At first, art imitates life. Then life will imitate art. Then life will find its very existence from the arts.
-Fyodor Dostoevsky, circa 1841- 1881
The tragic homicides of Darnell Donerson and Jason Hudson, safe to say, caught a few people’s attention around my parts. The question of whether fame is the bait that attracts senseless acts of violence was the main topic of conversation. In a conversation about said Hudson family tragedy, it was Mama Clay who dropped the puzzle:
“I don’t know why people would do something like that. It’s the music and TV that causes people do this mess.”
At first, I thought she was referring to Jennifer Hudson’s fame in the music and television industries that brought on the crime. You know, the whole “mo money, mo problems” thing. Then I realized she was blaming the entertainment industry for its message of violence. It’s donkey-kong on now. Nobody attacks my beloved hip-hop to my face without a prolix reminder that society created hip hop, not the other way around. But then something stopped me.
I thought about it for a second. And realized her point.
The eternal question of “Does art imitate life or does life imitate art” initiates much debate because there are many who charge arts with distorting human reality and giving people ideas to act in a particular way. Filmmakers and musicians cite the First Amendment as their exercise to enact free speech. Besides, they say, from where do you think we draw our inspiration? Fix societal problems and you will fix the “distorted” art that we put out.
If inner-city ills are a reality of many rappers, then those rappers will talk about what they know. Reality is like a mirror: when you look into it, it reflects back to you. However, if you change that reality, that mirror, then you will see something totally different. But there are some people whose realities are shaped by what they see or hear. How can you tell the difference and how can you prevent this from happening? At what point does life imitate art?
“There’s no doubt that hip-hop culture moves our young people powerfully. And some of it is not just a reflection of reality, it also creates reality. I think that if all our kids see is a glorification of materialism and bling and casual sex and kids are never seeing themselves reflected as hitting the books and being responsible and delaying gratification, then they are getting an unrealistic picture of what the world is like.
-Barack Obama in Vibe Magazine, August 2007
When I first read about the Hudson tragedy, I thought about the movie Paid in Full. There was a sequence towards the conclusion of the movie when the resident drug lord and his family were robbed. The drug lord, played by Avon Barksdale, I meant Wood Harris, resisted and was subsequently shot. He survived, and when he regained consciousness he found two members of his family dead. His best friend’s little brother was later abducted. To sum things up, his best friend’s little brother was later found to be kidnapped by his own uncle. All this because of money and jealousy.
I am in no way insinuating that the Hudson family was involved in drug trafficking. I am merely pointing out the commonalities in the murders and the motives for each.
I’m no detective and I am not privy to the details of the situation, but what happened in that double homicide in Chicago that day reeks heavily of killings spurred by a desire for resources (namely, cash). Is this an instance of life being created by art as Obama stated? Or is this a separate incident, a total coincidence independent of the violence being portrayed in art?
It seems to me that black men have been the victims of poor realities. This is for many reasons of course, but it comes a time when an active role in distinguishing between the whims of art and the reality it attempts to purvey has to happen. In order to cure an illness, you must diagnose the problem. And black people, we do have a problem in this area.
Time to stop letting art determine our realities.