watch, read, buy, but they used to get personal recommendations from friends, family, teachers, parents… now, the vast majority seems to pick up whatever is being featured at Barnes and Noble. The corporate Giant and it’s brilliant marketing team, being motivated by profit, gets more credibility than your English teacher. They are buying America’s confidence. And I don’t believe for one minute that Barnes and Noble’s primary interest is in better educating America, or in encouraging free thought.

I don’t believe a Utopian society where nobody cares about profit is the answer. Humanity just isn’t capable of that. There are plenty of examples world-wide (now I’ll look elsewhere for answers – oh, there aren’t any!) to illustrate that point. I do believe, however, that we have gone SO far to the other extreme that we are entering a new dark age.

I also do not accept “that’s the way people are, you can’t change them.” That’s the biggest line of lazy, defeatist crap I’ve ever heard in my life. Humanity today is virtually unrecognizable from what we were 200 years ago. People can learn, they can change, and they do, every day. If you like the way people are now, fine, sit down and enjoy yourselves. But if you think we are capable of more, like I do, and so many others (thank God) do, the get of your duff and make some effort. We have the right to affect change. Others have the right to oppose us. Acknowledging our power and ability to do so is all it takes to inspire that effort.

Yes, the country can be a better place. We make the effort every day. I think that George W. Bush, Ann Coulter, Al Gore, Hilary Clinton, Alan Keyes, Michael Moore and Britney Spears would all agree with me and even each other on that point. They are all making efforts in their own ways, and so can we. Even if that effort involves something as simple as choosing to crack that bible open – or the Koran, or your copy of the Wiccan Way – and actually live your life in a manner which will reaffirm the divine. And if you’re an atheist, how about simply not flipping off the driver who could have let you pass but didn’t? How about contributing to the scientific foundation of your choice? We all have responsibility. We all have power. I do not accept denial of this. I will never accept defeatism. I will never support sheer laziness of spirit or of mind.

As for my earlier comment about the new Dark Ages, I take heart that Hrosvitha was a respected playwright during her time. (Yeah, I’m looking outside America again. I guess I can’t help but HOPE that there might be some greener grass somewhere.) Galileo may have been forced to recant, but we all remember him and he did set humanity on a path toward the truth. And Margaret Fuller was one of the most popular girls in her town, rather than being called unwomanly, or a snob.

There is a lot of debate regarding, to quote my boyfriend, the “Great American Right to be Stupid.” I support this to a point. If you want to allow smoking in your establishment and are willing to pay a bit more for a license to do so, I feel you should have that right, and I simply won’t patronize it. However, abstinence-only programs are ridiculously ineffective. So are scare tactics. You’re not protecting or hurting yourselves anymore – now you’re endangering the lives of others. That is outside your right to be stupid. My example, based on my research. Use your own ideas to think of other examples.

Back to art: telling people “what is cool” is a great way of emotionally manipulating them into avoiding forms of expression that are a threat to your required thought-systems. Make sure they understand that Reality TV is “better” than a well-written script. Label shows like ER and West Wing evil, liberal conspiracies, designed to twist your mind and open a pathway to corruption. Say the same thing about art exhibits. Musical genres. An entire plethora of authors. The internet as a whole. Sexuality in general should be repressed. There’s too much opportunity for people to discover their own inner passions – and once they do that, they may insist on their right to follow it. Better yet – let’s reinforce that by making sure people understand that they will be rejected by God if they don’t conform.

As I’m sure you can see, the arts as a medium of expression is something I happen to be passionate about.

This isn’t about how great it is that people can choose Starbucks if they want to. This is about how horrible it is that they don’t know any better.

Challenge: If anyone wants to take this further by talking about certain public figures who’ve made an art form out of making their followers believe they are thinking for themselves when they are actually not, I encourage you to pick up this ball. Hint: they do it by providing a certain range of “positions” on certain issues, and letting people know that it’s ok to disagree within those lines.

I’m just exhausted from writing as much as I have already. I’m not a political pundit. I’m not an activist. I didn’t even go to a fancy college. I’m just a person working a menial day job that I don’t even like very much. But I feel that I matter because I am a citizen of this country. I dream that it will someday be a country of true freedom, where child molesters and murderers and CEOs who steal from their employee’s retirement accounts don’t walk the streets, but where people who love each other can safely hold hands in public. Where artists are not censured, where the quality of music is independent of the physical appearance of the musician, and where books will never be burned.

I guess we all have a dream.