So Ricky Gervais did a photo shoot and asked a bunch of questions over at HuffPo. Here’s my take on one particular image and then, since he asks a few questions that are somewhat provocative, I’ll take a stab at answering them.
The photo of him posing as a Christ-figure is worth addressing because it is most likely to generate controversy for obvious reasons. My first reaction was, frankly, disappointment. That’s the best he can do? I happen to think Mr. Gervais is hilarious, and his funniest material is usually the most provocative, but this one just fell flat.
After all, how many times are we going to be subjected to some knock-off of the Christ pose, which is obviously intended to inflame Christians? In short, it’s been done to death. Christians are an easy target and it doesn’t take much imagination, or cajones, to take pot shots at them. In America, it’s perfectly fine to hate on the Christians.
If Mr. Gervais had real cajones, he would have created an image that is offensive to Jews. Even though anti-Semitism runs deep and wide in this country, and often goes unrecognized and unreported, it’s still not so easy to openly hate on the Jews. There are enough organizations and individuals that will defend us against anything remotely offensive, but the social price is high enough that Mr. Gervais is too smart to risk his career.
Nor is he likely to provide an image offensive to militant Muslims. As John Nolte pointed out, they will literally take your head off if they don’t get the joke. Not only is Mr. Gervais likely fond of his head, Muslims are presently in the company of the P.C. Police. He’d likely to go P.C. jail for taking a swipe in that territory.
What would’ve been provocative, and done free speech and comedians in general a great service, is to have worn a Tracy Morgan mask and replaced “ATHIEST” with “HOMOPHOBE”, while keeping the same pose. Now that would’ve burned a few barn doors off. As my old math teacher used to say, “There is no point in getting angry, unless one is going to get angrier and angrier to the end”.
But let’s move on to Mr. Gervais questions. Mr. Nolte dismissed the queries as being self-important. To an extent, I agree. The context in which these questions are presented lends a narcissistic edge to the whole presentation. Stripping away the context, however, we are left with intriguing questions. Mr. Gervais is no stranger to philosophy, misguided though he may sometimes be. Let’s not dismiss the value of the questions simply because we don’t like his theology (or lack thereof).
“What is a social conscience?”
I’m loathe to cite Wikipedia, but the definition therein is pretty concise and works for me.
In short, “to be aware of the problems that different societies and communities face on a day-to-day basis”.
Does it involve positive action, or simply awareness?
Awareness. It is to be “conscious of”, and any individual — even those utterly lacking in compassion — will have at least some minimal awareness of those problems simply based on daily interactions. It can involve positive action if one chooses. Of course, “positive action” is defined subjectively. Liberals will find vastly different methods to address problems than Conservatives, while politicians in general will certainly leave everyone worse off, while driving the getaway car with piles of money in the trunk.
“What is art?”
I’ve already written about the difference between “high art” and “popular art”. But I will say this: utilizing the criteria set out in the linked essay, Mr. Gervais’ photo is just bad art.
And does being art automatically justify something?
I’m not sure what he is asking here. Comments welcome.
Does art have its own conscience? Or is it amoral?
The work itself is simply an inanimate object. Just as a gun is. A gun itself, like art, is inert. Both are amoral and have no conscience.
Can there be art that is so bad that it is no longer art?
No, it’s just bad art.
And could art be great art but cause great harm?
The question is vague because “harm” is not defined, nor is “great”. Can high art hurt someone’s feelings or offend? Unquestionably, yes. Further, in examining the criteria of high art, there is nothing that prohibits such a work from causing “great harm”. Take, for example, the art produced by the Third Reich, including Leni Riefensthal’s Triumph of the Will and Olympia. These films are considered to be seminal pieces of film history, of filmmaking, and of art. Did they cause great harm? The Third Reich was evil. One valid argument is that anything it produced is fruit of the poisonous tree — and therefore, evil. I’d give that answer to be an unqualified “yes”.
Can art “cause” anything?
You better believe it. A piece of art is an external stimulus. Therefore, a reaction or response is an effect from that stimulus.
Anyway, what photo of me is your favorite?
Hmmph. Maybe the questions weren’t as provocative as I first thought.