In recent weeks, my good friend Sarah Grace McCandless has spearheaded an effort to organize like-minded comic book creators under the banner Comics Industry for Obama. You can read her recent Newsarama piece where she and Eric "The Goon" Powell discuss their intentions and goals. I signed on right away, adding my voice by joining their MySpace group and changing my icon there to one they provided. It's a snazzy logo. Check it.
They opened the new website today: Comics Industry for Obama.com. Check it out--though the new traffic seems to be giving them some trouble.
The comments section at Newsarama is simultaneously predictable, laughable, and sad. Of course, the first reaction is that anyone involved in producing comics should not be expressing themselves in this manner , and despite there being no indication that anyone in this group is going to change their comics to promote an Obama agenda (not that they even could and have it on sale in time for the election, but why actually deal in reality?), and that Eric says outright that is not something he generally does anyay, the first respondent, an anonymous soul going by a Green Lantern-inspired handle, states, "Wow, more media and artists bringing their political agenda into their work (where it usually doesn't belong)."
Which, of course, raises the question: why doesn't it belong? Is art not meant to reflect and comment on life? As a Green Lantern fan, sir, surely you know Green Lantern is primarily a science-fiction superhero. Doesn't science fiction have a longstanding history of using futuristic settings to tell allegorical stories about the present? I don't get how we have let ourselves drift so far that we have decided that our society should have such backwards views on who should be allowed to express themselves. Our news networks are clogged with pundits who express their opinions as if they were fact, but people who create work that actually is meant to reflect the human condition should keep any greater thoughts to themselves. So, the journalists give us fiction, while the fiction-makers are here to merely dance like monkeys.
When did signing on to be an artist or a writer or any kind of entertainer suddenly mean you no longer had a right to your opinion? Sure, no one wants to hear an actor or a singer or a comic book artist get political if they are uninformed about the chosen topic, but at the same time, we seem to have no problem with politicians being uninformed about their jobs. Elected officials from both sides of the aisle consistently get it wrong, backflip on their opinions, and ramble on with nothing mooring their opinions, and everyone not only lets them get away with it, but instead of firing them, we elect them for another term. How is it that Matt Damon is suddenly the voice of reason?
And for that matter, why is it fair that one should be able to raise their voice on a message board, using a fake name taken out of a comic book, but someone who makes comic books should not have the same right to use whatever forum available to him or her? At least Sarah Grace and Eric Powell are standing up with conviction and courage and not hiding behind an invented identity. It's easy to speak anonymously and not risk any consequences in your real life, it takes real guts to put your name and livelihood on the line.
But then, why should it? What is wrong with us anymore that we can't hear the other side without it somehow being threatening to our way of thinking? The common refrain I always hear is, "Who are celebrities to tell me what to think?" This seems like a rather unintelligent argument to me, as if you are suggesting that you are so weak-willed that another person telling you a contrary view will destroy the thin wall of personal belief that you've managed to build in your life. Of course, it's also a load of crap, as most people really only take offense when it's the other side talking. If this were about the Comics Industry for McCain, wouldn't the people in the comments section just swap sides, and suddenly the Green Lantern guy would be applauding those involved for challenging the so-called media bias that drives the rest of us?
In many ways, this kind of thinking plays right into the hands of the powers that be. It's easier for those in authority, whichever way they swing, when the public at large quietly takes what comes. Unfortunately, I think the climate of "shut up and sing" is another cancerous after-effect of the baby boomers and their post-'60s selling out. If you look at how people mobilized in the '60s, it was through vocally protesting the injustice in our society, and a lot of that was fueled by protest songs and a resultant shift in how popular entertainment told its stories. The Hollywood revolution of young filmmakers eschewing empty entertainment for stories with deeper meaning is in itself a microcosm of the cultural shift that was occurring, right up to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and the new era of the blockbuster that emerged in the late '70s. Entertainment slid back into the banal when it started to reflect the greed and the empty values of the world it was now mirroring. Just as the Civil Rights Movement and feminism gave up the ground that had been won when the baby boomers slid back into passivity.
As a result, it's now laughable to protest, and we expect those with an artistic voice to keep it stifled. Would Bob Dylan even have a career today? How about the legendary, groundbreaking Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow? What about Paul Newman? Here was a guy who stood up for what he believed time and time again, and he achieved great things by lending his name to good causes and by putting his money where his mouth was. When he passed last week, he was highly regarded as a hero. Would we have spoken so well of him had he been well enough to jump in the fray today and had chosen to endorse Obama or McCain? Or would he have been just another member of the "liberal elite"? (For that matter, when did everything get boiled down to being "partisan"? I'm so tired of this either/or way of thinking. It's why I am not usually a registered Democrat, I don't like having my beliefs defined for me or be told I must go one way because the groupthink is leaning in that direction.)
Recently, a friend saw that I had an Obama button on my messenger bag. I consider button/bumper sticker politics to be the easiest and laziest way to state one's beliefs, so I never really thought anything of it. He was shocked, however, to see me wearing my allegiance out in the open. "You're asking for trouble," he said, "that's pretty ballsy." I would never have thought as such, I would have never considered a badge one inch in diameter to be threatening to anyone's way of life, but I guess that's how far we've been pushed into quiet subservience. Everyone has a right to their opinion, we just can't individually express it unless everyone else says it's okay.
I worry that YouTube will take this video down. If they do, follow the link and search for "David Letterman Paul Newman" and see if it's been moved. Even if you don't listen to the whole thing, just watch Dave talk about Mr. Newman in his intro (right after he tells us who his guests will be). Then ask yourself, would anyone talk about you in the same manner if you were to pass away tomorrow? To be "elite" is, by definition, to be the best, and to be in a position to educate the rest. Shouldn't we all aspire to that?
Text (c) 2008 Jamie S. Rich