Opinion: The use of art for political posturing

Amanda Paniagua is a graduate art history major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Amanda Anastasia Paniagua

Art is political and politics inform art. This is most recently exhibited in statements made by band members of the ‘80s rock group Survivor against Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Davis walked out of jail to their tune “Eye of the Tiger.” Band members immediately took to social media to clearly state they did not permit Davis’ use of their artistic property; in this case, their hit song.

For me, this whole situation is so very inter- esting to think about in terms of artistic rights and political posturing.

For Davis, spending the week in jail for upholding her religious convictions meant persevering through some seemingly insurmountable challenge. It’s much like Rocky Balboa in the original “Rocky” series, which made “Eye of the Tiger” eternally famous for beating the odds.

But for co-founder of Survivor Jim Peterik, Davis was perverting their art. According to a report published on Mlive, the tune is about personal growth and it certainly wasn’t meant to have political intentions, Peterik said.

Yet for now, when people hear it, they’ll envision Davis and Mike Huckabee, he said.

“They just kind of force-fed an image to everybody,” he said in the article.

Force-fed an image. Music becomes image and that image is not what the original compos- ers of the music had in mind.

This of course begs the question: would the band members have been OK with the use of their music if their politics aligned with the indi- vidual using it?

Regardless of how one feels about Davis and her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses, the use of this song upon Davis’ release has stirred up even more controversy about the artistic rights of musicians and the unlawful use of their work by individuals looking to create an “image” for themselves. In this case, it’s the image of a religiously persecuted woman and her supposed triumph over her supposed oppressors.

More importantly, the Davis-Survivor controversy is a potent example of how quickly meaning and interpretation of art can be twisted for political gain, not much unlike the use of propaganda or larger than life sculptures of imperial rulers during the Roman Empire. There is a long-standing tradition in manipulating the sensory experience for political control and/or gain of a society throughout history.

In other words, we cannot always trust what we are hearing and seeing.

I applaud the band members of Survivor for protecting their art from being co-opted for conservative political posturing. While I cannot speak for the band, it is my hope that their strong stand against the use of their song comes from a place of understanding that, in certain contexts like Davis’, the song would be contributing to the further marginalization of the community Davis had already ostracized.

I haven’t been hoodwinked. “Eye of the Tiger” will always recall the image of Sylvester Stallone in montage mode as Rocky Balboa training for his next big fight in the ring. It is my hope that this is the image you recall as well. 

Amanda Anastasia Paniagua is an opinion author for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].