The Paradox of Creative Silence

I spent my New Year’s Eve in typical nerd/getting older fashion: playing Words With Friends, eyeballing Twitter, writing down my goals for 2015, doing my vision board (via PowerPoint–makes a great screen saver/wallpaper!), and reading. While perusing my timeline, this interesting post came across it from author/activist Olivia A. Cole:

Now, I follow her on Twitter, and on her blog, so I know that she is a very vocal, passionate activist based on her posts.  Still, I was saddened by the fact that her author friends want her to focus on her writing and stop being so political.

Really? Where they do that at?

Creative people are creative because we have something to say, and we choose our preferred media in which to express ourselves. Indeed, the creative channel is sometimes (and, in some areas, the only time) we get to address the ills of our respective worlds without being immediately arrested or killed. However, by and large, the fruits of the creative’s labor is seen merely as entertainment–nothing more, nothing less. Much in the same vein as a professional athlete, our purpose is seen as providing an escape from the realities of everyday life–not reminding folks of them. It’s a paradox to expect us to express ourselves on paper/on the field/on the court/in a song, but to shut up outside of those prescribed parameters.

Hey, I get it: Ms. Cole’s people are looking out for her. They don’t want her to damage her “brand” for the sake of social activism. They want her to keep collecting as many ducats as possible, and to keep her reputation as pristine as possible in order to continue the fattening of her pockets–because hey, mad people don’t buy her books or follow her blog. This is a blanket argument/explanation for anyone with at least a modicum of fame, to step away from sociopolitical hot-button issues.

Last night, I rewatched (for the umpteenth time) the indie movie Dancing in September, starring Nicole Ari Parker and Isaiah Washington. The movie is a story about an aspiring TV writer (Parker) who wants to write a show that portrays Black people in a positive light. She is hired by a new network executive (Washington), who goes to bat in bringing her positive family show on the air. However, as the two fall in love, the personal affects the professional as Parker is increasingly pressured (by the network, via Washington) against her better judgment to “make it funny”, which turns her show from a highly-rated positive portrayal of Black family love into a declining buffoonery (and, dare I say–and she says–coonery), all for the sake of keeping the ratings high enough to keep the show going.  When she wins a Portrayal Award (a thinly disguised NAACP Image Award) for the show, she states in her acceptance speech that she had turned a blind eye to the personal issues of the show’s star because she was chasing ratings and if she’d paid more attention, she could have helped him more. She also stated that TV and other visual media producers had a responsibility to their audiences to uplift, educate, and encourage, instead of just entertain.

In the same vein, so do writers and other creatives. Yes, there is always the risk that you will lose readers and/or fans because they will not like what you have to say on social media. The same risk exists every time a new book/blog post/painting/etc. is put out there for public consumption. But we are in a new age of social awareness, mainly in part to the 24/7 cycle of social media. there is an ever-increasing group that wants to know the person behind their favorite forms of entertainment. They want to know what kind of person is getting their hard-earned money–or not. They want to know if they person that they see on a TV screen, or is on the cover of a book, is the type of person they’d like to hang out with in real life. They like being acknowledged by such people via replies, retweets, favorites, likes, shares, and forwards. And while boundaries must still be respected, this creator/consumer engagement is becoming even more preferable than admonishments to be like The Rock:

I say all this to say: to Ms. Cole, and the other artists, entertainers, and athletes who are not shy about saying what they think and feel: keep doing what you do. I hope more celebrity-types follow your lead because there are some things bigger than money and fame.

Thanks for stopping by.

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