Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Artist Responsibilty

The last time this came up, it was caused by Twilight.

The 4 views presented back then:

1. Edward is a poster child for spousal abuse and extols the wrong values in a relationship.

2. It is the artist's responsibility to present the truth and consider all repercussions of their work.

3. Some of the responsibility of raising children is the parents, but society is too quick to let others off the hook.

4. It is unreasonable to expect an artist to be responsible for every possible reaction to their work.
(Which one do you think was me? lol)

This time it started over Tyler Perry. A friend on my personal facebook posted this article.

The basic premise is that Tyler Perry always portrays professional Black women in a bad light.

Of course the argument on facebook became whether or not he did portray them as such, whether or not that woman exists, how prevalent she is...

Only a tiny corner even considered the fact that it's entertainment.

Here's my (exasperated) point:

Why are artists supposed to accurately portray the world? If you want accurate accurate portrayals, watch documentaries and read memoirs. Fiction is about having a kernel of truth and telling a story in a way that people enjoy it.

As a YA writer, it comes up a lot, our responsibility to our audience.

There's a lot I could say to concerned parents. I could make the point that some teens need the books you want banned. I could make the point that some teens are doing the things you think are inappropriate in our books. Or that reading such books could give a teen the insight and strength to help a friend before it's too late. Or that we do take responsibility and we want to portray truth without sensationalisation when it comes to "issue books".

But I won't say any of that. I'll just let you in on a little secret.

If there are 10 people in this world who got through their teen years not doing a single thing that a good parent wouldn't be proud of, that's a lot.
Teens will do the wrong thing regardless of how well they're raised. That's what being a teen is for: pushing boundaries, test-driving the new you.

All any of us, as parents, can do is to raise the kids the best we can and hope that teenage mistakes are small enough that they make it out alive.

As for the Tyler Perry melee, I'm reminded that the responsibility card is also often played in niche communities.

I'm from Barbados. Rihanna's from Barbados. Either the first or second time Rihanna came home after making Billboard, there was a picture of her in the paper. She was wearing a swimsuit (one-piece with a belly-out) and a pair of jeans. And people got up in arms about the skanty clothing and the image she was giving Barbados. (Funnily enough she was across the road from the beach. I think they should be happy she had on jeans!) Her costumes are skanty. But she's a pop star. That's how they roll on stage. Noone expects Lady Gaga to walk around her house in a meat dress. Or... er... well... Maybe Lady Gaga is a bad example. lol

Still, why must people take everything that artists do as a personal affront or an attempt to corrupt the world? We're just telling the stories we have inside. We want to entertain you. Many of us also want to educate you. Many of us want to tell you that you're not alone. Many of us want to help you find strength you didn't know you had. We want you to cry and laugh with us. Hate with us. Love with us. We want you to come away from our products feeling, "Wow!"

And then we want you to put our books down and remember there's a real world. Maybe, if we're lucky, something we wrote will affect you enough that you transcribe it into your lives. But we know you are not characters in our novels. We just wish you knew it.

Noone is forcing you to read our books. The same way that noone forces you to listen to hard rock lyrics about stringing up your girlfriend.

You asked for stories, we're just giving you stories.


Pam Harris said...

Excellent post! I'm with you--an artist's job is to entertain. If you want an accurate representation of something, watch the news.

D. U. Okonkwo said...

You kwow what, though? Even the news is dodgy. Much of it is propaganda to scare us all to death.

As entertainers / writers I think we need to be mindful of what we put out there. I think as long as we're doing is guided by love and a need to make the world a betterplace we can't go wrong. Making money isn't what it's all about.

Marsha Sigman said...

I have a responsibility to myself to tell the stories in my head. What you take from them is your responsibility.

I love Tyler Perry movies and it never occurred to me that he was deliberatly portraying influential black women in a poor light. Maybe he just thinks sometimes careers can be consuming and we need to remember what's really important. Or maybe he just wants to dress like a woman and be funny.

Alleged Author said...

Tyler Perry is awesome. I lurve his PLAYS better than the movies they are made into by big name producers. He gets to the heart of the matter.

Sana Castellano said...

True. =)