Art can help us see things we'd never ordinarily see. It can help us wrestle with our own perspective, to see the world through other people's eyes. It can help us locate something, some loose piece inside of ourselves, and maybe tug it completely free, or lock it back into place, it can help us feel more at peace with ourselves and the world.
What I have a harder and harder time believing is that art can change things. In his review of "Brokeback Mountain," one of the best pieces of criticism ever written, Gary Indiana takes a hammer to the idea of a well-meaning film's impact on society. You can't simply hose down a room full of bigots with good art and expect change. It was always true that people don't want their opinions changed, but now we're in an even more dangerous place than the world in which Indiana wrote his piece; you can't change people's minds anymore because facts are a thing of the past. Belief, now, is it. Blind and unwavering and grim and what people believe is that no one should have control over their bodies, and if somebody wants you dead because you disagree with that then that's it for you.
My belief has always been that these kinds of discussions and ideas really only belong in art. If you think women should really and truly shouldn't have control over their lives, the responsible thing to do would be nothing, but second to that, if you truly must have this belief heard, write a deranged book about it that can be ignored by people who want no part of it. The impulse to create art is different from the urge to control, though they sometimes overlap. This is why governments are run by people so doggedly un-creative and humorless in their approach to shaping the world. When you, with the few minutes it takes to write a consenting Supreme Court decision, can change the world, you don't need to be creative, because the world in essence, is your canvas. If a country is a canvas, then our tormentors just keep covering it in new shades because you can't ever stop, because nothing will ever be enough. You can't stop, because who can truly say when you've taken enough from people? Where does it end? Logically it can't. So more colors, harder, dumber brushstrokes, more paint, more more more until it grows darker and darker and soon it's just a hateful stain with no shape, no purpose, no discernible hue. Our bodies, our blood, the wasted paint of bored autocrats pretending there's some difference between them when at the end of the day we're the ones being sacrificed. They'll never be at risk. They'll die rich at their desks gripping pens to sign one more regressive measure into law with which their hated public will have to live.
I know this won't change anything; this video essay, these words. But when you live with the knowledge that the people who control our lives hate us with all the specificity of someone trying to swat a buzzing insect, you have to say something. You have to speak or the fear and anger goes nowhere. I've always felt like Rupert Wyatt and his writers, Daniel Hardy, Erica Beeney, and others, make art because he can't throw a trash can through a window every time he thinks about what people deal with every day. I see Wyatt in the man throwing everything away to feel alive in "The Gambler," the man living off the grid in "Mosquito Coast" because he's disgusted by what the US government did in the name of its citizens, the furtively plotting deeply depressed revolutionaries in "Captive State," one of the great science fiction thrillers of the last decade. Art makes me feel better but it doesn't change anything no matter how badly I wished it did. I won't stay strong because how could you? I won't stay committed because how can I expect anyone to feel anything like hope right now? I feel some trepidation saying stay alive because it gets harder every day, but stay alive. Some days it feels like open season on good people, but we need them now more than ever.
To watch the rest of Scout Tafoya's Unloved video essays, click here.