Moral Panic and The New Didacticism

New rules of conduct are popping up everywhere, and in many cases, that’s a good thing, e.g. reduction of the harrassment of women in the workplace, expansion of civil rights for minorities, and so on.

This zeitgeist for updated ethics has spread into the arts, and that can also be a good thing, if it results in changes that reduce predatory behavior within institutions, as when two male dancers were recently fired from the New York City Ballet for alleged sexual misconduct.

On the other hand, now everyone is empowered to leave a comment on everything, and any asshole with a smartphone can take down somebody else with a bad review. People nit-pick anything and everything, leading to an infinite regress into social atomization.

Reorganization of codes of conduct is periodically necessary for societies to move forward, but at this point there is so much social media-fueled uncertainty, division, and vitriol in the air that it is bleeding over into the work itself, often with less-than-satisfactory results.

Of course artists can’t disconnect themselves from current events, and a political work can sometimes have the power to transcend its time and place. If all art and poetry are fresh responses to experience, then that must include the social and the political.

The problem for me with didactic poetry and artwork is more form than content. It’s tonal. We can and must respond to the world around us through our work, but the preachy tone and the black and white, all or none, baby with the bathwater attitudes will go away in time.

I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.