pigeonholesMan, the name-giving animal, is in rare form these days. We’re just stalking the planet, hell-bent on slapping labels on others, stuffing them into compartments, and spewing vast generalities about things we don’t understand well enough.
Religion is dividing the world and our country like it hasn’t since the Dark Ages. The promise of immigration on which America is founded has become an evil tangle of anxiety and finger pointing as broad swaths of our neighbors are labeled and fingerprinted, then shown the door or locked up without due process. The media pundits have been wrong time and again throughout this presidential election, as they have tried to adhere dusty nameplates and bankrupt maxims on phase after phase of the campaign. Instead of observing wisely, they insist on prognosticating and tripping over their mike cables.
For a while it seemed like the forces of globalization would push down the walls that subdivide the planet, providing a global culture of inclusion, one huge Benetton ad. Instead, we’ve been given too many McDonalds outlets, too many Nike logos. Instead of religions and nation states, the folks in Davos wanted to give us all SKUs, compartmentalizing everything to fit neatly into Walmart’s inventory.
The Internet was another beacon of hope, connecting us all, one to one, allowing us to found and find our own communities of interest. We’d have labels but at least we got to put them on ourselves by signing up for this chat group or the other. But the anonymity and lack of accountability that rules the ether has made it hard for people to translate their keystrokes into action. Howard Dean showed us that. We can connect and agree, slapping each other on the back and exchanging wild emoticons, but the results are amorphous and hard to turn into anything concrete and enduring.
Among creative people we find similar divides and so many of them are self imposed. Aesthetics are ruled by professionalism. Be an actor but you can’t then be a writer too. You can act on TV but not in movies. You can write comedy but can’t paint murals. You can be a rocker but don’t expect to be taken seriously as a composer.
Sure, some people climb over a wall here or there, the Sean Jean/P Diddys, the Will Smith/ Fresh Princes, the Carrie Fishers, the J-Los.
But we much prefer to know which section of the bookstore to find our favorite authors and the more they repeat themselves – the John Grishams, the Tom Clancys, the James Pattersons – the more we will reward them. The same goes for bands and movie stars and fashion designers and chefs. ” Be consistent. Let people know what to expect. Be a brand”
And how we draw those barriers through our own lives too, imposing restrictions often through sheer inertia. “I don’t eat Indian food. I don’t read mysteries. I hate French wine. I’m not into documentaries. I don’t look good in red. I hate history. I never go to the opera. Blah, blah, blah.
And then, deeper still, we carve labels on our very Selves: “I’m not talented. I’m an amateur. I can’t draw. I’ve got two left feet. I’ll never make it. I don’t have a degree. My whole family is tone deaf. I never read. I’m a woman. I’m too old. I have to make a living. I never finish things. Blah, blah, blech.”
Spare me.
Can’t we all be a litter more subtle, a little more aware, a little more creative, and start seeing the world in all its shades of grey, and all the hues of the spectrum?
We don’t live in a box. We live on a ball, always revolving, always changing, moving ahead, never in the same place for more than a moment. That’s the nature of the universe. That’s the true nature of man. And that, my label hungry friends, is what Art is all about.