We Need Art
The USA has elected a dangerously unqualified fool as leader of the free world. We will have to consider how to respond. And we will need art to do so.
Shock is too weak a word to describe the way I felt yesterday watching the news from the US elections. It wasn’t so much like an earthquake as like the feeling that comes after, the unnerving sense everything that was once solid has become strangely liquid and unstable.
I opened up about some my feelings online. One random person I don’t know suggested non-USAmericans don’t really have skin in the game when it comes to these elections, suggesting our responses are only “emotional.” Others chimed in to agree.
On Tuesday, I came home to find the glossy, very impressive brochure from New York’s School of Visual Arts on our kitchen bench. The admissions people had visited my daughter’s school at lunchtime that day and she came home keen to add SVA to the list of places (almost all in the US) where she might go after finishing High School.
But please, tell me how again how I don’t have skin in the game.
Growing up I watched what happened to the country of my birth, Chile and to the changes in the country of my childhood, Australia. It was impossible to doubt the way US policy shaped & configured our lives across the Pacific in those dying days of the cold war.
But apparently, I have no skin in the game.
What drew me into academia was a passion for a distinctly American form of philosophy, a set of ideas about religious freedom and individual conscience that had roots in the enlightenment, but were uniquely born on the shores of New England. Since returning to creative work I have drawn heavily and freely on the insights and inspiration of US creative industries, from my Berklee College education to the scores of (mostly) US learning and technological resources I wrote about in my book.
To be honest I don’t even care to attack the whole misguided “skin in the game” argument any further, to give any more time to random online hecklers and trolls.
We all live in the shadow of the USA and it’s foreign policy whether we want to or not. If the US lurches hard to right, becomes more belligerent, or heaven forbid, fascistic, then we all suffer.
Over dinner last night with my family we talked about whether to boycott the US. I laid out my whole quixotic plan. Delete our Netflix, Apple Music and iTunes accounts. Buy nothing from Amazon, or any US retailer. Stop using Google, YouTube, Twitter and any US service.
It was crazy, not something I intended to follow through on.
But, remembering how the US comes down hard on countries that elect leaders they don’t and asking why we shouldn’t make similar hard choices now sparked a vivid conversation, one fuelled with plenty of gallows humour.
The talk soon turned to something else; the way periods of great upheaval produce great art, music & literature. And, how we need to continue to support that art, beyond the imaginary lines we try to draw on the earth, to separate people from people. I often laud Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On as the greatest pop album of all time. But, it’s easy to forget the social turmoil that gave birth to it.
I have no doubt that the coming months will give us many moments of frustration. We’ll struggle to find words to express our anger, disappointment and rage.
But, we must struggle. We must fight to find the words, the images, the melodies and rhymes to give voice to our emotions, to our sense of how we can build a path to a better life.
Our greatest failure will be if simply sit back and blast off pithy expressions of anguish and despair on social media. Sarcasm is a blunt tool. Humour won’t get us there. Satire has failed us.
We need art.