Artists With Opinions

It’s been more than a month since we, in the US (or should we start calling that the Divided States?), elected the end of the world. Hyperbole aside, he really is a threat to the planet. His inability to get along with world leaders, his inability to accept intelligence briefings and science, are all dangerous things. The shades of McCarthyism, of the Inquisition, the Witch Trials, etc., is also disturbing – if we’re putting it mildly.


Everyone’s been told about fifty-eleven times by now to “calm down” and “give him a chance,” though I’m not sure why either of those is a prudent course of action. I remember when Romney ran. I remember even a lot of his ardent supporters stopped giving him a chance after his “47%” comments. Because that was back when words mattered, when people believed the things people told others about themselves. It was back when people understood that the things you said when you didn’t think the world was watching told more about your character than your polished speeches – but that your public speeches still better be polished.

This was back when a conversation with an aging parent might go something like this:

— “Those Mexicans at the laundromat, not one of them have jobs.”
— “That’s kind of racist. How do you know they don’t work non-traditional hours? And you don’t have a job for that matter.”
— “I earned my retirement working hard. They just come here and expect a handout.”
— “Even if the one person you saw did that, it doesn’t mean that person represents a whole group. There are lazy-ass white people who just want a handout.”

And now has deteriorated to this:

— “Those Mexican rapists hanging around the laundromat. Not a one of the lazy drug dealers has a job.”
— “That’s a whole lot of racist. You don’t know they’re rapists –”
— “I ain’t no racists. It’s racist to call me a racist! Liberal scum! I saw one of ‘em looking at me.”
— “Were you glaring and wearing that ‘make America great’ shirt?”
— “Damn right I was! Good for nothings need to know we’re sending ‘em all back over the wall!”
— “Wouldn’t it make more sense to build a wall second? And we already have a lot of wall. And fence. And there’s a naturally-occurring river that’s pretty big.”
— “You’re just like all those other lying social justice types, bleeding hard libtards. Don’t you know nothing?”
— “I know without undocumented workers, the price of your vegetables is going to skyrocket, all those chicken and hog farms around you are going to have to increase their legal workforce and bacon’ll go up per pound. I know you like sugar in your coffee and donuts and a lot of that’s grown by undocumented workers.”
— “Those are American jobs!”
— “Citizens get minimum wage and demand safety and hygiene standards. Raises costs.”
— “That’s all liberal lies. You just hate poor white people like all them other lib’rals. All them immigrants coming in here with drugs and killing everybody. Damn terrorists.”
— “Most acts of mass shooting and terror on American soil have been perpetrated by white dudes. And old white people like yourself are the biggest market for heroin at this point because of the crackdown on pain clinics.”
— “Liar! You all just want handouts!”

And, despite the communication breakdown, by all means keep giving racist grandpa chances if you want to.

The Big Cheetos-dusted Egomaniac? No. He’s already been given more chances than any candidate since the invention of television and radio to tone down his crazy, his hate speech, his inciting violence, his lies, and his ignorance of fundamental things like the constitution of the country he wants to run and human rights agreed upon by every member of the UN since 1948. And every time he was given a chance, he doubled down on his hate speech, his lies, his inciting violence, and his ignorance.

You don’t get a lot of “do-overs” leading nations. There’s no “save point” in the game where if you bomb the wrong country or offend the wrong leader, you can just reload the game.

People often tell you who they are if you listen. And someone with as big an ego as this disaster has told us all again and again and again.

For some reason, though, a lot of people assumed that because he’d been on reality TV, all that was character bombast and that he’d suddenly become sane if given nuclear codes. This is not a sane belief. This is like saying if we let a few of The Real Housewives run the military, they’ll figure it out because “come on, it’s not like they’ll send people overseas to pull hair and start rumors.”

I get that I’m not the first writer to point this out. In fact, I may be way down on the bottom of the list of artists of all stripes who’s yet to say anything outside of social media.


There’s been this notion in the past few years, coinciding with the rise of social media, that artists shouldn’t have opinions and should just stick to their art, whether it’s dance or fiction writing or acting, or music or carving dildos out of butter and making time-lapse videos of them melting in public spaces. Artists are supposed to “connect with” fans and potential fans by sharing all aspects of their lives, but they’re not supposed to have opinions that might be controversial because they could lose sales.

Except, the best artists have often been controversial and most artists are very socially aware, are emotional creatures who tap into their own pain and fears as well as the stored feelings of others to create what they do. Whether it’s reading a stack of news stories and peer-reviewed research on child abuse to craft a haunting novel or screaming rage into a microphone while beating a piano half to death or finding a way to express the love and fear sweeping through the gay community at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the job of artists is to make everyone else aware, to make them feel, to make them bonded to each other by understanding.

Some things I’ve most been astounded by this past month have been related to this idea that artists are immune to opinion, that they are (or should be) mostly conservative, and that certain art forms should be immune from politics.

It’s been said before that within the crime fiction subgenre, “mystery” leans left and “thriller” leans right. In the days of the most well-known and popular spy and espionage thrillers, those with global stakes and ticking clocks, many of the writers had conservative bend, yes. Now, I imagine you’d find some popular thriller writers to be downright granola in real life, and there are certainly some writers of “mysteries” – even some with PI characters who deal out social justice – who are far to the right. Still, writers have often been a left-leaning lot overall. More than a few outright socialists in the mix. Crime is often inherently political as such that how crimes are viewed, how suspects are treated, and acceptable forms of punishment are all products of culture and legislation.

I’ve seen people dismayed to find their favorite fantasy and science fiction writers are liberal leaning, who state that politics doesn’t belong in fiction. And yet, the political is a primary component of world-building even if it’s just in figuring out who funds your space adventure or whether your sexy vampire would be integrated into society (like the Twilight “kids”) or operating on the fringes, often in unsteady alliance with other monsters (like Buffy).

When Green Day shouted in protest at an awards ceremony, people commented (aside from the multiple people who they should “go back to Canada”) that they were never political before and should stop because politics doesn’t belong in music. To which, um… Look, I’ve been a Green Day fan since the mid-1990s. Somewhere around here I still have Kerplunk (1992) and 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours (1991) on CD. (CDs are things music came on in the 1990s before vinyl made a comeback and when most digital music was still midi files of Air Supply played on a keyboard or something.) The three constant themes of Green Day songs have been often-melancholy navel gazing (“Christie Road,” “Outlaws”); catchy pop fun with an underlayer of nihilism (“Bouncing off the Walls,” “Carpe Diem,” “Having a Blast”); and outright, obviously political songs (“American Idiot” came out in 2004 for pete’s sake, “Troubled Times,” “Governator”).

I hope, because she’s less mainstream, there are fewer people surprised Ani DiFranco is political since I’d guess about half her songs contain at least a political or feminist element.

All those books you had to read in high school about the first and second world wars and their aftermaths? All Quiet on the Western Front? The Sun Also Rises? Night? Maus? But also a lot of those movies you lined up to watch. Red Dawn, Rambo, Indiana Jones and the literally punching Nazis, Independence Day, X-Files, Star Trek, Star Wars, (basically all the space movies because it’s not like private citizens are building a rocket ship out of gumdrops and flying off to Mars to encounter nothing but a romance with a rugged dirt farmer)… I mean, even the original Ghostbusters, which we’ve all since learned was a religious experience for MRAs while being merely a somewhat funny movie to the rest of us, had an element of politics in that the scientist heroes of the thing were threatened by election-conscious politicians for trying to solve a problem only the scientists believed in until it was grossly-obvious to everyone else and the situation had grown dangerous/lethal to hundreds or thousands. Fucking-A: Climate Change metaphor.

Banksy? Keith Haring? The entire DADA movement? The famous melting clocks in Disintegration of Persistence of Memory? The Cuban Fried Chicken exhibition at local gallery MAC Fine Art a few months back? All riddled with political and cultural statements.

Cultural commentary is political. Political commentary is cultural. The two are intertwined to a degree that it is difficult to tease apart. When Sia, who wraps depressing lyrics in danceable beats, doesn’t show her face, people question if she’s making a political statement or just being weird for art’s sake.

Which is to say, don’t expect artists to be silent. John Legend told Trevor Noah on a recent Daily Show episode that artists are people, too, are citizens, too. Not only that, but they’ve made it their life’s work, despite all the obvious obstacles like the difficulty in earning a living, communicating, telling stories and giving life to feelings.