Creators and performers that reach their audience have a kind of power ordinary people don’t have. The things they say and do take on a certain significance because of the trouble they took in order to make it happen. People often recognize the extra effort and they respond to it attentively.
As Neil Simon says in the movie version of Biloxi Blues, “People believe whatever they read. Something magical happens once its put down on paper. They figure no one would have gone through the trouble if it wasn't the truth.”
He was discussing journals and news. That kind of power has always made journalism a very dangerous business. If it’s in “the paper,” that is, in a public place with some pizzazz, someone will believe it.
Only now everyone is posting “news” all the time, or their opinion on it, and everyone has access to these writings. The only rule seems to be: the more controversial your statement, the more people will be exposed to it. And if Neil Simon is correct, nearly everyone is going to believe whatever they see, at least at first.
Even though it takes almost no energy to make a Facebook post, someone reading one will still feel as though it’s important, because why would someone have gone to the trouble of posting it otherwise? Despite what we know about the internet, our bias persists. We grant significance to insignificant statements once they are written down.
So the evil that I do with a careless statement, a misunderstood fact, even an opinion not carefully considered, is multiplied immensely. I essentially have newspaper power with every word I utter, and so does everyone else. Is it any wonder so many of us feel that we are going crazy?
Yet creative and performing artists have a special part to play, if we’re good enough. Because however important a statement appears when it is posted, it is quickly supplanted by the millions of other statements. So if I create or perform something that is of substance, that touches someone, that has the power to last longer than the average tweet, my multiplied power has the ability to counteract that evil.
That kind of writing, of composing, of performing, takes craft. The same craft it always took. Only now, it’s more important than ever.