The Victim Mentality In The Arts

Writing about the victim mentality could get me in a lot of trouble on a web site like Howl Round which attracts a large number of Social Justice Warriors. But it is probably safe to share my thoughts here since nobody is reading my blog. As a liberal, I am inclined to feel a sense of injustice and therefore side with the Social Justice Warriors. But the victim mentality is very problematic in the arts. I’ve done a lot of thinking on this subject and I’ve come to the conclusion that the victim mentality does you more harm than good when you are an artist.

It is difficult to think clearly on this subject since one is emotionally invested in one’s creative work. It is very upsetting to imagine you won’t be successful due to discrimination. But in order to think through this problem (which you think you have) it is necessary to put your feelings aside and try to be objective. Allowing yourself to get emotional about it only ensures that you will think irrationally. Although I am a computer programmer, I don’t pride myself on my ability to think logically and dispassionately. I rarely tackle a problem that needs to be thought thru to any great length. But dealing with computers all day does teach you to be a little more philosophical about things. For instance, it allows you to accept the fact that you might be wrong, since the compiler gives you an error without any negativity.

When conservatives argue against the victim mentality they are almost always scornful. Their nasty tone inclines you to be deaf to their message. But if you can listen to their reasoning without getting very, very angry, you will find they have a point. But I would rather express this point in my own way.

My major objection with the victim mentality is that it encourages you to internalize a sense of helplessness. This can prove to be very discouraging. When you feel like a hapless victim the easiest thing to do is to give up. Many conservatives also object to viewing oneself as a victim. They stress the need to push forward regardless of the obstacles you think stand in your way. This is an admirable position. They just get a little too vicious in their attempt to goad you into showing greater determination.

A creative artist should never feel helpless because the artist has one great super power, the ability to create something out of nothing. For example, a playwright can create a great work of dramatic writing without getting anyone’s permission. True, his play won’t appear on a stage until it gets past the cultural gatekeepers, the literary department of a theater company, but just writing a full length play which isn’t half bad is a major accomplishment. If you genuinely appreciate dramatic writing then you should almost be satisfied with that. An actor has less ability to create his characters when he is never given the ability to perform, but even actors are encouraged to make opportunities for themselves.

As a white, middle class, male I should not feel discriminated against. Yet even I can feel like a victim when I rationalize my lack of success. I can complain that my plays aren’t being done because I’m too spiritual and the theater doesn’t want to treat the stage as a sacred place. Or I could complain that you absolutely need a Master of Fine Arts degree if you want to become a playwright. That is certainly true! But that shouldn’t stop me if I genuinely feel a burning desire to bring something great into being. There is really nothing stopping me from writing a play like The Glass Menagerie if I have it in me. Maybe it won’t be that good and will never be seen on a stage but I could still give form to my vision. However if I allow myself to get discouraged by assumptions about how unfair it all is then I will have defeated myself through my irrational worries. I’ve even been guilty of preemptive bitterness where I’ve been bitter over the rejection of my talent when I haven’t even written anything! You most certainly don’t have the right to be bitter over failure when you haven’t even made the attempt to be successful! Yet this is the sort of irrational behavior you can be subject to when you allow your emotions to guide your actions.

Conservatives do go too far when they try to deny that any discrimination takes place. If there were only a handful of women playwrights, virtually no black playwrights, and absolutely no Latino actors then you know something is wrong with the world. In my own profession, in the field of Information Technology, there is almost a perfect meritocracy until you come to the major technology companies like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon. These companies interview prospective candidates in a very questionable manner that only serves as an ordeal for anyone trying to gain entry. The discriminatory hiring practices of the major technology companies serves as a handy example of the sort of nonsense that is really going on in the world. Given enough demand for positions any industry will turn their selection process into a hazing ritual designed to keep the top echelons a very exclusive club. But just like artists, programmers are free to create applications without getting anyone’s approval and without any real encouragement. The key is to find all the encouragement you need within yourself.

In conclusion, the victim mentality can be very dis-empowering. The victim mentality becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy when it prevents you from even making the effort. The creative artist should always remember that he or she has the power to bring something of great beauty into being. If you fail to do that then failure is just the logical outcome.

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