Why Actively Engaging With Art Is Vital
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” — Thorin Oakenshield
I’ve talked before about how movies, and all media, are machines that generate empathy. About how even the media that isn’t that good can elicit an emotional response in a person if presented in a certain way. All it takes is for the audience to allow the film, tv show, or book to take them away to the world in which the story is being told.
But what happens, or instead doesn’t happen, when a person actively chooses not to engage the piece of art on that emotional level?
There’s a video of Ethan Hawke that’s been going viral every few weeks recently in which the actor talks about this very thing. He says, “Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about poetry. Right? They have a life to live and they’re not really that concerned, until their father dies, they go to a funeral, you lose a child, somebody breaks your heart, they don’t love you anymore. And all of a sudden you’re desperate for making sense out of this life, and ‘Has anyone ever felt this bad before?’
“Or the inverse — something great. You meet somebody and your heart explodes. You love them so much, you can’t even see straight. You know, you’re dizzy. ‘Did anybody ever feel like this before? What is happening to me?’ And that’s when art is not a luxury, it’s actually sustenance. We need it. And I believe we are on this star in space to try and help one another. Right?”
He goes on, but you watch the rest here.
What he’s talking about there is what happens when people have a life-altering experience, choosing to feel those feelings, then seeking out art that reflects and reciprocates those feelings. But again, what happens when that desire to connect with others, even on a fictional level, isn’t there?
Well, we know what that looks like, and we know happens. Instead of engaging with and internalizing those stories, some will actively push back against the underlying messaging if it doesn’t fit their carefully constructed worldview. Movies or TV shows that prominently feature women, black or brown folk are automatically labeled as ‘woke’ or ‘servicing the liberal propaganda.’ And so they turn away from stories about folk that doesn’t look like them, perpetuating the cycle of ‘I don’t understand their plight, therefore I won’t hear their stories, ipso facto I will continue my ignorance.’
It’s a sad state of affairs, one that is made worse by the fact that most folks have to work such long hours that they physically don’t have time to watch anything. The idea of keeping people ignorant to the truth of the world is often brought up when talking about grand conspiracies concocted by international, shadowy god-like institutions.
But in reality, it’s as simple as ‘Early in life, keep people busy with school, 8–4 or even longer sometimes. Then, once they’re of working age, keep them busy with work, tell ’em you have to have kids, make it hard as fuck to get an abortion so you make sure the parent is even busier raising the thing. Then you have another body to work at a job they hate so everyone can buy shit they don’t need.’
Or something like that.