It's early in the morning (or late at night, depending on your view), and I'm irritated. I get like that sometimes. Today/night, I'm irritated because I can't stop thinking about something I read a week ago on the interwebs: "This should never have been made." This referred to a comic book which the writer of the quote thought was too offensive for the universe to handle. More specifically, they wrote that, "[the comic] could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made."
I have a serious problem with that.
Part of my research -- what I call diving into the rabbit hole of books and websites, looking for interesting things that have nothing to do with what I should actually be studying -- took me to an article on the aftereffects of the Charlie Hebdo massacre that took place early this year. If you're not familiar, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical French newsletter known for its political cartoons. Twice, they published a comical drawing of the prophet Muhammad, which naturally set a lot of people on edge. Unfortunately, in January, two gunmen decided enough was enough, and slaughtered 12 journalists in the Charlie Hebdo office. The incident sparked a movement called "Je Suis Charlie," or "I Am Charlie," in which sales of the CH issue featuring the controversial cartoon shot up an unthinkable amount, with the first run sold out before the day after had ended. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest censorship, hashtags were slung, and conversations on the future and nature of journalism had.
Then, there are artists like Ai Wei Wei and Atena Farghadani. Farghadani is currently facing a 12 year, 9 month prison sentence in Iran for drawing a cartoon featuring Iranian politicians with animal heads. Ai Wei Wei is forever in trouble with Chinese law, and recently, the UK, for his politically charged artwork and activism.
These people, whether doing something they believe in, making a light joke, or just "poking the bear," so to speak, raise an important question: Is there art that should never be made?
There certainly exists artwork that I find distasteful, crude, pointless, horribly uncouth, and downright terrible. I'm pretty sure I feel all those feelings, in order, when I look through one of my own sketchbooks after it's done. Does that mean it shouldn't be made? I find it difficult to stomach certain works, like Sambo figurines. In the age of Photoshopped-everything, the most crude among us create horrific images, and lash out further when called out on it. Should they be banned from creating anything that could rub a decent person the wrong way?
One girl recently tried to ban a good portion of artwork from her college campus. Tara Shultz of Crafton Hills College in California was appalled when one of her class reading lists included graphic novel titles like Persepolis and Y: The Last Man. Along with The Sandman, Fun Home, and The Doll's House, Shultz wants the books gone, noting that when learning the class involved the study of fiction through comics, “I didn’t expect to open the book and see that graphic material within. I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” Bypassing my bad-pun-o-meter's alarm from not expecting "graphic" material in a graphic novel, the "pornography" she's referring to is probably in relation to the search of the main character's sexual orientation in Fun Home, which is a Broadway musical now. Shultz apparently had a few friends willing to protest with her, as well as her parents. College officials have promised to warn incoming students of the nature of the graphic novels in hopes they might avoid a similar incident. I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. I was required to read Maus in college, and loved it. It takes some serious chops to weave a heartbreaking tale of the holocaust using animals as characters. Maybe that'll be next week's Read. We'll see. But back to the main point.
On one hand, the world would be a better place if we all acted in truth, trust and integrity. On the other hand, artists like those at Charlie Hebdo truly believe in what they're doing, and many of them died for it. Were they being offensive to a large population of people? Sure. But that doesn't matter. They didn't deserve to die because of one drawing. Farghadani doesn't deserve to go to prison because some government official never learned how to take a critique. Art is powerful. It has this way of bringing out the best and worst emotions in people, making them do things they would never do otherwise, or giving them courage to do things they were just waiting to try out, both good and bad. When we see art that offends us, we tend to speak out about it. We take to the internet and proclaim our fury to anyone and everyone who would listen, and when they agree with us, we feel like a warrior inside. When they don't, it angers us more. We put up posters and we hold meetings, and discuss why the art is offensive and how to remove it from society. And what does the offensive artist do? He or she walks over to our posters, snickers, and draws penises all over them.
We don't get the final say in what other people create. It sucks sometimes, but we just don't. We can shout and write blogs about it, but artists will keep producing. Even if it's the most horrific image we've ever seen without immediately vomiting, someone somewhere will frame it on their wall. Artists aren't all the best people. Yea, we make cool stuff with our hands and feet -- and in some cases, other body parts -- but we aren't all the tortured, otherworldly beings everyone else likes to think we are. Just like there are people with good and bad intentions working in finance, the variation exists in the art world, too. There are people who want to make a huge social change, or create the most beautiful work anyone's ever seen. There are people whose sole happiness in life is whipping out a marker and drawing penises all over everything.
And they sure as hell don't deserve to die over it.
We have the right to be offended and to speak out about that offense. Others have the right to keep being offensive. Art that should never be made doesn't exist.
Now let's all take a moment and think about the definition of "hyperbole."