The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Artist's Responsibility

The current health care debate is the best (or worst) example of people looking at the same situation and coming up with very different answers. It's going to be fascinating to look at all this in ten years, and see who says what about the varying arguments. I think each side believe that the other is lying with statistics, but it is most interesting to listen to those who have a potentially selfish motivation: listen to those without insurance who want a government plan, and those WITH insurance who don't want to be taxed for a public plan. It is interesting to see how self-interest plays out in this, because ultimately any wide-scale plan has to appeal to naked self-interest, or it just won't pass. And shouldn't.


Two more days 'til "District 9" and I really want to love this movie. And I am still just a little nervous about a movie set in South Africa, using Apartheid as a metaphor, that seems to have so few blacks in roles as anything other than background. And criminals. Not a good thing, but a very typical result when one group gets to reinforce and/or express its attitudes and deep belief structures about "the other." Science fiction has a reputation for being progressive about these things, and I believe that reputation is undeserved. But hope springs eternal.


When at "Writers With Drinks" I read the beginning of SHADOW VALLEY, which is a creation myth. Sitting at my table were a pair of gay ladies, one of whom very politely requested that in the future I consider using gender-free pronouns, and including a female point of view more in the piece. I was a little confused, and promised her that I'd look into the very least, if I have a stretch of prose from a masculine POV, I should do it deliberately. But when I re-read the passage, I realized that I HAD included both points of view. Very deliberately: the world was created by a Spider (male) and a Butterfly (female) and I wanted their differing perspectives and influence to affect the world as we experience it. So I think I'm safe. But if I had decided to make the perspective all male, that would have been my right--just as if a white person decides to exclude black people from a given work. Fine. But if I excluded women, I couldn't then claim that my work is feminist, could I? Worse, if only my male characters had full humanity, and all the female characters were homicidal sluts (for instance) it would seem odd to claim that I was being sensitive to a female perspective. I think that's my point. Leave us out of it...sure. If we're in, then the rough percentage of roles will indicate what the artist believes about the social and racial structure of society and the world. He or she has no responsibility to be "Liberal" about such things. But don't appropriate painful imagery for the sake of your own entertainment, and then claim an enlightened perspective. I've seen this kind of thing too often.

But it does raise the question about artistic responsibility. I believe an artist's only responsibility is to be aware that what we create represents who we are, and to be prepared to be judged and evaluated on that basis. That we can't really hide, no matter how much comfort there might be in such withdrawal. Art, in my mind, is expression of the deep self, through the use of progressively refined skills. From that perspective, an artist has only the same responsibility we all have: to be awake and adult, to take responsibility, to tell the truth as they see it.

What do you think an artist's responsibility is, or should be?


Marty S said...

From my point of view the media has become so biased it is sickening. CNN had a poll on their own website that was supposed to be a report card on Obama's first 200 days. They asked ten questions and one of these was on health care reform. Its overall grade was D with 49% of those answering giving it an F. Now these types of polls are not terribly reliable, but this sort of response on a liberal leaning site does tend show some general dissatisfaction with health care reform. So why did CNN coverage of the town meetings lean towards the orchestrated by opponents point of view and not mention their own poll. Health care reform, congress, Republican leadership and the media all got D's in the poll. The worst D went to the media and they deserve it.

Steve: On your statement that those opposed are against it because they don't want to be taxed I greatly differ. Every single person I know who opposes it, opposes it because of fear they will get worse health care with the government involved. Particularly us older people are concerned the government will ration our health care. On CNN there was a an interesting juxtaposition the other day on this subject. Their in house expert was answering viewers concerns about health care reform. She ended the segment with the words That those on medicare are happy, so we shouldn't worry. Cut to commercial which start with the words "Medicare coverage is not enough you need supplemental coverage." and then goes on to plug the AARP's coverage as best.
I and my wife would definitely favor a program that helped subsidize health care for those who can't afford the complete cost on their own even if it would increase taxes, as long as the government itself doesn't get involved in providing insurance and making health care decisions.
One more point. My company one year changed its medical options offering a choice of four different plans. Since we employees paid part of the cost you could save money by taking a cheaper plan. A majority of employees chose the cheapest plan. They were uniformly unhappy with it so next year they mostly switched to plan that other employees were most happy with. Competition means those plans that are bad will eventually disappear, while better plans survive. A single national plan will have no competition to make it better.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Every single person I know who opposes it, opposes it because of fear they will get worse health care with the government involved.

Afraid that the government will get involved with medicare? Of course it's a government program to begin with ...

as long as the government itself doesn't get involved in providing insurance and making health care decisions.

Making health care decisions I agree with. Don't see the problem with providing insurance.

As to rationing, we have that now. It's just done by private, for-profit companies.


Artist's responsibility? Tell the truth as you understand it. Beyond that I had a nuclear-blackmail story I wrote once -- got far enough into it to see how plausible it looked, and shelved it. So there's some social responsibility as well.

Reluctant Lawyer said...

The artist's responsibility: 1) Tell a good story (or paint a good painting, etc), and 2) do not increase the total amount of suffering in the world (which is everyone's responsibility anyway.)

Kami said...

Every single person I know who opposes it, opposes it because of fear they will get worse health care with the government involved.

Afraid that the government will get involved with medicare? Of course it's a government program to begin with ...

Actually I read Marty's post to mean that Medicare, which the government is already involved in, is falling short and people feel the need for supplementary care. I didn't read it to mean that he was afraid the government would get involved in Medicare.

I too worry about quality. Other countries may have better quality health care than we do with government involvement, however, how does their government run overall? If their government system is more efficient than ours or is set up to support health care (whereas we're starting a big experiment here,) then you're comparing apples and oranges. The other thing--how long did it take these programs that are supposedly better than US health care overall to get rolling and provide well for the people? It may be that a lot of the stories we hear about Canadian health care, for example, aren't untrue, but simply outdated.

All that probably reads as hostile or implying we should be under a more socialist government (which I strongly don't believe) but I mean them as serious questions. It's not only difficult to get good data, but properly contextualized data.

And sometimes the information simply isn't there in a useful form because no one has looked at it.

Daniel Keys Moran said...


Medicare is the most popular medical care in the country, by a lot, based on the satisfaction surveys of the people who get it.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

"People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."
-- from Investor's Business Daily editorial on "death panels"

"I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS [National Health Service]. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived."
-- Stephen J. Hawking, who has motor neurone disease, was born in the UK, and has lived there his entire life

Reluctant Lawyer said...

What amazes me with the healthcare debate right now is the blatant lies that are being told. I have no problem with people debating whether UHC (or anything close to it) would bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people, but come on. The Stephen Hawking lie - hell, not only is it a lie but its easily verifiable.

The death panels - Yes, Obama wants to kill off all the old people. It will be just like Logan's run. Or better yet, solve the problem of hunger in this country with Soylent Geezer.

Setting up a system to provide better health care to the nation's people is going to require a lot of thought and discussion, which I welcome. But this... how did it happen?

What happened to my country?

Steve Perry said...

Soylent Geezer. I like that one. Nice turn.

Mark Jones said...

"Soylent Geezer is made from people!*"

*People 65 years of age or older. Soylent Geezer is packaged by weight, not volume. Some settling of contents has probably occurred.

Marty S said...

Let's look at the issue in terms of the Terri Schiavo case. In one of the most ludicrous actions ever take by the government pro-life forces got the government involved where had no business. It tried to force someone who was an absolute vegetable to be kept alive. But now suppose the government is paying a considerable sum to keep Terri Schiavo alive. Does it now have the right to tell the family to pull the plug if they are not so inclined. I don't think the government should be making the decision in that direction any more than in the other. If the government can make that decision then you are indeed on the slippery slope toward Logan's Run. After all given the current demographics what is the government's biggest economic problem if not the elderly and soon to be elderly.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

The disconnect on this subject is fascinating.

Marty, the scenario you describe -- person on government health care, tons being spent to keep him/her alive -- happens all the time. It's not a theoretical case, Medicare, WHICH IS A GOVERNMENT PROGRAM, encounters that situation on a regular basis, and it's never shut anyone off.

The only examples I know of where people in that circumstance got screwed was when private insurance decided that it was paying too much to keep people alive. THAT one's happened.

Marty S said...

Dan: Yes medicare and medicaid which are government funded have not been a total disaster medically. But they are not part of a universal health care program like those in other countries. They have also grown extremely expensive. Will people continue to be happy in the future after cost cutting is implemented. Who knows?
Now if UHC is implemented will there be "death panels" that make the decision to pull the plug or not on someone? I'm at least 99% certain the answer is no. But will there be panels that make decisions that result in determining who lives and dies? I'm certain there will be. Any search on prioritization of medical procedures in New Zeland, Canada, UK etc will show that there are panels which determine the priority of who gets what medical procedures in what order and these priority scheme don't just take into account medical urgency. They also take into account social factors like is the person working. My concern is over situations similar to that of my wife. She has Barrets disease, which each year has a small probability of resulting in cancer of the esophagus. Survival rates for this cancer is very low if not caught very early. Consequently she has periodic upper GIs to make sure that she is not cancerous. If prioritization schemes result in longer times between exams this could easily result in her death.

suzanne said...

But will there be panels that make decisions that result in determining who lives and dies? I'm certain there will be.

as though there aren't with the insurance companies!
the comp[anies through panels
or individual pencil pushers
when they drop someone
or deny a procedure

c'mon now!

let's face it
we're all going to die
and this outrageous and unwarranted fear
that somehow covering the uninsured
will assure that the insured
will become "victims"
gets my hair up

and an FYI

Terry Pratchett with Alzheimer's
on assisted suicide

Steven Barnes said...

I don't think raised taxes are the only reason. Just listening to what the opposition says, and that has come up a LOT. There will still be competition from private companies, especially from "riders" providing advanced services. As for government officials making decisions...I have no preference for Insurance company executives making them, either. But that's what happens. The thing I REALLY want is an option to buy-in to the largest possible pool of insurees. If people aren't happy with the coverage, they won't buy in. If they ARE happy...well, the game changes, and for the better, I think.

Steven Barnes said...

I'd like to, once again, thank Marty for providing a lucid window into the genuine, reasonable fears of a segment of our country. I wish to God that our town halls could be so civil.

Steve Perry said...

One I've wrestled with:

Broadcast Standards and Practices -- BS&P --at the TV networks, keeps an eye on what you can or cannot say in a script. Goes back to the old Hayes Code days, and mostly comes down to sexual references, for live action.

Clever writers get around this -- Barnes has a funny story about Baywatch when he was writing for them ...

BS&P keeps a closer watch on kidvid, on the notion that what is called imitable behavior needs to be monitored. If you have a character wrapping a rope around his neck and jumping off the couch in your Saturday morning toon, it will be cut. Nobody wants to see children trying that at home. Guns, knives, broken glass, mixing household chemicals, swiping Dad's scotch, babies in peril, stuff like tend to be a big no-no. (The cartoon embedded in the movie Who Killed Roger Rabbit was done to break all those taboos, a kind of in-joke by the writers.)

Cartoon Conan can have a sword and he can smack people with the flat of it on the arse, but he isn't going to cut anybody. Most of the martial arts look like aikdo, which involves throwing people, who almost always land on a mattress, pile of cardboard boxes, or a haystack without needles, so nobody gets hurt.

Blowing up robots is okay, because most kids don't have sentient bots, nor rayguns with which to shot them.

In one episode of Batman: The Animated Show, I had Bats go up against a ninja, who used a shuriken (that little star-shaped throwing knife). They wouldn't show that one in the U.K. because of that.

You have to take note of such things when you write for some media.

If you know how to smuggle a gun onto a plane through the metal detectors, you can write that into your novel. If you know how to easily defeat most police body armor, you can do that, too, but you have to consider how you'll feel if somebody uses your method because they read it in your book, and hijacks the jets, or mows down half the Mayberry Sheriff's Department .

I recall a sniper incident in New Orleans thirty-some years ago. Guy shot and killed several people from an office building rooftop. Cops rushed him, he offed himself, and in his backpack, along with a lot of ammo, they found a novel about a guy who was a sniper, with the how-to passages underlined.

How would you like to have written that one?

I once read a pretty good book that offered, in some detail, how to shut down the L.A. freeway system. Same writer did another one showing how you could make an atomic bomb. I wouldn't have done either of those. People sometimes think I did -- the writer has a similar name.

This gets tricky, where you draw that line.

It's not your responsibility if you sell somebody a bread knife and they use it to murder half a daycare -- unless you had some idea they were planning on using the knife for something other than bread.

But as a writer, you don't know your audience, and there are a lot of loons out there ...

tablet pc android said...

The chap is absolutely just, and there is no question. said...

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Johnson said...

"Soylent Geezer is made from people!*" *People 65 years of age or older. Soylent Geezer is packaged by weight, not volume. Some settling of contents has probably occurred.

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