“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” saved my life.
The seven-season-long tale of a girl chosen by fate to protect the world from the forces of darkness may sound like an odd sort of program to so credit, but it kept me sane as a teenager.
It was actually an emotionally honest, vivid show with dynamic characters who were undergoing all of the same moral quandaries and existential angst I was experiencing in high school. When Buffy was struggling to find meaning in her life, so was I. When she was facing heartbreak, so was I. When she felt like the weight of the world was on her shoulders, so did I; and when Buffy found herself struggling with the meaning of being gifted, so did I. The characters created by Joss Whedon helped me put my life’s problems into context, and – most importantly – reminded me and millions of other kids that we were not alone in the sorrows we faced.
That may sound like a very trite thing to say, but it illustrates a larger point that is often forgotten in our eminently practical society: The arts are fundamentally important to our culture and to the world at large.
It’s a sad fact of life that when times get hard, the arts are often the first and hardest programs to be hit in our institutions. When public schools face budget cuts, music, visual arts and theater programs are often the first out the door (even while schools will move mountains to avoid cutting sports programs). When governments and corporations face economic hardships, funding for the arts go out the door – which is ironic, since times of hardship are often when the arts are most desperately needed.
Even when the economy is doing well, artists and their work often find themselves the targets of out-and-out animosity. The late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms launched an infamous campaign of outrage against the National Endowment for the Arts for its funding of artists that Helms disapproved of in the 1990s. Artists and their trades are often seen as simply inferior to and unworthy of other occupations. How often have you heard someone making fun of aspiring actors or writers simply because of their intended trade?
It’s an absolute shame that our society often gives so little respect to these fields because they are essential to our culture’s health. The arts can inspire us to fly to new heights when times are good, and they can help pick us up when we fall. In times of joy, we turn to art to help us celebrate, and in times of sorrow we turn to art to mend our broken hearts. Art can help motivate us to make the world a better place – whether it’s the famous Live Aid concerts featuring the biggest music stars fighting African famine in the 1980s, or last week’s “Open Road” concert here at Kent State organized to raise money for a local women’s shelter.
Art permeates our culture at every level – from the rich New York sophisticate who always sees the latest Kushner play to the blue-collar factory worker who comes home to watch “WWE Raw.” Art is used to sell us products, to express our deepest emotions, to give voice to our highest aspirations. Even our religious services are fundamentally artistic endeavors – the recitation of liturgical poems and chants, the singing of hymns and the use of oratory to communicate moral concepts. It is through our art that we find our souls, and it is through our art that we seek the deepest understandings of our world.
Moreover, the arts deserve our respect and our support for another reason. The arts may not be as immediately useful as the engineering field, or less essential to the preservation of human life than the medical field. But it is art that defines us, expresses us, and preserves us. It is art that marks the turn of the ages in archeology, that shapes the values and beliefs that change our societies throughout history. Those who have read Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus understand this truth:
When the millennia pass and our world is buried, it is by our art that we will be remembered.
Zach Wiita is a senior theatre studies and political science major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]