As I sit here listening to Richard Wagner‘s “Symphony in C Major,” I can’t help but think about the controversy that surrounds any discussion of Wagner:
Hitler liked him!
Yes, the Reductio ad Hitlerum canard also affects classical music. Is nothing sacred? Does listening to Wagner taint me with the brush of Nazi-ism?
Of course not. That’s just silly. But remember: A whole hell of a lot of people think this way!
That’s the funny thing about art: Like sports, we demand that our musicians, painters, actors, directors, and writers be Good Guys and Gals–otherwise, they won’t be getting our hard-earned dollars, dang it!
I find this argument just as silly.
It Is Possible to Enjoy Art as Art
We don’t need to be slaves to that Romantic myth that the artiste puts a little bit of his soul in everything he does. I mean, the artist does, but at the end of the day our enjoyment of the art is an individual act. We get out of it what we want.
Does this contradict the fact that art is emotional? Not at all. You can feel the emotion in Wagner’s music without becoming an anti-Semite by association. The exact same way you might enjoy Woody Allen or Roman Polanski movies without approving of their pedophilia. Or listening to Led Zeppelin independent of the fact that Jimmy Page kept a fourteen-year-old girl as a sex slave (yeah, that happened).
This has been on my mind since Rawle Nyanzi and I decided to go see the new Ghostbusters movie. Is this movie “anti-men”? I don’t know! I haven’t seen it! Maybe it’s good and not insulting to me, despite the pre-release buzz and the comments made by its writers and stars. Let’s say it is good. Will I care that Paul Feig or Kristin Wiig thinks men suck?
Pop culture is the most influential force out there. Politics is downstream from culture. If you want to understand what’s going on, you have to understand what affects people emotionally. Even if you’re not into politics, you cannot divorce yourself from your environment, because it affects everything.
Remember: If you really want to change the world, go into entertainment.
Art and Politics
People on the conservative/libertarian side of things make the mistake of writing off entire swaths of culture due to political disagreement. This is dumb. This is surrender. Don’t like it? Engage in it. It’s hard to have an opinion, and therefore a refutation, of something you know nothing about.
Leftists/liberals do this too. “The Passion of the Christ is anti-Semitic!” Have you seen it? “Hell no!” It’s based on Scripture, which is not anti-Semitic. Have you read the Gospels? “HELL no.”
“Mel Gibson said those racist things to a cop! I’m not going to see Apocalypto.”
Fair enough . . . you don’t have to support anybody you don’t want to with your money. But try watching Apocalypto and telling me that it’s an objectively bad movie. You can’t.
Politics ruins a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t ruin everything. If it did, why would I listen to noted anti-Christian bigot Frank Zappa?
Here’s a Good Example of Bad Art
Have you been paying attention to Marvel comics lately? Of course you haven’t. Nobody reads comics. And I’m not just saying that to be funny: Marvel’s numbers are down big-time.
Why? Most artsy-types have been on the left-side of things for pretty much ever, including Marvel’s. Surely this can’t be a consumer revolt against the creators. Everybody loves Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the X-Men, and the rest of the mighty Marvel family no matter who they pull the lever for every four years, don’t they?
Yes. This is because the creators never used to insult their audience.
Stan Lee is an atheist. How often did he write stories insulting the religious? Never. He and the other writers that came after him wrote stories about universal human themes: Bravery, valor, love, sacrifice, good triumphing over evil, radiation bestowing super-powers, and so on. They kept politics, except in a broad sense (racism is bad, for example) out of their stories.
Now? Marvel is deliberately turning white male heroes into non-white, non-males, straight characters gay, and Republicans into villains–like, literal villains–instead of just creating new characters or making the villains be aliens or killer robots as opposed to half of their readership.
This is what happens when an organization stops performing its core function and starts pushing a certain type of politics. It fails.
It fails because it’s bad art. And it’s insulting. This is the kind of stuff I can see actively shunning.
Life is more fun when you experience things and engage with them. Communication is the purpose of art! If you don’t like a message, nobody’s forcing you to live by it. However, it’s hypocritical to say “I’m open-minded!” while categorically refusing to listen to the “other side” and its points-of-view.
And if there’s one takeaway I hope you get from this post, it’s this: You don’t have to feel guilty for liking something. Save the guilt for, you know, actual sins.
If you don’t like current music, or current movies, or current comics, make your own. In the Internet age, this is easier than ever. The technology is there, the gatekeepers are losing influence, and you’ll be able to find communities of the like-minded. So get started.
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