Living under the cinematic rock that I do, I just recently heard that apparently the Oscars caused quite a stir this year for their lack of diversity in the nominees. While I don’t want to spark a debate on diversity in Hollywood in particular, I do want to open up a dialogue about art in general, and whether it owes us anything.
Does music owe us clean lyrics? Does an epic fantasy novel owe us characters who are racially diverse? Does high fashion owe us models with realistic bodies? Does cinema owe us diverse casts?
I want to make clear at the outset that my intention in this post is not to focus on the Academy Awards controversy. I virtually never watch films, so I honestly don’t think I am well versed enough in the motion picture industry, even as a consumer, to form an opinion. To be honest, off the top of my head I can only come up with one film I know debuted in 2015 — Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Beyond that, I don’t even know what came out, let alone who was cast. I’m seriously that person who catches a glimpse of E! on a television in a shop and goes “Who is that?!”
All of that is to say, I am more than happy if folks want to contribute their opinions on Hollywood diversity in the comment section, but I personally don’t feel educated enough on the topic to say more than the following: Yeah, most celebrities I ever see are either super tan young white people with model looks, or occasionally paler black young people also with model looks. Again, though, I’m admittedly very ignorant about Hollywood — by choice — so that ignorance probably introduces a bias.
Anyway, on to the actual topic of the post: Does art owe us anything?
I’m not asking if anyone wishes certain arts were done differently. I mean, I think I would like Game of Thrones better if it contained far less sexual violence. As another example, I certainly wish major ballet companies would employ dancers with greater racial, age, and body type diversity.
But, that doesn’t mean that I think George R. R. Martin and the American Ballet Academy owe society anything.
In fact, my instinct on the topic is to argue that, at its core, art owes us nothing. If it is provocative, or sexist, or whitewashed, or unrealistic, or offensive, then my instinct is to say that we don’t have to support it by partaking in it.
The only real caveat I can come up with to that argument is in the case when an artist is funded by tax dollars. If I as a taxpayer am forced to pay income and sales taxes (which, regrettably, I am), and if some of those dollars go to the National Endowment for the Arts, then in that case I can better appreciate an argument for dictating what that money funds.
Tell me, what are your thoughts on this topic? Does art owe society anything? If so, when?
I greatly look forward to hearing everyone’s perspectives on this fascinating question.