Can Does Not Equal Should – Why Not All Art Should Be Produced

I can’t believe I’m having to dive into this conversation when, presumably, we’re all adults here – or at least the reading comprehension of one – but this needs to be said, so I will say it.

We have probably all been told once in our lives that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. This is a lesson we learn when we’re trying to discover what power outlets do via sticking things into them, or deciding to put everything we come across off the ground into our mouths. Children learn fairly quickly what can and should mean, and we’re meant to take these lessons into the world as adults and balance our actions between caution and exploration, with equal parts wonder and safety.

Like with the decision of getting that tattoo or buying that unicycle to perform a one-woman show about flatulence, art is held by the same “can does not equal should” reality we learn as children.

A person’s ability to create something does not inherently mean that the thing they’ve created is worth being consumed, explored, and given money to.

Saying no to these things isn’t censorship. It’s an audience looking at the content, understanding the nuance of its message, and saying unequivocally: “Nah.”

Not all art is created equal, and when you create art with the systemic oppressors in mind, cater to them above the disenfranchised of society, you become complicit in propaganda, not art. Art should tear apart the systems of oppression, highlight them to the world through the lens of the people who are oppressed, and not become part of the vehicle of racism, sexism, transphobia, ad nauseam, that is so rampant in our media, movies, and television today.

Even the behind-the-scenes places should speak toward equality. For example in movies and television inclusion should be in the casting, directing, who is writing the stories, who is financing them, and who gets to help film them. This is part of the process of realizing that the role of those in power is the story worth telling 10 out of 10 times because you have people who have no interest in this narrative under your employ. Without this inclusion, the cycle of BAD ideas continues, and art stops being art.

I, as a white woman from the south, cannot truly hope to empathize with the plights of a disabled Latina woman from San Francisco. I can sympathize. I can listen to her and absorb what she has to say and not speak over her, but I can never presume to understand the microaggressions (and overt aggressions) she faces every single day. If she does not have the ability to write and wishes to tell her story, I might be able to co-author something with her, her story as she sees it, with limited input from me, but I cannot sit down and pretend that her story is mine and guarantee that I will tell it right or tell it with the nuances that only she could bring to the table.

She knows what it’s like to live in her world. I do not not.  

Without her there, my written story about her struggles and successes is lip service meant to show how liberal I am without actually contributing to the conversation in any meaningful way. It’s not good enough to tell the story. You need to employ the people who are affected by the story and let them have a voice. You need to make it less propaganda, less harmful, and show the harsh realities and beautiful truths as only someone living in the situation can.

This has been driven to the spotlight again lately with the announcement of ‘Confederate’ – an alternate universe show dedicated to showing what the world would look at if the white supremacists looking to keep their slaves had won the Civil War. There have been many brilliant pieces written by POC that you can read on the subject, (check the #noconfederate tag), and they don’t need me to speak for them, but this is a perfect example of tone deaf reasoning, writing, and absolutely not reading the room.

People aren’t giving it a chance because the United States has enough racism built into the bedrock of its governing not to give the white slave owners (or those who now look upon those times with merry giddiness at the harm they would be able to freely cause if it were to happen again) more say than they already have in society. Our police, our prisons, our workforce, our TV industry are built upon the assumption that white people, starting with white men, are superior to all else. This is never explicitly stated, of course, that would be totes uncool. It’s just in all the hiring, casting, and the writing and greenlighting of projects.

When people unite to ask for better and have logical, reasonable reasons for the message you’re trying to give being part of this systemic oppression, it is not censorship, It is a basic call for decency.

It is a request that your art seeks to uphold a story that says something that hasn’t been said to black people every single day of their lives. We need look no further than Charlottesville than to see this show in context of what voices the show plans to uplift. White supremacists are not the ones that need a powerhouse like HBO behind them. The truth is that the creators and the company don’t care, because it doesn’t affect them, and if there’s such a disconnect between the people who consume and the artist, it loses all meaning and merit. Can becomes more important than should, because there is a dissonance between what people are telling you and the privilege you get to live in.

In other news, look to Amazon’s ‘Black America’ for giving people a voice without trampling over it. It’s that easy to provide commentary on what’s happening in the country while providing an artistic voice that questions and condemns. All they did was give black creators a platform and said “Go for it.” It’s almost like it took very little effort not to be a douche.

Yes, any art can be made. Any art can be consumed. I have watched some terrible movies in my day, from big studios and independent producers, and forgotten them just as easily, but to suggest that our media doesn’t have the power to influence people is to suggest that water is not longer wet and will in fact burn you like fire. It’s wrong.

Can does not equal should, and all companies who claim to create art have a responsibility, particularly in these decisive times, to listen, to provide art that does not create propaganda, and to make a commitment to be inclusive in their companies, casts, and writing.

Can does not equal should, and we all need to spend a little more time with the ‘shoulds’ and a little less closely at the ‘can.’


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