A Reactionary Culture Kills Art
I often hear (and have repeated) the idea that entertainment has become too political and in many ways it’s true. In the sense that it intends to alienate instead of resonate, for instance, entertainment has become too saturated with political agendas. But we need to be careful in how we approach that. We come too close to stifling art. It's a societal problem as much as an ideological one.
The outrage that chased Kevin Hart out of hosting the Oscars is the most recent example of unrestrained mobbery. Hart's joke (an old one he told years ago) was social commentary. Comedy observes our insecurities and awkwardness - more specifically here, our relatable feelings toward what it means to be a parent, to be a dad, in a society that was wrestling with the open acceptance of the gay community. He apologized for it, but that was not good enough. Maybe the times were sensitive. But they always are, and much more now than ever. We are a prickly people and we have developed hyper allegiances to various causes and factions. Offense isn’t itself a bad thing - it wakens our humanity and critical thought. ‘Blind offense’, however doesn’t work this way.
For instance, every year a school district threatens to yank “Huckleberry Finn” out of the curriculum and local libraries, thinking they are on a righteous crusade to save impressionable youth from coming across the n-word. The blind reaction ignores that Twain was an abolitionist, the language of the time period in which it was written, and the Huck Finn story itself. And ultimately robs society of a positive cultural learning experience.
It doesn’t matter whether its an old comedy routine, a playful flirtatious song from the 1940’s, or interrupting “Shakespeare in the Park”, the reactionary culture police have been making noise and having success, and it will hurt us.
All of this modern cultural sensitivity brought me to read and think about a Russian composer named Dmitri Shostakovich. Stalin didn't care for him and many believe the reason is buried somewhere in the Shostakovich's opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”, which you can read about here. The Communist state led a propaganda war against him. A condemnation of the composer came out in the official communist paper, Pravda, accusing him of cultural crimes. Critics who had praised the opera were forced to recant. That was 1936. Shostakovich withdrew his fourth symphony from the public out of fear of arrest. Though he would compose works that pleased the state, Shostakovich was declared an offender by the Central Committee in 1946 over his ninth symphony, for which he was forced to apologize. Though he got a little creative breathing room after Stalin's death, Shostakovich again found himself in trouble in 1961.
Consider the crushing of creativity - living in fear of your own work, allowing others to dictate what you can compose, and apologizing for stepping out of line (sound familiar?). And in between all this, he saw some of his contemporaries, friends, and family members imprisoned.
Our current climate is too comfortable with this oppression of art. We need to be careful about asking for the censorship of what we do not like in art culturally before we incidentally (or purposefully) invite government to decide for us what is acceptable. We will become a culture of freedom that will turn on itself, and appeal to a larger power to censor what we find offensive. As it stands, it is only a race to see who cedes the power.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.