“If it wasn’t for the honor of it, I just soon not have been blacklisted.” That epic quote came from Lee Hays of the famous 1940’s/1950’s pop group, The Weavers. The Weavers had several major hits in that bygone era, like “If I Had A Hammer,” “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” and “Irene Goodnight.” They also sang about the common man. The Weavers dignified the plight of labor and the lives of ordinary men and women left behind in society. For that audacity, they found themselves blacklisted along with many other important creators of the time.
I fear that there are many artists and writers now, who don’t know of the terrible Blacklist. Between the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Joe McCarthy’s senate counterpart, no writer, singer, painter, actor or director was safe to produce their art. The “Red Scare” encouraged a fervent and sickening policy of rooting out communists, which meant going after anyone that had something to say beyond the approved text. It was the philosophy de jure. Ironically, this type of Fascism had reached our American shores only a couple of years after we had given so many of our native sons to its defeat in Nazi Germany. We don’t learn lessons well evidently.
You could actually be hauled in front of congress to explain what you wrote, what you sung, what you thought and who your friends were. Congress disparaged many and even jailed some for contempt, like Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten. The real blow however, was dealt by the artist’s and writer’s own friends and champions. Their employers, once childishly fawning over them, now refused to publish their books, sell their records, make their movies or display their paintings. These fickle cowards would deny them any commercial gain whatsoever, ruining them beyond even what the congressional witch-hunt could. These were studio heads, publishers, record executives and even Walt Disney himself. How do you feel about Mickey Mouse now? No one dragged in front of that committee would be hired to produce anything. They lost their reputations, their homes and their livelihoods all because they did two simple things. The created what they felt in their hearts and they rebuffed any attempt to silence or impugn them. It cost them dearly, but it cost this county even more.
So when I hear some of my fellow creators of art (and by the way I have been similarly guilty) talk about quitting because creating their art is too hard, doesn’t pay, or makes them feel unappreciated, I tremble with fear and anger. We can’t use these gifts solely for monetary gain or to enable an upgrade of our fragile status. We can’t create because it looks good on a Facebook banner or in a Twitter feed. We come from a long line of creative souls and though we may not all live up to their talents; we all have a responsibility to create, simply because they could not. I say this to myself in the mirror and not upon some soapbox. Plainly put, I’m sorry that you have been dealt the gift, but now just deal with it please. There was a time when our compatriots so desperately wanted to use their gifts and were so cruelly denied. It doesn’t seem possible that something like the Blacklist could occur again, but maybe believing that it can’t is what makes it all the more possible that it could.
Mark Elliott – Runaway Home
“Its The Music That Makes Us Smile”