Rather than write an essay for my American Politics class, I spent last Sunday binge-watching the first half of Making A Murder. This was not how I had initially planned my day, but despite my lethargy, it proved to be a surprisingly educational way of spending my time. Now, roughly 10-and-a-half hours later, I’ve learned more about the American criminal justice system from Netflix than I have from any of my classes.This is not to say that my classes haven’t tried to provide me with this knowledge. I’m sure they have. But two-hour lectures are dull, and rarely form a lasting impression on my easily forgetful brain.What isn’t dull, however, is film. And perhaps that’s why I learned more from the first season of Making A Murderer than I learned from the first season of POL203.Within the realm of academia, art rarely gets the credit it truly deserves. This isn’t a surprising statement coming from the Arts & Culture editor, but it sure is a loaded one. You probably enjoyed The Force Awakens, and so you’re probably wondering why you’re being antagonized for not appreciating art. What I mean to say is that we often sideline our artistic interests in pursuit of other academic endeavors.For the most part, we choose a field of study based on what we as students believe to be most valuable in the post-undergrad world, and — with the exception of philosophy students — we base these choices on what will earn us the most money come time to have to afford grown-up things.In doing so, we shove our inner artist to the side, and downgrade our artistic interests to a mere pastime or hobby, specifically reserved for the moments when we’re not focusing on our ‘serious’ work. In the end, what we fail to realize is that, particularly in the social sciences, the interest we’ve developed in our chosen field of study is often inspired by an art form.Rewind to 2012, the year of a notably sketchy activist group named Invisible Children. In early March, the organization released a video by Jason Russell entitled “Kony 2012.” It’s goal? To raise awareness of the actions committed by indicted war criminal and on-the-lamb militia leader Joseph Kony.The plan was to have him arrested by the year’s end. The video broke, nay, pulverized the Internet, spreading across the web like wildfire until it reached around 100 million views and nearly 1.4 million likes on YouTube.Sure, the documentary was a dupe. But for a while it had you convinced. However faulty the video may have been, it’s a textbook example of the power that art bears.
It wasn’t simply the subject matter that informed viewers’ opinion; rather, it’s the stylistic choices of the filmmaker whose fingerprints were all over your newly formulated opinion.
With due thanks to swelling violin noises, a motivational narrator, and the ability to present the issue in a rather mesmerizing fashion, the 30-minute documentary impassioned, outraged, and in some cases mobilized swarms of people to take action. It wasn’t simply the subject matter that informed viewers’ opinion; rather, it’s the stylistic choices of the filmmaker whose fingerprints were all over your newly formulated opinion.Various forms of art hold this ability, and it’s hardly necessary to lay out the proof. When packaged into a song, movie, or painting, to be made accessible to those who view or listen to it, an art piece takes on an influential manner.The song “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan is often credited with harnessing support for Rubin Carter, a middleweight boxer wrongfully convicted of a triple murder. Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing brought to light the cruel realities of police brutality in Brooklyn, New York. You likely have a friend who’s been a vegetarian since the day they watched Food Inc.The thing about videos like Kony 2012 or songs about wrongfully convicted criminals is that they hold the ability to formulate your values, beliefs, and general state of awareness to the world around you. These art forms can lead to social change, but they can also lead to misinformed activism, as we saw with Kony 2012.At the other end of the spectrum, art can even be used as a weapon; Hitler often used Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” in Nazi propaganda films to drum up audience fervor.
It’s peculiar, then, that a field of study such as art — a form that holds such an influence on those who encounter it — would ever take a backseat to a form of more standard academia. When we’re surrounded by art everyday, from watching Netflix to listening to our iPod, it’s critical that we study it in an academic setting, and understand the power it wields.
Jacob Lorinc is a third-year student at Innis College studying political science and cinema studies. He is The Varsity’s Arts & Culture Editor.