The world can be a wearying place. The madness and brutality we visit upon each other with such frequency can be dispiriting. But lately, I find I have been struggling even more so than usual to cope with the state of the world. In recent months, human ferocity seems to have escalated – or perhaps I have grown more sensitive and averse to it.
As a child, I was terrified of nuclear war – like all the time. When the miniseries The Day After first aired on TV, I watched horrified, certain that this fiery end and ghastly aftermath was going to happen in my lifetime. I then had little understanding of the political forces that shape events in the world, the only thing I felt sure of at the time was that I had no control over death raining down from the sky. The fear of not having control over my own destiny has shaped a lot of who I am today. I wondered if other people felt like me. I started going to art museums, theatres, movies, I saw The Day The Earth Stood Still, Fail Safe, and Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. I started reading books like Brave New World, 1984 and Animal Farm. Given the dystopian tone of such works, obviously none of these quelled my fear that the world was coming to an end – quite the contrary: they awoke me to the reality that we live in a complex and beautiful world, by turns horrific and funny.
I learned I was by no means alone in my abiding and bone-deep fear; more importantly, though, I learned that I should not sit passively by to just watch the onrush of destruction. There were ways that I could live my life to help make the world a better place. Or even just my neighborhood a better place. So my personal revolution became trying to create meaning through art. George Orwell’s revolution became revealing the injustices of the world through an aesthetic enthusiasm, combined with a rigorous intelligence and an unsparing eye, that would allow all readers – at whatever level of education or political sophistication – to understand the politics of the day, certainly, but more crucially, to understand the historical, economic, and societal forces underlying politics. Orwell wrote:
“What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art…Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried… to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” “A critic whom I respect read me a lecture about it. ‘Why did you put in all that stuff?’ he said. ‘ You’ve turned what might have been a good book into journalism.’ What he said was true, but I could not have done otherwise. I happened to know, what very few people in England had been allowed to know, that innocent men were being falsely accused. If I had not been angry about that I should never have written the book.”
Our Steppenwolf for Young Adults Season is about CREATING a movement: the ART of a Revolution. Join us. Think and question with us. Create a movement with us. All are welcome.
Artistic and Educational Director,
Steppenwolf for Young Adults