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The Future of Art and Entertainment in a World Where Everything Is Politics
The first problem is that everything has become politicised - the second problem is that everything has been politicised in the same direction. What to do?
There are two issues with with art and entertainment at the moment - the first is that it’s very difficult to watch a TV show, movie, read a book, listen to some music, without having the political and cultural views of the creator forced on you (directly through the work itself or through some other channel); the second is even if that was tolerable, the views in question are always the same, and the creators are incurious, censorious and dismissive about other ways of seeing the world and of the limits of their own outlook. So the first problem is how can to get art that envisions of other ways of understanding the world; and the other is how do we get art out from under the burden of politics and ephemeral cultural comment entirely.
It’s true that there was never a period in my lifetime when the cultural industries didn’t have a specific political bias, and that this wasn’t visible in what they produced. But it’s has become suffocating in a time when media channels have proliferated. People have more ways of telling you what they think even outside their art; they are required to maintain a profile by generating more content to accompany their work, and they fill it with their opinions (eventually resorting to filling it with political opinions); and they have more opportunity to change their social status by positioning themselves via proclamation of upwardly mobile beliefs. So it’s not possible for artists to shut up about their views, it’s not in their interests to do so, and the social pressure is to express only one type of belief.
It’s not a matter of simple escapism either, unless it’s escapist to want to see beyond the ephemeral culture-junk they are surrounded with every day. A better word for what we’re looking for might be Transcendence. There needs to be room to introduce transcendence and beauty into peoples lives without the rotten carcass of politics and current affairs dragging you back into the muck of everyday life. Art and popular entertainment as currently constituted are almost a refutation of that. There is nothing worth talking about beyond what’s being discussed in the opinion pages of respectable newspapers today.
Political activism is also in some ways the opposite of art. Political Correctness means “careful avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude or insult people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against”. One definition of the word Politics (i.e Office Politics) is “activities aimed at improving someone’s status within an organisation”. Taking the two together - politically oriented people acting through the style of Political Correctness - gets you what we currently have, which is “improving someone’s status within an organisation by making sure everyone is saying and thinking the right thing.” I think this explains not just why art has become so insufferably politicised, but also why the most political people are also the biggest philistines.
Some people pine for a China-type approach of limiting the political content of art, by simply dictating from the top down the sorts of art that can be produced. However, just because you don’t like the work that is currently being produced by our celebrity-activist creative class, that doesn’t mean a committee of politburo who hate them will be able to produce something better. The only reason for a creative person to endorse a system like this is because it punishes the people you hate, which, you know, I totally get, but it’s not a solution. In any case if such a system was imposed in the West, it would lead to more of what we’re currently getting, not less, because over here the most committed members of rainbow-industrial complex would be calling the shots.
One method of getting out from under all of this is to look to work from the past, often work that has been purposely forgotten because it swims against the currents of our time. Personally nearly every piece of fiction (of the limited number) I’ve read in the last few years has been written before 1975 and it’s been a relief to be able to consume something sealed off from the present. (If you’re a man, I strongly recommend these).
A mini-industry has sprung up on the right of catering to the political book market by producing works that have fallen out of favour or been forgotten. Examples of the sorts of people who do this are Mystery Grove, Antelope Hill, Rogue Scholar Press and Imperium Press. In most cases that what they are producing is more politics and social comment. This is a gap in the market, and it’s worth doing, but to some extent it both deepens and avoids the problem - in a way we’re still locked in the battle of arguing the headlines indirectly through art.
Some of these publishers have moved into publishing new fiction with some even running competitions to find new writers. The difficulty they’ll in face moving away from the current paradigm is that it's self-reinforcing. We’ve defined in people’s minds that to be vital and relevant, art must reflect politics, so anything that doesn’t have that quality is instantly discounted as out of touch or stale; the incentives are all on the side of pumping out culture war stuff, or on stuff that can be connected to it.
It’s hard to see a path for individual writers who want to talk about cultural topics in a way that goes very against explicitly against the current cultural orthodoxy. Michel Houellebecq, for example, is notable success but it’s also notable that that he established his reputation more than a decade ago and there aren’t many other writers who have followed this path in the years since; doing so for most people is going to get them de-platformed, fired, bank accounts closed, or at the vey least extract a powerful social cost.
For most creators, the middle path is going to be learning to ways of talking about issues glancingly and allegorically, so that people who need to understand will understand, it doesn’t feel suffocatingly oppressive, and you get away with talking about it without getting sacked. For non-creators it’s going to be a case of finding what old art or (or past-times) you can that provide an outlet that lets you undercut or ignore current topics.
In general the future for someone who like or creates art but in uncomfortable with the status quo probably like being a non-establishment artist in totalitarian state. You often won’t be able to say exactly what you mean, or read someone else saying it. You won’t be eligible for the the big prizes or cushy media jobs. You’ll have to content yourself with being a slightly suspicious square peg, producing and consuming work that is only partially intelligible to those from the outside, hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass.