That’s not a complaint, but rather a sign of something else. I keep seeing it from readers, from writers, from mere movie watchers – the demands that we keep politics out of entertainment. I’m here to offer a simple reminder to everyone: that’s impossible. You can get your entertainment “politically lite”, or at least you can pretend to, but you can’t pull it out. More on that later though.
Back in 1946, one George Orwell, you may have heard of him, penned an essay on the fact that language is inherently political. He speaks about the widespread use of euphemisms to sanitize discussing issues we don’t want to, again, something we’ll talk more about later. He decries a lack of clarity being used in writing and other “debasements” of the English language in particular. Of course, he then goes on to violate a lot of the rules he lays out both before and after writing them. One of the upsides about being a writer is that you get to be a hypocrite.
More recently, as in earlier the month that I’m writing this, I saw a wonderful interview with Ursula K. Le Guin. She talked about, among other things, the inherent politicization of language. For quite some time you could use “he” to refer to groups of both men and women, but couldn’t use “she” in the same way. Sure, there was a history of using “they” to refer to everyone, but that fell out of fashion (though it must be noted, it is coming back into vogue). That says something about the culture surrounding the language, about the systems in place behind them. Whether you agree with it or not, that’s a political statement. Uncritically going along with the flow? That’s a political statement. Making a point of undercutting presumed norms of style? That’s a political statement. Gosh darnit, we’re already doomed into making political statements no matter what we do.
Sure, you say, but we aren’t talking about language when we complain about politics. We’re talking about when there is a big political statement about something contemporary. We aren’t worried about something as ethereal as the politics of word choice. Alright, so, for example, you aren’t going to watch any action/adventure movie out there? Let’s take that old classic, and a movie I love, Die Hard. Joe Everyman is going to beat pretend not actually terrorists in order to save the love of his life. That movie is rife with political statements. McLane’s wife has left him due to women in the workplace, providing a commentary on the fact that he, a blue collar male, is forced to contend with changing labour norms. Or let’s talk about how the police operate within that movie; each action they take is a commentary on police forces and the use of violence. Even if the creators of that movie don’t intend it, they’re making statements about right and wrong (killing terrorists/criminals is right is probably one of the biggest takeaways from Die Hard). As soon as you begin talking about right and wrong, you’re in politics territory. Also philosophical territory, but let’s move on.
Moving back to that Le Guin interview – she also goes on to point out that the presumption that a plot include a conflict is a political statement. As soon as you have a movie or book centered in its conception around a conflict, that means we’re making assumptions about how the world does or ought to work. Now, I’m the first to agree that it is a lot easier to make a compelling novel when you have a conflict of some kind in it, but again there’s this underlying set of assumptions baked into that.
Finally, there’s the politics of any creation. You, me, anybody who creates anything is inherently undertaking a political act. You could even argue that going to any job is a political act. We’re all agreeing that our society is capitalist and playing roles within it as a result. Choosing to go along or fight against it, those are both political acts.
Being able to take the time to write something is inherently political. You have the time, the wherewithal, and the ability to create something. Not everyone has all those things. There are stories out there in the minds of others that will never be created because they are far more worried about keeping their job. What art does and doesn’t get created is political, so who are you to say that we should keep politics out of what we create?
In case that wasn’t enough of a political statement, I’m going to go ahead and come out pro Oxford Comma.