Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Consciousness vs opium

While I'm still considering what it means that the personal is political, that every act is in fact a political one, why we tend to check our politics at the door, and how to make a difference — while I'm twiddling my thumbs, Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak, is calling America's artists to arms.
By including my political views, I was in direct violation of The First Law of Social Apathy, which holds a popular culture should exist divorced from any of the moral facts of its current political condition.

What folks want from the pop — hell, what we deserve as tax–paying Americans — is a nice soothing mind bath. A few chuckles. A nice melodrama in which to park our emotions for a couple of hours. In a word: opium.

This country's chief signifier is our staggering capacity to isolate ourselves from the effects of our political and lifestyle choices.

This is the reason, for instance, that so many people can vote for a party that believes gays are sub–human but still watch "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy," (because fags are so darn funny!). It's also the reason liberals can drive around in SUVs, while decrying policies driven by oil–dependency.

But of course it is one of the functions of art (yes, even popular art) to call people on such bullshit, to raise people's consciousness, to awaken their capacities for compassion.

William Faulkner probably put this best in his 1951 speech, upon accepting the Nobel Prize: "The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

It seems to me that the time has come answer this call.


Anonymous said...

Wow, lady, testify!


Anonymous said...

Nnnnnngggg. I don't WANT the personal to be political, but you keep making me feel like a coward about that. Which is probably useful, in its own way. You've got me thinking again, curse your tentacled hide...


Isabella said...

I think I'm trying to rouse myself out of my own cowardice. I'm tired of, for example, "enviro-conscious" SUV drivers. (Don't be hypocrites! At least acknowledge the complexities and imperfections of your decisions.) And I'm tired of people feeling that they don't make a difference — of myself feeling I don't make a difference, and I'm slowly convincing myself otherwise.

One thing that set me off the other week: a chapter on breastfeeding in a medical text I'm copyediting. The language was very judgmental — really made out women who choose not to breastfeed to be monsters. So I edited the hell out of it.

I don't mean we should all take to the streets for revolution. Just that a person ought to stand by their beliefs and their words. That the little things can effect vaster change in attitudes, can make a difference. It's not the function of only art to open our eyes, but our daily conversations (and our blogs).

Suzanne said...

I thought I could smugly dismiss a lot of this quote as not applying to me (since I'm oh-so-progressive, you know), but this:

"This country's chief signifier is our staggering capacity to isolate ourselves from the effects of our political and lifestyle choices."

really stung because it's so true. All choices have repercussions, and I'm often completely blind to the ones associated with my choices.

Thanks for the call to arms, so to speak.

Isabella said...

It is a staggering capacity, and I wonder where it comes from. Self-preservation from overload in a too-busy world? We prioritize the tasks of our individual daily lives over involvement in the big picture? I'm coming to realize you don't choose to focus your energy on one or the other — they're one and the same.

Anonymous said...

Self-preservation is a lot of it, I think. And laziness. Doing the right thing is always HARDER for whatever reason, and contrary to what the Berenstain Bears may tell you, it doesn't always make you feel any better. Stupid bears.