Art: Frivolity in The Face of Tyranny

Art: Frivolity in The Face of Tyranny

I recently read John Scalzi’s post about how his productivity has suffered in the face of the unrelenting bad news cycle since Trump took up the Presidency. Within the post, he mentioned that in light of this unending period of depressing events, writing almost felt frivolous. It’s something I’ve experienced myself over the years. Being in the UK, however, has meant that the whole Trump thing has not affected me as directly as those in the States. Despite that, I still feel that daily miasma of depression, I just get it from world news.

To those in the States, I’m sure Trump and related recent tragedies will feel raw, but from my side of the pond, they’re just more of the same of what’s happening all around the world. Here in the UK, we have the mess that is Brexit (and our pathetic politicians as a whole) and the now-familiar terrorist attacks. Nationalism and right-wing attitudes are on the rise throughout Europe. ISIS is still a thing. As are the atrocities in Syria. Then we have the awful forced migration of the Rohingya from Myanmar. I could go on and on and on.

The point is: horrific tragedy is ever-present. It has always been thus and will continue to be so. Violence, brutality, tyranny, oppression—these are as much a part of the human condition as love, compassion, charity, and generosity. So, if it’s a reality, is writing or creating art frivolous?

Firstly, what does frivolous mean?
The dictionary says: Adjective—not having any serious purpose or value.

I think this is a pretty good barometer for all artworks actually. I mentioned in a previous blog post about how I can no longer tolerate superficiality or entertainment for entertainment’s sake. If one perceives their artwork as frivolous then perhaps it shouldn’t be created. I would argue, however, that almost all art has at least some purpose or value.

We then have to ask ourselves: if I’m not going to write or create art in the face of tyranny because I feel it’s frivolous what else will I do? By not doing the art, will we change the tyranny? Not likely. It’s hubris to think so. One only has to look through a brief history of humankind to see that violence and brutality have persisted throughout the ages. It’s an act of great arrogance to assume that one can change that. Entire nation-states and allied states have failed, what hope an individual? The reality is none in the larger scheme of things.

We have to cast our eyes closer to home. Our friends, family, and most importantly—ourselves. If we change ourselves, we change society. Even if we don’t change things on a grand scale we can stop harming those around us, dissolve separation and division. This extends to art, to writing. We can respond to the bad shit that’s happening in the world by exposing it in our works. By holding up a mirror to the world, we can show reality for what it is, not what the biased media wants us to see, or what we assume it to be.

Exposing truth in our work is never frivolous and always worth doing. I’m not suggesting we do this as a form of escapism, however. I don’t think that helps matters one bit. By ignoring the truth, we condemn ourselves to live a lie. Entertainment hasn’t helped matters. Quite the opposite: it has exacerbated things. It’s a tool used to numb us to what’s going on. To the ugly truth of humanity. By ignoring it, we can not fix it. But like those who wield ‘entertainment’ to further their agenda, we artists can use it to fight back. To shine that light.

And there’s nothing to say that creating art that exposes truth can’t be as entertaining as the truly frivolous escapism. I think that’s every artist’s responsibility. And I’m not necessarily talking about huge truths that will change society overnight. It can be something small; something that people can recognise within themselves; something that makes them think a little and break out of the hypnosis of news and media and all the bullshit that comes with it.

Getting depressed in the face of tyranny won’t make it better. We have to raise our brushes, draw our comics, write our books, compose our songs in reaction to tyranny. It’s under intolerance and oppression that we need to increase our productivity. Shout louder. Art harder!

Because the alternative is to let the fuckers win.

I call for all artists to stop for a brief moment and consider: are you creating frivolous escapism, or are you creating truth? We all have the power to choose. Choose wisely.

2 Replies to “Art: Frivolity in The Face of Tyranny”

  1. Well said, mate. I feel the same impulse to close down, let the weight of all the stupid come crashing over me and wipe me out. And then I think about a really great story I once read, or I remember Alan Alda’s character in M*A*S*H screaming “Don’t let the bastard win!” while he tries to revive a soldier on his operating table.

    Keep on keeping on. Just. Keep. Writing.

    1. Exactly that. Just ignoring it won’t make it go away. It won’t make us feel any better either. It’ll be there when we come back and it’ll hit us harder than it did before because we now have a vacuum of comparison. Only when face reality can we attempt to influence it. And that you remembered that particular scene from M*A*S*H backs it up. Quite often that show was comedic, entertaining, but it also *said* something, it shined the light and wasn’t at all frivolous for entertainment’s sake. 🙂

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