Sunday, October 31, 2004

Art & Politics

For those of you not paying attention, and there can't be that many of you, or at least I hope not, Tuesday, November 2 is Election Day. Whether you are Black or White, male or female, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, or something I've missed (no offense intended), you have an obligation to vote. Your vote is your voice. Period. There are no mixed messages in that. Politicians don't care how loud you yell, they're only interested in your vote. They don't care if you lay down in the street or can chug a can of beer in 10 seconds, your vote is your voice. So, vote.

I had the pleasure of experiencing an evening with Sweet Honey in The Rock last night. Their music, their ministry is phenomenal, but more than that, they remind us how important it is to not stick to the separatist notion of "being in the world but not of it" but to blend being in and of the world. Who we are internally must blend with who we are externally. You can't vote or create your values based on what looks like or acts just like you, but you must act in a way that benefits all for we are all connected. It's not just some groovy, hippie, soy-based meat substitute-laden concept, but real. You may not think that a hip hop fan from Brooklyn and a White heterosexual husband from Virginia would share commonalities, but as Ysaye Maria Barnwell reminded the audience from the stage, "the price of toilet paper affects us all."

Art is usually the first thing to be sacrificed in the great "cleaning up" of society, and it always starts in government. After all, in a country that would prefer to buy bootleg movies and music for five bucks, rather than pay $15 so that the artist actually gets paid (the subject of another post), the government has to help out those of us who answer the creative call. And those of us who are creative are compelled by that thing deep in the pit of our bellies to bring up the truth. Truth is sometimes beautiful, and sometimes it's ugly. The government is generally more comfortable with things they can readily identify as beautiful, but what they really mean is comfortable. When the check writers don't quite understand what they're writing the check for, they are less willing to write it.

Art speaks the language of the people. It touches those places in us that push past and jump over dividing things like religion, language, class. It is the one thing that unites us instead of dividing us. When you get rid of that thing that unites us, it makes it easier to divide us. When you reshape art so that it is homogoenous; pretty, non-threatening, you create a new language that you can use to your advantage to create a race of homogeneous, pretty, non-threatening creatures to fulfill the agenda of people who look like, think like, and act like you. From Michaelangelo's arguably erotic ode to male beauty in David, to Rubens' plump nudes that would be classified today as having a BMI in the obese range; from the Sunday afternoon screeds in Picadilly Square to the modern-day blog; from Gil Scott Heron, Nuyorican Poets' Cafe to even the escapist "money, cars, and hoes; all a brotha knows," art has given voice to those who forgot they knew how to speak.

Every time an artist is censored or dissed publicly by some politico, that needs to be a wake-up call. Despite what you may feel about the content of the material; I don't necessarily think elephant dung is a desirable medium, nor do I advocate the murder of a police officer, I am frightened. We need to wake up and pay attention -- when the government tells us what we should say by cutting off funding, or by pressuring the removal of material from a store's shelves; a private venue driven by personal choice -- there is a problem. What always follows the removal of art deemed offensive is exactly what is happening now: attacks on civil liberties, diverting of funds for education for all in favor of private education that most often has the same homogenized, pretty, monolinear, Christian-focused bent; removal of funds for medical crises that affect the marginalized of society. Cut education funding and divert it to the prison and military industries. Art makes kids smarter. Smart kids grow up to be smart adults. Smart adults see through smokescreens of lies. Taxes are the dollars each of us pays to get what we want, and the government doles out the cash. Voters put the dolers in charge of the cash. Connect the dots, and you'll figure out that you have to get your lazy, slacker ass up and vote.

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