The danger of creative expression

“The world of reality has its limits, the world of imagination is boundless.”  -Rousseau 

I’ve grown up fueled by creativity.  Whether it was using my happy meal toys as characters in my own story world, or being inquisitive and imaginative about my family history, I’ve always been naturally curious and creative.  I find now that it was my way of looking back and finding the crossroads between truth and imagination. It was a way of giving me the freedom to learn, the freedom to be expressive and the freedom to be human.

I found myself driven to characters whether through my own mind or by being inspired through reading and writing.  My love for the creative was nurtured through my writing studies in college where I delved into playwriting, literary fiction and most recently screenwriting. Not to mention the extensive span of reading from Shakespeare to 20th century American Literature. I found that in college my imagination wasn’t just fueled by naive, childhood scenarios, but rather real characters facing real complex dilemmas. I found my own writing pushing myself to embrace not only what I was interested in, but topics that needed to be written about and stories that needed to be told.

My senior year, I wrote a three-act play dealing with the gay rights movement, as my main character, Jacob, is broken by the heterosexist expectations and judgments by his surrounding family and friends.  It was a challenge for me to write, but something I felt needed to be written, and telling of the time I was writing in. For me, it was a way of juxtaposing the contrasting elements of the human spirit – on one end vulnerability and love, the other prejudice and hatred.

There was Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” that opened my eyes to the power of playwriting. There was Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which were just some of the works that helped transform me as a reader, a writer and as a person. I felt like I was seeing the many facets and complexities of the human spirit. There were works about civil rights and human rights, personal struggle and family struggle.  Whatever the topic I came across when reading a book, I found that through character and through circumstance, I understood human adversity and human strength that much greater.

For me the fondest form of creative expression has been comedy. While I find drama can tug on the heartstrings and the tear ducts, there is something quietly powerful about comedy. It spans all types of genres and whether it is in literature, theater, or television, I find myself learning the most from the humorous characters and situations they get themselves into. It also gives us the great gift of enjoyment through laughter. We must never forget to laugh.

There was Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, something so preposterous you couldn’t help but think Is this guy nuts? Only to realize what he was really writing about and criticizing was just as inhumane as eating babies. Or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and poor Yossarian who was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. I find myself responding to satirical writing and black comedy. I found this especially true when I started watching the television show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  There is a needed place in our world for satire and black comedy because they make you think by making you feel so uncomfortable at the things you are laughing at.  You ask yourself how you can possible laugh at the prospect of eating babies, or getting hooked on crack in order to qualify for welfare? But the writers go there to show us how judgmental and ignorant our world can be. These stories challenge our way of thinking and in turn shed light onto injustices in our own society.

It is sad to say but I hear words of ignorance and hatred everyday – words of judgment that completely label and ostracize people from one another. It is shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that help to really understand the place our world is in, what we have accomplished and the work we still have left to do. It doesn’t hurt that the show makes me laugh until it hurts.

Something doesn’t need to be satirical to be powerful. I think back to some of my favorite comedies like Friends and How I Met Your Mother. These hysterical hits display some of the most fundamental relationships we encounter and the complex roller coaster of highs and lows that exist in the confines of those relationships. Sometimes we don’t need a show to push the envelope to be eye-opening, but just relatable and true.

Just as there were books and plays that pushed me to open my eyes, grow and learn and polish my own writing and creative skills, so to has television been a tool for that.

These genres showcase the power and necessity of storytelling in our lives.  But they also showcase the power behind creative expression – the ability to communicate in a novel way, to think critically, to be vulnerable and to understand our world a bit better.

That’s what I feel writing is about.  Sure it can be entertaining and enjoyable, that’s the primary reason we read a book or watch a TV show. But there is a certain power and a certain mission in creative expression.  It makes us think and it makes us feel.  But it does so through our imagination and our own emotions as we laugh, cry, grit our teeth in anger, or smile along as our eyes scan word after word, sentence after sentence.

Recently, after the SONY hacks by North Korea and the terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical paper, it really makes me understand just how dangerous creative expression is.  Through our stories we think, we feel and we change.  I believe for the better. It is so dangerous it borders complete destruction – destruction of ignorance and hatred. It sheds the ignorance that some people try to keep strong in walls to separate people, ideas and conversation.  But through creative expression somehow the conversations start, the ideas spread and people come together.  It’s the kind of danger I look for and the type of danger that quiets the violence used by extremists to stifle creativity, openness and tolerance.

When I worked as the Opinion Editor on my college newspaper, I loved the effort other students put forward to have conversations about anything from foreign affairs to campus happenings.  I learned that being able to express yourself through the press or through the arts can be one of the greatest, most cherished freedoms we as Americans have.  I just wish the rest of the world could be accepting to expression and understand that yes, it is dangerous, but not in a violent way. It is a dangerous peace – because it brings with it the power to create a powerful world.

Je suis Charlie.

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”
– Oscar Wilde

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