It is natural that many people turn to forms of escapism in challenging times. Reality is sometimes too much of a burden for many of us to bear. Being immersed in a world where things are more desirable and pleasurable but not real, can give us comfort for a limited amount of time. But reality is still there, staring us in our faces. Perhaps there might be ways of breaking down the complexities of reality, so we can deal with challenges in a piecemeal fashion. I think this is better than choosing to ignore the work that needs to be done.
Those of us who have a calling to be public tellers of stories have important responsibilities to face. Obviously, we need to maintain a balance between doing things for the public good and making sure we can pay our bills, but there is no escaping from the fact that providing escapism isn’t really helping to make things better.
Scott Joplin was on to a very good thing when he created his opera “Treemonisha”. The central message of the work is that people of African descent need to work hard to develop skills and networks for self reliance, and not rely on superstitious notions to sustain ourselves through challenges. The opera’s libretto is by no means dramatically perfect, but Joplin was ambitious and clear sighted enough to understand the most effective way to use his influence as the “King of Ragtime”.
Things have changed radically since the era when “Treemonisha” was created. Joplin’s own immediate community within the African Diaspora is a lot more prosperous than it was, one hundred years ago. But the message of his opera is still timeless and of immense value to all of us.
Perhaps our storytellers of today need to reassess the most useful ways to make interventions in public spaces. I keep thinking of the phrase: “Not yet uhuru”.