For centuries, writers and artists have faced incarceration, death threats and governmental sanctions for creations deemed dangerous by the government and the church.
Still, they keep creating such pieces because they know that political messages delivered in sculpture, painting, graffiti, screen plays, music and novels have a powerful hold on the public’s attention and can sometimes spur action and change.
There are times the public seeks solace in such creations, whether newly penned or older works seeming to ring true in a new time. Take for example, George Orwell’s 1949 novel, “1984,” the story of a dystopian society manipulated and watched by a controlling government.
Today, Amazon reports that Orwell’s famed classic topped bestseller lists on Tuesday, following an incident this weekend. According to news accounts, the president’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, berated the press corps about their reporting on the size of the inauguration crowd in a press briefing. According to fact checkers from several media outlets, Spicer’s information was inaccurate. And on "Meet the Press," Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway said those were not fabrications or lies, but rather, “alternative facts.”
Conway's remarks led to the Twitter link, #alternativefacts, and comparisons to Orwell’s “newsspeak.”
Also this week, cartoonist and writer Nathan Gelgud published a version of one of his 2015 cartoons that makes a connection between Trump and the House Un-American Activities Committee anti-communist witch hunt led by Senator McCarthy in the 1950s.
Tied to McCarthy's hearings, resulting in the blacklisting of many celebrities and artists suspected of supporting the Communist agenda, was Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible.”
This week marks the 64th anniversary of Miller’s play about the Salem Witch Trials, written in response to Miller hearing friend, director and actor Elia Kazan name names while testifying before the committee.
In “The Crucible,” a young woman, Abigail Williams, after being questioned about her own occult activities, stands and names a lengthy list of people she said she has seen with the devil.
In reality, during the Salem Witch Trials, a woman named Abigail Williams accused about 57 people of witchcraft, according to court records.
Additionally, Miller defied the committee and refused to name suspected communists. Miller’s passport was denied when he tried to go the Brussels for the premiere of “The Crucible.” And he was convicted for contempt of court for not testifying for Mc Carthy. His charge was later reversed by the Supreme Court.
This week I saw an old episode of “Modern Family” where Manny was dressed as blacklisted and imprisoned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo for Halloween. The thing is, no one at the party knew who he was despite his costume being built around Trumbo’s famed bathtub and typewriter. And to add to my week of blacklisted connections, I saw the 2015 film, "Trumbo" that made evident the suffering of those blacklisted and imprisoned for refusing to name names.
Consider the music of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. Consider, the Beatles and John Lennon who the U.S. government wanted deported; Bob Dylan, just was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, was dubbed an anarchist in 1960s news accounts; and famed folk artist Pete Seeger who was found in contempt of the court and indicted after failing to give satisfactory testimony to the House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1955 and like Trumbo was imprisoned.
Tsar Nicholas I banned every novel French writer Victor Hugo wrote because of his unflattering depiction of royalty. And he was forced into exile for 15 years because of his creations. His famed “Les Miserables,” the tale of Jean Valjean’s rise from extreme poverty was listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum — the Catholic Church's list of forbidden books — from 1864 to 1959.
John Steinbeck was highly criticized for his allegoric tale of a small town in “The Moon is Down,” which he wrote in opposition to World War II.
The fatwa (death bounty) placed on the head of British Indian author Salman Rushdie for his mythical tale, “The Satonic Verses, ”originally issued by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was renewed in 2016 with a new bounty of $600,000 for his death.
Not to mention that artists and professors were among the first transported and killed in Adolph Hitler's death camps for their voiced political opposition.
Thousands of artists have paid a high price and many have sacrificed their lives in depicting what they see as injustice or dangerous practices by governments and other leaders. I think it will be interesting to see what new works develop in the midst of the nation’s current turmoil.