- Category: Feminism & Sexuality
- Created on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 05:00
- Written by Nat Winn
Gay activist Harvey Milk played by Sean Penn in "Milk." The film was the work of many artists includings director Gus Van Sant, writer written Dustin Lance Black and actors such as Penn, Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin.
"First, let’s appreciate the radical art that is made (not just in subculture margins, but sometimes in a ways that reach millions).
"Second, let’s appreciate the role that radical artists currently play (Hunger Games was recently playing in theatres!)
"Third, let’s understand that many radical people will wobble back and forth between revolutionary politics and left oppositional politics for a long time and this will be resolved in real life, not by arguments in the main.
"Fourth, let’s develop a long term, strategic relationship of “unity and struggle” – with a genuine appreciation of people trying to do radical things under difficult constraints, and also under the pull of notoriety, great wealth, active courting by slick imperialists like Bill Clinton, etc.
"Finally—We need to have a communist pole (that is clear and very bold about road and direction and goals and about supporting revolutionary struggles of the people internationally), that is able to conduct real politics (including extolling and critiquing in the realm of art), that appreciates the different and diverse roles that people can play (and do play)."
We are posting two essays at the same time.
The first, by Curtis Cole, is entitled False Progress: Queer Equality and the Media .
This essay, the second one, is an answer to Curtis by Nat Winn. It argues that revolutionaries must not be mechanical in evaluating artists and the cultural superstructure — and that we should develop a long term policy of “unity and struggle” with radical artists operating in major arenas of art, media, film and music.”
Progressive artists and the revolutionary movement:
A relationship of unity and struggle
by Nat Winn
Thank you for writing this Curtis. We certainly need more writing and critical thinking and communist discussion on popular culture and revolution. In that spirit I would like to share some ideas and concerns I had when reading this article.
There is a very simple binary that runs through this article of progressive vs. “false” progressive or revolutionary vs. reactionary.
In many circles of the left there is kneejerk opposition to “Hollywood” or “bourgeois artists”. There is an assumption that the cultural superstructure is uniformly reactionary and that it all somehow serves the ruling classes and this system.
Reality seems to me to be much more complex than this. In the cultural superstructure there seems to be much higher level of class struggle and political struggle (far more than in other arenas such as the state, etc.). There is a reason why the reactionaries of our political system aim a lot of their fire at “Hollywood and the media” in ways we should understand dialectically and appreciate politically.
You begin your article by criticizing Seth MacFarlane for the belief:
Is this really such an indictment? If an artist attempts to bring attention to a social problem through a particular medium is it thus necessary to attack the artist for their naiveté? When interacting with people in general and artists in general can we really write off those who don’t come to the table already articulating revolutionary or communist ideas and sentiments. It seems to me if we did this we would be a very lonely bunch.
Communists need to form revolutionary alliances out of the raw materials life and actual society give us (not complain that everyone who shows up isn’t what we hoped for).
You criticize MacFarlane harshly for an interview for criticizing Black people who are against gay marriage. But are we to expect that MacFarlane come to the interview with the same analysis we have? Is MacFarlane not understanding in some small way a very real problem of homophobia inside the Black nation, even if he doesn’t have nuanced understanding of the history and relationship of Black Power and Gay Liberation at a particular point in history? Isn’t this more two sided and contradictory than the way you come at it?
There are questions regarding Hollywood and media that seem to be broken down in two ways:
1. If people are millionaires and if their art is in the form of commodities that have “success” in this society – can’t we assume it is somehow reactionary? And isn’t the main question HOW is it serving its reactionary role?
Then there is a question that Curtis avoids when he lumps Democracy Now with the establishment media for allowing anti-gay voices onto its news program. The question is such.
2. Often the radicals in the world of art (cinema, poetry, music, etc.) are radical social democrats (or democratic socialists, or revolutionary democrats and anti-imperialists. Susan Sarandon, Warren Beatty. Some are religious leftists like Martin Sheen or radical populists like Bruce Springsteen, etc.) of various kinds and degrees. Some like Donald Sutherland or the Clash are more deeply radical – some even of a communist kind for a while --- but today they are rare. Those forces are different from actual liberals of an establishment variety. (Al Franken, Robert Redford, Alex Baldwin, Barbara Streisand – who are considerably LESS radical and much more explicitly plugged into the system, its current rulers and politics.)
Part of the question is whether we should have “unity and struggle” with such forces. Should we uphold when they do good things and have a comradely critical attitude when they slide toward occasional support of left liberals (of the Obama variety)? Should we have a long term and strategic approach to necessary allies?
Some people think that millionaire artists must be pigs, and assume that radicals who occasionally support Obama are “just liberals” (i.e. reformists, pro system, etc.)
You ponder over this question when you write:
Avatar, the film by James Cameron, depicts the defection of a corporate mercenary soldier joining an indigenous rebellion against ecocide and genocide. It proved quite controversial in some corners -- with sections of the left incapable of seeing its radical intent and themes. Debate here on Kasama was intense for a while.
You answer his question by stating:
The powerful art of Tupac Shakur is part of the deep current of African American art that is often searingly critical of U.S. society, and moving in its depiction of pain and determination. His own work and politics "divides into two" -- in ways that illustrate the need for a policy of "unity and struggle" among revolutionaries and artists (including with revolutionary artists like ).
While I appreciate the real struggle in grappling with this question, the conclusion seems still mechanical. “He is rich, so he must be a pig”.
I appreciate also Curtis’s breakdown of the positive and negative aspects of particular episodes on how they affect the thoughts of people watching. This is a necessary exercise and you conduct it with great rigor. However the binary way in which it is done implies that we must break down to people what is “ok” and what is “wrong”.
This becomes clearer when you state as a solution to people getting saturated with bad ideas:
Finally—We need to have a communist pole (that is clear and very bold about road and direction and goals and about supporting revolutionary struggles of the people internationally), that is able to conduct real politics (including extolling and critiquing in the realm of art), that appreciates the different and diverse roles that people can play (and do play). Again, we need to build revolutionary alliances out of the raw materials that life and actual society give us (not complain that everyone who shows up isn’t what we hoped for or want).