In our culture we rarely have room to explore our darkness in our books, movies, and music without debasing ourselves. Such exploration, be it through horror novels or sometimes harsh music, can allow us to examine our darker sides and even, by seeing our darker sides, to self-correct. This isn’t anything new. Making an argument against a certain viewpoint by showing the negative conclusion to which it ultimately leads has been called via negativa, or the “way of the negative.”

Yet, there is dueling trend in our culture, where the marketplace exploits and promulgates certain images. From depicting women as prostitutes to the proliferation of the N-word (a vicious and demeaning word with a history of death and dehumanization behind it) in both our movies and music, it’s like we’re taking the worst of who we are and marketing it as something to aspire to. In our exuberance to keep topping ourselves, keep pushing those boundaries, we’ve forgotten who we are.

Flirting with the indecent has led to innovations: from the blues to rock ‘n roll to hip hop, to the rise of the independent film, to books we wouldn’t otherwise be able to read. Going against the grain has always made the artist stand out. There’s a fine line we artists should be walking, with the responsibility of the artist being to consider quite seriously the idea that we may be glorifying or somehow making cool or acceptable the dark and macabre things of this world.

I don’t want this to be read as a call for the indecency police. There’s a time for the incendiary, the edginess, but we don’t want our normative state to be angry and edgy. And while the via negative allows us to wrestle with despair and sometimes see or find the beauty in the darkness, that gives too much credit to too many of our so-called artists.

We’ve lost our sense of shame. We’ve lost our sense of honor. In so doing, we’ve lost our sense of character. We witness the coarsening our language and the dulling of our conscience. So we need to realize that while we don’t need to censor artists, our eyes work, our ears work, and we know where the stop button is.

Apologies for the random rant.

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