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Art and Issues: Need to Go Beyond Slogans

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Why is it that when an avowed political artist such as Billy Bragg expresses his views with depth and clarity, without artifice or a shiny facade, certain critics such as the Times’ Steve Hochman (Calendar, Dec. 12) feel compelled to accuse him of “lecturing” or not giving the audience “much credit . . . to come to their own conclusions”?

The fact is that despite the increasing number of people who spout easy-to-remember slogans such as “Fight AIDS” or “Censorship Is Un-American” and cover their cars and coat lapels with politically correct bumper stickers and buttons, these human rights and human health issues along with countless others continue to grow seemingly unchecked, as if all these well-meaning people had no power to affect change.

The terrible truth is that they don’t have the power, because all they know are the slogans.

In this age of sound bites and instant consumer gratification, the people who are delivering these important messages to the American people, i.e., the politicians, the news media, the celebrities and artists, have given up on the intelligence of their audience and deliver only the most simplistic, easy-to-swallow version of the truth.

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As a result, that audience has no knowledge of the depth and complexities that have contributed to the frightening issues that confront us. All they know is that they are “terrible problems,” and they are left with a feeling of hopelessness and desire to hide from the problems.

It’s simple: If you don’t know the causes of the problem, you can’t find the solution.

That’s where an artist like Billy Bragg comes hurtling forward. He explores the issues with his audience, both within his songs and between songs, with his own insights and thoughts. And, despite Hochman’s cynical inference that Bragg was being condescending and long-winded to his audience, that very audience was attentive and involved when he spoke directly to them about the causes he believes in, and they shouted and clapped for every song. And begged for more.

If Hochman wanted nonstop slick theatrics, with a light sprinkling of “politically correct” slogans, he should have gone to a U2 concert, or a Madonna concert, or any other of the numerous bands that strike a political pose to boost their popularity ratings without really taking on the issues.

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But for those who are aware that while most of the nation goes blindly on as our civil rights are being whittled away and our government is being run by politicians who are further and further removed from the will of the people, the only answer is to educate yourself and pass on what you learn.

A government of the people, by the people and for the people is only as well-informed as each of its members, and we only have ourselves to blame if our elected representatives think we don’t care.

Billy Bragg sends a clear, brave message through both his music and his enlightened, eloquent little “chats” between songs. At one point he described one of his upbeat songs as an “air-raid warning in the war against AIDS, which is moving from door-to-door through the human community.”

This is the urgent and compassionate work of an artist who is more concerned with his world than with his Billboard ratings, and is a shining example of a responsible artist communicating to his audience.

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If Steve Hochman finds this boring and bland, maybe he should wake up and look at the world he’s living in. Or maybe that involves too much thought.


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