Category Archives: art

The Extent of Responsibility

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article in Canada’s Globeandmail.com. The author, Lynn Crosbie gives a sometimes compelling argument about the relationship between art and life, and the way the two often bleed together in the form of mimicry. Drawing parallels to the rash of teens burning homeless men in the seventies after seeing it done in the movie Fuzz, and the copycat killings ascribed to the movie, Natural Born Killers, I can almost see Lynn’s point. The rest of the examples, however–Marilyn Manson’s “responsibility” for children’s crimes and Ted Bundy’s supposed addiction to porn linking him to his first rape–fail to move me to emphatic agreement. Still, I’m willing to concede there is a correlation between art and life, and sometimes it’s a negative one. After all, as artists, we want our work to resonate within the mind of the ones reading it. And, we’re more than happy to take the credit when that shift in thought is positive. Yet, when the negative occurs, we put our hands behind our backs and take refuge behind the word, “art.”

But, is it all that simple? Monkey see, monkey do? I don’t think so. If that were the case, there would have been social upheaval of the worst order after the debut of Pulp Fiction: heroin overdoses everywhere, gangster-type violence and thuggish dinner knock-overs on every block. Most of us know the difference between reality and fiction, the immediate relationship between action and consequence, and we act accordingly. For some, however, the lines are blurred. Fantasy becomes reality and the intended thought-provoking words we put on paper transform into inspirational text. Since I can’t argue that some will take away only the evil of which we write, I move on to the next concern, responsibility. Can we, as artists, be blamed for the actions of those who use our work as an instruction manual?

The waters here are murky and gray. I’d like nothing more than to shrug the weight of it off my shoulders and hide behind the art. My novel speaks of darkness, of acts unspeakable in reality and just as horrifying to the imagination. It has bothered me more than once that one might see these pages as a permission slip, a validation of their own flawed belief system. These acts are integral to the story, to the formation of the characters and the relationships they have with one another. But, I cannot argue that someone with an already skewed perception of the world might not see that, will only see rote approval for their twisted lifestyle. Having conceded that point, can I remove all blame from myself if someone takes inspiration from my words? Can I, with all honesty, step away from this mirrored act without a speck of guilt on my soul? I’d like to, but, I don’t know. Once a connection has been established, cause and consequence, can there really be absolute blamelessness? Sure, the individual could have picked up “pointers” from any other book or movie, hell, the internet is a literal den of inequity. But, the source was not from them, but from me. My work. Like the rest of life, there is no black and white, here. But, there is right and wrong as far as fallout is concerned, and most certainly when the time for finger pointing comes around. The question is not if any fingers will be aimed in my direction, because they will. More importantly, I wonder, where will my own be pointing?