If you are an unapologetic capitalist you will suffer less public scrutiny than if you are someone who is trying to do something meaningful with your life. When a project is socially responsible or provocative, critics will jump to pick apart the person behind it much more so then if your vision is blatantly about individual gain. The focus morphs from the meaning of the message to suspicions of opportunistic motives. It is as if someone who wants to do good in the world should have no ego or drive in order to prove the purity of their intentions.
South Park's recent episode ridiculing Bully has been making the rounds in the blogosphere. The point of the criticism seems to be that the filmmaker had the audacity to have personal aspirations as a filmmaker. And not only does Lee Hirsch desire success, but he also has the nerve to make money and support himself through his artistic passions. He obviously doesn't care about bullying and only cares about himself, right? This snarky premise is absurd.
There are a handful of people who are intuitive enough, lucky enough, and make a good enough product to create a mainstream documentary. Hirsch didn't have special effects and 100 million dollars, but he had a message, and the fact that his efforts affected the distribution power of Hollywood is the worst possible reason to criticize it. Documentary filmmakers spend years of their lives working with very little glamor or expected gratification on a limited budget. I can understand how a political and military call to action like the KONY film can ignite a firestorm of investigation, but chastising an artist for having ambitions takes away from the point: that American children could live without grade-school bullies.
This resentment extends beyond those wanting to make money, as we see from criticisms of Girls creator Lena Dunham for already having it. Granted, Dunham's show is not highlighting a social issue like Bully, but her life-inspired commentary intends to revolutionize the Hollywood impression of acceptable women. There is something raw and feminist about her creation, and it challenges the pop-culture vision of how girls should view themselves. In a media landscape coated with plastic, these women are creating a different standard of what is interesting; one that highlights intelligence, education, and artistic aspirations. The girls in Girls may not be aesthetically perfect, but they are thought-provoking and respectable.
But all that is mindlessly overlooked when Dunham's rich upbringing takes center stage. Where most trustafarians her age are snorting coke and hating their dads, Dunham wrote, directed and starred in a film and in her own TV show. She used her privilege to create relevant media that could empower young women, so focusing on her lucky birthright is not only irrelevant, but also trite.
Where these two examples are significant in the grand scheme of the social stratosphere is what they represent in class warfare when it comes to "doing good." People that have money and want to make a positive impact through philanthropy, protesting, or activism will often be mocked for fighting a fight they don't understand. There is a condescending tone questioning the sincerity of someone who is taking a stand for economic justice at Occupy Wall Street while still owning an iPhone. Sure, there is a tinge of irony, but why aren't these young people commended for believing in a cause that is against their personal interests?
For those who do not come from privileged means and want to make money while doing good, there is an expectation of sainthood rather than fiscal responsibility. This reasoning is often used against green businesses that are also trying to turn a profit. Eco products are more expensive, but the reasoning behind this involves a greater economic schema. The financial system has allowed massive multinational corporations to dominate the market without the burden of being responsible for externalities. This has impacted the price point of products that are taking into consideration environmental factors and human rights. We expect big business to make money, so why should we assume socially responsible businesses to give their product out for free?
There are going to be inevitable contradictions when people are trying make a positive difference for humanity, but also for themselves. But having an individual goal does not take away from the impact of the message. People are accountable for the tangible efforts they put out into the world, but can't we forgive the emotional complexities that we all share? Far more important is the moral legacy you leave behind.
Follow Toni Nagy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tonibolognamind