Shadowproof is proud of its independent journalism, particularly the contributions we green light from freelance writers. But we also believe that our work can be enhanced by contesting American culture.
We already curate a “Protest Music Project,” where protest songs are posted every week by Liz Pelly and Kevin Gosztola. Pelly also is writing a monthly column on the intersection of music and protest. So, we would like to expand on that work and use this newsletter for cultural criticism and writings about art.
This newsletter will dig into film, music, poetry, literature, and more. But before we do, we would like to share some of our inspiration.
The historian Howard Zinn, best known for “A People’s History of the United States,” penned multiple essays on artists. They can be found in the collection, “Artists In Times of War And Other Essays.”
Zinn said of artists and society, “When I think of the relationship between artists and society—and for me the question is always what it could be, rather than what it is—I think of the word transcendent. It is a word I never use in public, but it’s the only word I can come up with to describe what I think about the role of artists.”
“By transcendent, I mean that the artist transcends the immediate. Transcends the here and now. Transcends the madness of the world. Transcends terrorism and war,” Zinn added. “It is the job of the artist to transcend that—to think outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dare to say things that no one else will say.”
To Zinn, an artist was also someone who thought, acted, performed music, or wrote “outside the framework that society has created.”
He did not believe artists had to be “professional” and leave politics or social commentary out of their work. They should “transcend the word of the establishment, transcend the orthodoxy, to go beyond and escape what is handed down by the government or what is said in the media.
For example, Mark Twain spoke out when the United States went to war against the Philippines. Playwright Eugene O’Neill used his voice against mobilizing for war after Pearl Harbor. Langston Hughes, the black poet, wrote the poem, “Columbia.” The United States was “Columbia.”
My dear girl,
You really haven’t been a virgin for so long
It’s ludicrous to keep up the pretext
You’re terribly involved in world assignations
And everybody knows it
You’ve slept with all the big powers
In military uniforms,
And you’ve taken the sweet life
Of all the little brown fellows
In loin cloths and cotton trousers,
When they’ve resisted,
You’ve yelled, “Rape,”
Being one of the world’s big vampires,
Why don’t you come on out and say so
Like Japan, and England, and France,
And all the other nymphomaniacs of power
Who’ve long since dropped their
Smokescreens of innocence
To sit frankly on a bed of bombs?
Often art or culture can be corporate. It can owe its genesis to the military industrial-complex. It can revel in the status quo without truly challenging it. It can promote censorship of ideas. It can dictate the spectrum of what is allowed to be challenged through dissent. It can take on a life as an official record of a significant event, one that benefits the elite and powerful to the detriment of truth.
It is up to us to contest this brand of art that possibly puts a damper or obstructs struggles for social justice by conjuring perceptions that can have toxic effects. If we do not contest, we cede art to those forces we fight in the halls of government.
On a lighter note, sometimes we simply need to take the time to laugh, to ponder, and to dream of another world. Which is why we look forward to bringing you the arts and culture edition of this newsletter every other week.