Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Weekend Assignment # 348: Influences

Watching tributes to John Lennon last week was my inspiration the the latest Assignment:

Weekend Assignment # 348: Trendsetters

Musicians, writers and other artists frequently have an impact on their fans that goes beyond simple enjoyment of their work. Many rock stars have had an influence on fashion or politics or both, and fictional characters sometimes inspire real people in their opinions and career choices. [I'm not going to try to prove these assertions here; just go with them, okay?] Has an artist or artistic work ever inspired you to do or believe something that might never have occurred to you otherwise?

Extra Credit: Do you think it's appropriate for artists to be political activists? Does such activism have a positive or negative impact on your respect for that artist?
I would say that I was subject to such influences when I was younger. When I was in fourth grade, I used the word "ain't" for a week while reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and started an essay with an  ungrammatical sentence meant to follow the language of teen magazines and my favorite tv program: "My favorite show is The Monkees, because us groovy kids gotta have some groovy show to watch!" My fourth grade teacher wisely responded, "Karen, I'm surprised at you!"

Harlan and the hat
Harlan Ellison at the Clarion Writer's Workshop 1977
photo by Mike Orgill

But that's art influencing me, not the celebrities themselves. How about this, then? I used to stare out the window, hoping to see the Monkeemobile randomly fulfilling the theme song promise, "We may-a-come-a-to your town!" In high school, I started to move away from my mom's middle of the road politics as I read the work of Harlan Ellison. My first letter to Harlan began, "I used to be a Democrat for Nixon," and went on to credit him for my political education. In college, I applied to a writer's workshop Harlan had written about and taught at, and would be teaching at again that summer. He and Peter S. Beagle, also teaching that year, were the main reasons I applied. As some of you know, that workshop was where I met my future husband, and was encouraged by Harlan to "go after him, girl!" I did, and we've been married for 31 1/2 years so far. Celebrity influences don't get much more consequential than that!

I've been involved in fan clubs for three different favorite shows over the years, and met most of my friends that way. Once in the 1990s, I deliberately had a hairdresser whiten a lock of my hair before a Quantum Leap convention, in homage to the white streak in Scott Bakula's hair. That lock is still grey, fifteen years later, while the rest of my hair is still mostly brown. Oops! But I don't really mind. I am 53 years old, after all.

One more, very positive influence: after more than a decade of religious indecision, almost agnosticism, I decided to give the Episcopal Church a try, largely because Madeleine L'Engle was Episcopalian and it sounded like a good fit for a lapsed Catholic. You know how that worked out. I mention St. Michael and All Angels often enough around here, so I won't bother to go into detail again tonight. But I have my favorite writer to thank for what is now a major part of my life, beyond the actual religious consequences.

As for celebrities and politics, I don't think I've been particularly impressed since Harlan in the mid-1970s. It's absolutely fine with me if a rock star or an actor speaks out on a cause or for or against a candidate. The caveat is that celebrity does not confer wisdom. There's no particular reason to follow their lead except on the merits.

I had a great, simple idea for the next Weekend Assignment as we lurch toward Christmas. Now if I can just remember what it was...oh, yes! More on that Thursday evening.


See also:
Harlan Ellison, Matchmaker
Blame it on Tiger Beat

1 comment:

Florinda said...

I doubt anyone would question Harlan Ellison's influence on you - great story!

Also a lapsed Catholic, the Episcopal church is the only other one I've really considered - partly due to the influence of Madeleine L'Engle (and also my friend Ann, a priest who occasionally says Mass at Madeleine L'Engle's old church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine).