Wednesday, December 28, 2016

We Are The Fools (And We Always Have Been)

In the days of yore, the court's fool occupied a unique position. While the fool was there to be laughed at, to caper and to have ridicule heaped upon him, he was also freed from many of the societal restrictions everyone else in the court had to abide by. If he wanted to talk trash to the duke, or comment on someone's unfaithful wife in public, he was often allowed to do it. The fool didn't always get away with it, but the very fact that he could say these things and live to jest another day was a kind of power that was hard to cope with.

Some clowns are more amusing than others.
(And since so many complaints have come in, photo is by Pat Loika from San Diego Comic Con.)
This isn't a privilege accorded only to those dressed in Harlequin and making fart jokes, though. The power of the creative to stand up, and reflect society back at itself has been a part of every culture. We saw it in the theater in ancient Greece, as well as in ancient China. We saw it in the works of painters and poets, and we've seen it in the works of novelists. Those who have an ability to create are the jesters of society.

Because even when we say something that pisses people off, everyone knows it's kind of our job to say it.

Hamilton, and The Idea of Creative Power

The news exploded when Vice President elect Mike Pence was recently asked by the cast of Hamilton to remember that it is his job to protect the rights of all U.S. citizens during his time in office. This doesn't sound like the sort of thing you'd need to remind the incoming Vice President of, except that Pence's record in Indiana has shown a startling comfort with discrimination, and putting religious principals over equal rights. Those tendencies did serious damage to Indiana while he was governor, and given the context of Hamilton as a play, it seemed as good a time as any to point out that people want reassurance from their leaders that they will be protected.

Especially when a lot of the country feels about as safe as this cameraman.
This provoked outrage, and no small amount of backlash. One of the biggest messages, particularly from those on the conservative side of politics, was that the cast should shut up, and do their jobs. They aren't here to provide political commentary, they're here to be entertaining.

Of course, it's unlikely that anyone who said those words aloud had any idea what Hamilton was about.

The broader point, though, is that there's nothing unusual about the cast's message. We've seen the same situations regarding authors of books people wanted banned, filmmakers whose movies spoke out on particular issues, and from actors who have played controversial roles. Stories don't exist in a vacuum, and it is impossible to keep them "pure". Politics is everywhere, and everything has a message in it, somewhere.

So, if you want to write a book, ask about the message you're trying to send. Because every performance is talking about something, whether it's oppression of the people by a government, the constraints of monogamy on modern women, or commenting on how society views and treats veterans, there's always something being said.

Lastly, don't shy away from your message if you have something to say. Even (or especially) if you know that saying it is going to upset some people. Because you are a fool, and you've got a proud tradition standing behind you. So if you've got a barbed commentary buried just under the surface, let it fly. Because if you don't say it, then who will?

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing post. Hopefully some folks found it interesting, or at least thought provoking. If you'd like to help support me and my work, and you don't want to stop by my Amazon Author Page, you could check out The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page instead. All it takes is $1 pledged per month for you to get some sweet swag of your own. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter, well, now would be a great time to start.


  1. I have been told by fans of certain politicians that I should not be making jokes about them...and it stops me for about two seconds. But then again, one of my professional goals was funny political columnist.

  2. ...on the other hand, perhaps it's a bit foolish of you to use Anthony Misiano's work on your blog without attributing it.