Should Authors, Artists, and Musicians Be Political?

Like many of you, I’ve been struggling to process the results of the recent election.  The nation is divided, the political opinions polarized, and there is a contentious tone coming from all sides.  Throughout what seemed like an endless 2016 campaign, I took note of several high-profile writers and musicians who boldly conveyed their political views.  I say boldly simply because an author, artist, or musician risks alienating a portion of his or her fan base (and future fans) by opining on political matters.  This risk is tenfold for those of us who are significantly less popular than Stephen King or Beyoncé.  It has been my observation that this risk deterred many creative types from speaking out politically, and I think that is a shame.

I remember going to rock concerts in the late 80s and early 90s and hearing bands rail against various political happenings.  It was done without thought to alienating any fans, but rather to express whatever message the performers thought to be important.  Similarly, it seems writers were more willing to be political and less concerned with the possible blowback from the opinions expressed.  I went to several concerts this year and, for the most part, the bands were silent regarding politics.  As part of the writing community, there were certainly many who were vocal, but I got the sense that many authors were hesitant to discuss political views.  So, what changed?

Social media has changed everything.  Whereas a musician or writer in the 80s or 90s might express a strong political opinion, the reach of that individual’s opinion might be limited to the audience on hand and the viewpoint would have a somewhat limited echo.  Today, if a small press author tells a tiny book club that they believe Candidate X is a bigot, then word of this believe may spread to the Internet and even find its way into online book reviews.

For example, a book called Unloaded was published this year.  The anthology consists of a collection of stories that support gun control and the proceeds of the sales go towards a nonprofit that combats gun violence.  When first released, the book was immediately met with several one star reviews on Amazon although it was clear the reviewers had not read the book.  Rather, the negative responses were simply due to the anti-gun viewpoints in the stories and to the association with the nonprofit.  Occurrences like these can persuade those whose works are in the public eye to hold back politically and remain silent on social issues.  Are those who remain silent correct?  Do writers, artists, and musicians have a responsibility to speak up?


I don’ t know.

But, I do know this.  This country has just entered into uncharted territory.  For the first time, the U.S. political and social landscape has been completely reshaped by social media, fake news stories, and policy proposals that defy simple tests of logic – yet have gained traction.  While I certainly understand the discontent that has led us to this point, I do not – and will not – accept racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia.  If that refusal costs me a few readers, then so be it.  History has provided us with a blueprint for times like these.

If those of us with a voice do not speak out now, we may not be able to do so later.

Note:  The next election is not in 2020.  It’s in 2018.  Vote!


Feel free to comment below! 

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, a Thriller Award finalist which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

Watch for my new book, BOLT ACTION REMEDY, in 2017!


image1Cyprus Keller wants a future.
Jackson Channing has a past.
Robert Chalk has a rifle and a mission.  Kill Cyprus Keller and anyone who gets in his way.


An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.



In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

resolve-cover art CL (1)

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology


6 thoughts on “Should Authors, Artists, and Musicians Be Political?

  1. onereasonableperson

    I never speak about politics under my author name and probably never will.

    I think your post misses a big point. You seem to indicate that authors, etc. don’t speak out because it will lose them money, but in doing so, they’re somehow shirking their responsibility.

    I disagree.

    A. Speaking out as an author or celebrity or as anything else accomplishes absolutely nothing. What, exactly, are you going to say that hasn’t already been said, especially if what you’re planning on saying is intensely partisan?

    B. Your fans have no interest in your political views unless they happen to already support those views. Even if they support those views, you may still alienate them because people like their entertainment to come in the right box. When I want political views, I search for political views, not writing tips or whatever other reason people might come to your website.

    1. J.J. Hensley Post author

      Thanks for commenting.

      I completely understand your viewpoint. I do state that I do not know if writers have a duty to speak out. Personally, I feel that we all have a duty to speak up if for no other reason then to provoke thoughtful discourse. Does speaking out accomplish nothing? Perhaps. But, I tend to believe that freedom of expression is in the Constitution because it can accomplish much, regardless of whether the communicator is CNN or one solitary writer. I do appreciate your stating your opinion here.

      1. onereasonableperson

        “Personally, I feel that we all have a duty to speak up if for no other reason then to provoke thoughtful discourse.”

        That’s the thing – almost no one actually a) tries to provoke thoughtful discourse and b) wants to be involved in thoughtful discourse. I admit that I do have great respect for the few who do seek such lofty aspirations.


    This was a really tough question and it took me a long time to understand my feelings about this. History shows us that if writers, singers, and artists don’t speak out about wrongs they see in the world, political or otherwise, than those wrongs tend to get bigger and go out of control.
    On the flip side, I can absolutely understand if these people don’t want to express their opinions. This is not the world of 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. We now live in a world of extremes and fear.
    I’m not just a writer, I also have a second job that actually pays me money, and all through the week the employees have been cautioned to never show political opinions. Not because the organization I work for is afraid that a customer will tell us they disagree and wag their finger at the staff, but because the organization is afraid that a customer will think “I disagree, so I’m going to firebomb the building with the staff inside”, or follow a staff member home and beat them, or some other horrible thing. Backlashes for expressing your opinion can be so extreme in this age, most people feel it is easier to just remain silent.
    As a writer, I understand the conflict of wanting to express feelings on a subject but also being afraid of what people might do because of that opinion. I think writers that speak out about their political views are brave and important to society, but I also think they are being a bit reckless. Nails that stick their heads up, get hammered down the hardest.

    1. J.J. Hensley Post author

      I think you summed up the dilemma fantastically. As a federal employee (my day job), I have certain responsibilities to the government and I will continue to fulfill those. However, I have made the personal choice to be the nail that risks getting hammered if proposals such as religious registration are implemented. I think most of us are articulate enough to express dissent well enough as to not seem extreme. Every individual will have to make his or her own choice. As for me, I’ve got a very young daughter. I can’t stand the thought of her asking me about this time period someday in the future and me not being able to say I spoke out.

      Thank you so much for commenting.


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