Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I’m sure many of my readers think the word that might best describe my frame of mind lately is “doomscroller,” and I’m not sure that’s wrong. It’s hard to avoid the weight of everything going on in this era, hard to care about Will Smith smacking Chris Rock when children are absorbing Vladimir Putin’s wrath in suburban Kyiv every night.
This makes me wonder what the place of art is in times like these. Do people want/need gut-wrenching honesty, like the work dished out by WWI poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon? Or are they looking for a soft feelgood vibe like Fred Astaire and Marx Brothers Depression-era movies? Does it even matter what they want? Shouldn’t artists be among the ones who lead at times like this?
In the midst of the pandemic, I finished my new novel, The Prospect. It’s got that feelgood vibe. I purposely set it in a contemporary but nonspecific time before covid (and before the National League DH!) so I wouldn’t have to deal with the gigantic disruptions caused by the virus, or by MLB’s dumb decisions. I hope it offers readers a little break from the heavy stuff.
Just last year, probably in response to the world’s upheavals, I started writing poetry out of the blue, some of it on the darker side but mostly more absurdist, befitting the times. I don’t do dark very easily, but a lot of writers do—it comes naturally to them. They must be overwhelmed with the material coming at them every day now, though maybe it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Too easy in these End Times.
But whether it’s through a darker approach or through humor and light, art ought to be able to guide, reveal truth, and help us understand what we’re going through as humans. Not sure I’m seeing that happen, are you? It feels like our entertainment culture isn’t capable of rising to this once-a-century occasion. It’s intent on pretending that everything is perfectly fine and we can keep shopping and eating out and following those castaways on Survivor.
I don’t know. What should we expect? Who should be speaking to us now through art? Filmmakers? Dancers? Playwrights? Collagists? Where is Picasso when we need him? (The modern Guernica would be titled Mariupol.)
I know there are writers and other artists out there struggling with this, but maybe the problem is that they no longer have access to the larger markets where their works could make a difference. Superheroes and zombies and kitsch have displaced them, which means we’re left to our own self-preserving instincts to get through all of this, and we’re limited to half-developed ideas about what it all means.
Artists do the hard work most of us can’t to reach for enlightenment and insight. We need them now.