I’ve tried to avoid blogging on the Occupy movement, as there’s not really much that you can say about people who want to change the world by setting up vagrant camps! Noticing a flurry of controversy on the side, however, it’s time to change that – although not by discussing Occupy itself, as much as reactions to it. Frank Miller, comic-creator extraordinaire, has annoyed many of his fans by posting a blog about how the Occupy movement is “nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists”. You can see the immediate fallout from the comments below the blog. “Dear Frank,” reads the top one at the time of writing, “I used to be your biggest fan. You’re now dead to me.” As the Graun notes, the industry reaction hasn’t been much kinder…
I’ll admit to not being a particular fan of comics, but there’s a significant point to be made (whatever Miller said, whether I agree or not) that transcends genre boundaries: if a piece of art moves you in some way, then why on earth would you change your mind about it because of the author’s words or actions? “…dead to me”?! Really? I find this sort of attitude staggering, not least because of the intellectual vapidity behind it. When you react to a piece of art, be it comic or symphony, you are not taking into account every deed, word and thought of the artist! Creators of art are flawed human beings, just like the rest of us. They are not put on this earth to act as carbon copies of us, to reassure and comfort and reflect the viewpoints of the participant back at them. The best art challenges and inspires, and the best artists do just as much.
A personal example is my relationship with two of my favourite bands, Canadian prog heroes Rush and Brummie grindcore veterans Napalm Death, and how this has changed in my political journey from (broadly speaking) ‘left’ to ‘right’. Lyrically, the two bands couldn’t be more different; Napalm Death are your stereotypical anti-capitalist punk firebrands (sample lyrics: “Multinational corporations/genocide of the starving nations”) whilst Rush are heavily influenced by Ayn Rand (sample lyrics “Live for yourself, there’s no one else more worth living for/Begging hands and bleeding hearts will only cry out for more”). My reaction to both bands has barely changed despite the massive changes in my personal politics and philosophies, and I enjoy Napalm now as much as I did Rush before my ‘conversion’.
Now, you could probably explain this away by noting that music is about more than lyrics, and that the furious outrage of Napalm Death’s music carries the listener along as much as Rush’s proggery. Art, however, is always multi-faceted, always about both ingredients (here, music and lyrics) and taste of finished product (here, reaction from the listener) and I’d be lying if I denied that my appreciation of both bands’ art didn’t take into account my visceral reaction to their politics. Part of why I loved, and continue to love both is that I recognise the passion of each argument, and although disagreeing with each in turn on a subconscious level, can connect enough to appreciate both message and music. Contrast this with the people out there now burning their Frank Miller comics, refusing this intellectual engagement – they have enjoyed his art in the past, but have suddenly decided to ‘punish’ the artist for his perceived sins by refusing to enjoy it any more. They’re not even bothering to examine the art itself for political bias (as the Guardian piece above does) just deciding that a certain statement of the artist is ‘too much’ and reacting as (their idea of) society accordingly suggests they should.
What a narrow world such people inhabit. Our planet is a big, broad place, full of wonderful people from both the left and right of the political spectrum each with their own, wonderful ideas. Refusing to engage with any of these is the ultimate insult, the suggestion that what a person has to say is so limited that it’s not even worth considering. It’s also moral snobbery at its worst, the equivalent of refusing to watch a masterpiece like Chinatown because of Polanski, akin to refusing to view a Picasso, because of his attitude towards women. Am I the only one who sees art and the artist that made it as two different things? There is no ‘correct’ reaction to art or artist by their very definition, just other people telling you what you should think. The trick is in not listening to them; let your initial reaction and subsequent thoughts guide you, and never be afraid to challenge what others think or say. Art is not politics; politics is not art. Each has plenty to say about the other, but they are not the same and never should be. And so elevating the Occupy movement to such a pedestal that criticism of it makes all your other endeavours equivalent to nothing is about as wrong as it is possible to get. Surely a movement so apparently democratic and people-focused needs to be challenged as much as capitalism itself, else all you’re left with is the ashes of art that disagreed. And when that becomes the norm, humanity is in trouble.