Discovering the Relevance of Words
Last December, when over twenty children and adults were brutally murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, thousands of Americans took to social media to express their fear, anger, sympathy, and sadness. In the days that followed, social media also provided a stage for the ensuing debate about gun control, and whether or not changing the laws could help prevent another tragedy like the one that happened at Sandy Hook.
It was in this context that singer/songwriter Michael Gungor used his Twitter account to talk about his frustration with the current laws in place, and his sincere belief that changing them would be for the best. He wasn’t really doing anything anyone else wasn’t doing, and nothing he said was particularly novel. But the vitriolic reaction he received from his fans and followers was nothing short of astounding.
And a little disgusting.
But among all the hateful reactions and dismissive comments, there was one tweet that stood out to me. As a matter of fact, it may be the worst tweet I’ve ever read. And if you knew how much time I spend on Twitter every day, you would know that that’s saying something.
You just lost a fan, @michaelgungor. It’s too bad you couldn’t just shut up and sing.
Now, aside from the fact that “shutting up” and “singing” simultaneously is a logical and physical impossibility, this tweet was about more than just communicating the author’s disagreement with Michael Gungor over the issue of gun control laws. That’s okay—disagreeing about politics is okay. What’s not okay is the fact that what this guy was actually insinuating is that Michael Gungor—and by extension, other artists—exist to entertain. Like court jesters, their job is not to challenge or to give advice or even to have opinions. Their job is simply to make others smile, to make them clap, to make them raise their hands and shout “hallelujah,” maybe even to make them a little sad sometimes, but never too sad, and never about themselves. The absolute last thing artists should be doing is confronting systemic injustice and defiling long-cherished cultural sacred cows. They are a mirror of culture, not a catalyst for its evolution!
So now you see why this made me angry.
I am no one’s court jester.
I am no one’s entertainment.
I am no one’s fool.
I write because I am compelled in the deepest parts of my being, not because I want to charm people or make them like me. As a matter of fact, when I start focusing on whether or not people like me, I find that that’s when I’m most miserable as a writer. Because it doesn’t matter if you like me. I don’t care if you like me. I care too much about your soul to be your court jester. And if speaking up means losing “fans,” well. That’s probably always been the price of truth, anyway.