Monday, May 30, 2011

Art as Activism

An evil priest in a provocative parable

George Takei and I have a lot in common. 

Let me explain.

In writing “Spewing Pulp”, I had taken the heavy-handed subplot of the gang committing hate crimes on the street and, instead, let the book be more of an indirect j’accuse aimed at George W. Bush and those like him who felt that discrimination based on religion was justifiable in the secular arena of government.  In short, the hate crimes went from a specific group of thugs to society at large and from an explicit part of the plot to an implicit part of the theme. It was not my first demonstration of civil rights activism, but it was the first time I did it directly through my art. 

Then, I learned I was not alone in such a venture.  Multi-talented Lynne Jacobellis had devised a film project to stand as her own statement against California’s Proposition 8—a ballot initiative giving the populace the right to vote on one group’s access to equal protection under the law; specifically, that of gay Americans to have the right to marriage and its protections.  Jacobellis had fashioned a sort of Twilight Zone parable and I was excited to be a part of it… 

The film, Constitution USA, has a black and white 1950’s look ala those awful instructional films for teenagers of yesteryear.   We are introduced to a lady lecturing, telling us we are about to see a story that will demonstrate a very important rule in our society.  Cut to…

 A sweet, doe-eyed boy shares giddy, shy smiles with a pretty girl.  They dare to hold hands.  Then—someone approaches and they pull their hands apart.  No, they’re not from feuding families or different classes; in this world, only homosexual partnerings are considered acceptable for long-term adult relationships and raising a family.  But Joe is who he is and he loves who he loves; he pleads to his two mothers to try to understand.  But they bring in Father Joseph to take the boy away for conversion therapy…or maybe something even worse.

 So guess who plays Father Joseph?  Yep.  I’m the bad guy once again.  I sweep in, make judgment and have my goons drag the kid away.  (Yes, I have goons.)  It’s actually very dramatic and harrowing…and also a little goofy melodramatic—which perfectly echoes and spoofs the tone of those old scare tactic films like Reefer Madness.  But the film does make the point that love has no rules and that it is wrong to allow a tyranny of the majority—especially when it wants to willfully disenfranchise a minority, be they black, Japanese, or gay.

More recently, George Takei has taken the torch.  (Ah, yes:  the Takei connection.)  You can follow his work on this issue at:  It's ok to be Takei.  He's witty, wise and wonderful.  Taylor Swift has also made a bold and beautiful  statement with the anti-bullying message of her song “Mean” (Taylor Swift's "Mean").   And many others—even 17 year-old Devon Hicksare taking a stand and making a noise to help improve the world.  It’s amazing and wonderful.  So I feel like I’m in pretty darn good company on this front.  And company and communication is what art as activism is all about.

So pick up a pen, a banjo or brush and see what you can do.   You may surprise yourself.

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