Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Art's responsibility

The last few days I've been knee-jerking arguing in favor of privilege (something that I mostly argue against) and sexism in video games. It's been surreal. But here are a couple of takeaways that make all the people in the front row smack their foreheads:

1. The people most threatened by the removal of a privilege are the quickest to deny its existence both in terms of the discussion and the thing itself. They jump to prove it's not there.

2. It seems that most people (men) who don't believe that video games have in the past, do so now, and plan to continue to do so in the future commit acts of sexism against women in terms of design and writing seem to be pretty emotionally stunted individuals. Fascinating. I bet there are complimentary line graphs for Bronies and Guys Who Think Women Who Complain About Sexism in Videogames Are Just Ball Busting Bitches.

3. Clarifying something so that people can more clearly hate it makes you as much of a target as if you argued that thing. I.e.:

"No guys, that's not privilege, this is privilege"
"I'm just saying: if you want to hate on something, hate on it right"

And I tried to watch Salem last night. God that sucked. It sparked a conversation with my wife, however, on if art has a responsibility to history, or if art has a responsibility to people it portrays. I'm not sure if I phrased that correctly, but it's close enough to arrive at my conclusion which is: no. Art's only obligation is to its own subject matter. And if art is responsible and intelligent, it will do its best to exemplify that subject matter. By that I mean art should try to use it's subject matter to say something meaningful, or will say something meaningful about it's subject matter.

To that end, Salem is not art. Wife was appalled by its cheap cash-in of genuine human, specifically woman, suffering just to have an hour slot of TV to fill. And she's right. It absolutely did that, but I think it did that because of the deeper problem of the show not having a proper obligation to its subject matter. Instead of weaving a faithful recreation that calls into question the sanity of the people involved, or even just a gripping recreation, or instead of weaving a nuanced supernatural narrative that examines man's relationship with women, and man and woman's relationship with the divine, we get lots of shallow motivations, fickle women that try to equate minor pain to being a prisoner of war, and weird Saw like sequences of self-mutilation that disappear faster than whatever point they were trying to make. Oh, and a crooked priest. No one saw that coming. What a let down.

And then there's that new Avril Lavigne video that has the internet upset about appropriations. I said it once, I'll say it again: I thought Avril Lavigne blew her brains out in the 80s when she realized no one thought she was funny anymore.

Kind of like privilege, I feel a little like cultural appropriation is one of those white guilt conversations where it's difficult to tell when it's right to engage. Much like the privilege discussion, it's super valuable on a certain level (like the level where we stop doing black face and giving black characters to white actors), but then there's the Tumblr level in which anything that isn't genderless sex mannequins standing absolutely still and making prolonged eye contact is automatically sexist, misogynist, privileged, racist, appropriationist, homophobic. Not  Halal. Those are all incredibly valuable conversations and they all have a strong backbone of truth, but Tumblr probably isn't equipped to handle adult conversations.

So Avril dances around singing about Hello Kitty and sushi (or chocolate, or none of those things. Who knows what noises her mouth makes) doing her best to look like some J-pop sweet heart while her indentured servants dance behind her. It's a really fucking stupid video. And websites like Jezebel (which I like) get mad about cultural appropriation. Which might be valid. But I can't help but think there are two issues here:

1. What's the difference between appropriation and "has Japanese stuff in it"? It seems like all these Tumblr-esque conversations pushes those two lines closer and closer to each other until they're sitting right on top of each other and privilege becomes "alive" and appropriation becomes "has knowledge of other places." Like Jeff Winger said: "Not being racist has become the new racism." And there's the larger problem of:

2. It just sucks. Unlike the larger problems of sexism, oppression, and appropriation at large, this song is a terrible piece of crap (though if I had to choose, I'd choose this song over her stupid faux-post-punk stuff that got her popular in the first place) that will disappear in months, or possibly a year if it by some chance is up for an award. Even if it wins an award, like Best Song of The Year, it'll vaporize. Remember that chick Vitamin-C (I think that's her name) that existed, like, ten years ago that everyone was mad at for reasons?

Much like art's responsibility, maybe we should hold artist's feet to the fire for making bad art. It's more of a global thing, right? If Avril was a more serious musician, she probably would have been at least a little more thoughtful of how she incorporated those Mooninite slave girls into her video. Plus, isolating Avril and making an example of her is a little like blaming Michael Bay for making a terrible movie: you're absolutely right, but he's too dumb to understand what you're talking about.

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