Kill the Messenger! Why the Living Arts Reflect the True State of a Democracy
Democracy is a messy thing. It requires a society to move beyond the façade of the content, well-oiled egalitarian machine it wants dearly to project, and instead expose the cracks, shortcomings and inefficiencies that boil beneath. Art is at its best when, by its very nature, it is both reflective and critical of the society that inspires it. Art is at its worse, when it can aspire to be nothing more than a propaganda tool, manipulated or coerced to support and perpetuate that status quo. Throughout history, Artists have posed a danger to those in power. Because art is dependent upon the individual interpretation of the spectator, it is difficult to control. It requires reflection, critical thinking of self and society. Because it is art, it can also stir emotions that can lead to action. To an anti-democratic society, these are dynamics that cannot be tolerated. One may think that only the most totalitarian governments shackle or destroy the artist. However, when one examines how, in a country like the United States, the arts are reduced to a simple commodity we can see how successful the dominant powers are at silencing this critic. When art is reduced to nothing more than escapism theatre, pleasant background music and paintings that go well with the couch, then we have managed to distill and dismiss an important voice that has the potential to demand we face the state of our so-called “democracy.” When a government or society kills this messenger, it has exposed its true inability to achieve the highest ideals of a democratic society.