We live in a media based society. One where entertainment, whether that be television, radio, music, even the celebrity of people, fuels human interaction, perception, and culture. Our perspectives are based upon visual and aural aesthetics.
“All human societies have created, shared, and consumed with pleasure the symbolic products we can collectively call culture or the arts…The very processes through which societies create and maintain themselves are those of storytelling,” (Gross 95).
Our country experienced a pervasive industrialization during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Mass production integrated itself into the daily functions and workings of our culture and entertainment became a commodity. We did not resist or question the new sound and image advances definitively, even though for the first time, entertainment was being mass-produced. These types of advances played into our nature as humans, fostered our desire as people to know everything, fed our curiosity about other people, our innate sense to accept what we immerse ourselves in physically (as we are flooded aesthetically every second). Nevertheless, this gave rise to consumerism, an economy based on consumption and profit, placing advertising and “profit-focused entities” (Gross 97) at its core. Herein lies the shift. As the “media” began to gain power within the economy and culture, they accumulated the power of language. If any person, religion, or entity holds the power of language, they can therefore, write the “master narrative.” Preexisting examples of this are the bible, any religious texts, any news station, etc.
The “media” entered peoples’ households as a result of industrialization and gained the ability to dictate reality aesthetically. Feed our brains and our culture, given the means they were utilizing–television, radio, film, etc. Celebrities became public figures, akin to politicians and the lines between fact and fiction began to blur. If the same entity that serves the people to transfer information (news media and radio) also serves as its entertainment (film, television, and music) when does fact (the news) become fiction (entertainment and celebrity)? When do we draw the line?
This is the ethical dilemma that an artist can face–where is one’s place to make art if the culture which it is offered eats up every bit of information equally and therefore cannot separate fact from fiction. News media is equal to entertainment media and the maker of art is many times subject to celebrity, as a result. For example, as a writer, if I were to write a novel that deals with the sexuality of three 20 something year olds and how it defines their identity, would it be considered political charged, given the recent controversies and news stories over equal and human rights? What if one of the characters were gay? Would my sexual orientation, as the writer of the work, be subject to question? Would my life, heritage, nationality or experiences as the person I am shape a reader’s view of the work itself, even if the work is entirely fiction–made up, created and born from my imagination? Would college professors preface my work with my biography to “give a context” for the art or literature I created? I would venture to say that these things come into question as a result of our aesthetic and media based culture. The private lives of artists become subject to their work, integral to the reader’s (or viewer’s) perception of the art itself.
Further, if one makes art that enters the public realm, the writer, for instance, automatically holds power. They have the power of language to create worlds, and if it’s entering our culture they have the power to present fiction as fact, or for it to be taken or metabolized that way. It is a fine line to walk. If I consider myself an artist and the words I write my art, should I allow myself to become celebrity? My writing would either be depreciated or overvalued, wouldn’t you say? If I were an artist favored by society, the type of person people want to know, the type of person who is of interest, marketable and making marketable art, the intention behind my writing could become happenstance–something of value to a certain group of people, the reason for my recognition but not of value to my celebrity. I understand that this is the case with all art, you cannot please everyone. However, when artists become celebrity, many times the significance and universal qualities of their art diminish. The essence of the thing itself, whatever the medium may be, is lost.
Conversely, language is tricky. I am using the exact tool–words and images–that our culture thrives on. I have power over the general consuming public. While the lines between fact and fiction, news and entertainment continue to blur, I, as an artist and writer need to be mindful of how the art I make will be perceived. It would be very easy to write a book and wash my hands of what the pages contain–to say, “oh it is just something I created.” Although it is that, it will have an affect on people, make them question themselves, their perception, even the world they are surrounded by. It is important for artists to establish boundaries between the art they create and their role in our culture’s perception of it.