5/13/2019…by Jared Adamson
I love being challenged to perspectives I’d never considered before.
Or as the Scarecrow said, “think of things I’d never thunk before.”
And it happened again today. (I want to recount it to you, but I’m going to plead the 5th on bits of it and speaking vaguely, avoiding names and titles.)
I was listening to a celebrity speak of their life experiences (vague enough?). In this episode of a podcast, Mr. Celebrity was sharing about a life-direction-affirming moment. As a child, with his family, he had experienced a comedian’s (recorded) performance and the light turned on. “I’m going to do this with life.” And he recounted such a wonderful memory of that experience. In that moment, he knew he would be a working stand-up someday.
Fast forward a few years in his life. Celebrity went on to tell how he was able to re-watch the performance that he had long since revered and he was shocked by how offensive it was. Often times, comedians and comediennes are recognized by their subject matter and inappropriate language. But Celebrity had never realized, never remembered, that he was in the demographic group being attacked. It was his own identity that was being bashed in the name of humor. And by “bashed”, I’m referring to really horrific language and downright oppression.
Back to me.
Can we be entertained by the offensive? I remember trying to watch sitcoms with my parents and thinking “Don’t laugh at the sex jokes or you’ll get in trouble.” To them, it was offensive; to me, entertaining.
From the podcast, Celebrity questioned if he can still be entertained by a comedian even though still offended.
I’ve recently heard of radio stations that are pulling the music of select artists because of the artist’s life choices outside of their music. It doesn’t seem to matter if the body of work is good or not, an offensive lifestyle deemed the music inappropriate. Likewise, television networks have dropped classic episodes featuring actors that have since been convicted by crimes.
I get it. As a family man, trying to raise kids in this era, it is difficult to teach them values when venerated individuals are crumbling around us. Actors, Musicians, Artists, Sport Players, Politicians…the list goes on too long.
And what about quality art created or performed by Upstanding Citizens of Morality (UCoMs, for short), but centered around offensive subject matter? All the –isms and trigger words inclusive. Can these have entertainment value, or should they be utterly disregarded, avoided due to the nature of the topic?
And I’m guilty of it. I watch Indiana Jones without even considering the atrocities of the Holocaust, even though Nazi’s are involved with nearly every story. But then again, aren’t offensive topics sort of the point of some films (both Amistad and Requiem for a Dream come to mind)?
I was discussing this over lunch with friends today. And Friend A quoted Mutual Friend B. “The art didn’t change; I did.” Lots of truth in that.
When I was a sophomore in high school, like so many others, I joined the Columbia House to get my 8 cassettes for $1 (agreeing to buy 10 more in the next 3 years at full price plus exorbitant shipping, or some crap like that). In that beloved first shipment (that I spent painstaking hours narrowing down the music I would accept forever), was Milli Vanilli. Man, I loved that album. Girl, you know it’s true.
And then…my world crumbled. My cherished couple were exposed as frauds! Milli Vanilli were not who they said they were. And soon after, in the mail arrives legal documents explaining my rights as a duped member of society and that I’m eligible for compensation as a victim of these bait-&-switch charlatans. And I remember thinking: ok, I’m not sure who is actually singing right now—but I still like these songs. I realized that to some, MV were offensive; to me, they were entertaining.
I’m not sure I’ll ever find an equation or algorithm that helps me sort out quality from inferiority, bold from bland, offensive from inspiring. But, I will keep experiencing art in its many forms and using those moments to sharpen my focus on what is or isn’t, in my opinion, good art.
And through those encounters, I am convinced, that on occasion, I will realize I still have no idea where I stand on the question.
Jared Adamson is the Minister of Worship and Creative Arts at Centerville Christian Church in Centerville, IN and a member of the DIVA Board of Directors. Studying voice, composition, organ and improv, he has a Bachelor of Music in Church Music with a double major in Bible and piano from Cincinnati Christian University where he later served as an adjunct professor in the music and worship department.