I’m going to go somewhere with this, but it’s going to take a little bit to get there. I need just a little patience.
Sometimes as I struggle to think of something to write for this silly little blog, I think of how much freer I felt years ago when I first started writing online. Going all the way back to the original “kessel korner” on the Star Wars-dot-com blogs, my blog has largely been a stream-of-consciousness log of my thoughts and an excuse to exercise my desire to write.
That’s not profound. That’s what a blog is supposed to be.
I’m not famous. I’m just an average person who likes to write these things. I don’t know why I feel compelled to lay my words out there. Whatever it is, it’s probably the same sort of thing that drives my desire to podcast. I just l just like to talk, and writing is like talking without the interruptions.
I’m also the type of person who likes to throw ideas out there and figure them out. I might change my mind. I might not.
The writers I’ve read my whole life, the memorable ones, did the same thing. Coupled with my dad, those influences cemented my approach to topics.
Contrary to what some might think, I enjoy being challenged. However, contrary to what some prefer, I enjoy arguing my point as well. If you’re going to change my mind, then it’s incumbent on you to present a persuasive argument. It’s not incumbent on me to fold at the first sign of disagreement.
It’s also not incumbent that everyone agree with everyone else. That’s boring as hell. How many times did The Twilight Zone warn us about single-minded communities, or people? If we squash dissent in one arena it will only crop up in another. It’s human nature to disagree.
The Twilight Zone also gave us one of the best rides EVER..
I’ve sometimes pitched controversial sorts of questions, especially when I migrated to the current platform. Years ago I put out something where I openly castigated people who wanted to edit or censor The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was told that thinking that would become an accepted norm was foolish.
(Aside: That blog doesn’t exist anymore, which ties into where I’m going. I don’t think it’s even on the Internet Archive, but that might not be around too much longer anyway.)
For the record, I still castigate people who want to censor things. You might as well censor the legendary Dick Gregory’s autobiography if words offend you. But you might miss out on something profound and perception-shifting, as his book was for me.
Like any sane person I thought nothing of throwing anything out in a public forum. I grew up tolerant of a wide range of ideas, even when I disagreed with them, though the more asinine of my friends considered such conversations an opportunity to mock and assert their dominance.
This is why the act of writing online was something of a safe-haven bull session. It occasionally attracted the scorn of those same old acquaintances from decades past, but it didn’t bother me too much.
In a sense, my blog was a message board for people who knew me. I’d throw something out there and they’d either give me the business or ignore it until I wrote about something they cared more about than Darth Vader’s poop.
It felt like the Internet was supposed to feel. It felt free, conversational, and therapeutic.
That came crashing down one day when I made a salty jokes at the expense of a writer with his own following on social media. I wrote the joke to be snarky, and with the idea that “no one” really read this anyway. I wrote it to get a chuckle out of people who knew what I thought of this writer’s work.
I was pilloried and when I apologized he refused to accept it at first. I had to grovel.
I had to ask repeatedly what it was he wanted me to do to prove my apology was sincere. Some people suggested he sue me. Some people told me that comedy was only for Licensed Comedians™. One of his followers recommended I kill myself to prove my sincerity, which was a novel suggestion considering I was being attacked in bad faith because my jokes were “mean.”
This person of limited celebrity leveraged their social media platform to humiliate and attack me, and send his “followers” after me to exact social vengeance. Ironically, this same person presently has his Twitter account locked down because something he said was “taken the wrong way.”
I locked down my social media accounts. I locked down my blog and scoured for anything that could be taken out of context. There were a great many things purged at that moment. I removed by site from indexing for a long time.
I acted not just in my own interest at the time, but that of people other than myself. I wanted to protect them from the storm. The impression was that my joke would “cost” people around me and so I had to act quickly.
Some people stood by me and helped me get through, but I was taught a lesson to beware the slightest unguarded moment. Take care that the past is not there to be used against you again. Hide even moments when your thoughts were not those of the mob that wants to destroy you. Erase reference to your family.
And this is where I start getting to my point.
What Are We Losing?
I wonder about the incredible poetry we’re losing during a time when heterodox thought can cost so much. The Beat poets and authors functioned to push envelopes and explore the edges. The counterculturists, the punk rockers, and more have always used controversial thoughts and moments for everything from figuring out big questions to entertainment.
Jim Morrison lived to antagonize; he espoused the ideas of people like Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty. There was the Futurism movement in the early 20th Century, which celebrated “progress” and technology, and put forward the ideas that the past was to be destroyed while it celebrated war and violence.
Many of the things written throughout time have been caustic both by accident and by intent. Some have been profound by design and by misinterpretation.
All are eventually lost, except for the most remarkable.
There have been calls at every stage and through every era to silence those who write uncomfortable things. There were movements against Rock’n’Roll, and rap music. There were claims that Ozzy Osborne was the avatar of evil. 2 Live Crew was regarded as the harbinger of cultural doom.
There were staunch denunciations of Dungeons & Dragons, and recriminations of sitcom television. Al & Peggy Bundy’s family was regarded a tasteless menace. Martin Scorsese found himself a pariah for a film about Jesus.
Howard Stern made a career of saying the most uncouth things he could. He conditioned a generation of listeners to enjoy the most crass acts and enact the best they could in turn, both directly and by virtue of genre imitators. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King is a direct response to someone like Stern and the question of their influence through media.
(Stern points out, fairly, that he’s not the same person he was decades ago. But none of us are “the same people” we were in the past, nor should we be. Acting like he’s the only person who changed over time is pretty insulting. Ozzy Osborne isn’t the same person he was years ago, either.)
Through each of those ages, you could nevertheless count on people to defend the right of the controversial to exist. If you didn’t like what someone had to say, then the argument was that it was your obligation to “change the channel.”
Freedom to Fail
Because of the willingness to endure the controversial, we got some great works of art along the way. Of course we got a lot of garbage too, but that’s the nature of things.
In terrifying the artist of failure, we eliminate the chance for the sublime. Destroying someone for an offhand comment they made when younger and dumber is wrong. Destroying someone for a moment of stupidity is wrong. Destroying someone even for the sin of being “offensive” is wrong.
And so I have to wonder what we lose by making people so afraid of mistakes. Fear of even a slight misstep can paralyze someone’s impulse and rob them of the freedom to create. Do we really want a world where creative people are afraid to see where it takes them, because they could instantaneously lose everything they hold dear?
If all we want in the future is “ideologically sound” art, then all we’ll have is propaganda. Even if you think propaganda art is “neat,” it’s still propaganda. Propaganda is by turns creepy and boring.
I’d rather live in a world of risky, dangerous art than a landscape of boring iconography like that.