Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
-- T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton" (1935), from Four Quartets
The other night we got to talking about what function artists serve in a moment like this. One view that came up was that we might not have the power to do much about the moment, but we can at least provide people with something else to look at or think about while they struggle to make it better. My own view is an offshoot and expansion of that.
I think any act of creativity can be used by others as escapism, a way to — how did someone else put it? — ignore everyone else's reality and substitute their own. Most of us do this to some extent or other anyway, so I see little point in wringing hands about it. The smarter thing to do, maybe the only thing that can be done, is create things that are good enough, constructive enough, universally enriching enough, that people will want to make them real — not just for themselves, but for others — in whatever way they can.
I was working on an earlier draft of this piece when I received news Stan Lee had died. On the page Marvel Comics created to eulogize him, there is this quote:
I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people's lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you're able to entertain, you're doing a good thing.
Entertainment is never just about "entertainment". The cynical view of entertainment is that it's just popcorn to be stuffed between the ears, so why care all that much about it. It's easy to slip into this view even when you're a creator yourself — to tell yourself that anyone looking for Real Meaning and Significance in your work is only going to be kidding themselves.
Here's the thing, though: Real Meaning and Significance are where people find it. If they find it in something you've created, they may well take it as seriously, even more so, than anything they'd get out of Kierkegaard or Corinthians. To my mind, that means anything you put out in the world under the pretense of entertainment is worth taking at least as seriously as someone else could.
That old line, "we are as gods so we might as well get good at it", comes to mind. Your godhood might be highly constrained and specific, but it is godhood all the same, and it deserves your full attention.