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The Artist and the Politician

Ed Hooks celebrates the role of the artist in a divisive and politically hostile environment. A presidential campaign stresses our differences; art seeks common goals.

The artist looks for ways to demonstrate that all people in the world are fundamentally the same. The politician looks for ways to show that one group of people is superior to another. It is therefore a little disconcerting to be an American in China during this Romney vs. Obama presidential campaign. Their constant squabbling over which man really “sent the jobs to China” is divisive, pitting Americans against Chinese.

I am working in Shanghai at the moment, lecturing at various universities about performance and story in animation, and I can report that the Chinese media is paying close attention to Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney.  The headlines here refer to the increasing volume of “China bashing” and predict that the inflammatory words will make post-election relations between the countries more difficult than it already is.

Why do political leaders in the United States make everything a zero-sum game?  Trust me, the Chinese do not wake up each morning eagerly scheming to grab as many American jobs as possible. China has a population of 1.4 billion, several times that of the U.S., a fact that drives down the cost of labor.  Nobody forces Apple and Microsoft executives to manufacture their products in China.  Market dynamics take care of that, good old American free enterprise competition.

We are all the same, we humans.  Every healthy human baby is born with the same innate ability to express the same basic seven emotions: happy, sad, angry, fear, surprise, contempt and disgust.  The first thing a baby does when she is born is try to live; the last thing a person does before she dies is try to live.  The mandate that draws all humanity together is our desire to live.  If we do not get the next generation into being, then we are dinosaurs.  And in order to produce the next generation, we must live in social groups.  And if we live in social groups, we must have develop behavior that will lead to successful survival.  The differences between humans are in survival strategies.  The fact that most U.S. citizens believe that God blesses America does not make it so.  That is merely the dominant survival strategy in that country.  People in India and China and Africa have other strategies, ones that do not include God blessing America, and those strategies are neither better nor worse.  “We. Are. All. The. Same.”  It is not helpful for America’s political leaders – or those of any other country - to blame other countries for their own problems.  The most destructive aspect of an American presidential election is that the words of blame are beamed into the homes of millions of people who do not know any better.  Did you know that only 14 percent of Americans have a passport?  True. There is a profound lack of curiosity about the rest of the world, and the political discourse   makes the situation worse, not better.  It fogs the air.

Xenophobia is not a solution to any problem.  A church on every street corner in the United States and a Hindu temple on every corner in India will not lead to iPhones being manufactured in Detroit instead of Yantai China, nor will it make American survival strategies any more valid than those of other cultures and societies.

The world needs to hear better stories.  Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama are telling a story of separation and despair.  It is up to the artists of the world, including those of us that create and produce animation, to counter this political divisiveness.  We are, as the host organization for my words reminds us, the Animation World Network.  We speak to the world.  For thousands of years, survival has been the mandate of the artist, to show how we humans are all the same and how we can thrive.  A baby born in one tribe is no different from a baby born in another tribe. A death in one tribe causes no more pain than a death in another.  We are all in the same boat, and we must not take our lead from our politicians. 

Pass it on.