This started being a reply to a comment, but it was going on so long that I decided to turn it into a post. I think the adderall is seriously kicking in. (I have a prescription, people!)
When I was in High School, we read The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. Message: Capitalism Sucks.
We also read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Message: Racism sucks.
Not to mention Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Message: People, in general, suck.
1984 and Brave New World? "Message: The future is going to suck even worse than the present does." A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court? Message: "The past sucked even worse than you thought."
"Catcher In The Rye"? Message: J.D Salinger's writing sucks. Gods, I hated that book. I hated even more that most of the morons I went to school with loved it, which just shows they were morons. I am 100% in agreement with the guys from South Park on this one. But I digress.
(Yes, my High School does look like it got its reading list from "Banned Books Week", which is part of what makes me a little contemptuous of the whole hullabaloo, despite my absolutist stance on free speech -- the only "banned books" that are openly celebrated are those the people who pompously display "I read banned books!" buttons agree with and embrace. You will never see a copy of "The Turner Diaries" on the table at Barnes & Noble next to "The Diary of Anne Frank". Being ethnically Jewish and religiously atheist, I'm obviously not a big fan of wretchedly written neo-Nazi masturbation material, but that's the point -- being against the banning of ideas you agree with takes absolutely no moral courage, and seeing people patting themselves on the back for their "tolerance" of ideas they and all of their friends agree with is mildly nauseating.... even if I in fact do agree with the ideas and would not want to be friends with people who didn't. )
But back to my main point: Most of the books I mentioned were ancient classics when I read them (1979-1983). They're more ancient now. The messages: Capitalism bad, racism bad, oppression bad, J D Salinger really really bad -- are old. They're dead. They're done. We've got it. The books I note were by no means the first to make those points, nor am I going to claim they're the best, or that nothing else can be said on those topics, but at this point, the bar for having something new, original, and different to say about these topic is raised very, very, high. Most people trying to find something new to say on them.. won't. Artists who tell themselves they're being shocking and confrontational by addressing these issues are, for the most part, kidding themselves. People buy, and praise, art that claims to condemn capitalism, materialism, racism, sexism, etc, not because the ideas are shocking, but because the ideas are comforting. They're culturally popular and safe to express in public. If you're watching a procedural drama on TV and there's several suspects, there's a direct correlation between the wealth of the suspects and the likelihood they'll turn out to be the killer.
Again, I want to emphasize that even I would never be so arrogant as to say that any topic is truly exhausted, or that there's nothing new to be said in any given subject, just that you need to be aware of all that has been said and consider if you've really got anything new to add. Sometimes, it can be enough to just add one more log to the pile, to keep shaping and maintaining the culture by reinforcing its values. (I do not pretend there is a single sentiment in this post someone else hasn't expressed before; I write this mostly as a way of solidifying my own thinking and marking the boundaries of my intellectual territory.) However, if you're an artist and you do this, acknowledge that what you're creating is art that reinforces, supports, and sustains a concept, rather than telling yourself how cutting-edge and brilliant you are. (This gets back to my Generic Rant 278, "Originality Is Overrated")