Politics has saturated everything this year, and because the political atmosphere was so fragmented and volatile, that has had a negative effect on many people’s overall well-being. It wasn’t enough to talk about President Trump, Russia, and North Korea every waking moment — now fans, the media, and some liberals are complaining that the artists they love aren’t unhappy when fans are unhappy, and not as political as they’d like them to be, which is likely when said artists are purported to be happier in the first place.
Since when must artists share every emotion we share — and especially, why must they opine publicly about politics in order for their art or personhood be appreciated?
Taylor Swift, magnet of optimism
Taylor Swift celebrated her 28th birthday last week, and in an Instagram post, commented that she “couldn't have asked for a better year.” One would have thought she wished every person who read that comment die in their sleep that night for the backlash she has received. Fans blasted her saying she must have been unaware of the travesties this year, from wildfires in California to Trump’s taking office, to declare 2017 a good year.
I mean, yeah there were Nazi's and white supremacy marches, and families are being town apart, and there were mass shootings, and people are losing health care, but none of that affects me, so 2017 was great!— Rich E (@kaspe_r11) December 14, 2017
Taylor Swift: I couldn’t have asked for a better year!
Almost everyone else: [silence because we’re all clinically depressed or dead from preventable diseases]
White toast with mayo: TOTES MAGOTES, TAY TAY!— Brohibition Now ????️???? (@OhNoSheTwitnt) December 14, 2017
While it’s true a lot of hard, unexplainable, tumultuous things happened this year, Taylor Swift, upon her own reflection, very well may have enjoyed this last year. She produced the best-selling album of the year, “Reputation,” she is in a relationship with someone she loves, and also won, quietly I might add, a trial against a man who sexually assaulted her. Why can’t a successful singer/songwriter enjoy her year just because other people were frustrated? It’s a twisted, macabre concept psychologists call projection and an average person might just call jealousy. But that’s not all.
Should artists talk about politics?
Not only is Swift getting heat for being happy about the last year, but for the last year, the media, fans, and liberals alike (again) have all been wondering why she isn’t more outspoken about politics.
I still feel so frustrated that Taylor Swift hasn’t said one word about Trump but expects her audience of gay men and women to support her.— Nigel Andrew Zeff (@nigelandrewzeff) April 13, 2017
This goes as far back as 2016:
Just a reminder: the election is 30 days away and Taylor Swift has not said a word!— kelsey mckinney (@mckinneykelsey) October 8, 2016
It's gotten so bad, that conservatives have turned it into a joke:
The first Iron Bowl was 124 years ago, yet Taylor Swift hasn't said a single word about War Eagle vs. Roll Tide.— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) November 25, 2017
Since when did society start expecting our artists to become authorities on politics as well as excellent in their particular craft? Since when did we assume because a person is an accomplished actor, a well-known painter, an articulate songwriter, or a popular band member, in order to be fully appreciated they must also enter the public sphere and opine about politics of all things?
Artists can be political but it shouldn’t be a requirement
Sure, some artists have been vocal about their political beliefs going back centuries. Ever read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bronte, or Austen? None of them would have sold a book were it not for how deftly they intertwined the political climate in which they lived with magnanimous characters and a wonderful storyline to boot.
The same thing still happens today. For people like Bono, his political views seem nearly as well known as his music. Actor Matt Damon is perhaps as well known for being an activist as he is for playing Jason Bourne. While I personally enjoy the work of artists — specifically writers like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Salinger, and Lee — who seamlessly wove politics and culture into their artistic endeavors, an artist should not be viewed as less-than for quietly remaining out of the fray. Led Zeppelin was largely quiet about their political beliefs, as were The Doors. Other examples abound. Some writers never take a dip in the waters of political controversy, others wade deep.
If an artist takes an interest in politics and actually adds something of value to the conversation, so be it—those people truly can add to the conversation. But not everyone can do that. Yet this is now some kind of fixated expectation on the part of the rest of us beneficiaries, who have become anxious and unhappy when the artists they love are not also fragmented and joyless or as vocal about Trump and North Korea — as if the art they produce itself is not enough.
Of course, artists often reflect or represent how we feel about love, politics, family, culture, joy, and pain, but that does not mean an artist need do so about all topics and all times and in their own personal life in addition to their art. They don't owe us at all. The artist owes the purveyor nothing but his or her best work in the field of their artistry. This has been the case since before Michelangelo and will be the case following Taylor Swift.
Somewhere along the way we became a culture awash in our own sanctimonious preening and ceremonial navel-gazing and we thought we not only deserved incredible art but an artist who empathizes with our every pain, relates to every angry outburst, and opines on every policy or politician at play. This is not only absurd, but disingenuous and dangerously unfair. It sets up an expectation between artist and beneficiary that will only disappoint and destroy the work we are all meant to enjoy.
After all, if you’re complaining about why Taylor Swift has never said a word about Trump or that she dare be happy on her birthday, can you hear “Getaway Car” over the sound of your own whining? What can you contribute to society if you’ve busied yourself with baseless accusations and unrealistic expectations between the artists you once enjoyed and the art they produce?
Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator's Young Journalist Award.
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