Politics and art have long gone hand in hand, regardless of those who tell singers and actors to shut up and sing. The accepted norm is that these people live in a bubble – they don’t know real struggle due to the privileges of their success. They have no idea what the ordinary person goes through.
This is completely and utterly incorrect.
Whether it’s Meryl Streep or Bruce Springsteen, the idea that an actor, musician, painter or any other human being in the creative arts is some out of touch recluse with no connection to the outside world is fundamentally wrong.
For Springsteen to write so eloquently about the plight of the working man, or Streep to successfully embody someone like Karen Silkwood, or for straight actor Tom Hanks to play a gay character so sympathetically in Philadelphia, etc., they have to have the ability to connect with people who aren’t like them, as well as associate with a variety of races, colors, creeds, genders and sexual orientations, all of which you’re far more likely to come across in the arts than almost any other industry.
They’re called ‘liberal’ arts for a reason: truly great art is meant to be universal. It is meant to bridge gaps beyond gender, race, color, creed and sexual orientation. It comes from an innate understanding of the human condition and the struggles associated with it, along with a sense of compassion and empathy. Conservatism, almost by definition, is on a philosophy built on a resistance to change. The most influential music of the last 60 years – Elvis, The Beatles, Dylan, Prince, Nirvana, to name just a few – came about from a fundamental inclination to challenge accepted norms, be they concerning race, sex, religion, politics or some other supposedly sacrosanct institution. Conservatism reveres the sanctity of these institutions, and scoffs when they are challenged in any way.
This is why almost no one reveres the likes of Toby Keith, Ted Nugent, or Rob Schneider – their works show a fundamentally limited grasp of human life. Nugent would never risk losing his audience of macho chest-beating meatheads the way Springsteen did with a song like “Streets of Philadelphia,” which spoke sensitively to the plight of people with AIDS, and specifically homosexuals thanks to its association with the movie, Philadelphia. Nugent, meanwhile, writes songs about fucking 15 year olds. To each their own I guess.
This is not to say that people with any conservative ideologies can’t be successful artists at all – Clint Eastwood, for example, has created some truly stunning works throughout his career as both an actor and a director, despite him leaning to the right; even Eastwood however, is socially liberal. I also don’t believe all great art is inherently political or rebellious – Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, as well as the great American songwriters of the 1930s’, exemplify that quite well. However, great art and an inclusive mindset go hand in hand.
When a celebrity sticks their nose in a controversial political issue, be it through their art or their statements, it’s not because they live in a bubble: it’s the exact opposite. That is not to say the opinion of a celebrity automatically holds more weight than the average person, but when it comes to having a well rounded, worldly view on certain issues – namely social issues – they are generally far more in the know than your average Middle American.
It is true that Madonna probably doesn’t know the plight of an average steel worker, but she can certainly relate to a rape victim who feels that the legal system consistently lets victims of assault down. Bruce Springsteen may not live near the Metuchen auto plant anymore, but he’s long remained active in New Jersey charities for the poor and struggling. These people put their money where their mouth is and know what they are talking about. Their art is testament to that.