Art Shaping Life – and Vice-Versa

From a thread at The Valve:

“What, I ask first, is this poem trying to do. Then: is it successful? Then: Is it worth doing?” – Kevin Prufer – http://bookcriticscircle.blogspot.com/2008/05/interview-with-kevin-prufer.html

“Luther Blissett”: “…something well beyond art: we need discernment to foster critical thinking, to make good citizens, to use our time on earth wisely, to heighten our pleasures, to effect social change, to effect personal growth, etc.”

None of the above is necessarily beyond art, or even beyond aesthetics. In fact, these are often central purposes and contents of the experiences that are art.

Many artists ask themselves all the time not only what can I create, but what should I create. Critics, audiences should question (evaluate) that too.

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From a Telegraph article, “24 – Isn’t It Just Torture?”:

“American viewers have in recent years been basking in the glow of a new golden age of television drama.

“The Sopranos, The West Wing, Six Feet Under and The Wire, to name but a few, have been warmly embraced by critics and audiences. However, none of these taut, intelligent shows has been quite so compelling – or controversial – as 24.

“Each 24-part series – there have been six so far – has traced one day in the life of the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) and agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) as they race to save America from a succession of Very Bad Things.

“Whole cities are threatened – by nuclear devices, biological weapons or whatever – and the CTU has to act fast to avert Armageddon. The clock is always ticking, the adrenaline always pumping.

“Faced with such pressing deadlines, Bauer and his colleagues repeatedly resort to extreme measures to get the information they need – namely torture. Which has sparked a wide debate in the States, as has the accusation that the show is rabidly Right-wing in its thinking.

“Just how seriously the US takes 24 was demonstrated by two remarkable events last year.

“First, the conservative Heritage Foundation organised a symposium called “24 and America’s Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does It Matter?”

“It might have been easy to ignore such a discussion except that Michael Chertoff, the US Homeland Security Secretary, was there. Describing the show, he said: “Frankly, it reflects real life.”

“Then, Brig Gen Patrick Finnegan, dean of the West Point military academy, took three interrogation experts with him to Hollywood to meet the producers of the show.

“The reason: to ask them to stop depicting American agents torturing terrorists. (It has also been suggested that American troops in Iraq, having watched DVDs of 24, then go out and employ the same techniques on Iraqi prisoners.)”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml;j?xml=/arts/2007/10/01/bvkatz101.xml&DCMP=ILC-traffdrv07053100
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More than just “suggested,” US soldiers were actually mimicking the show in torturing Iraqis, which is why the US military met with the producers to try to get them to stop doing it.

Agenda-ridden or utterly adrift academics who may think they have no overall obligation to the public may not wish to know it, but people who live more in the world understand quite readily that art affects life concretely, many times in ways that can be and are very well known:

From “Torturing Iron Man: The Strange Reversals of a Pentagon Blockbuster” by Nick Turse:

“‘Liberal Hollywood’ is a favorite whipping-boy of right-wingers who suppose the town and its signature industry are ever-at-work undermining the U.S. military. In reality, the military has been deeply involved with the film industry since the Silent Era. Today, however, the ad hoc arrangements of the past have been replaced by a full-scale one-stop shop, occupying a floor of a Los Angeles office building. There, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense itself have established entertainment liaison offices to help ensure that Hollywood makes movies the military way.

“What they have to trade, especially when it comes to blockbuster films, is access to high-tech, tax-payer funded, otherwise unavailable gear. What they get in return is usually the right to alter or shape scripts to suit their needs. If you want to see the fruits of this relationship in action, all you need to do is head down to your local multiplex. Chances are that Iron Man — the latest military-entertainment masterpiece — is playing on a couple of screens.”
http://zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/17700

Here are excerpts of varying quality from a list of critics, most of whom at least have something to say about evaluating lit: http://www.socialit.org/excerptscontents.html

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