BY: AYA TSINTZIRAS
There’s a scene in the documentary Artifact where Thirty Seconds to Mars is deciding whether or not to take a deal their record label had offered. When Jared Leto and his two band mates tried to end their relationship with EMI over the fact that their second album sold 3 million copies but they weren’t seeing any of the money, EMI sued them for $30 million. Leto’s lawyer told him, “You were very idealistic” in wanting to fix the record industry, but it would be smart to take the deal. Leto said, “It’s hard to stop fighting” but ultimately felt the new music deserved a label’s backing and took the deal.
But Leto is right; idealism is about the fight, not the title belt.
Leto is the definition of an idealist – someone who refuses (or at least attempts to refuse) to compromise their beliefs and principles to practices that those beliefs transcend. Artists are arguably the biggest idealists because they believe in what they are creating and that they should be compensated and treated fairly. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. But in a society where every creative industry seems to be failing – bookstores are closing, people are downloading music for free and studio action films are prioritized – we need idealists to reimagine our world more than ever, especially when the tension between art and commerce is so pronounced.
Clara Pasieka is that kind of person – so much so that she felt guilty for choosing to be an actress instead of a human rights lawyer. But actually, acting chose her. Halfway through high school, she came home from a play she was in and lay down on the floor in her parents’ room knowing deeply that acting was how her life must be spent. She has a political science degree, and the guilt ended when she started writing plays and screenplays about important political ideas such as multiculturalism. One such play, Bejide, which she also successfully turned into a short film, examines the idea of motherhood by telling the story of a custody case set a year after the Rwandan genocide. During a reading of an early stage of the play, a young man thanked Pasieka and said, “That was my family story.”
Pasieka approaches both acting and her political activism based on the same principle: that since she was a child, she has cared about those who are excluded. “The way I navigate the world is, okay, that’s a really negative thing in the world, let’s eradicate that,” she says. “So I could make the world better or I could not. Why would I not?” One example: there is currently no legal protection for children and teens in the acting industry. So she gave a speech to the Ontario legislature about her experience as a teen performer in the hopes it would help pass Bill 17 (then Bill 71). She witnessed inclusion acting in Maps to the Stars, David Cronenberg’s latest film, as he treats everyone on set the same. “The way that you make other people feel doing the work that you’re doing is important,” she says.” He exemplified that by mailing the cast and crew an old Hollywood map with a note, “For all my stars.”
As an artist, the hardest thing to do is to walk away, and knowing exactly when is even harder. Young adult author C.K. Kelly Martin made a tough choice to part ways with her first literary agent when he didn’t agree with her vision for her first novel, I Know It’s Over. “I thought, I can’t do this, I can’t make it into what he wants it to be, I wouldn’t be happy with it,” she says. It is important to Martin to write what she feels she must write. Her books explore topics like teen pregnancy and she often hears that they are too dark: “Even though I’ve heard it a lot it’s sometimes a surprise to me, like, really? This stuff is actually happening to people.”
Martin sticks to her principles, whether it’s the choice to self-publish her first adult novel, Come See About Me, as she doesn’t think it fits into an emerging genre called New Adult which features 20-something characters and says “I want it to be different – I feel like most of the popular New Adult is always the steamy romance thing. That’s just so limiting.” Or the need to explore the unfair sexualization of young girls in her most recent work, The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing. Or the fact that she can’t separate her politics from herself: “Your politics are who you are, that’s what you believe – in gender equality, human rights, worrying about the gap between the rich and the poor. I wouldn’t know how to put that aside and write.”
Oscar Wilde once said, “It is sometimes said that the tragedy of an artist’s life is that he cannot realize his ideal.” So what happens when the form of the art you are creating has limitations? Toronto comedian Matt Rubel, whose stand-up examines little things like Emojis and bigger issues like religion, says he doesn’t consider himself an idealist because he has to compromise his comedy in order to make the audience laugh. “Something you care about, if you can’t make it funny, it’s not something to bring on stage,” he says. “You have to serve the comedy gods.”
Rubel believes in comedy’s ability to change how people think about social and political issues, but that ultimately, it’s more about asking questions than giving answers. His style of delivery is informed by Jerry Seinfeld – Rubel jokes about the inevitable “Jewish rhythm” – and he likes Seinfeld’s ability to provide social criticism in a non-shocking format. “Jerry’s someone you would want to introduce to your parents,” he says. “Some things I say would make people blush, at least I would hope so.” Rubel’s beliefs and ideals inform his work in a subtle way, but he is always aware of limits – he has struggled with a piece about capitalism because it’s such a huge topic. He’s refreshingly self-aware: “Some people actually care about what they do. Now there’s Matt Rubel. He’s not concerned with pushing any ideas, he just wants to make it funny.”
As George Carlin said, “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” Instead of blindly accepting convention, idealists question why things are the way they are. Of course sometimes arms may be twisted to compromise, but intention is the foundation of idealism. Realism is limited by what already exists, but actively denying possibility has never imagined a better future.