Art and politics: an unintended arranged marriage

neil krug lana del reyBy Lara Santos

Western society has become a human rights advocate, especially of those groups which cause increasing controversy. One of the main targets of this, today, are women. This is good. Heck- this is amazing. However, the problem steps in when these new, upheld values in society permeate other aspects of the freedom we all desire.

Current widespread rejection of sexism is a huge win not just for women, but for the world. Nevertheless, in today’s media culture it is easy to publicly condemn any view considered atypical. Freedom of speech has been defended for centuries now. There is one aspect of our lives which has always been associated to our absolute liberty- the arts, in any shape or form. As much as I love to see posts on my newsfeed from websites such as Buzzfeed, Huffington Post or Music.mic defending feminism, when they denounce artists for their ‘lack of consideration’ in their music something is not right. The most obvious, current example is Lana Del Rey. She is criticised continuously for her subordinate, appeased posture versus a powerful, sometimes violent male figure, such as in Blue Jeans. Society demands her to stop portraying women this way. Is no woman now allowed to express herself if her art is not a bulletin board for women’s rights? Why should musicians censor their emotions, their rage, fear, desires, to please the public? Since when has this become the aim of true art?

Don’t get me wrong, I do recognize the fact that, whether we like it or not, the 21st Century networks, internet, social media… provide a worldwide platform for messages to be sent out, and for everyone to be influenced by them. This has been taken advantage of to spread powerful human rights messages and I hope it continues to do so. It is also a dangerous, unlocked door through which wrong ideals can be diffused. Nevertheless, I am annoyed by the presumed to be, inevitable end of any public figure: to become a worldwide rights guardian. Not all need be human rights advocates. Society is divided into different spheres: politics, economics, culture… and, although their flexibility allows them to overlap, this is not a mandatory procedure. If an artist wishes to make use of their personal career to promote social change, I widely encourage them to do so.

Many, however, become artists to simply unleash their emotions. Society has flaunted its freedom proudly, and now frowns upon any unconventionality. Artists have exploited the possibilities enabled by the arts platform for centuries, from sexual content as did Hokusai’s explicit The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife in 1814, to other taboo topics such as drugs, violence, and suicide. Fade to Black, by Metallica, as an example amongst many. As long as Lana Del Rey’s music doesn’t call out to the youth to behave as she does, it is not spreading a message, it is merely expressing one.

Again, her contentious portrayal of women can influence young children and adolescents, both male and female, hinting at social regress in terms of female characterization. However, I feel obliged to stress that, although this also anguishes me, it is not her duty to promote/ invalidate these concepts. Video games such as GTA V, or Assassin’s Creed promote freedom to act wildly with no moral compass (including prostitution). One of Del Rey’s latest scandals concerned a rape scene in Manson’s video project- no emphasis was made about his ‘sprout of creativity’, all was on her disgraceful portrayal of women. As if cinema had not seen abuse on screens many times before.

A refuge for those anxious for uninhibited self-expression, a limitless platform where all is valid, as all is subjective. Art cannot judge, art is neutral. When asked what her view was on feminism, Del Rey answered that she ‘[was] just not really that interested.’ I am a firm believer in standing up to social injustice. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of what we have already achieved, namely the surreal success of personal freedom. The arts must be kept in a different realm of society, away from the political sphere, unless the artist wishes to enter these circles. Del Rey clearly does not.

Photograph: Neil Krug

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