Sunday Salon #11: Art

Do you think films and tv influence society?

I know that philosophers and scientists have. We can trace social thought throughout history to influential thinkers and writers. But what about art?

When I do philosophy and write critically about social and political theory, I can feel the effect it could possibly have. The influence is direct. There's no reason to consume it, other than to be exposed to new ideas.

But I'm also an artist and as I begin to work on a new media project, I sometimes ask myself, "does this matter?" "Why do I want to do this work?"

The Matrix was built on the idea of the "brain in a vat," a philosophical problem suggesting that if we can simulate experiences by stimulating the brain, how do we know we're not brains in a vat in the lab of some future scientist? How do we know any of what we experience is capital-R-Real? This problem was built on the ancient problem of skepticism of the external world that I mentioned in last weeks newsletter.

Do you think that anyone watching The Matrix connected the dots? Extrapolated the messaging from the film onto their everyday lives? Questioned, even for a moment, their own reality? And if so, what was the consequence? Did it open their minds? Change the way they see the world?

Maybe there are ways to influence people through film and television, but they require more explicit explication of the concepts and their consequences.

I think Ted Lasso probably changes people. The show repeatedly demonstrates its characters learning how to become more emotionally intelligent and vulnerable. But I don't know. Characters change all of the time in films and TV. That's what a story is. And yet people in real life remain assholes every day.

I'm watching through all of the Marvel content. Sometimes I'm surprised how excellent the philosophies and messages in it are. Millions of people watch these. Do you think any of them has become more tolerant after hearing one of the impassioned, motivational speeches of the characters? I somehow doubt it. If it just blows by us, it is hard to grasp.

I know that representation in media matters. It absolutely affects people to see themselves in the art they consume. It changes how they move through the world and their sense of belonging and possibility.

I know that art can impact people. But, I'm not sure it ever tells us something that we don't already know. Maybe it only reminds us of what we do. But how can we make that last? How can we transmute that into actionable change?

I don't have the answers. I'm just curious. Curious how to do my work as an artist responsibly. Curious how to consume and share art in a meaningful way. Curious how to curb its disintegration into merely entertainment. Because even if it can't teach us a new way of being or thinking in detail, it can make us feel. It can make us uncomfortable. It can shake us up. It can keep us open. It can enrich and reflect us. It has a role to play.

Even if art can't teach us, it can challenge us. And that's what we need to learn to remember. We don't just come to art to be entertained but to be scrubbed awake by intense emotion. To be disrupted, even nebulously. To have our boundaries pixelated. To create cracks in our knowing. We have to learn to look for that in art again. We have to let artists create that for us.

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