Yesterday, while listening to an early morning Swedish radio program a sequence of continuous announcements caught my attention. First, the program host informed that the US rap artist A$AP Rocky has been released from Stockholm prison until the hearing of the sentence and explained that he almost immediately boarded a private jet that will fly him to the States. Following came the news of Greta Thunberg boarding on the sailboat Malizia II towards the same destination as a gesture of raising awareness against the contamination caused by commercial aviation’ greenhouse gas emissions.
It was a perfect example to give light to that famous phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message”. Two people, two public figures, followed and admired by many are both heading the same way by using very different means of transportation while at the same time sending entirely different messages. Reflecting completely different sets of values placed on the entirely opposite sides of the Environment Vs. Business as Usual scale.
Two messages reflecting two radically opposed realities in which central to the debate should be the attention given to each. Greta Thunberg reflects the hope and fears of the future generations. A$AP reflects… well it gets quite evident from his personal brand. He represents $; probably the most universal of all symbols to define the conspicuous consumption, hedonistic greed and anthropogenic selfishness behind the Business as Usual behavior.
He reflects that idea of art as “anything you can get away” as Terence Trant D’Arby once spontaneously defined it in an interview. It is perhaps not to be surprised that Donald Trump has chosen A$AP as a twitter ingredient to spice up the diplomatic relationship with Sweden and (most importantly) fuel up the presidential pre-campaign by potentially gaining sympathy among Afro-American voters.
Speaking of which, Trump is perhaps the greatest artifact of art being “anything you can get away with”. By winning the elections he made it crystal clear that “People don’t see difference between politics and entertainment.” These are the words of the “kingmaker”. These are the ‘sage’ words of Roger Stone, the man who recognized potential behind Trump’s hair and made him the president.
A$AP Rocky boarding the private jet is a perfect image to define Trump’s intentional denial of climate change and its increasingly threatening consequences. Greta Thunberg boarding on the sailing boat is a perfect image of commitment with the behavior that needs to sink into our consciousness in order to put in place immediate actions and policies needed to mitigate the effects caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and gain precious time to adapt to the increasingly challenging consequences.
Art, as always in the human history, plays a fundamental role. It is desperately needed to draw the line between “entertainment” and “values” (Hall/Whanell) and inspire behavior driven by a very universal, human and noble purpose of building a sustainable future.
Art needs to channelize the global call for change into an expression of values that drive the desire of assuring that we leave the Earth in better, or at least the same, conditions we have today to the future generations.
While it is true that, to paraphrase Andrej Tarkovski, Art has never solved problems, but instead exposed them, true Art is the one that raise questions. True Art is not being passively entertained within the work-shop-sleep loop. It is active. Engaging. Provoking. Challenging. Inspiring. It is brave. And above all, it comes as an expression of seeking into the deeper meaning of life rather than simply being used to sell products.
True Art is not boosted by obsessive search of popularity, but by answering:
If there was no one seeing/reading/hearing it, would you still keep on doing it?
“Art is never without consequences” (Brecht) but it takes courage, ethics and values to explore and express Art without previously aiming towards popularity and all the economic incentives it potentially brings.
If we are to break the vicious cycle of consumerism we are trapped in, we need to Make Art Great Again. We need to place it outside the mass media production chain. Outside the trends dictated by industries. We need artists that express their creativity not thinking in terms of likes, followers, cars, and fortune their creation will bring, but instead in terms of questions that shape our values towards sustainable, just and prosperous human society. A society that thrives while embracing noble values instead of swallowing cheap entertainment.