As the UK Election looms closer by the hour, the Mad Rhetoric gets louder; the claims and counter claims become more shrill; the trolls grow fat under their bridges as they consume a thousand innocents a minute; the keyboard economists gather together on the top of the most crowded pin-head in the world and in a small unpleasant corner of the social media world, the abuse of those who simply voice their opinion - however well-meant - becomes standard. Apparently, if you work in the entertainment or the arts world, you are right at the top of that list and immediately qualify for a kicking of the highest order.
It is nothing new, but nevertheless it is still bizarre watching the ritual punishment of actors, writers and musicians in particular, who have the nerve to utter a public opinion on anything that does not involve them acting, writing or playing music. It is of course quite absurd that if you build bridges, drive buses, nurse the sick, erect scaffolding or run the local pub, then it is usually ok for you to have a 'political' opinion. However, if you are known for writing the best selling children's books ever, then you become an ignorant rich loony who knows nothing. If you happen to be a famous Hollywood actor well known for playing an opinionated Taxi Driver, then you should shuddup and get whacked for mouthing off. If you drive The Most Famous Spaceship in the Universe for a few years then this immediately disqualifies you from having an Earthly Opinion. If you spend all your life on stage playing music and singing to millions about the tribulations and hard times of American working life and love, then suddenly you become a gobby know-nothing who should Can It and give away all your money.
Yes. It is ridiculous is it not that anyone in the arts in particular suddenly becomes easy-meat for derision and abuse. Shouting at Bono when he comes on your screens talking Politics and Poverty becomes a national sport, in the manner of virtual fox-hunting except in this case the fox has something interesting to say and won't shut up and roll over. Love him or hate him, it is not too well known, that Bono did his homework and usually knew more about global politics, economics and poverty than most of the people who were anxious to meet him. Similarly, take a look at Springsteen's back-drop, listen to 'The Rising' the album about 9/11 and then decide if he has nothing to say worth listening to. Their straight forward articulacy, based on their own knowledge and experience enable people like J K Rowling and Patrick Stewart to mainline straight into the public consciousness in a way less able people cannot. When Robert de Niro stands up to be publicly counted and suffer the tsunami of 'libtard/snowflake' abuse that thunders down on him, I doubt that he cares very much. Agree with him or not, his voice reaches millions who would otherwise be excluded from the discussion, who may not even have had the opportunity to hear such a point of view. It is ironic that the London Taxi Driver is one of the most satirised opinionated and frequently quoted people in the kingdom and yet de Niro can be shut down for simply being 'an actor'.
Let me flip you back a few decades. It is what has become known as The McCarthy Era. Often centred on Hollywood, America's obsession with the fear of communism and 'The Red Scare' was personified in the Committee on Un-American Activities. Echoed years later by the Stasi and various other organisations around the world, people were actively encouraged to inform on their friends and family for often simply just voicing views they didn't agree with. Whilst the FBI agents doubled in number, thousands lost their jobs and their careers, frequently for reasons that were kept secret. What in particular makes this moment in time significant is that its most high profile accusations and inquisitions were saved for Hollywood, for writers and actors, sound men and photographers, for playwrights, producers and musicians. In the meantime, somewhat absurdly, it made for gripping soap-style TV.
Why did they take a run at those professions? Well apart from the obvious paranoia of associating the arts with a 'corrosive' liberalism, it is clear that in its widest sense, the community of the arts world reached places no politician can dream of going. When I recently wrote here about David Bowie's contribution, it became self-evident that whilst there are never-ending government cut-backs and deletion of arts budgets across the country, the chances of there being another Bowie get less and less likely. He was a product of freedom of education, freedom of thought and spirit, freedom of opportunity and most importantly the key-holder of the door that would open to let millions follow him through. Even the most plank-like politician would never have attempted to 'shut-down' Bowie – any more than they would have been unwise to intervene in the extraordinary power and love that emanated from the Ariana Grande concert. Yep, I'm with you if you're not crazy about the selfie posing and ego tripping but, my friends, that does not make their contribution any less valid or significant.
Artists are no different from you and me, other than that their particular stunning skills sometimes enable them to reach a wider and often adoring audience. Like you and me they have opinions in every shape and colour. Many choose, like you or me, not to air those opinions and keep their own counsel. Some are bolshier and mouthier than others. Some are more articulate than others. But, just because you write, act, play the guitar, the drums or sing, it doesn't mean you left your brain in a cupboard somewhere. Some of them you may not agree with, so feel free to engage them in a discussion and debate. To assume that they are not allowed an opinion simply because of what they do with their talent makes you much dumber than any of them...
The Blues Man in The Hat