Sunday, August 01, 2004

Fascist aesthetics

We live in a profoundly fascist age. Everything in daily life is spectacle or scapegoat, and all art is co-opted to one or both of these ends, as well.

Hitler had the stirring compositions of Wagner (et al) as his aesthetic foundation stone; today’s equivalent is a generic, pervasive Classicism. Everywhere, and in all ways, the West is revelling in the license given by its own soundtrack. The duty of art is merely to amplify this license; to juxtapose the taken-for-granted (or if not, compulsory) Classical zeitgeist against some new gee-gaw.

“Spectacle for its own sake” says the stock Left-Liberal admonishing cliché. More accurately, it is spectacle for the sake of replicating and reinforcing Classicism’s bombast. Mere hatred is a lukewarm inciter for methodically killing millions, and mass-killing is nowadays passé, anyway – modern fascism allows a multiplicity of spectacles; a diffusion of hatreds into a hundred different and personalised remixes. But always deriving from the same Classical beat, and always re-tracing the same ironic juxtapositions.

Mark Van Proyen writes:

Stanley Kubrick’s futuristic 1972 film A Clockwork Orange was much more of an influence on the esthetics of punk than the “revolution of ’68” or any of Guy Debord’s neo-Marxist tantrums.

Kubrick’s “Singing in the Rain” bovver-boys are almost forgotten nowadays. Perhaps this is because author Brett Easton Ellis and director Mary Harron have since taken the Mass-murder-with-Wagner-blaring trope to absolute breaking point: an 80s yuppie serial killer protagonist who is a serious connoisseur of the music of Genesis, a late-70s, middle-of-the road boomer rock act. So, to paraphrase Adorno, is there no (new) irony after Thatcher? And haven’t we in the post-1979 West all turned into post-Kubrick, “INSERT-OWN-SOUNDTRACK-HERE” bovver-boys, and how?

The above all matters, of course, because there are real victims, real scapegoats – and in abundance. Modern Classicism mostly sublimates hatred into diffuse, bureaucratised forms of social control – such as of the unemployed – but, for all this sublimation in the process, the vector of hate’s net expression is as strong as ever. Meanwhile, the fascist bulwark grows and compounds daily – an aesthetic monoculture fed by a million drips of looped multimedia (visuals and soundtrack juxtaposed: wow, who’d have thunk that?).

It’s time that anger got de-soundtracked, and time that soundtracks stood on their own, separate from the saturated, all-in squelch of Classicism, too. But abstractions aside, I’m going to be chicken, and leave the last word to Mark Van Proyen:

By the end of the 1970s, it was only a matter of time before droves of former ’60s radicals would jump like lemmings onto the Reagan bandwagon, motivated by sheer greed, stupidity, and peer pressure. For them, the end of the Vietnam War and the advent of mostly toothless civil-rights legislation were the only laurels necessary to prove that the good fight had been honorably undertaken and as such they were laurels that were all the better for resting upon. No need to seek out new outrages here, for to do so would require giving up on certain comforts, most especially the comfortable delusion that one’s comforts were somehow not tied to the misery of others. As for those who still fancied themselves as keepers of the radical faith, their vision of an inevitable “dictatorship of the proletariat” oftentimes was translated into a entry-level teaching job in one of America’s high schools. With consummate smugness they then coughed up a patronizing curriculum that was rich in self-esteem building while failing miserably to speak to or even recognize the emerging experience of a new generational anger.

Update 4 August 2004

Sigh. Boomers just don’t get it, and never will. Look at this post, and comments, by Chris Bertram at “Crooked Timber”:

In Britain the Sexual Offences Act had been passed only five years before [Lou Reed’s “Transformer”]. Five years. Not that the following years have been ones of seamless progress, what with Section 28 and that.

I looked at this gay rights timeline. Shocking — so shocking — to read entries like the following

* 1945 - Upon the liberation of concentration camps by Allied forces, those interned for homosexuality are not freed, but required to serve out the full term of their sentences under Paragraph 175

Unimaginable. And yet closer in time to 1972 than we are. Remember that next time you hear a commentator deploring the influence of the 1960s.

Thus reinforcing the pervasive, toxic myth of boomer/soixante-huitard social amelioration. “Not that the following years have been ones of seamless progress” Bertram admittedly caveats. Err, Chris – dunno about the seams "and that", but I think that you’ll find that, under just about any social measure, the West has gone backwards between 1969 and 2004.

This assertion may sound strange, especially coming from a gay man, but in fact there is considerable evidence that (i) the role of Stonewall (the 1969 event which supposedly forged the modern gay-rights movement) and so ditto, the movement itself, have been grossly exaggerated, and (ii) even if the 2004 West is more “gay-friendly” than the 1969 one, this gain has been eroded to nothing, or worse, by offsetting losses in daily social life concerning matters other than where one is allowed to place one’s dick.

As for the situation gays at the liberation of Nazi concentration camps – yes, of course this was grotesque. But it closely parallels the imprisonment, with hard labour, of gays in the West – if not actually at the time, then not too long before it (a la Wilde). And thanks to boomer hegemony, the West in 2004 is much closer to slipping back to this sort of general barbarism than it has been at any time since WWII.

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