Audience Participation


I was really moved by the video above (if it doesn’t display correctly, you can follow the link and watch it here).  One thing I’ve been contemplating a lot lately, both on this blog and in life (and in the Harry Potter megapost, which is coming someday soon, I promise!), are questions of narrative responsibility.  Writers, filmmakers, and especially comedians – artists of any kind, but especially comedians – often like to think themselves beyond social imperative, obligated only to creativity itself, and it’s a perspective that carries a certain amount of widespread currency.  It’s also the reason why I struggled so long against the idea of being a Writer, or a Comedian; by whatever incident of personality or intellect or upbringing social concerns have always been foregrounded in my mind, and I have never wanted to pursue a path not oriented towards positive solution-making.


Earlier today I was doing some updating on the Femikaze Twitter feed, and I came across two tweets in response to something I’d written on the website a couple months ago.  This spring, Tracy Morgan got in some trouble for going on a venomous, homophobic rant at a stand-up show in Tennessee; predictably, this stirred lots of different responses, and comedy website Splitsider – which operates with a strong editorial element, not as an objective news source – covered the event with an attempt at even-handedness between those who called Morgan out and those who supported his free expression (which, it should be noted, no one was really calling to restrict: the general sentiment wasn’t “He shouldn’t be allowed to say this!” but rather “How does he not know better??”).  What I wrote was, in turn, calling out Splitsider on their false equivalence, the way they evaded any kind of actual moral decision-making by saying “Hey, no matter what you think, it’s been great to talk about all this stuff!” – which didn’t make the Splitsider piece’s writer (who is also the site’s executive editor, probably guaranteeing that Femikaze will never be covered in their pages) too happy.


But I stand by everything I wrote in that piece, because the truth is that while the act of creating might demand a kind of perfect psychological freedom, empty of judgment, it’s also the case that (and here is where I come back to the above video) we – as artists, as spectators, as agents within the world – also have a responsibility to make moral judgments about what we create and participate in.  As the video describes, we create values systems by what we pay attention to.  If we pay attention to violence, violence becomes the only solution.  If we honor justifications and equivocations, we allow the justified behavior to flourish.


If one is not engaged in direct action, it can be all too easy to feel passive and even helpless in the face of need.  But spectating is less passive than it seems, and we can choose – and by those choices, even judge – the stories we know and tell about the world, the stories that shape the world.  After all, as any comedian or storyteller can tell you, the greatest power in a room is held by the audience.

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