And now, the part where I either offend the majority of you or have you all nodding. Either one has its risks, as you can imagine. At least the people you tick off can awaken you as to how you've strayed off the road and plowed into the impact attenuators; your yes-men will never be your teachers.
So:All art is propaganda, as George Orwell once claimed. I believe him, but not in the way most people might think.
Art is almost never intended as propaganda. Sometimes all you want to do is put the images on the screen, or lay down a ripping good yarn. That's what you want to do, but whatever it is you're doing is also propagandizing for some view of the world, whether quietly or noisily. Pace novelist and critic Dale Peck, who once said something to the effect that within every story there is a utopian vision that if realized would make the story unnecessary.
That's political, if anything is; that's as propagandistic as broadsides and sit-ins. If I want to live in a better world, a story about such a thing can focus on the "I" and not necessarily the "better world", and still have a political tinge to it, even if only in the sense of the personal being an aspect of the political.
If you're good — or if you're at least striving — you'll look at what you're laying down and see both the big-A Art and the big-P Propaganda in it, whether they lie side by side or one palimpsestically atop th'other. It's better to be humbled by a sad missive than clobbered by a screed, if only because our hearts are enlisted all the more easily by the missive-bearer than by the screed-deliverer. Enlisting a human heart is not something to be done lightly, in no small part because of how easily it can turn on you as effectively as it is used.
Now, for the next step, by way another aphorism I've been using a lot lately: All entertainment is art — whether or not we think of it that way, whether or not it was conceived that way. The scruffiest Bazooka Joe comic salvaged from the ass-end pocket of one's jeans before (or even after) it goes into the wash is Art — and yes, I attach the cap A there quite deliberately.
You know why I argue for it all being cap-A? Not because I'm so starved for entertainment or spiritual kicks that I'd turn to the likes of a Bazooka Joe for my uplift or my outlook (at least, I sure hope not), but because I'd dare argue it's better for all of us in the long run to have that POV. It forces us to have a little more respect for every moment we put pencil to paper or words into the ear.
It's hard to respect what gets put out there, especially when there's so damn much of it these days. Nothing ever goes out of print, and so we have all the more options for what to shove into our head-holes. Top that off with another fun twist: the stuff we seize on to distract ourselves with becomes decoupled from its own intentions. The quick and dirty exploitation movie turns out to have profound dimensions; the deep and serious examination of dark chapters in our history becomes sleazy and cheap.
Faced with that fact of life, you see why it makes sense to think of it all as being art — especially whatever it is you're laying down, whether for money or for (self-)love? Whether gum wrapper label copy or Sistine Chapel ceiling, you owe it to yourself to be responsible and reflective about anything you're putting out there.
All entertainment is art, and all art propagandizes; therefore, all entertainment also propagandizes. The way I see it, you can either sleepwalk through that and let it lead you off any number of cliffs (and take any number of others along with you), or you can wake up to it and sprout some wings. Cliffs below or skies above? It's your choice. And I do mean your choice.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind