Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Completely Irresponsible Viewpoint

A discussion about morals or ethics regarding any variety of subjects often will be sprinkled with the word "responsible", or more accurately, a derivative such as "responsibility". This can be useful in many cases, such as when you're talking about owning a gun or a car. You have to be responsible for not driving on people instead of the road. You have a responsibility to not hand the gun over to your six-year-old to keep the li'l squirt quiet while you catch the game on TV. If we (society, acting via the government) give you a license to have and operate these things, we want you to be careful with them.

People use the words a lot when discussing artistic endeavors, as well, but I'd like to speak up for the notion that art, and artists, have no responsibility whatsoever to or for anything except, perhaps, their own artistic drive.

The Comics Code and Hitler quotes I posted last time were surrounded by exhortations for "artistic responsibility" - that is, the idea that an artist, for the good of society, must confine his/her output to things that benefit society or at least do not somehow harm it.

This, of course, is usually based on a particular idea of just what is "good for society", and I shouldn't have to say that opinion varies on that score.

Failing any direct harm, like that which a gun or car could cause, why should any artist feel any particular responsibility for anything? The worst a painting or novel or comic could do is make someone feel bad, or give false information. I'll go so far as to say I don't think artists are even obliged to not lie (well, after all, what is fiction and fantasy, anyway?), and furthermore, I think it is the responsibility of the reader/viewer to sort truth from horseshit. There's horseshit everywhere, possibly even in this blog, and if you blindly accept anything said in some artistic medium, you're really not prepared to live in the world. You owe at least that much to yourself.

What's more, I get a bit annoyed by people who declare that other people have some sort of responsibility, but neglect to clearly state just to what they're supposed have said responsibility. If I write or draw a comic, to what, if anything, am I supposed to have responsibility? The readers? The publisher? Society? Art itself? God?

I think not. Maybe the publisher, assuming they're footing the bills and cutting checks, but the rest? Why?

Ultimately, I think many people use "responsibility" as a quick substitute for "I think you should obey my moral code instead of your own." It's neater, quicker, and implies a correctness that may or may not actually exist. After all, "being responsible" is often seen as a desirable character trait, and it avoids the messy questions that the latter phrase brings up, such as "what makes you think you're so right?"

I also think it can be used as a crutch to avoid responsibility, by shoving it off on others. We have movie ratings, video game ratings, album stickers and comics ratings, ostensibly because producers and publishers have some sort of "responsibility" to assist parents in knowing whether their kid is going out and buying smut or ultraviolence. Only, why should anyone but the parents themselves be responsible for filtering what their kid sees? You want to know if your kid is listening to gangsta rap? Open up their damn CD cases and give a listen! Only, no, that's too invasive and it'd hurt their feelings of privacy and blooo hoo hoo sooo mean! You're shocked that your kid is staring at that lurid tentacle bondage cover? Why'd you let him buy the damn thing in the first place? Label? You trust some label over your own judgment? Go to hell.

At this point, I imagine that some parent may be reading this, fuming, going, "but I need all the help I can get, parenting is hard!" To that, I offer exactly none sympathy. Yes, it is hard, and you should have known that going in. Your lack of foresight, in my view, does not grant you the right to drop some portion of your responsibility for raising your own children at the expense of making things more inconvenient for everyone else.

Nearly all other pleas for "artistic responsibility" will meet with similar condemnation on my part. Particularly if, as described, the "responsibility" is to some amorphous, ill-defined concept of niceness. I mean, you might as well say "God says so" for all the meaning that has. And especially if calling for someone to take responsibility is just a cheap excuse to fob one's own responsibility off on others.

Because that's just the kind of irresponsible cuss I am...

1 comment:

WKnapik said...

Agreed.I hate the notion that everything needs to somehow be tempered just because a child MIGHT get their hands on it.It seems like common sense to take some interest in what your kids like and do a little research,but I guess that's too much of a hassle.