Sunday, May 20, 2012

Art Vs. The Artist

I recently watched Stephen Fry's documentary about Wagner's music. It serves as a history of his opera and Fry's love affair with it grandeur and cathartic qualities. In it, Fry questions whether as someone of Jewish heritage, he should feel guilty for being so passionately in love with Wagner's music. Wagner himself was deeply antisemitic, as were most non-Jews of his day, and even wrote an essay "Judaism in Music" which attacks Jewish composers Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer and represents Jews as being evil and alien to German culture and therefore incapable of producing music which represented the German spirit. Wagner's music also carries the taint of Nazism, as Hitler was a greatly influenced by his music and stage production.

This question of can the artist be separated from the work has troubled me for sometime. I've always thought Miles Davis's "It Never Entered My Mind" was one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. When the raspy, plaintive trumpet plays over the quietly melancholy piano, it just moves me. But then I am troubled by Davis's habit of beating Cicely Tyson and then writing songs about it. Should I, as a feminist, feel guilty for enjoying Davis's music? This problem is explored in the play "Mad at Miles" by Allison Ray, but as I've never read or seen the play, I've never come to any satisfactory conclusion.

I did come to some clarity on the situation when Fry interviewed an Auschwitz survivor who was saved from being exterminated by the Nazis because of her talent with the cello. As Fry asks her if he should feel guilty as a Jew for playing Wagner's music, she answers "I think that is is something that everyone has to work out for themselves. What does it do to you?" That question of what the music moves in you, is in itself an answer to the question of guilt. "It Never Entered My Mind" now brings up feelings of compassion for both Tyson and Miles himself. Surely both were tormented, her by him and him by his inner demons. His pain is clear in both the music he writes and the pain he inflicted on the woman he was supposed to love. I don't think there is anything to feel guilty about in that recognition. And ultimately, as Fry concludes, the music is bigger than the man.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

My Thoughts on the President "Coming Out"

Since President Obama came out in support of gay marriage, I've had conflicting thoughts on the matter. On the one hand, having the man who hold the highest office in the land give his support is a great victory for equal rights. It also reminds me that reason the reason I voted for him is he promised hope, change and progress. So, in many ways, I was very happy when I received the email of him "coming out" in favor of fairness and rationality. It seemed to fall right in line with the man I want him to be.

Then I started thinking about how this is an election year. It might be cynical of me to think that was his motivation, as he probably made as many enemies as he gained supporters. Maybe he just felt it was time. But then, why not do it sooner? Like before the North Carolina banned same sex marriage? Or while he was pushing for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell? Or the minute he took office, for that matter? I realize I might be prejudiced on that point because it seems like such a no-brainer to me. In this country you need a reason to take away someone's rights, not a reason to give it to them. I guess I just assumed my President felt the same way this whole time. Maybe that's why a small part of me was disappointed that it was necessary for him to even have to make the announcement to begin with. It should have been clear from his actions that he felt that every American deserves to be treated equally. And I'm probably aiming a little bit of misdirected anger at him for the fact that this is even a debate. We live in a free society. So why doesn't it feel like it lately?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rape and Masculinity

This great article at Alas! A Blog explores the connections between masculinity and the rape culture. The analysis breaks down how the myth of fragile masculinity, the general low regard for women, and the idea that sex is something women possess and "give" away all contribute to the high incidents of rape. Men must prove their masculinity and must do so by avoiding by maintaining a sense of entitlement and by taking revenge is that entitlement is threatened. Women, however, are lower on the social hierarchy than men making it less likely that a man will feel empathy for a woman. And since sex is something that women have and men want, if a man wants sex and doesn't get it, it damages his sense of entitlement and his masculinity. All too often, the solution is some men's minds is to regain his power by taking what he wants, sex, regardless of how the woman feels on the situation. Overall, this is a well-written and thought provoking article and I highly suggest taking the time to give it a read.