Are You Willing to Die for Your Art?

My network of friends and associates includes a lot of artists. I know actors and dancers, photographers and writers, comic book artists, comedians, fashion designers, musicians, DJs and filmmakers. All of them bring passion to their craft. Each of them has made sacrifices for the chance to express themselves. I often feel humbled comparing my novels to their work. But the news over the past few weeks has forced me to think about the limits of creative dedication. I wonder how many of us would risk our lives to pursue our art?

The Sony hack over The Interview and the terrorist attack in Paris, are the latest examples of attacks on expression. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Totalitarian regimes, extremists and insecure people of every type and class have used censorship, intimidation and violence to suppress art throughout history. Our perspectives and opinion shape our expression. Those who don’t agree with an opinion and feel threatened by its existence have a tendency to lash out in anger. Every artist risks retaliation the moment they expose their creations to the public.

I don’t expect masked gunmen to kick in my door and shoot me down over the books I write. My current work doesn’t focus on the political or religious maniacs who hide behind AK-47s. Some people might not enjoy my depictions of sexual expression or my attacks on misogyny, but most people don’t care so I’m safe for now. The worst attack I face is a bad review or an inane comment on my wall.

But if I wasn’t safe, would I stop? If I had to risk more than time, money and what little reputation I have, would I give up publishing? If I started getting death threats or survived a real attack, would I keep writing? I can’t answer these questions with any honesty because I’ve never been in those situations. I like to see myself as an artist willing to sacrifice for his craft, but until the moment of truth comes, who can tell?

I don’t know if my artist friends are willing to die for their art, but the relationship between expression and retaliation is inherent in the world we live in. The spectrum ranges from benign online trolling to murder but artistic expression is not a safe lifestyle. We all risk something when we expose ourselves to the world. Maybe the decision to sacrifice security is part of the creative condition. Maybe our passion is what makes us so threatening. I don’t know. But I respect every artist willing to put themselves out there, whatever risks they face. The most respect goes to those who know they are in danger and continue to create in spite of, or perhaps because of the threats against them.

Have fun.

Police Brutality Beyond America

Protesters and critics in the United States might view the deaths of Garner and Brown as symptoms of a problem unique to our country. But a recent op ed piece by Usayd Youis points out Britain's long history of police who were not punished for violence against minorities.

Does this suggest parallels between U.S. and U.K. law enforcement in terms of tactics, or does it flow from a more basic concept of power corrupting the very people who are supposed to protect us. 

Why Children Are Targets for Terror

The Art of War is a classic book on military strategy from China’s Warring States period. The advice in the book has been used by generals, business leaders and martial artists for several centuries. Characters in my stories quote it often when trying to make a point or explain an idea. Sadly, terrorists, mass killers and psychopaths have learned its lessons too.

Sun Tzu teaches his students to “defend from a place of strength and attack the enemy at his weakest point”. Children are the most defenseless and weakest members of any society and attacks on schools have captured headlines for years. Al Jazeera has collected a list of the most infamous attacks worldwide from Columbine to Beslan by attackers from Boko Haram to the Taliban. The pain and dismay these attacks cause never goes away. That’s why Sun Tzu advocated the tactic and asymmetrical warfare uses schools as slaughter houses.

If this list of attacks teaches us anything, it is the ugly brutality of war, the dehumanization one group can place on another and the vulnerability of those who mean the most to us. No parent expects their child’s school to become a war zone. But the weak have always been targets of the ruthless. Race, nationality and social class provide no guarantees of safety. Every child in the world who comes home safe tonight is a gift for their parents and the people who love them.

America's Love Affair with Torture

A poll conducted in the wake of last week's CIA Torture report suggests that up to fifty percent of Americans believe the CIA program was justified. Responses were split along party lines, race and gender, with Republicans standing behind the legacy of Cheney and Democrats split on the issue. Minorities, women and younger people were more likely to reject the program while older white males accepted it.

The results aren’t earth shattering, considering the history of American society. Our treatment of indigenous Americans, African slaves, Chinese migrants and women in general has included systemic violence since before we were a country. Modern examples also support this premise. From what I understand, entertainment popular in the wake of the 9/11 attacks from 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, depicted torture as a viable means to extract critical information in a short period of time.  The poll results only clarify what we already knew.

I’m not innocent when it comes to using torture in my work. Both Smooth Operator and A Taste of Honey include torture scenes. The difference between my stories and other situations is the goal of the torturer. In my books, the torturer wants to punish the torture victim or use images of the torture victim to force action from a third party. The collection of information is secondary or not an issue at all. Based on my understanding of the subject, torture is not an effective way to gather information, but it’s a great way to display aggression, generate fear or act out repressed anger.

I think those of us who support CIA torture are less interested in intelligence and more interested in venting the feelings of rage and insecurity in the aftermath of 9/11. They accept torture because they imagine it acted out on someone who does not look like them or follow their beliefs. One of the few Republicans to speak out against torture was Senator John McCain. His position is influenced by his own experience as a POW tortured by the North Vietnamese. I’m sure if more Americans found themselves or their loved ones in the horrible position of being tortured, they’d be less likely to throw their support behind this program.