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Something is Wrong in the Arts.
Allow me to introduce myself:
My name is Clifton Duncan.
I was an introverted, nerdy illustrator as a kid; a band geek and wannabe-amateur-battle rapper as a teen and young adult; and then I took the natural step of taking on exorbitant student loans and earning my Masters in Fine Arts degree from New York University’s Graduate Acting Program, one of the premiere conservatories in the United States (the runner-ups being Juilliard and the Yale School of Drama).
After escap—that is, graduating from the program, I spent the next decade building a body of work of which I’m exceedingly proud, excelling on both stage and screen, in a variety of genres, ranging from modern drama to musical theatre to British slapstick comedy.
Yet, after my career began to blossom in 2017, I’ve since gained notoriety for not being allowed to act.
It isn’t lost on me that in the decade since graduating from such an esteemed institution, and making all manner of sacrifices, honing my craft on stages all across the continent, braving the auditions and crushing rejections, steadily climbing the ladder of the industry, all in a myopic pursuit of “making it” (whatever that means)…I’ve had nowhere near as much of an impact, and nowhere near as much reach, as I have enjoyed (dubiously) in just the last three years.
So, then, what changed?
Well, two things:
The world has gone certifiably mad.
I began to say what I actually think.
As for the first item, I stand by my assertion that our society, American society, has plunged into utter madness, coaxed there by a complex system of algorithmic manipulations, cretinous punditry and press, a morally and intellectually bankrupt political class, and an education system that seems to exist for no other purpose than producing graduates who are significantly dumber upon exit than they were upon entry.
Amidst all the tumult—from anti-Trump hysteria, to race wars, to gender wars, to global health delirium—I somehow emerged in the right place at the right time, having met some of the right people, and have gained a sizeable following simply by offering an alternative perspective to the prevailing madness.
Yet I suppose what makes me especially unique, is that I offer these perspectives having emerged from a field in which having any perspective other than that which is assigned by the editors at MSNBC or The New York Times—whom you probably shouldn’t trust, by the way—can legitimately endanger, if not outright kill, your career.
It is the strangest thing in the world to me, that Artists—Actors, Singers, Musicians, Writers, etc—who, of all people, should fiercely defend the rights of the individual; who should understand more than most the importance of free speech; and who should be among the first lines of defense against government overreach; have, in just three years time, become some of the most destructively communitarian, censorious, authoritarian automatons imaginable.
They, of course, do not see themselves this way; in their collective mind, they are on the vanguard of “Progress” and of “change”, crusading mightily against the forces of evil (generally speaking, anyone to the Right of Karl Marx), protecting the vulnerable, and securing themselves a spot in the hallowed Right Side of History. No one can doubt their sincerity, nor their earnestness of intent.
And yet, as is well known by even those with a cursory understanding of history and humanity…horrific results can spring from virtuous motivations.
For my part, I am lumped in with the evildoers, not so much because I identify as Conservative in my politics (generally, I do not), but because I’ve committed the sin of apostasy, daring to diverge from what I derisively call The Blue Cult, particularly when it comes to Identity Politics (an especially egregious offense coming from a Black man like myself).
But the question is:
In a sane world, a world not driven mad by white hot partisan divides, it shouldn’t matter that I, or anyone else, disagrees with “Progressives” on certain issues.
If I criticize Feminist ideology, does that impact my ability to interpret a character?
If I take issue with radically re-organizing the whole of society, likely causing mass immiseration and death, in response to environmental issues, should that suddenly render me unfit to share the stage with Broadway’s best and brightest?
If I dare recognize that, yes, human beings are a sexually dimorphic species, does that mean I—or anyone—should be barred from employment?
The answer to all of those questions, to a sensible person, is of course “No”.
And yet there is not a single Actor—not one who is not already well-established, anyway—who would dare offer an opinion counter to the current sociocultural zeitgeist, because they know it would seriously jeopardize their career, if not end it outright.
Thus, there they sit, dead-eyed and quiet, in rehearsal studios, on TV and film sets, in dressing rooms and at craft services, speaking in innuendo and euphemism, never sharing their true opinions, timidly gliding across razor-thin ice on egg-shell skates, biting their tongues and hoping no one finds out their deep, dark secret:
They may not be entirely “Progressive”.
They may not be Democrats.
Worst of all: they might even understand Economics.
Flippancy aside, I do not understand, and strenuously object to, a world in which Artists, of all people, are afraid to speak their minds. Or, more specifically, a world in which Artists who do not subscribe to a Left-wing perspective are afraid to speak their minds.
Don’t we want robust discussion? Don’t we want Artists to be able to debate and disagree on these issues, to stir controversy, to challenge the dominant narratives from all perspectives?
Wouldn’t Artists given the freedom to disagree without fear more adequately represent the wide-ranging views of the public they serve, and thus create work that is more likely to resonate with them, and thereby organically move toward the “Diverse” and “Inclusive” society that “Progressives” crave?
Again, reasonable people would answer, emphatically, “Yes!”
But—and I am sure this is something we can all agree on:
We are, sadly, unreasonable people, living in desperately unreasonable times.
And our Artists, unfortunately, are partially responsible.
Hopefully, this Substack will serve as sunlight to an infected culture.
What else am I to do, anyway, but speak my mind and express myself authentically?
…It’s not as though I have a career to protect.
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