“Hitler Needs to be Laughed At.”
Dearest Actors, Entertainers, Filmmakers, Artists and Writers:
We Must Do More.
I know the drill. We’re artists. We’re tuned in to ourselves, or in other words, emotional as hell and life right now is crazy. We just want to sit there. Zone out, depressed and hopeless, gaslighting meets chaos meets destruction. Waiting for the Breaking News about — oh, yeah — the nukes. Because you know he’s gonna push the button. You know he’s gonna tweet the codes. You know he’s going to spin the voting system into a total mess where he can weasel his way into a Dictator while you slip into this obsession about whatever the latest total Twitter #meltdown #RESIST #THISISNOTNORMAL and forget about the thing you promised yourself you’d always do. So I have a request:
Get out of bed. Get the hell off Twitter. Create. Your. Art.
I get it. We’re in some sort of form of burnout, not artistic but instead election burnout, politics burnout. We’re on the Titanic and no one’s listening to us scream except for the fatalistic string quartet — oh yeah and #RESIST and #THISISNOTNORMAL and #HEHASTHECODES.
Before you tell me I don’t understand or I’m not in it with you, I’m a New York writer. I marched in the Women’s March. This year was the first year I actually registered in the Democratic party, so sure that the world was on the up and up. Thanks Hillary, thanks Bernie, thanks Obama, everyone’s the same now, everyone gets it, America has finally been realized and then OMG WTF. I was floored that Donald Trump spent almost two years getting ahead by telling a lie — over and over and over again. I was dumbfounded when he won every election and I was floored and numbed and heartbroken about the way things turned out. The idealistic regime that we’ve witnessed over the eight years was over. Lying became okay. Pissing on each other became okay. Not defending civil liberties, human rights and dignity became okay, hate become okay, and I sat on my couch and I gained five pounds in cinnamon rolls and I collapsed into a pool of liberal tears in front of my 15-month old daughter thanking God that I didn’t have to explain to her what “Grab her by the pussy” meant. I tweeted, I retweeted, I yelled out on social media, “we have to do something!” But it’s not enough. Not near enough.
The safety of 140 characters is not the world we should be living in. In order to make our voices heard, we have to march, we have to protest, but as artists, we have to do more. We have a responsibility to pick up a paintbrush, a camera, a keyboard, a trumbone, a drum set, a piece of paper and pen, an etch-a-sketch if we have to. We need to do what we were born to do:
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
— Toni Morrison, The Nation (2015)
Yes, the world is collapsing, yes, the doomsday clock is half a minute closer to midnight, yes, Trump’s beginning has weird similarities to Hitler’s, yes, Russia screwed people over, yes, the GOP is standing by while Bannon seems to strategize disorder into the heart of America. Yes, Paul Ryan & Mitch McConnell are hypocrites. Yes, the President is more concerned with his crowd sizes and his popular vote win than Russia’s meddling in our election, yes, America’s Democracy has been downgraded, yes, the unthinkable is thinkable, the world is coming to an end, yes, Star Wars 4, 5 and 6 are always going to be better than the rest of them. Nemo is brilliant, Sistine’s Chapel is beautiful and 1984 is one hell of a book and thank God it’s a bestseller again. How can we possibly wake in the morning when the world seems to grow darker everyday?
Not tweets. Not riots. Not yelling matches. Not violence. Art.
In 1940, as the United States was approaching World War 2, the time of the real Hitler, mind you, Charlie Chaplin wrote, directed and produced a film called “The Great Dictator.” Chaplin made the film, a comedy, nonetheless, about a Jewish barber who was mistaken for Hitler, because, he said, “Hitler needed to be laughed at.”
The film just about ruined Chaplin’s career. His next film flopped, he was watched by the FBI, questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and — fun fact — was put on Hitler’s death list. But it was indeed a success, commercial and otherwise.
Almost 80 years later, “The Great Dictator” is widely thought to be Chaplin’s masterpiece. The film ends with Chaplin’s “Hitler” rejecting the role of Dictator and giving a 4-minute speech on the rights of men. The film and the speech are both extremely relevant today.
As an artist, you have a right to be a concerned citizen of the United States, a concerned citizen of the world, yes, YOU have a right to be not just angry but PISSED OFF. This election, this world, seemed stolen from you by a lying, narcissistic, egotistical man and his amazing spinster, and RUSSIA. But for others, democracy worked. What are you going to do about it?
*“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their jobs. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching tv as some newscaster tells us that we’ve had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be!
“We know things are bad — worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my Twitter and my TV and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’
“Well I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest, I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the lying and the taxation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is first you’ve got to get mad! You’ve got to say, “I’m an artist, goddamnit! My work has value!”
“So, I want you to get up right now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the sketchpads and your keyboards and laptops and cameras. Open it and stick your head in and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
“Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad. You’ve got to say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Then we’ll figure out what to do about the lying and taxation and depression and the Twitter crisis. But first, get up, get out of your chairs, go to your canvas, stick your head in and yell, and say it, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”“*
Create your art. Now more than ever, the world needs it.
*Speech taken from “Network,” written by Paddy Chavesky (1976)