Cartoon: The Five Stages Of Finding Out Your Fave Is Trash


Help me keep drawing cartoons by supporting my Patreon! A $1 pledge helps, and is greatly appreciated.


This cartoon is particularly salient, I think, on the left. I think virtually everyone on the left has had the experience of finding out that someone we admire has done something terrible; has been abusive, in one way or another; has leched at his underlings; or refused to hear “no”; or had a long term relationship with an underage girl; or habitually masturbates in front of surprised and unwilling women. Etcetera, etcetera… the list is depressingly long.

Most of us are very attached to our favorite artists (how could we not be)? It’s genuinely hard to find out that someone who has given me so much pleasure, so much to think about, and in many cases communicated a humane and warm viewpoint, is also someone who has harassed and taken advantage and assaulted and harmed.

It’s a kind of grief. And thinking about that led to this cartoon, mashing the famous “five stages of grief” with finding out that yet another celebrity has turned out to be trash. I can relate to this cartoon, and maybe some of you can as well.

The art in this cartoon is a bit unusual for my work. Inspired by some of my favorite cartoonists – Edward Sorel, Barbara Yelin, Posy Simmonds, and others – I wanted to try drawing a cartoon with a loose, sketchy surface, not hiding my construction lines, and held together by the colors.

To tell you the truth, I chickened out a lot. I left some construction lines in, but I erased many, many more. But it was still at least a bit freeing, and I had a lot of fun doing more modelling of form with linework than I’d usually take the time for. And being able to use light, sketchy lines, rather than feeling obliged to make all the lines crisp and black, made the party scene drawing in panel five come out much better.

I might come back to this style again – it’s good to try and shake things up now and again.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has six panels.

PANEL 1

There is nothing in this panel but title lettering. The title lettering is done in large, friendly white lettering, but the letters are casting some gritty-looking shadows.

THE FIVE STAGES OF FINDING OUT YOUR FAVE IS TRASH

PANEL 2

This panel shows a woman with black hair yelling angrily at something she’s read on her tablet. She’s holding the tablet in one hand and pointing angrily to something on screen with the other hand.

CAPTION: ANGER

BLACK HAIRED WOMAN: Unfounded rumors! Jealous attention seekers!

PANEL 3

A man sits in front of his laptop. His hair is messy and his eyes are wide, and he looks desperate as he taps taps taps at the keyboard.

CAPTION: BARGAINING

MAN (typing): What he did was bad. But not Weinstein or Polanski bad, right? Right?

PANEL 4

A person lies in bad, with the bedsheet pulled up high enough so that all of their face is covered. They are, however, holding one hand up, forefinger extended, in a “making a point” gesture. Next to the bed, a somewhat bored-looking friend sits in a chair, her face resting on one of her hands.

CAPTION: DEPRESSION

PERSON (in a shaky word balloon): I never want to see a movie again. Or read a book. Or look at a picture. Or…

FRIEND: Er… Wanna try hiking?

PANEL 5

A cocktail party in an art gallery. We can see people milling about and chatting to each other in the background. In the foreground, a person wearing a bowtie is speaking somewhat self-importantly to a couple of other party goers.

CAPTION: DENIAL

PERSON: I never liked his work.

PANEL 6

Two women are in this panel. One, with curly hair, is looking inside a large book of art. Behind her, the black-haired woman from panel one, still holding her tablet, leans towards the curly-haired woman.

CURLY HAIRED WOMAN: Wow, these paintings are amazing!

BLACK HAIRED WOMAN: They are! Too bad the painter’s a creep.

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics. Bookmark the permalink. 

115 Responses to Cartoon: The Five Stages Of Finding Out Your Fave Is Trash

  1. 1
    nobody.really says:

    1. Thanks for addressing this important, topical issue.

    2. On form: I have previously expressed the idea that we make our language (and thinking) more rigorous when we avoid relying on the verb “to be.” With that idea in mind, how would you express the exchange in the final panel without relying on that verb?

    3. On substance: I read the last panel (Acceptance) to suggest that we should ultimately arrive at the mature insight that people can do both extraordinarily good AND extraordinarily bad things.

    This seems like an exposition of the “halo effect” cognitive bias, wherein we seek to have a monochrome judgment about a person—if we hate a person’s voice, we expect to hate the person’s behavior, etc. As the term cognitive bias suggests, neither logic nor experience gives us any basis to expect this kind of uniformity, but our minds seek it nonetheless. Thus the statement “These paintings are amazing” and “the painter’s a creep” SEEMS like a contradiction, even though I can find no relationship between the two propositions.

    Likewise, I cannot think of a greater cliché than the idea that a high-status attractive actor or gifted athlete might behave antisocially, while the lower status person might behave better. Yet stories repeatedly present this dynamic as a surprise.

    4. On more substantive substance: How should the fact that a person does bad things affect our opinion of the good things they do? If a painter acted in a way I disapprove of, do I have a duty to announce that fact to people who praise the paintings? Do I have a duty to shun the paintings? Would I have a duty to sell (or at least not display) any of the painter’s paintings?

    Or do I have any duty at all?

    If we re-write the final panel without relying on the verb “to be,” does it sound silly? Does the lack of contradiction become so obvious that the dialogue seem like a non-sequitur? And, upon reflection, why wouldn’t we regard the dialogue as a non-sequitur?

    C.S. Lewis suggested that modesty does not mean denying or ignoring your talents; it means seeking the best outcome REGARDLESS of whose talents get employed as a result. This implies a bifurcation of talent and individual. This reflects a dignity perspective rather than an honor perspective—and I kinda like it. So I find little problem with praising the result of talent, even when an antisocial person provides the vehicle by which the talent gets expressed.

    Now please excuse me while I play my Cosby albums.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    E-prime is an awful idea – but an entertainingly awful idea. It’s an especially bad idea applied to fiction.

    Sure, I could have the character in the final panel say “I think these paintings convey a message of rapture and whoever painted them is accomplished at difficult painting techniques,” but that doesn’t seem better than “These paintings are great.” (And it would require much more of the panel to be taken up by lettering.)

    Ambiguity is a great no-no in e-prime. But ambiguity can be useful in fiction. This cartoon is (relatively) universal in part because the specifics of what the “Fave” has done are unspecified. I could easily have the second character in the final panel say “I agree. However, the painter once sexually assaulted a fan,” or something like that. But I think that would make the cartoon less effective.

    On more substantive substance: How should the fact that a person does bad things affect our opinion of the good things they do? If a painter acted in a way I disapprove of, do I have a duty to announce that fact to people who praise the paintings? Do I have a duty to shun the paintings? Would I have a duty to sell (or at least not display) any of the painter’s paintings?

    Or do I have any duty at all?

    I don’t think you have any duty at all, as a member of the art-enjoying public. People have to decide for themselves if the artist having done terrible things undermines their ability to enjoy the art.

    Personally, I can still enjoy art by people who have done awful things. But that’s me. If someone else finds that knowing Kevin Spacey is a sexual abuser makes it impossible for them to enjoy “The Usual Suspects,” then they don’t enjoy it. Me saying “you’re wrong, you should enjoy it” doesn’t make sense and won’t help them enjoy it. Everyone is allowed to have their own standards for art, including standards that I don’t share.

  3. 3
    nobody.really says:

    E-prime is an awful idea – but an entertainingly awful idea. It’s an especially bad idea applied to fiction.

    EEEK! You keep saying the word that the Knights Who Say Ni cannot hear!

  4. 4
    Mandolin says:

    So, been thinking about Dave Sim recently? ;)

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    The thought of Sim crossed my mind as I was writing this strip, I admit. :-p

  6. 6
    nobody.really says:

    I have yet to read Sim’s work (*ducking!*).

    Instead, I was just thinking of Scott Alexander. As we’ve noted elsewhere, Scott Alexander abandoned his Culture War reddit page due to (allegedly) excessive vociferous criticisms from the left. Now he has a new post supporting (a) tolerance of expressions of “outlandish” ideas, and (b) avoiding the Halo Effect—in this case, not judging the merits of a person’s idea based on the merits of that person’s prior ideas. Geniuses sometimes express wacky ideas, wacky people sometimes express genius ideas, and we might achieve better results by remembering this dynamic.

    I understand Alexander to be defending the right to deviate from orthodoxy, even when doing so makes people uncomfortable. He reminds me of Nobel physicist and hyper-white-guy Richard Feynman in his “The Value of Science” address to the hyper-white-guy National Academy of Sciences during the autumn of hyper-white-guy 1955:

    [I]n order to progress, we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty – some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain. Now, we scientists are used to this…. But I don’t know whether everyone realizes this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science…. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.”

  7. 7
    RonF says:

    This cartoon is particularly salient, I think, on the left. I think virtually everyone on the left has had the experience of finding out that someone we admire has done something terrible; has been abusive, in one way or another; has leched at his underlings; or refused to hear “no”; or had a long term relationship with an underage girl; or habitually masturbates in front of surprised and unwilling women. Etcetera, etcetera… the list is depressingly long.

    This sounds as though you think that a) people on the right don’t appreciate music, movies, popular entertainment or art in general, or b) they don’t think those behaviors are immoral.

    I think virtually everyone on the right has had the same experience – I just think they get to panel 6 a lot quicker.

  8. 8
    Ampersand says:

    This sounds as though you think that a) people on the right don’t appreciate music, movies, popular entertainment or art in general, or b) they don’t think those behaviors are immoral.

    It’s more like c) people on the right enjoy art, know that sometimes creators do immoral behavior, but don’t feel as conflicted by it.

    Which is another way of saying, “they get to panel 6 a lot quicker.” :-p

  9. 9
    Decnavda says:

    I assume that most right-wingers – particularly social conservatives – have to decide early on in their lives between giving up on 95% of art and culture or just accepting that they enjoy art created by people who lead lives they consider immoral.

    Similar to how progressives have to decide early in their lives between joining a commune or just accept that we will often be buying stuff from evil corporations.

  10. 10
    LimitsOfLanguage says:

    A Christian might simply think: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”

    I personally feel perfectly fine with expecting many transgressions to be handled by the police, not feeling an obligation to take part in a mob or otherwise personally punish the person. A person who believes that immorality is punished in the afterlife may feel the same way, but with God acting as post-mortem police.

  11. 11
    RonF says:

    I assume that most right-wingers – particularly social conservatives – have to decide early on in their lives between giving up on 95% of art and culture or just accepting that they enjoy art created by people who lead lives they consider immoral.

    My experience leads me to think that most right-wingers never bother to find out anything about the private lives of the artists they enjoy in the first place. They don’t watch the entertainment press and they don’t follow the lives of celebrities in the media. You’d have to know what kind of lives they were leading before you could decide whether or not to give up on them on that basis.

    Hell, half the time when I listen to a song on the radio, if it’s anything new and you ask me “Who sang that” my answer is likely “I don’t know”. And even the older stuff – I know who the group is, probably can’t name half the people in it, and don’t know anything about what drugs they did or did not take, who they were married to or divorced from, who they were having sex with, etc., etc. I think people on the left are far more concerned with this kind of thing.

  12. 12
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    I think people on the left are far more concerned with this kind of thing.

    I imagine it’s more a phenomenon among “extremely online people,” on both sides of the aisle, and that perhaps the ratio of conservatives to liberals you encounter in real life differs from the ration of liberals to conservatives you encounter on-line. If I had to guess, most people on both sides of the aisle don’t give a shit about the private lives of most celebrities and artists unless the celebrity holds important cultural significance (like when the Dixie Chicks came out against George Bush and got blacklisted on country radio stations across the USA)

    I’d just like to say on a related note, that the degree to which we encounter those we disagree with more often online than in person is a huge barrier to understanding our opposition, especially since much of social media acts like a signal boosting mega-phone for the mentally unwell.

  13. 13
    nobody.really says:

    See Amanda Marcotte’s essay in Slate on people’s need to discard the creative works of antisocial artists, a/k/a “Cancel Culture“:

    [I]f there was some assurance that real justice was possible, would cancel culture even feel necessary or important to so many people? Could we better separate the art and the artist if we could use a set of prison bars to do it?

    I can’t help but think the answer is yes.

  14. Apropos of this conversation, if you have a chance to watch Leaving Neverland, the new documentary dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse against Michael Jackson, you should absolutely do so. I was invited to be in the studio audience for a screening of the film before the taping of Oprah Winfrey’s special “After Leaving Neverland.” It is a devastating and, to me, unquestionably credible indictment of Jackson. The write up in The New York Times was, I thought, particularly good and the write up on Vox is good as well.

    In any event, regardless of whether you are neutral or predisposed to believe or disbelieve, I think it’s a really important documentary to watch.

  15. 15
    Kate says:

    This sounds as though you think that a) people on the right don’t appreciate music, movies, popular entertainment or art in general, or b) they don’t think those behaviors are immoral.

    I’ll cop to that.
    Conservative religions (including Christianity, which strongly influences the Republican party), far right nationalist movements (which have too much influence over the Republican party) and, far left ideologies (eg. Marxism, Stalinism, Maoism – which have no influence on mainstream U.S. politics in the 21st century), all tend to be hostile towards earthly pleasures in general, and the arts in particular.
    Those right of center tend to be fiscal conservatives, who see the arts as luxuries.
    People left of center are more likely than any other group to see the arts as central to their reason for living, and to believe that they can elevate people morally (which is why they get so conflicted when a great artist turns out to be a total shit).
    When it comes to sexual assault, again, Conservative Christians (including the Catholics who raised and educated me) tend to blame that primarily on women tempting men – even if those “women” are little girls, or boys and men, who they see as feminized by the assault. They are also far less likely to believe accusations and more likely to take denials at face value. Look, we live in a world where Brock Turner got only six months for a rape for which there were two male witnesses. By and large, those sorts of decisions come from the right in the U.S.. The right simply doesn’t see sexual assault as a serious problem, or at least is sees false accusations of sexual assault, and even ruining the lives of white men who “made one mistake”, as a more pressing issues than sexual assault. Insofar as the right does see sexual assault as a problem, it sees the solution as restricting the lives of women (no solutions are offered for male victims), rather than teaching people not to commit sexual assault in the first place, and punishing people of any gender who commit sexual assault.

  16. 16
    RonF says:

    Conservative religions (including Christianity, …) … all tend to be hostile towards earthly pleasures in general, and the arts in particular.

    I sing for this organization. Pretty much all we sing is Christian-oriented sacred classical music, some of which is over 200 years old. These are not worship services, they are for entertainment. We have had audiences of 1200 people over 2 nights paying anywhere from $25 to $38 a person – and we are an amateur organization. Without an audience of Christians who appreciate music we’d be out of business. There are plenty of professional singers, musicians and conductors making a good living playing sacred music for Christians to listen to.

    Those right of center tend to be fiscal conservatives, who see the arts as luxuries.

    Some of the richest people are the biggest patrons of the arts. I doubt that they’re all rich liberals. The more conservative among them may well think that it is not the place for the government to support the arts, but that doesn’t mean they do not appreciate the arts or think that they are not worth supporting.

    When it comes to sexual assault, again, Conservative Christians (including the Catholics who raised and educated me) tend to blame that primarily on women tempting men – even if those “women” are little girls, or boys and men, who they see as feminized by the assault.

    Out here in the Chicago area, where there are so many Catholics that the comings and goings and statements of the Archbishop of Chicago are covered as if he was the Governor, sexual assault by priests (and the actions of the bishops who covered it up) is pretty big news. No one has come even close to claiming that somehow women tempting men is responsible.

    The right simply doesn’t see sexual assault as a serious problem, or at least is sees false accusations of sexual assault, and even ruining the lives of white men who “made one mistake”, as a more pressing issues than sexual assault. Insofar as the right does see sexual assault as a problem, it sees the solution as restricting the lives of women (no solutions are offered for male victims), rather than teaching people not to commit sexual assault in the first place, and punishing people of any gender who commit sexual assault.

    This is complete absurdity. Of course people on the right see sexual assault as a serious problem. Of course they teach people not to commit sexual assault. Where the hell do you get this? And yes, they are concerned about false reports of sexual assault and demand that due consideration be made to withhold judgement until the facts are known. But that logically comes from a) the concept that people are to be considered innocent until proven guilty and b) multiple accusations of sexual assault that have been proven to be false after the media and the rest of the left have judged the accused well before the facts were determined. See Tamara Brawley, the Duke University Lacrosse team, the U. Va. fraternity case, etc., etc. It has not gone without notice, either, that the punishments handed out in such cases often apply after the accusations themselves are proven false.

  17. 17
    Petar says:

    I’ll cop to that.
    *snip*

    I think that this the most bigoted thing I have ever read on Alas that has not been challenged by administrators.

    It’s not the most factually incorrect one, but it comes close.

    I am sure that plenty of people can disprove the rest, but lumping the positions of Marxism, Stalinism and Maoism on art together is something on which I am probably better qualified to comment than most.

    Kate’s comment is a perfect example of someone damning an out-group with generalized, stereotype influenced statements, with absolutely no understanding whatsoever. I can just imagine how a Trotskyist would react at being informed that he feels about art the same way that a Maoist does.

    Even Stalinism and Maoism are different in their approach. The stated purpose of socialist realism was different, and the approach toward bourgeois, i.e. historical, art was completely different.

  18. 18
    Harlequin says:

    My experience leads me to think that most right-wingers never bother to find out anything about the private lives of the artists they enjoy in the first place. They don’t watch the entertainment press and they don’t follow the lives of celebrities in the media.

    I think this is probably true, but it’s not because they’re conservative. The entertainment press caters to people based roughly on gender, age, and class, in roughly that order of importance. I’ve heard more about the love lives of celebrities from young conservative working-class women than I have from older liberal upper-middle-class women, for example.

  19. 19
    Kate says:

    I am sure that plenty of people can disprove the rest, but lumping the positions of Marxism, Stalinism and Maoism on art together is something on which I am probably better qualified to comment than most.

    Yes, Maoists and Stalinist will fight to the death over the way art ought to be used, so in that sense you can’t lump them all together. But, that’s immaterial to the point I was making, which is that they all (like right wing totalitarians) use art as a means to another end (ie. propaganda), prescribe strict rules and persecute those who do not conform. There is a distrust of art for pleasure and free expression…art for art’s sake. That is bad for the arts.
    The Republican Party in the age of Trump is all in with right wing white nationalists and dominionist. fundamentalist Christians (eg. Vice President Pence).
    So, yes, I stand by my view that totalitarian ideologies, be they far right or far left, and fundamentalist religious ideologies* tend to be bad for the arts, misogynistic and often use religious and ethnic minorities as scapegoats. If you think calling out totalitarian ideologues makes me bigoted…well, we have different definitions of bigotry.

    Out here in the Chicago area, where there are so many Catholics that the comings and goings and statements of the Archbishop of Chicago are covered as if he was the Governor, sexual assault by priests (and the actions of the bishops who covered it up) is pretty big news. No one has come even close to claiming that somehow women tempting men is responsible.

    That’s true. The church, when it can no longer hide the crimes of their priests (and trying to hide them is their first reaction), tends to blame them on the acceptance of gay people in society. My bad.

    This is complete absurdity. Of course people on the right see sexual assault as a serious problem. Of course they teach people not to commit sexual assault. Where the hell do you get this?

    I get this from six years+ of Catholic school in which girls were groped and grabbed by boys, and blamed for it because of the way we dressed. If you looked attractive it was “If you didn’t want that attention why are you dressed that way.” If you tried to hide your body with bulky clothes it was “If you’re going to be slovenly and not respect yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to respect you.” There was no middle ground in which to be right, unless you parents were very big donors to the school. Meanwhile, the boys, provided they were on a winning sports team (they always were), faced no consequences beyond a talking to, with a wink. That sort of thing happens among liberals as well, but in my experience it was nowhere near as ubiquitous, even thirty years ago.
    * I realize my comment above was unclear. I’m not talking about all Christians, just right-wing fundamentalist Christians.

  20. 20
    Petar says:

    Art is very seldom, if ever, apolitical. It is always a reflection of the current society, of the leanings of the creators, of the causes célèbres du jour, and always finds a way to influence people. There is no political movement without its own take of how to use art.

    I remember a discussion about American artists using art to erase Macedonian heritage, to change the race of historical figures, to promote a view of ancient and contemporary Egyptians that is in complete disagreement with DNA studies, historical documents, or even of looking at a photgraph from a Cairo bazaar. And who was the one who was defending the artistic choices of the artists, calling me an asshole for labeling it propaganda, and saying how there were important causes being served by it? Hmm… Do you recall?

    And you are going to stand here and say that only totalitarians have views on how art should be used? Do you want me to list half a dozen of leftists opinions on why it is not only OK, but imperative, to cast a majority of Black and Indian actresses in a TV series based on the work of a Polish novelist, set in a Medieval society modeled on multiple Slavic countries, etc. going up the point of casting the evil antagonists as white males, and their less evil (in the novel) siblings as good (in the TV series) women of color?

    Art is always political. It was political when it was mostly religious, it was political when it was of contemporary political figures, it was political… whenever.

    As for using minorities as scapegoats?

    Do you know what percentage of murders in the US are commited by Slavic criminals? Do you know what percentage of murders in the top grossing movies are committed by Slavs?

    Do you know how many low level drug lab Russian workers Deadpool kills in the opening minutes of his latest movie, do you know how Slavs are depicted in the novel “Spinning Silver” which was praised on Alas? How the bad cough of a main character’s mother is considered enough of a justification to enslave the main breadwinner of a Slavic family that has lost at least three members to cold and famine? How the Slavic slave thanks her mother’s spirit for being enslaved, how she marvels at a father actually being affectionate and *gasp* humane towards the main character? How every single Slavic character who appears in the first two episodes of the Altered Carbon Netflix adaptation is a criminal, ranging from domestic abusers, going through amoral hit women, and ending with caricatures of beastly, body modded killing machines? And how the most definitely non-right winger, and most definitely non-misogynistic, and most definitely non-totalitarian director boasted of making the main character reject his Slavic heritage in favor of his Asian one? Which of course, goes contrary to the source material, but art has to serve a higher purpose.

    As for how Catholics are depicted in US left-leaning art, I’ll leave that to someone else.

    Keep telling yourself the Left is so very different.

  21. 21
    RonF says:

    I think this is a pretty good thread to ask if anyone has watched the Leaving Neverland documentary and how it affects how we should (or should not ?) look at/listen to Michael Jackson’s art? Should we still appreciate and value it?

  22. 22
    RonF says:

    The church, when it can no longer hide the crimes of their priests (and trying to hide them is their first reaction), …

    It sure is. These days when I hear talk about how people are leaving the Church my response is “People are not leaving the Church. The Church has left the people. How can people trust their souls to the Church if they cannot trust their children to it?”

    … tends to blame them on the acceptance of gay people in society. My bad.

    That’s how the optics work for a lot of people given that it’s almost invariably young boys and not young girls who are being assaulted.

    I get this from six years+ of Catholic school in which girls were groped and grabbed by boys, …. the boys, provided they were on a winning sports team (they always were), faced no consequences beyond a talking to, with a wink. That sort of thing happens among liberals as well, but in my experience it was nowhere near as ubiquitous, even thirty years ago.

    I agree that was a horrible experience. I doubt at the time it was limited by the political leanings of their parents. It sounds to me like this was a personal experience you had. That certainly gives you a valid basis for talking about what it was like at a Catholic school back when you were a child, but how can you validate “That sort of thing happens among liberals as well, but in my experience it was nowhere near as ubiquitous, even thirty years ago.”?

    * I realize my comment above was unclear. I’m not talking about all Christians, just right-wing fundamentalist Christians.

    You’re equating Roman Catholics and right-wing fundamentalist Christians? Once again, that’s absurd.

  23. 23
    Ampersand says:

    Petar, please dial back the hostile tone.

  24. Petar wrote:

    Art is very seldom, if ever, apolitical. It is always a reflection of the current society, of the leanings of the creators, of the causes célèbres du jour, and always finds a way to influence people. There is no political movement without its own take of how to use art.

    This is true. To be fair, though, I didn’t read Kate as saying that art is apolitical. Rather, she said this:

    There is a distrust of art for pleasure and free expression…art for art’s sake. That is bad for the arts.

    Which is a different politics. I’d be interested, Kate, in what you understand the politics of “art for art’s sake” to be.

  25. 25
    Petar says:

    Ampersand. In the last discussion I had with Kate, she outright called me an asshole, and then you asked me to dial my tone when I did not use any insults whatsoever. I was an argument in which she was pretty much stating that bending historical accuracy is OK, as long as a good cause is served, i.e. the interests of the right oppressed group are being advanced.

    And now she is saying that the far left, the far right, and Christians are bad for the arts. Muslims banning some forms of art, progressives depicting Slavs as subhuman criminals, Scipio Africanus, Cleopatra, Hannibal, and even the fictional Lancelot, being depicted as minorities becoming the rule rather than the exception, etc? That’s good art, and definitely not political, and absolutely not driven by anything but the need to entertain.

    Can you please explain to me exactly why my tone is hostile, and hers is not?

    You are usually pretty proactive about calling out bigotry. Are you telling me that “No one but my side does art properly” is not bigoted? She went as far as saying that the people on the other side of political spectrum are hostile to pleasure. (She said earthly, but I do not buy that there are any other kinds. )

    Do you understand how far out it is to postulate such a difference? She is dehumanizing the Other. By no mean is that something only the Right does.

    There is only one known physiological reaction that is good at predicting a person’s political leanings, and even that is not on the left/right axis, but on the liberal/conservative one.

    Conservatives have a stronger disgust reaction. No research has shown significant results in reaction to art that is not explained by that.

    My wife, who is a research psychologist, has tested mine, by the way. It’s so subdued, I should be a card carrying progressive…

  26. 26
    nobody.really says:

    This discussion prompts me to reflect on a few quotes:

    All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.

    Upton Sinclair

    When I struck the phrase out, which I did with such rage in my pencil that it ripped the paper, the student complained that this was what teachers had always taught him: “Art is simple, art is sincere.” Someday I must trace this vulgar absurdity to its source. A schoolmarm in Ohio? A progressive ass in New York? Because, of course, art at its greatest is fantastically deceitful and complex.

    Vladimir Nabokov

    The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!

    Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 1

    [S]everal of the … moderators told me that the hard part of their job wasn’t keep the Thread up and running and well-moderated, it was dealing with the constant hectoring that they had made the wrong decision. If they banned someone, people would say the ban was unfair and they were tyrants and they hated freedom of speech. If they didn’t ban someone, people would say they tolerated racism and bullying and abuse, or that they were biased and would have banned the person if they’d been on the other side.

    Scott Alexander

  27. 27
    Ampersand says:

    Petar:

    Ampersand. In the last discussion I had with Kate, she outright called me an asshole, and then you asked me to dial my tone when I did not use any insults whatsoever.

    There’s this thing some people do where they use a belligerent, nasty tone, and then if anyone responds by using a dirty word they claim victimhood, and (as in this case) continue to harp on it months later.

    I am unimpressed by this.

    If you can’t see that your comments, both on this thread and on the prior thread you’re referring to, have been extremely hostile by the standards of this forum, then that means you aren’t even aware of your own tone, and thus will not be able to moderate it. I’m hoping that’s not the case.

    Nobody.Really’s quote from Scott Alexander was very apt. I will not argue this moderation decision further with you; please drop it.

  28. 28
    Ampersand says:

    Kate, on this forum, please don’t use the word “asshole” to refer to Petar again. In the specific context, the word “jerk” would have sufficed. Thanks.

  29. 29
    Petar says:

    Thank you for calling me a “contemptibly obnoxious person”, with synonyms “fool, idiot, ass, halfwit, nincompoop, blockhead, buffoon, dunce, dolt, ignoramus, cretin, imbecile, dullard, moron, simpleton, clod”.

    I will remind you that the offense for which she labelled me an “asshole” and you are labeling me a “”contemptibly obnoxious person” was using the words “Propaganda, ignorance, or pandering” to refer to a Hollywood production that had changed the race of a historical character from a historically oppressed minority to Black. The person whom I was addressing was defending the picture in the presence of people from the former minority.

    And I guess I am obnoxious in seeing anything wrong with that same Kate accusing those horrible Marxists, Nazis, and Christians of the crime of having very definite ideas of how art should be used.

  30. 30
    Ampersand says:

    Petar, don’t post on this thread again. Thanks.

  31. 31
    Kate says:

    You’re equating Roman Catholics and right-wing fundamentalist Christians? Once again, that’s absurd.

    It’s not “absurd”, just sloppy. The ven diagrams of what is wrong with two is not a circle, but there is significant overlap, particularly in the sexism area. I agree that conflating that attitudes of Catholics and Fundamentalist Christians towards art, particularly in the present, would be “absurd”. I didn’t intend to do that, although I can see that, due to my sloppiness, my comment can reasonably be read that way.

    To be fair, though, I didn’t read Kate as saying that art is apolitical.

    Yes, again, I’ve been sloppy so I can see how one would read my comment as if inserting politics into art was what I find objectionable. It’s the persecution of people with other ideas that I find objectionable, and stifling. I think the most vibrant artistic communities have many different approaches and values. That’s not to say that some people don’t still manage to make amazing art under horribly oppressive conditions (I’m thinking of Shostakovich and Solzhenitsyn – off the top of my head).

    Which is a different politics. I’d be interested, Kate, in what you understand the politics of “art for art’s sake” to be.

    I actually haven’t thought about it. I certainly haven’t researched it. So, this is not an answer, but more musings for discussion. My instinct is that it is a pretty privileged position to be able to hold. Being able to just focus on art is a political act in and of itself because it is such a privilege to have such a position in society. Rather like white – male – straight – etc. are not seen as race, gender, sexuality but just “normal”, and insisting on anything nonwhite – female -LBGT is called making it about race, gender, sexuality [eta – and therefore political], when it’s really just people being who they are. On the plus side, from what I can see, it’s [eta – meaning “art for art’s sake”] generally non-coercive. Politically, it seems to be pretty centrist.

  32. 32
    desipis says:

    Being able to just focus on art is a political act in and of itself because it is such a privilege to have such a position in society.

    In this context, what does it mean for something to be a “political act”? What are the qualities of something that qualify as a “political act”, and what is the significance of those qualities?

  33. 33
    lurker23 says:

    i think NOT-KNOWING is more looking at true art than knowing, alot of the time.

    right now i am listening to a mozart song and it is beautiful. i do not know if mozart hit his wife and children on the day he wrote it, or maybe was he happy and nice to them? or maybe he was happy on that day, but he hit his wife and children on the day just before, and they were still sad and scared? or maybe it was the day after he wrote it? or maybe later or earlier? i do not know if deep in his heart he was horrible and evil, even if he acted good, or maybe the opposite.

    i think that if you want to care about these things (and if you do not study mozart for school) then you must think that you will “like the music more or less” if you know that mozart was nice or mean.

    and then you do not really know how the MUSIC makes you feel, instead you get mixed up! now your mind is confused by how you think you are supposed to feel about him being nice, or mean, or both. maybe your friends say “he was mean to women” and you do not get happy listening anymore.

    but the music is the art! so you are moving way from paying attention to the music and instead you are paying attention to something else. that is maybe art history or art critics, but it is not paying attention to the art.

    like when you look at these two paintings:
    https://bit.ly/2INpXm2
    and
    https://bit.ly/2XEN4T6

    do you like one better or worse? how do you see them? how do they make you feel?

    now, i will tell you the truth: the first one is by hitler, the second one is by churchill, do you still like the first one better?

    and do you see how if you really want to appreciate the art it does not help to know these things about the artist?

    (now: i was lying, the first is churchill and the second one is hitler. do you see now?)

  34. 34
    Kate says:

    There is a difference between enjoying the work of a long dead artist, without reference to moral failings and supporting the work of a living artist, providing them with money and fame that they then use to actually abuse and silence others, when one might support another artist just as brilliant, in their own way, who is not abusive.

  35. 35
    Kate says:

    In this context, what does it mean for something to be a “political act”? What are the qualities of something that qualify as a “political act”, and what is the significance of those qualities?

    I don’t have an answer. That’s what I’m trying to sort out. It might help to work with a more concrete example.
    When I was taking art classes, roughly 90% of our nude models were slender white women. Asking for more diverse models was considered bringing politics into art. Some objected to nudity at all, and to objectifying women of color in that manner in particular.
    But, the underlying assumption of people who wanted to continue with the slender, white, female models was that the status quo was not political but, questioning the use or diversity of nude models was. I know that definition of political is unacceptable to me, which is what I was trying to get across.

  36. 36
    Mandolin says:

    I think readers should follow their consciences.

    People who have actual cultural authority — well, I’m not going to be writing long odes to Marion Zimmer Bradley.

  37. 37
    desipis says:

    When I was taking art classes, roughly 90% of our nude models were slender white women. Asking for more diverse models was considered bringing politics into art. … the underlying assumption of people who wanted to continue with the slender, white, female models was that the status quo was not political..

    To me, it’s not the conclusion that makes something political, it’s the motivation.

    Was the motivation intrinsic to the purpose of art class? Was asking about diversifying the models motivated by, and framed around, improving the artistic ability of the students? Was there a desire and skill level within the student body to not just be able to produce a likeness of a generic human, but of a specific type of human?

    Or, was the motivation extrinsic to the purpose of the art class? Was it about signally adherence to the set of dogmatic values around “diversity” and “representation”? Was it about contributing to a broader set of outcomes in society than just the artistic skill of the particular students in the class?

    The former is not bringing “politics” into art. It’s reasonable to assume that improving the skills of the students is a shared goal of anyone participating in an art class. Advocating for a better way of achieving that goal isn’t likely to be divisive given it’s shared nature.

    The later is bringing “politics” into art. It’s not reasonable to assume that everyone in an art class will share a goal of adherence to a “diversity” ideology, or to assume that everyone will be willing to expend effort to bring about any particular outcome in wider society. Advocating for such goals will likely bring conflict into the class and that conflict will take away from the shared goal of improving artistic skills.

    But, the underlying assumption of people who wanted to continue with the slender, white, female models was that the status quo was not political but, questioning the use or diversity of nude models was. I know that definition of political is unacceptable to me, which is what I was trying to get across.

    In some sense every group is going to be “political” as every group is going to be based on a shared set of values. Where something becomes “political” in the pejorative sense is where someone is trying to change the shared set of values for the group. Forcing a change to the shared set of values will inevitably cause conflict in the group, and that conflict is something many people prefer to avoid. This is why simply following the status quo doesn’t typically wind up with the pejorative label of “political”.

  38. 38
    LimitsOfLanguage says:

    Kate,

    I wonder about the availability/willingness of models. You may have want Rubensesque models to draw, but perhaps people with that body shape are not very keen on exposing themselves. Similarly, people from certain (sub)cultures may have a cultural aversion to doing that. Men also might not be as eager for reasons.

    If the reason why they ended up with slender white women, rather than Lavell Crawford was that the slender white women actually applied to model, then I can see why they objected to the status quo being called ‘political.’ I think that calling something a ‘political act’ requires a conscious act to achieve an outcome.

  39. I asked Kate what she understood the politics of “art for art’s sake” to be. She responded:

    My instinct is that it is a pretty privileged position to be able to hold. Being able to just focus on art is a political act in and of itself because it is such a privilege to have such a position in society. Rather like white – male – straight – etc. are not seen as race, gender, sexuality but just “normal”, and insisting on anything nonwhite – female -LBGT is called making it about race, gender, sexuality [eta – and therefore political], when it’s really just people being who they are. On the plus side, from what I can see, it’s [eta – meaning “art for art’s sake”] generally non-coercive. Politically, it seems to be pretty centrist.

    This seems pretty spot-on to me, though “generally non-coercive” is a term worth interrogating further, especially if we broaden it to include coercions beyond the violent, state interventions that I think Kate was talking about above.

    For myself as an artist, I have always made the distinction between the fact that all art is political—meaning it is both, inevitably, an expression of an artist’s position within the socioeconomic, cultural, political status-quo and, therefore, an implicit argument for that position—and what it means consciously to produce politically engaged art, meaning art that is explicitly intended to foreground that status quo and in some way critique it.

    A couple of other quick thoughts: I wonder if there is a difference between what “art for art’s sake” means from the point of view of the artist versus the point of view of the audience. Also, I think it’s important to note that politically engaged art is produced by artists all along the political spectrum.

  40. 40
    LimitsOfLanguage says:

    RJN,

    an expression of an artist’s position within the socioeconomic, cultural, political status-quo and, therefore, an implicit argument for that position

    I strongly disagree with all of this. Firstly, making such a strong link between an artist’s expression and their socioeconomic, cultural, political status is denying their individuality which allows great variation in behavior between people with similar backgrounds, including based on (political or non-political) ideologies that transcend personal status, etc. It erases individuals as human beings and instead equates them to a stereotype.

    Picasso’s father painted naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. Picasso himself painted completely differently and changed his style greatly over time. How could he have such a different and evolving style and topics as his father if this was just a perpetuation (of the status quo)?

    Secondly, with your ‘therefore,’ you equate people’s background with their politics, portraying humans as mere self-perpetuators, who try to replicate themselves. If this were true, no change would ever be possible. Yet we see change. We also see people advocate against the status quo in which they were brought up.

    Your argument in favor of art that “is explicitly intended to foreground that status quo and in some way critique it” fundamentally mistrusts the ‘consumer’ of the art. I am in fact capable of drawing my own conclusions and critiquing art. Why would artists be required to do this and serve up a predigested dish?

  41. 41
    Ampersand says:

    I wonder about the availability/willingness of models. You may have want Rubensesque models to draw, but perhaps people with that body shape are not very keen on exposing themselves. Similarly, people from certain (sub)cultures may have a cultural aversion to doing that. Men also might not be as eager for reasons.

    Anecdotally: When I was living in NYC, years ago, I attended life drawing sessions at the Art Students League and at the School of Visual Arts. At SVA, over half the models were thin young white women and most of the rest were muscular young white men, plus a couple of muscular young black men. At ASL, the models were much more diverse, both in terms of being less white, and in terms of body shape and age. If a model was an older man with a pot belly, then I was definitely at ASL and not SVA.

    I wasn’t privy to how models were recruited by either program, so I can’t say why the model pools were so different. Clearly, though, finding a pool of models with diverse body types wasn’t impossible.

    I think that calling something a ‘political act’ requires a conscious act to achieve an outcome.

    I’m not sure if I’d use the word “act,” but going along with the status quo can be inherently political. If Batman of 1955 is putting together a new Super-group, and he decides to include only superheroes from best-selling mainstream comic book publishers, the result will be a team that’s entirely white, mostly male, and completely lacking in Jews. And that is political. Because even if Batman is entirely without personal prejudice – even if he’s “apolitical” – he’s still going along with a system that is prejudiced (i.e., political).

    Of course, if Batman instead decides to spend extra effort – for instance, deliberately looking at comic strips in Black newspapers to expand his recruitment pool, rather than only looking at mainstream comics publishers – that is also political. Because he’s not operating in an apolitical system, there really is no completely apolitical choice available for him.

  42. 42
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    My instinct is that it is a pretty privileged position to be able to hold. Being able to just focus on art is a political act in and of itself because it is such a privilege to have such a position in society. Rather like white – male – straight – etc. are not seen as race, gender, sexuality but just “normal”, and insisting on anything nonwhite – female -LBGT is called making it about race, gender, sexuality [eta – and therefore political], when it’s really just people being who they are. On the plus side, from what I can see, it’s [eta – meaning “art for art’s sake”] generally non-coercive. Politically, it seems to be pretty centrist.

    I don’t see how it’s helpful to define “political act” so broadly as to include just about every act that is not pooping, sleeping or eating. Pretty much every other action will in some way be connected to one’s privilege or a lack thereof. The definition of “political” doesn’t really matter so long as we all agree on one, but it’s important to consider why we are bothering to deem an act political (or not) in the first place.

    Often, people mean something like “tribal” when they say “political.” It’s how I use it. It’s why I don’t describe my kiteboarding hobby as political, even though I can only do it because I’m privileged to have the time, money, flexibility in my schedule, and health necessary to pursue kiteboarding as enthusiastically as I do. But if I start to advocate for more beach space for kiters, and less for shore-fisherman, now I’m acting politically. It’s why I don’t describe an MIT grad working on advancing computer science as practicing politics while he moves symbols around on a whiteboard, even though every student at MIT is privileged in several ways. Doing computer science doesn’t seem tribal to me, and that matters because humans act and think in peculiar ways when we form groups with opposing values- this condition often brings out the worst and the best in us simultaneously.

    I think it’s possible to make art in a ways that are both political and apolitical because not all art is created to advance a set of tribal values even if the art itself is the product of those values.

  43. 43
    Kate says:

    LoL @40

    Picasso’s father painted naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. Picasso himself painted completely differently and changed his style greatly over time. How could he have such a different and evolving style and topics as his father if this was just a perpetuation (of the status quo)?

    Did you pick Picasso on purpose?

    What was Picasso doing here? In borrowing motifs from the tribal art he saw in the Trocadero, was he being ‘influenced’ by African art? Or did he perform a more pernicious act, that taking from a culture that didn’t belong to him – and in doing so, rehearsing the centuries-old romanticizing of ‘primitive’ peoples, as if the colonial enterprise had discovered a more natural expression than “civilized” or modern man could achieve?

    https://medium.com/@chrisjones_32882/picasso-primitivism-and-the-rights-and-wrongs-of-cultural-appropriation-1f964fa61cee
    Jeffrey Gandee @42

    I don’t see how it’s helpful to define “political act” so broadly as to include just about every act that is not pooping, sleeping or eating.

    I’m not sure why you think I’d exclude pooping, sleeping or eating.
    the fight of trans people to be allowed to use the public restrooms that match their gender
    where to place sewage treatment plants
    the struggles that same sex partners who want to be able to share a home and sleep in the same bed still have in many places
    Meat, exploitation of farm workers….
    Yes, it is all political. By which I most certainly do NOT mean “tribal” (a problematic term https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-2001/the-trouble-with-tribe). I’d define political as about power relationships and how we’re going to decide our direction as a society. As long as society is as unequal and unjust as it is, politics will infest everything.
    Not broadening the definition is helpful to people with privledge, because they (we) can write off any attempt for the marginalized to reach for equality as “political”, while styling their (our) passively accepting the larger share of resources and respect that flow to us is not political. I reject that.

  44. 44
    desipis says:

    Kate:

    As long as society is as unequal and unjust as it is, politics will infest everything.

    Are people entitled to take time for themselves, to ignore the inequality and injustice in the world, and just enjoy something for its immediate experience? Or do you see them as having an unrelenting obligation to perpetually endure political criticism of everything they do?

  45. 45
    Kate says:

    Are people entitled to take time for themselves, to ignore the inequality and injustice in the world, and just enjoy something for its immediate experience? Or do you see them as having an unrelenting obligation to perpetually endure political criticism of everything they do?

    All I want is for those who have been privledged to acknolwedge that, as hard as we may have worked, we’ve also been very, very lucky. That marginalized people understand their lives better than we do so we need to listen to them and enter conversations with the attitude that they have something to teach us. And to recongnize that we have an obligation to contribute to help those who have been less fortunate.

    In short, donate some time and money each week, pay your taxes without complaint, and then, by all means enjoy yourself.

    I linked to this in the open thread above, but it’s my answer to your questions as well:

    https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/8/21/17687402/kylie-jenner-luck-human-life-moral-privilege

    Acknowledging luck — or, more broadly, the pervasive influence on our lives of factors we did not choose and for which we deserve no credit or blame — does not mean denying all agency. It doesn’t mean people are nothing more than the sum of their inheritances, or that merit has no role in outcomes. It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be held responsible for bad things they do or rewarded for good things. Nor does it necessarily mean going full socialist. These are all familiar straw men in this debate.

    No, it just means that no one “deserves” hunger, homelessness, ill health, or subjugation — and ultimately, no one “deserves” giant fortunes either. All such outcomes involve a large portion of luck.

  46. 46
    desipis says:

    Kate:

    All I want is for those who have been privledged to acknolwedge that, as hard as we may have worked, we’ve also been very, very lucky. That marginalized people understand their lives better than we do so we need to listen to them and enter conversations with the attitude that they have something to teach us. And to recongnize that we have an obligation to contribute to help those who have been less fortunate.

    I interpret that as a “no”.

    This sounds like Catholic people who “just” want people to acknowledge Jesus is their lord and saviour, to acknowledge the spiritual authority of the Church and to tithe 10% of their income. You seem to want nothing short of complete capitulation to your moral authority. Are you willing to tolerate and live amicably with people who have different values to your own?

  47. 47
    Kate says:

    I interpret that as a “no”.

    Actually, it was a “yes”.

    Are you willing to tolerate and live amicably with people who have different values to your own?

    WTF? Of course. When have I ever suggested otherwise? I’m discussing what I think people ought to do, not what they should be compelled to do. Cut it out with the melodramatic bullshit, will you?

  48. LoL,

    Since you have managed to package very neatly in this one comment not only how you think I would have responded to your initial disagreement, but also your counterargument and any further responses you imagine me making—none of which, I might add, bear any resemblance to what I actually think about the subject in question–I don’t really see much point in engaging. You’ve got your version of me all tied up with a neat little bow and so I suppose I will just leave it there for you to enjoy.

  49. 49
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    While we are on the topic of how we’d like others to see the world, I’d like to see more people view their fellow humans through a darwinistic lens, as well as a critical lens, where everything is political. Sure, we are the products of a society with rules and norms shaped by power dynamics, but all of that is the product of human minds shaped by evolutionary pressure. I can reduce all actions to political actions if I adopt a totalizing philosophy, but I could also reduce all actions to physics chemistry and biology operating within a darwinistic framework if I want. But why see it this way? It won’t always be useful, maybe other lenses are more appropriate at times.

    I want people to use more lenses. The world is complicated and we aren’t smart enough to build a comprehensive model of the whole thing, instead we understand it through many different lenses we apply selectively. I think much of the disagreement in discussions like this centers on how we prioritize these various lenses. We can’t look through all the lenses at once, or at least I’m not smart enough to. For every minute my mind is evaluating a news story or art piece through the lens of power and privilege, I’m not considering the ways in which humans are evolved to build and operate within hierarchies. For every minute I’m applying a critical lens to a policy proposal, I’m not considering it through a Hayekian lens.

    I imagine the best possible world is one where most people see through many lenses, but where a few unusual minds focus almost obsessively on one or two such that they can reveal new ideas and knowledge.

    The trouble is that some lenses are presented as the “one lens to rule them all.” What we need are many lenses and many people prioritizing these lenses differently (liberalsim). Its entirely fair that Kate wants me to view pooping through an “everything is politics” lens, but only if she’s willing to accept that most of us won’t spend much time there. There’s other ways to see the world and there’s other ways to enjoy and create art.

  50. 50
    J. Squid says:

    I can reduce all actions to political actions if I adopt a totalizing philosophy, but I could also reduce all actions to physics chemistry and biology operating within a darwinistic framework if I want.

    Personally, I reduce all actions to physics. I think both that all actions are determined by physics and that if we had perfect knowledge of all atoms at some point in time we could flawlessly predict the past, the future & the present.

    Alas, this has no relevance to how I personally experience the illusion of free choice nor does it seem to help much in discussions of either politics or the personal.

  51. 51
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Jsquid, exactly.

    We don’t understand physics well enough to use it to explain politics, even if we knew for a fact that humans just operate according to physics and nothing else. We need a simpler model to explain politics, one that is probably less precise. In the same way that “everything is physics,” is unhelpful, so is “everything is politics.” Most people are going to spend little time enjoying art while thinking about the privileged position of the artist, and how everything he or she does is political, and those who do fixate on such things probably won’t get the most out of the art they experience.

  52. 52
    Kate says:

    The trouble is that some lenses are presented as the “one lens to rule them all.” What we need are many lenses and many people prioritizing these lenses differently (liberalsim). Its entirely fair that Kate wants me to view pooping through an “everything is politics” lens, but only if she’s willing to accept that most of us won’t spend much time there. There’s other ways to see the world and there’s other ways to enjoy and create art.

    I’m really unclear about what in my comments suggested that I think the “everything is politics” lens is desirable, much less the only one we should use ALL THE TIME. I’m actually being more reactive. If people are going to freak the fuck out and say I’m politicizing the movies for wanting to watch a version of Ghost Busters with female leads (for example), I’m going to insist that having male leads is not just a neutral act.
    When I go see that movie, I’m still going to laugh with my friends and enjoy myself. However, I’m less likely to share it on Facebook (for example), for fear of getting swarmed by men accusing me of ruining their childhoods. I hate that we live in a world where I constantly need to defend such choices.
    @45, I was just saying what I beleive and how I think people ought to behave, and desipis, and Jeffrey Gandee are reacting to me like I’m some sort of authoritarian dictator.

  53. 53
    J. Squid says:

    We need a simpler model to explain politics, one that is probably less precise.

    This is where I disagree entirely. We don’t need any model to explain politics since the predestination of physics explains it all. Even the illusion of free will that we all seem to have.

    But if you want to know why modern day conservatives appear to love cruelty, or modern day liberals support sexual deviance, well, that’s just physics. If you want to convince them that their sadism or deviant behavior is bad… well, that will either happen or it won’t. But it won’t be actions that you chose that change or don’t change your opponents. It is simply the predestination of the physics of the universe.

    If we want to pretend, however, that we do have free will and our choices, positions, morals, and ethics make a difference (and, boy! do I want to do that)…. Then we have to ignore the fact that free will is an illusion and pretend it’s not. But I’ll still know it’s just make believe. Just as the physics of the universe has predetermined we will.

  54. 54
    Ampersand says:

    Desipis

    You seem to want nothing short of complete capitulation to your moral authority. Are you willing to tolerate and live amicably with people who have different values to your own?

    Wow, this is a ridiculous, over-the-top strawman.

    Do you appreciate that I’ve never accused you of being a Nazi because I disagree with you? If so, please return the favor by not accusing people on this forum that you disagree with of being totalitarians.

    Your strawman was even a little bit worse than this from Jeffrey:

    I can reduce all actions to political actions if I adopt a totalizing philosophy,

    Jeffrey, there’s a big difference between arguing that everything (or at least, every art form) inevitably has political implications, and/or politics inherent in how it was produced; versus arguing that “everything is politics.” Do you really see no distinction there?

    I might read a Captain America comic and at some level be aware of the political implications – for instance, that even if the two Jewish creators had wanted their anti-Nazi hero to be Jewish, the publisher wouldn’t have been willing to go along – and also be enjoying the story and art on multiple other levels. It’s not all one or the other. Do you really not realize that?

  55. 55
    Harlequin says:

    Maybe a more comfortable framing than “everything is political” would be “everything can be political.” I don’t need to think about it all the time to acknowledge that someone has a point if they bring it up.

    It also seems like there’s an assumption for some people that acknowledging something is political necessitates certain kinds of responses. You’re totally allowed to say, “You’re right, that’s political, but I don’t care” or “You’re right, that’s political, but I like the current politics, go away” or “You’re right, that’s important, but on balance I still enjoyed this piece of art even with that flaw, the way I can enjoy a book even if I hate one of the main characters.” (And people are, of course, also allowed to judge you on those responses.) If someone came up to me and said, “The lack of incest in fiction is clearly political! More brother-sister love!” my reaction would be, “I think we have more than enough. Could you please take some of it out of Game of Thrones? Thanks.” We don’t tend to think of that as political, but that’s because there isn’t a large movement of people wanting to change it, not because there’s something qualitatively/philosophically different about incest vs other issues: it’s still a (good! beneficial!) societal norm.

    Honestly, to me, based on what I’m interested in, this seems like a question with an obvious answer–yes, everything can be political–and by far the more important questions are about the actual, individual issues raised. I’d much rather talk about the implications of & proposed efforts to bring change to the general whiteness of SFF than I would about whether that whiteness properly falls under some definition of “political.”

    I don’t think this is different from what others in the thread have been saying–just trying to word it a different way.

    (I will also briefly put on my physics hat and say that quantum mechanics introduces an element of randomness that means the universe is not fully deterministic; and anyway, how is it not free will if it’s determined by physics, because it’s still your particular brain doing the choosing, even if it’s physics or biology rather than logic or emotions that controls the choice. And I’ll put on my general scientist hat to point out that random unselected mutation & genetic drift, not just natural selection, are responsible for the way organisms, and brains in particular, develop.)

  56. 56
    desipis says:

    Kate:

    However, I’m less likely to share it on Facebook (for example), for fear of getting swarmed by men accusing me of ruining their childhoods. I hate that we live in a world where I constantly need to defend such choices.

    Do you not see the parallels between you having to defend your choices to see a movie and the way you forced others to defend their choices in your nude models example @35?

  57. 57
    Kate says:

    Do you not see the parallels between you having to defend your choices to see a movie and the way you forced others to defend their choices in your nude models example @35?

    I don’t see any really important parallels. However, there are many salient differences – 1.) community, 2.) nature of the discourse 3.) what they’re trying to control and 4.) the purpose of the different spaces, which I think are illuminating.

    In the case of the models,
    1.) We were were all members of the same community of art students, and all accepted and acknowledged as such. I was actually one of the students happily drawing the models (ie. one of the ones being called out).
    2.) The protesting students forcefully, but respectfully, raised the issue for discussion.
    3.) They were not trying to control what I drew. They were trying to gain control over what they were required to draw in their own classes.
    4.) Having debates like this is one of the major reasons why colleges exist.

    In the case of the movie, (which, to be clear, was based on the experiences of people I read, I never posted anything about the movie),
    1.) The men criticizing the new movie were claiming sole ownership of the community of Ghostbusters fans, and insisting that those who were interesed in the new version were outside that community, for, as far as I can see, no reason beyond the fact that they were women, since these women also had loved the original movie as kids in the 80’s.
    2.) The critics swarmed people’s Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and the like, hurling sexist and racist slurs – not looking for discussion, but rather trying to shut discussion down.
    3.) They were not sastified with just not watching a movie they didn’t want to watch, they wanted to prevent everyone else from watching that movie as well.
    4.) Many of the women posting about the movie were just posting quick updates for friends & family – here’s what I’m doing tonight, sort of thing. They did not want to use these spaces as debate forums.

  58. 58
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    I’m not strawmanning you Kate, I doubt you spend 100% of your brain’s energy viewing the world through a critical lens. I’m just saying most people will spend very very little time doing this, and that their is a tension between those who think a critical lens should be more prioritized, and those who don’t find it useful much of the time. Most people will never consider how pooping eating and sleeping are political acts.

    I listen to NPR ALOT. Probably way more than the average listener, because I work alone with headphones on all day and I’ll go crazy if I can’t listen to human voices. The amount of time NPR spends viewing the world through a critical lens seems a bit extreme to me, even though I mostly sympathize with their news overage and prefer it to anything else on the radio. When I read book reviews, or especially, reviews of DC art events, the power and privilege discussion is dominant. I find it tiring, to be honest.

    BTW, like you, I also hate the way right-wingers politicize things, which is why I brought up the Dixie chicks upthread (I’m no fan of country, but they’re great!)- but the way Will and Grace was discussed back in its heyday annoys me to no end for the reasons you mentioned. The right is not justified in accusing the left of making everything political- we all do it. I wish we did it a bit less.

  59. 59
    J. Squid says:

    (I will also briefly put on my physics hat and say that quantum mechanics introduces an element of randomness that means the universe is not fully deterministic; and anyway, how is it not free will if it’s determined by physics, because it’s still your particular brain doing the choosing, even if it’s physics or biology rather than logic or emotions that controls the choice. And I’ll put on my general scientist hat to point out that random unselected mutation & genetic drift, not just natural selection, are responsible for the way organisms, and brains in particular, develop.)

    Someone with perfect knowledge of the state of all the atoms in the universe at a single point in time knew/knows/will know you were going to say that.

  60. I’m struck, as I read through this thread by the fact that, with the exception of LoL’s comment here and Amp’s brief mention here, we seem to be talking more about how people consume art—i.e., whether, as per Jeffrey’s framing, it is (or should be) through an explicitly critical/political lens—than about artistic production and the distinction I drew between creating art that is explicitly politically engaged and art that is not engaged in the same way.

    This focus seems to me to point to (or emerge from?) a subtextual conversation that I think it would be interesting to make explicit about what people think the purpose of art is. How you answer that question, I’m guessing, would have a lot do with how you feel about a statement like “all art is political.”

  61. 61
    Harlequin says:

    Someone with perfect knowledge of the state of all the atoms in the universe at a single point in time knew/knows/will know you were going to say that.

    Hopefully such a person is admiring my tremendous millinery.

  62. 62
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    I imagine art is such a definitive part of what it is to be human that we don’t fully understand what its purpose is, in much the same way that I don’t know what the purpose of consciousness is, but it exists all the same and I keep being conscious. It’s emergent- sort of like religion, almost everyone in every culture does it.

    I only know that I’ve never heard a definition of “art” that really resonated with me.

  63. 63
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Amp says:

    Jeffrey, there’s a big difference between arguing that everything (or at least, every art form) inevitably has political implications, and/or politics inherent in how it was produced; versus arguing that “everything is politics.” Do you really see no distinction there?

    I’m responding to a post where pooping, sleeping and eating are described as political according to a particular definiton, so I’m not sure what your objection is? Did you miss Kate’s comment at 43?

  64. 64
    Ampersand says:

    I don’t think art has any singular purpose – it serves different purposes for different artists and different audience members.

    Art is entertainment, and art is communication – not only of information or plot, but also (if it’s good) of feelings and of the ineffable. Art can be activism, or propaganda, or both. (Or, I hasten to add, neither).

  65. 65
    Ampersand says:

    I’m responding to a post where pooping, sleeping and eating are described as political according to a particular definition, so I’m not sure what your objection is? Did you miss Kate’s comment at 43?

    It’s possible I’m misunderstanding “I can reduce all actions to political actions if I adopt a totalizing philosophy.”

    I took this to mean that you think Kate is arguing for a “totalizing philosophy” in which all actions are reduced to politics and nothing else. That, to me, is what a reduction is, and what “totalizing” means.

    If that’s what you meant, then that was a strawman, because Kate never argued for that. (Unless I’m misreading her). Kate is saying that politics “infests” everything, not that everything is politics and nothing else.

    But maybe that wasn’t what you meant.

  66. 66
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Amp, my main point is that I don’t care if all art is political, if “political” is defined so broadly as to include all possible actions. No one should care about the statement “all art is political” if it’s a tautology.

  67. 67
    LimitsOfLanguage says:

    RJN,

    This focus seems to me to point to (or emerge from?) a subtextual conversation that I think it would be interesting to make explicit about what people think the purpose of art is

    That is actually a very dangerous question (just like the statement that “all art is political” is very dangerous). The most horrible regimes all thought/think that art has the power to shape people politically and that this power should be controlled by the state to make people act correctly. In practice this then ends up as bans on the production & dissemination of art, which in turn is an extension of general censorship of criticism of the harms committed by those in power.

    What I see is that claims about the politics of art usually are part of an argument where certain politics are considered very bad and other politics very good & where artists are held responsible for making good art and/or not making bad art, thereby improving society.

    One major problem with such arguments is that both politics and art are very subjective, so the political interpretation of art says most about the beholder (and their blind spots, biases, etc). Foucault also noted that power can be exercised by establishing or even demanding interpretations. This is often implicit and unrecognized, because many people lack understanding of the other and thus see their own interpretation as obvious and correct, while many others will disagree. So then they may demand or even force others to act in ways that they believe will result in good outcomes.

    These mechanisms are very dangerous and have led to such horrible things as genocide.

    So in my opinion, we should be very wary about framing art (or other forms of expression) as having (an objective) purpose, (an objective) meaning and (objectively) being good or evil; and especially seeking to control it. The emperor needs to be told when he has no clothes and all of us are emperors sometimes, who need to face criticism that may hurt or seem evil.

    Finally, I want to point out that an unfortunate human trait seems to be that we seem to be relatively blind to unfair applications by power by us, rather than against us. Revolutionaries and such are not exempt from this and very often exempt themselves from the very criticisms they level against others, while such criticisms seem equally valid to apply to them.

  68. LoL:

    Once again you have written a response that seems to me more concerned with very neatly packaging what you think I mean into an argument that would force me to defend what I am saying on your terms, rather than actually engaging in a conversation. So, once again, I am not going to respond. I do, however, find it ironic that you cite Foucault. It’s been a long time since I’ve read him, but I imagine, from what I remember, that he would be among the first to say that all art is political.

  69. Suzanne Langer, in a book called Feeling and Form, argues that art is the symbolic representation of human emotion. (I read her book a very long time ago, but I think that’s more or less accurate.) The work of art—a painting, a sculpture, a dance, a symphony, a poem—she says, is itself the symbol, and since symbols are open to many different kinds of readings/interpretations, this explains why art is so overdetermined with meaning. (There is a great deal more to the book, of course.)

    This has been for me a touchstone for thinking about the purpose of art, both as an audience and as someone who presumes to produce it, though I tend to phrase it for myself this way: Art is the symbolic exploration of lived human experience. The word exploration is, for me, central, since—again, for me—the difference between art and propaganda is that propaganda is explicitly not about exploration. Rather, the purpose of propaganda is to tell its audience what they should feel, how they should feel about what they feel, and what they should do about it.

    The word exploration is also important to me in terms of how I think about politics and art in general. In the introduction to Without An Alphabet, Without A Face, his translations of the selected poems of Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef, Khaled Mattawa says, “Poetry can only be an exploration of ideology, not a means of expressing belief in it.” Mattawa is summarizing there Youssef’s own understanding of how his Marxist orientation functions in his poetry, but I have always found it to be a useful way of thinking about how I understand the politics of my own work, as well as how I experience the art of others, whether that work is explicitly politically engaged or not.

  70. 70
    nobody.really says:

    Art is the symbolic exploration of lived human experience. The word exploration is, for me, central, since—again, for me—the difference between art and propaganda is that propaganda is explicitly not about exploration. Rather, the purpose of propaganda is to tell its audience what they should feel, how they should feel about what they feel, and what they should do about it.

    Hm. Hm.

    I maintain a file for thought-provoking quotes I stumble upon from time to time. Thus @26 I was able to trot out quotes from Upton Sinclair, Vladimir Nabokov, and Oscar Wilde on the subject of the complex, and even deceitful, nature of art.

    And then comes Richard Jeffrey Newman, pithily distinguishing between propaganda and art. Hm.

    Be It Therefore Known to All Present that I now say unto you: Arise Sir RJN, and receive the highest honor that it is within my power to bestow. Hereafter your name and words shall reside in good company—just after Sinclair, before Wilde.

  71. 71
    Kate says:

    That is actually a very dangerous question (just like the statement that “all art is political” is very dangerous). The most horrible regimes all thought/think that art has the power to shape people politically…

    But, art DOES have that potential. Pretending it doesn’t won’t make that power go away. However, examining and questioning how that power is used might have the potential to weaken it, or distribute it more equitably.

    …and that this power should be controlled by the state to make people act correctly.

    You construct this sentence as if this point naturally follows from your first point. It does not. Absolutely no one here thinks that is desiarable. No one. To the contrary, the point of examining the ways in which art is political is to dismantle that power and distribute it more broadly.
    And, since this sentence is the foundation of the rest of your argument, I am jointing Richard in not engaging any further.

  72. 72
    Kate says:

    Art is the symbolic exploration of lived human experience. The word exploration is, for me, central, since—again, for me—the difference between art and propaganda is that propaganda is explicitly not about exploration. Rather, the purpose of propaganda is to tell its audience what they should feel, how they should feel about what they feel, and what they should do about it.

    I love thinking of this in terms of exploration.

  73. Be It Therefore Known to All Present that I now say unto you: Arise Sir RJN, and receive the highest honor that it is within my power to bestow. Hereafter your name and words shall reside in good company—just after Sinclair, before Wilde.

    To receive such praise from nobody (which puts me in mind of both Emily Dickinson and e. e. cummings) is a high, high honor indeed. My many, many, many thanks!

  74. 74
    RonF says:

    Jeffrey Gandee @ 42:

    … even though every student at MIT is privileged in several ways.

    How so?

  75. 75
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    RonF,

    MIT is among the most selective schools in the USA. Those who get in are way out on the tail end of the distribution when it comes to intelligence. It doesn’t matter if intelligence is mostly the result of genes or the environment in which the young student is raised, the kid contributed to neither the environment or his genes, and one of these things got him into MIT. That’s privilege by most definitions of the word.

    Another privilege is that the student went to a high school where admittance to MIT is possible. MIT isn’t going to weigh all GPA’s from all schools the same, and not every school gives students the ability to show off their intellect by offering enriched courses, let alone GPA boosting AP classes.

    I could think of more, but you get the idea.

  76. 76
    LimitsOfLanguage says:

    RJN,

    I answered your question (or rather addressed it) by arguing that we should not look for “the purpose of art” & that this is a rather dangerous way to look at art, because a singular view on the purpose of art can very easily lead to a singular view of the meaning of art and a singular view on the effect of art, based on subjectivity that is falsely seen as objectivity.

    So I tried to make a case for more openness to diversity in how we discuss art, allowing for multiple purposes (which in my view automatically brings with it an understanding that art can have multiple meanings and multiple effects).

    You seem to not like it when I question your framing, apparently demanding that others accept yours. Yet framing sets the parameters of the debate. It makes subjectivity seem like objectivity. Framing subjectivity as objectivity is controlling. Of course, all people do this, so when I say that your frame is controlling, it is not much different from saying: ‘you argue like a human.’ It’s inevitable.

    However, debates between people with fairly dissimilar viewpoints can only happen if these frames are open to debate. Do you believe that your frames may be debated?

  77. LoL:

    Do you believe that your frames may be debated?

    Of course. Except that’s not what you did. This is what I wrote:

    This focus seems to me to point to (or emerge from?) a subtextual conversation that I think it would be interesting to make explicit about what people think the purpose of art is. How you answer that question, I’m guessing, would have a lot do with how you feel about a statement like “all art is political.”

    Nowhere in that statement did I suggest we should be looking for anything even remotely resembling, as you put it, “a singular view on the purpose of art.” I asked what individual people thought, suggesting that what they thought might have an impact on how they understood the statement that was part of what started this conversation, i.e., “all art is political,” because I thought it would be interesting to read what people had to say.

    Jeffrey responded, Amp responded. You’ll note that I did not disagree or in any way suggest that they were “wrong,” that they were somehow missing the target of a singular view on the purpose or art. Even in my own response to my own question I took pains to point out that I was writing about how I saw things, not how I think other people should see things. ETA: In other words, I was interested in precisely the multiple views on the purpose of art that you say you wanted to allow for.

    You, in other words, or at least this is how it looks to me, imposed a framing on what I wrote that you want to argue with, and you made your argument, attributing to me, through the framing you imposed, values I do not hold and assertions and arguments that I did not and would not make. So I saw no reason to respond.

    Also, LoL, I don’t have time for these meta-discussions. If you want to discuss something I wrote, ask me a direct question instead of deciding you already know all the ins and outs, the implications, and consequences of what I mean. It worked pretty well (at least at first) in the discussion we had about abortion a while back, after all.

  78. 78
    Ampersand says:

    Amp, my main point is that I don’t care if all art is political, if “political” is defined so broadly as to include all possible actions. No one should care about the statement “all art is political” if it’s a tautology.

    This only makes sense if we assume that there’s no such thing as degrees.

    For example, making a superhero TV show, and running a national campaign for the presidency, are both activities with political elements. Seeing that doesn’t mean that I don’t percieve that one of these activities is much more political than the other.

    We don’t have to pretend that “Batman” is devoid of politics in order to be able to make distinctions.

  79. 79
    Ampersand says:

    Richard wrote:

    This has been for me a touchstone for thinking about the purpose of art, both as an audience and as someone who presumes to produce it, though I tend to phrase it for myself this way: Art is the symbolic exploration of lived human experience. The word exploration is, for me, central, since—again, for me—the difference between art and propaganda is that propaganda is explicitly not about exploration. Rather, the purpose of propaganda is to tell its audience what they should feel, how they should feel about what they feel, and what they should do about it.

    What seems intuitively wrong about this, to me, is the belief that propaganda and art are mutually exclusive. That seems arbitrary to me, and I wonder if you’ve accidentally elevating an aesthetic preference for one form of art vs another form of art, into an art/notart distinction.

    I mean, let’s take a graphic novel like V for Vendetta. That’s an explicitly pro-revolution, pro-anarchy comic. It’s also a work of art. How could it not be? It creates a fictional world in which the lives of made-up people engross and emotionally move (many) readers, and it does this with sharply written dialog, beautiful drawings, and clever panel to panel storytelling. It seems very counter intuitive, to me, to suggest that such a book is not art.

    (I will say that some (most) propaganda is very shallow art.)

  80. 80
    Ampersand says:

    This focus seems to me to point to (or emerge from?) a subtextual conversation that I think it would be interesting to make explicit about what people think the purpose of art is

    That is actually a very dangerous question (just like the statement that “all art is political” is very dangerous). The most horrible regimes all thought/think that art has the power to shape people politically and that this power should be controlled by the state to make people act correctly. In practice this then ends up as bans on the production & dissemination of art, which in turn is an extension of general censorship of criticism of the harms committed by those in power.

    Ironically, LOL – in the name of not wanting discussions and views closed off – you are the one arguing that even asking people what they think the purpose of art is, is “a very dangerous question.” And that stating an opinion LOL disagrees with – that all art has political dimensions – is also “very dangerous.”

    Richard is not the one, in this dialog, suggesting that certain thoughts are very dangerous to even speak or think. You are.

  81. Amp,

    I think this may be, not wholly, but in part, a semantic difference. I’d refer to V for Vendetta, and, for example, books like Atlas Shrugged, or Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, as politically engaged art.

    I don’t think propaganda (as I defined the term above) and art are mutually exclusive, especially if you are using the term art to denote craft, but I do think there is a qualitative difference between a work like V for Vendetta, which depicts a world in which an anarchist revolution against a fascist government takes place (if I remember correctly), exploring the workings of that world (with an obvious political bias in favor of anarchy) and what I would label propaganda, which argues and calls for, for example, specific action against a specific government in a specific time and place in order to further a particular group’s interests.

    One of those differences is that V for Vendetta, or any similar work of fiction, will allow, even within the scope of its political engagement, for a multiplicity of valid readings, from a variety of perspectives (by which I mean simply readings that are not obvious misreadings), while what I am calling propaganda does not.

  82. 82
    RonF says:

    Jeffrey @ 75:

    … the kid contributed to neither the environment or his genes, and one of these things got him into MIT. That’s privilege by most definitions of the word.

    Without those an applicant will not get into MIT, that’s true. Would you call this “unearned privilege” (a phrase I’ve seen used a lot to justify the concept of “white privilege”)?

    Another privilege is that the student went to a high school where admittance to MIT is possible. MIT isn’t going to weigh all GPA’s from all schools the same, and not every school gives students the ability to show off their intellect by offering enriched courses, let alone GPA boosting AP classes.

    Also true – the Institute definitely takes a look at the HS you went to, and has a look at its records to see how other students who went to that HS in the past have done at MIT.

    However, while those factors you list are important, they are not the only factors. It’s not just “one of these things” that got him or her into MIT. Pretty much every kid who applies to MIT has got the GPA, AP classes and SAT scores to support it. If that’s all it was then admitting kids would be a simple issue of math – take the kids with the highest scores. But the Institute also looks for effort from the applicant. They look for initiative, leadership, passion, and community involvement. They want kids who are collaborative instead of lone wolves, and kids who are willing to take risks (including taking a class that might put a hurt on their GPA). Those are NOT things you are born with. Those are things that are developed and take work and perseverance. I realize schools often say things like this, but trust me when I tell you that they really mean it. If for no other reason than the fact that they DO get more kids with identically high SATs and GPAs – they can’t admit them all, so they NEED factors like this to differentiate them.

    You might find this informative. Intellect and environment are tremendously important, but they are not the only factors. In fact, IIRC about 1/6 or 1/8 of the student body are often of the first generation in their family to attend college at all.

  83. 83
    RonF says:

    So, to the actual point of this thread and to a question I asked near the beginning; how do you think we should deal with the body of work produced by Michael Jackson? And what about that of Bill Cosby?

    To the latter – back in the day before a comedian could do the same act on TV as he did in a nightclub, comedians put out comedy albums. I still remember my Dad buying Cosby’s “To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With” and playing it at home. It’s hilariously funny – especially to someone like me who had two older brothers who did once break our bed by jumping up and down on it. Cosby did terrible things to women – but that stuff is still funny and still tells us things about the human condition.

  84. 84
    Mandolin says:

    How could all art not have political dimensions? I’ve heard people say that “if all art is political, then none is” which is like saying “if all people are biological then none are.”

    The most defensible variant of this position is to define politics very narrowly. Not all art has implications for electoral politics.

    All art, however, is written from a philosophical position, even if the philosophy is unconsidered or regurgiation. People inhabit perspectives. We live according to philosophies.

    I think we can recognize that our philosophies have political ramifications. We certainly can if we broaden our gaze from a local, contemporary cultural context. Philosophical and political implications are often clearer when you look at artifacts from different cultures and times, which reflect different assumptions.

    The argument that art lacks politics is similar to the argument white Western students sometimes come into anthropology classes with — the belief that they do not have a culture. Everyone has a culture; they simply aren’t accommodated to having theirs made visible.

    It’s slightly different to say that “all art is a political act” because the word “act” implies intentionality. However, in this context, it’s generally used to indicate that making a choice that favors common assumptions *is still making a choice.*

    Art is fundamentally about choices. The choice of what to present, and how. Sometimes that happens subconsciously — often, in fact — but the choices continue to exist.

    Removing the word act from the equation leaves us with the statement “all art is political.” If it makes things clearer, there’s no reason not to qualify the word political (although I don’t think there’s a particular reason to do so either)– all art has a political dimension, a political valence, a political implication. Even “all art reflects politics” if we want to emphasize the fact that it often does so without intention.

    Art will always be an area of contention because it is political. It has the ability to reveal, energize and persuade. It does this in a way that can’t be easily controlled by leading political classes, and that’s always going to make them uncomfortable. Good. Let them be uncomfortable.

    It often acts on the subconscious and emotive levels which makes it even more potentially threatening. Leading political classes have a strong motivation to keep control over those things where they appear, in art and elsewhere. But they can’t. They never can.

    Censoring art is difficult. Eliminating art is impossible. It is a vehicle for speech which cannot be eradicated. It’s dangerous; it’s wonderful; it’s human.

  85. 85
    Ampersand says:

    So, to the actual point of this thread and to a question I asked near the beginning; how do you think we should deal with the body of work produced by Michael Jackson? And what about that of Bill Cosby?

    As fans and audience members, I don’t think “we” should do anything. That is, I don’t think “what to do with Michael Jackson’s works” is something we should do collectively; it should be an individual choice.

    Some people are able to compartmentalize, and so can enjoy MJ’s music despite knowing he was a child rapist. (Something made easier, I think, by the fact that he’s dead and cannot profit from people liking his music any more). Others won’t be able to enjoy his music anymore, now that they know. IMO, either way is fine. I’m not going to judge anyone for still loving “Thriller”; I’m also not going to judge anyone for throwing all their MJ CDs into the trash.

  86. 86
    Ampersand says:

    Richard, I agree this is probably just a semantic difference. If I reword the statement I objected to like this:

    The word exploration is, for me, central, since—again, for me—the difference between most art and propaganda art is that propaganda art is explicitly not about exploration.

    …then I no longer disagree with it. :-)

  87. 87
    Mandolin says:

    RonF –

    re: Cosby:

    I don’t know. I really hate dumping the whole Cosby Show out because the lead actor is a horror. That show had important cultural meaning. That show was made by *many* people, and a lot of them did nothing wrong.

    That said, because Cosby made himself so central to the show, because it is so much about not only his character, but about the man himself… I don’t think I even *could* watch it. I’d be too upset; I wouldn’t be able to take the premise of the show without feeling sick about it.

    I’m not sure Michael Jackson owns the music he made. He made it, but it has a huge cultural meaning and traction beyond him. At some point, art isn’t just about the artist; it’s about what all of us have made of it.

    I guess, I have a bit of a feeling of, “Fuck you, creator. You’re not important enough that you get sole credit for any of this shit. You’re not so important that I’m going to sign over to you the things I made myself, and other people made. You don’t get my emotions. You don’t get my history. Your art was made and finished and put into the world. Now it’s what the world makes of it. Fuck off.”

    I was reading a text on ethnomusicology that pointed out the fact that Western values tend to put a lot of emphasis on the artist as an owner and individual, as if their art is a symbol of them. This influences the way Western ethnomusicology is written, as it can often end up centering on artists in that way. But it’s not the only way to conceive of art.

    That said, I also have no intention of ever promoting the work of Marion Zimmer Bradley. (Vomit, vomit, VOMIT.) She wrote things that were important to people and changed their lives — and she doesn’t own those people’s experiences and revelations. Fuck Marion Zimmer Bradley. But still – VOMIT – she’s so close to home, someone I was a fan of when I was at the right age for her to have abused me if I’d been in the wrong radius. Someone who got away with horrible things without ever being hurt by it. Someone who used ideas I believe in to perpetrate abuse.

    I liked Amanda Marcotte’s take on this issue that Barry linked to in one of the open threads, I think. We might not have to have a “cancel” culture if we had a justice culture. It would be better if Cosby were punished for raping women through the justice system, instead of through individualized, ad hoc cultural boycotts.

  88. 88
    Ampersand says:

    It would be better if Cosby were punished for raping women through the justice system, instead of through individualized, ad hoc cultural boycotts.

    Of course, Cosby is in prison for sexual assault, for 3-10 years. But I think Amanda’s point still stands: It feels surprising that Cosby faced legal consequences, rather than like something people can generally rely on to happen.

  89. Mandolin,

    I just want to say that @84 is lovely comment.

  90. 90
    desipis says:

    Art is the symbolic exploration of lived human experience. The word exploration is, for me, central, since—again, for me—the difference between art and propaganda is that propaganda is explicitly not about exploration. Rather, the purpose of propaganda is to tell its audience what they should feel, how they should feel about what they feel, and what they should do about it.

    If political analysis of art outright tells people how they should feel about the art (and how they should feel about themselves, and what they should do about it), and inhibits people’s ability to explore the symbolism of human experience for themselves, does that transform the art into propaganda?

  91. Desipis:

    If political analysis of art outright tells people how they should feel about the art (and how they should feel about themselves, and what they should do about it), and inhibits people’s ability to explore the symbolism of human experience for themselves, does that transform the art into propaganda?

    Before I answer the question, since I’m assuming it’s directed at me, I’d like to know more precisely what you mean by “political analysis of art,” and I’d like you to provide a specific example of an analysis that does what you describe in your question.

  92. 92
    Kate says:

    So, to the actual point of this thread and to a question I asked near the beginning; how do you think we should deal with the body of work produced by Michael Jackson? And what about that of Bill Cosby?

    I don’t pretend I’m being consistent here. This is part thinking about potential for harm, part thinking about allowing predators to profit and part my emotion. I also acknowledge that I have gaps in my knowledge. Ultimately my goal is to have the discussion, and live an examined life, not to come to a hard and fast conclusion…much less to impose one on others.
    I think there are cases which, in retrospect, one can see that the contents of a person’s work served to normalize their crimes. I’m thinking of Woody Allen and Louis C.K.. These are the cases with the strongest argument for boycott, even if the person is dead and buried and not profiting off of their work. I’ve come to realize that work of men like these, which I saw as rich, but disturbing (Woody Allen) or humerous (Louis C.K.) their fellow predators see as validating. I don’t want to be a part of that. I could see value in studying Allen’s films, provided the right context (sort of like putting civil war monuments in museums, not just as entertainment). Louis C.K., I’ve got nothing. I never want to see his work again.
    In the case of Cosby, he was groundbreaking in his time. But, today, can’t we find things of equal value, without the baggage to support?
    When I think of Michael Jackson singing ABC as a little boy, it breaks my heart. What that beautiful liile boy grew up to do to himself through is addiction to plastic surgury because of a self hatred rooted in racism is so sad. There was clearly so much wrong going on there. My understanding is that he himself was abused as a child. Don’t get me wrong. He is 100% responsible for the crimes he committed as an adult. Our sympathies should lie first, second and third with his vicitms. However, few criminals, if any, are inevitable, and every single one is a tragedy. Unlike Allen an C.K., I don’t see his work as validating his crimes, at least not his seminal works. I still love watching him.

  93. 93
    J. Squid says:

    I have a story.

    In the very early 90s, a friend of mine told me that, many years earlier, she had been raped by a member of the Beastie Boys. That surely made me feel differently about the band, but I still thought they were amazingly talented and made some great music. I had never attended one of their shows nor owned any of their albums at that point in my life. I decided, almost immediately and without telling anybody for years, that I would never give a cent to that band. If I was going to own any of their work it would have to be bootlegged or stolen. I didn’t stop being amazed by their talent nor stop enjoying their music, but fuck all if I was going to support them with my dollars.

    Keep in mind that this was at least 7 or 10 years before I ever heard a discussion of how we should approach the art of monsters.

    OTOH, I don’t think I could enjoy seeing or hearing a performance of Louis CK. It’s a different kind of art with a different relation to the monster.

  94. I will understand if others have had enough of the all-art-is-political discussion, but the more I’ve been thinking about it, the more it has, oddly, made me think of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 and what people would say in relation to that poem. Here it is:

    My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
    Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
    If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
    I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
    And in some perfumes is there more delight
    Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
    I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
    That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
    I grant I never saw a goddess go;
    My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.

    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    As any she belied with false compare.

    I hope no one will be offended if I supply a couple of definitions of words I looked up myself so I could make sure I was understanding the poem:

    Dun: grayish brown
    Damasked: dappled
    Belied: to give a false impression of; to disguise

    So, do you think this sonnet is political? If yes, what do you mean by political? If not, how are you defining what is political so as to exclude it.

  95. 95
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    RJN, I feel like I’m missing something in this discussion. It seems like any disagreement here is mostly semantic, in that it’s the definition of the word “political” that’s in dispute. I just don’t understand why it matters if all art is political. What is the purpose of placing art in a category called “political,” especially if the category is so broad as to include any action by any human who’s the product of a political world. It all seems so circular to me, and that when you boil it all down, all that is being communicated is that humans are just political beings, and I don’t think anyone anywhere would disagree with that.

    Maybe it’s better to say that to some extant, all art is political, but what matters is how political, and how relevant the political dimension is compared to other dimenions.

  96. 96
    desipis says:

    Before I answer the question, since I’m assuming it’s directed at me, I’d like to know more precisely what you mean by “political analysis of art,” and I’d like you to provide a specific example of an analysis that does what you describe in your question.

    I was thinking about the way I’ve seen in online SJ forums where questions are asked such as “is this movie/book/game/song/etc feminist?” or the converse “is this movie/book/game/song/etc sexist?” (and similar questions along race, sexuality, etc). The implication being that the worth of a piece of art as being largely driven by it’s alignment with a particular political position or cause, and that other aspects of the art aren’t worth exploring to anywhere near as much extent. I’ve seen quite a lot of this creeping into mainstream media and reviews of popular media.

  97. 97
    Ampersand says:

    The implication being that the worth of a piece of art as being largely driven by it’s alignment with a particular political position or cause…

    That’s not in any way implied by the question “is this movie sexist?” etc..

    It’s as if I were discussing a comic book, and I asked “are the colors here good?” By asking that question, I’m not implying that the words, the plot, the layout, the line drawings, and the lettering don’t matter. (Or the politics, for that matter). I might well consider those things more important than the colors. If someone says I’m implying that the worth of the comic book is largely driven by its alignment with my preferences for color, they’re almost certainly wrong, and reading far too much into what I said.

    I’ve seen quite a lot of this creeping into mainstream media and reviews of popular media.

    Got a link?

  98. 98
    Ampersand says:

    Thinking about, there can be times when one factor alone ruins a work of art. I don’t generally consider coloring the most important element of comics, but I can easily imagine a coloring job so extraordinarily bad that it ruins the comic. Similarly, if the politics of a comic are bad enough (explicitly pro-Hitler, for example), that can ruin the overall reading experience for me, even if I can see that the comic is well-drawn.

    But it wouldn’t be fair to infer from this that I believe the worth of art is driven mainly by politics (or by coloring) as a rule.

  99. 99
    Mandolin says:

    Amp – even if you were, people are allowed to have their own rules for personal enjoyment. The jackbooted thugs aren’t going to force the new ghostbusters on the mra objectors by sitting them in clockwork orange chairs with their eyes forced open. Their “I don’t wanna watch girls” is definitely a political position, and a stupid one, but they’re allowed to decline to watch things based on it. I don’t generally p think I have the right to dictate what art other people consume… but it would be super nice if this courtesy were extended back to me, as it very publicly has not been.

    I realize you (probably) don’t disagree, but I feel like the force of this conversation is trying to push the interpretation of your position in this direction.

    RJN:
    I don’t know enough about its contemporary cultural situation to give a good political reading.

    A lot of the politics around it at this point probably stem from who it’s author is and what he symbolizes in our current cultural discourse (someone might use this to suggest they are educated, or that someone else is pretentious, or as a synecdoche for romance, or to complain about the western canon, or to promote theater education). That’s a lot of cultural noise. It’s sufficient cultural noise to partially wash out the content of poem itself, including its inherent political content; the poem has a life as a symbol that looks very large over the lines.

    While a lot of work has a great deal of cultural meaning and traction, Shakespeare is at the extreme end, with the Bible, where they are enormous, load bearing pillars of our cultural understanding of art.

  100. 100
    Mandolin says:

    Also, I thought damasked meant “like damask” so that’s interesting, thanks!

    A very minor point which one of my teachers brought up which I don’t entirely buy – the choice to represent her description from the head down permitted her chastity; to start at the feet would have been to imply she was “loose.” So, that’s political, but honestly I’m suspicious it’s also bullshit. (I still sometimes use the rule when I’m writing anyway, because I find it amusing.)

    I think it’s been argued also that this sonnet was actually emotionally meant to refer to a boy, which would make the gender swap political, but that may also be bullshit.

    I feel like Shakespeare is surrounded by an awful lot of bullshit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *