Friday, January 14, 2011

On Culture and Consequences

Concerning reactions in the wake of the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords (6 killed, 13 wounded)...

Gabrielle Giffords understood that words have consequences.That one's words can lead to actions by others.

"For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,” Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC. (from the HT-Bloomington)

Some people, including media personality Jon Stewart, like to pretend that words do not have consequences. That lyrics and tones of songs have no consequence. Essentially that the culture around us has no consequence. That art has no consequence - or affect on people. I very strongly disagree.
I think that the corporate media seeks to influence the culture, including our values and ideas and feelings and actions, as well as buying and voting decisions. That is not a delusion. They have reasons, such as a profit motive, such as maintaining power and influence. 
Other people seek to influence the culture by discovering and expressing the truth. While all of us have 'truths' that are unique (based on who we listen to, what we pay attention to, what actions and ideas have come into our circle of awareness - along with our own abilities to understand and analyze our surroundings), many of us realize that it is quite different to try to have one's truth based on scientific knowledge and controlled studies than it is to base one's truth based on the rants of people who hate science and who spew false facts (often taking things out of context or making them up entirely) and hate.
The truth is not always a happy thing. The  fact that the way we collectively live our lives causes Global Warming, Dead Zones, and Extinctions is not happy. Nor is Poverty and Inequality, etc. But even the tone of our speech (whether truth or falsehoods) has an effect. According to Dr. Douglas Fields, "Rudeness Is a Neurotoxin"
Jon Stewart, on his show, often makes fun of right-wing people who spout nonsense. Part of the effect of that is that people who watch can feel somewhat in community with others that watch, and are happy that others understand nonsense as nonsense. It is nice to see the hate-spouting people made fun of - to have them put into a context that dis-empowers their hate and nonsense. Stewart's show has become part of the liberal culture. So it's odd to see Stewart say that none of that could be expected to have an effect on others - nor could the hate speech that he makes fun of.
Stewart does not generally spout hate, that I am aware of. I think he can tend to be somewhat misogynistic (or at the very least - he will not be mistaken to be a feminist), as can other somewhat liberal pundits such as Bill Maher. I think that part of the "truth" that they have absorbed is the idea we are all separate and not connected (and that those in power should have no expectation of concern for those without power).
I remember Stewart's response to someone who challenged him on his apparent sexism (the lack of women and women's point of view on his show) was that "women are not funny". So was he being funny, or is that his truth - or is that the truth concerning the role of women in our society? Our culture has an overabundance of possibilities (though not an overabundance of feminists). 
On the one hand, artists want to be free to express themselves (I'm assuming this is Stewart's take), but people like Palin and Limbaugh, and Beck are not artists - even though they create fictions. To some extent, Maher and Limbaugh were/are on the same page - they were both against the idea that people should be "politically correct". The concept that they were against was the idea that people shouldn't go around spouting racist and sexist crap. That idea has gone even farther with the latest round of right-wingness - where not only do they (Palin, Limbaugh, Beck) want the right to be rude, they want to go around "Joking" that liberals or anyone who disagrees with them should be shot and killed.

Some would like to suggest that both sides are equally rude and vitriolic, but it is one of the leading figures of the right-wing, tea-party who is disseminating imagery of rifle targets on people and talking about reloading (Palin, but with a lot of support from others). They get a lot of people riled up, and they have a lot of influence. And they are in nearly complete denial about it.

Krugman had a good column today, A Tale of Two Moralities about the " deep divide in American political morality." There is only one side that is pushing to bring down the government as we know it - and right now that is the vitriolic right-wing. I think those who identify with that need to own up to what and who they are supporting and the message that is being sent out.

I also think that while artists should have freedom to express what they want - the art and artists that make it into the forefront sends a message about what kind of society we are. For instance, when artists who create art that is about being pro-macho and anti-women rise to the top (and when art by women is more likely to be excluded), that says that we are not moving forward as a society. It says that the ideology of rudeness, and of Limbaugh - the entrenched tradition of white-male domination is (still) winning. (And yes, Palin and other women support that ideology),

As artists, what we express about our society can have an influence. As consumers, what we consume, endorse, and spread around also has an influence. That's how society works.

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