Art and Power

A few days ago I posted on the subject of comedy. To continue on that subject.

A sort of personal fad of mine right now is the idea of art as essentially liberation–not catharsis freeing us from our repressive selves, but from our repressive systems. I don’t mean to, and I don’t think it’s the role of art to, attack repression as such; society is repression. The necessity is to relieve it, or expose its absurdity, its distortions. But the ultimate end is still truth. Ideally it’s the lifting of social burdens and relief from convention’s obscuring white noise, if only in the context of the performance, for the weary psyche seeking it out.

Nowadays this might be claimed under the title “transgressive”, and it looks at first glance as if there’s a lot of transgression going on. Everywhere they tilt at patriarchal windmills and swoon before racist straw men, all under the banner of Truth.

Needless to say tradition as such has been routed culturally at the same time (and by, for that matter) mainstream entertainment’s economic globalization. The complementary nature of capitalism and the Left wasn’t recognized at first, it had to assert itself as the natural, overwhelming phenomenon it is. But what began as natural symbiosis has matured into open conspiracy. It’s worth noting the sweet deal capitalism gets–it gives up nothing, while the Left has abandoned, served up for their former enemies really, the working class.

Commerce and the Left have taken over popular art, in a sort of unspoken compromise. Like the old joke about the Soviet Union–the government pretends to pay workers pretending to work–now the liberated pretend to be oppressed by those who pay them. And as with their Soviet counterparts, real work isn’t getting done and high functionaries are getting wealthy producing an inferior product for which there’s no competition. It’s the Ribbentrop Molotov pact and we–the people–are Poland.
A dull pessimism takes hold in us, cowed on every side to accept a never-ending narrative of emerging, aggressive identities claiming a grievance against a shrinking center. Transgression, as practiced, is all now a Sailerian Who, Whom demonstration of-ironically–supremacy. So there is a curious lack of necessary vitality in even the dazzling technological marvels Hollywood produces with ever greater commitment to the dominant narrative and ever greater watering down to appeal to a global audience (the same thing, really).

Art, contrary to hoary conceit, does not exist to shock. This is a perversion; the artist should pursue the truth despite its tendency to shock. We’ve elevated the gratuitous shock, invoking “transgression”, which is not the same thing. It’s undeniable art loses vitality without an element of pushing, or transgressing, against something significant. Tradition’s significance is waning rapidly. Most popular entertainment engages in at least slight fake transgressions against tradition, done up as historical bogeymen–the patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia.

But does the mainstream artist today, despite working on behalf of power and convention against a beaten but formidable historic enemy, really betray his mission? If he truly believes he is on the side of right, his role is precisely that of the artist in a fascist system. And as they see it despite modesty and patriarchy’s present submission they remain dangerous and toxic, likely to reform and rebound at any time–and this makes sense. We should expect they will; all of history up to the last century can’t be wrong. The problem is, and the Left will never concede this, is how, and by whom, that reassertion will take place. But allowing for their delusion, there is nothing sinister about it. More irony, of course, is the resemblance to a fascist state of affairs–art and culture in service to a prevailing order and closed to threats to that order. Must be nice.

The Left just won’t admit it’s in charge. Because not being in charge is how it got to be in charge. That is, the various movements based on grievances against the Western tradition, with the black American “struggle” center (and it’s difficult to imagine our predicament being possible without our black citizens and their affinity for “suffering”) are how power was seized. The Left’s narrative boils down a sort of selective Christian reading: the powerless are worthier than the powerful. Forget that it’s always been bullshit, and a front for, among other things, ethnic warfare; nobody lasts by easing up once they’re in power. The hope among the vast part of the population that is apolitical but acquiescent (the silent majority, nodding in assent!) has always been, I suspect, that the advancement of sexual liberation and minority rights would level off, find reason, lay down arms as ground was won.
It’s long past the point of denying this won’t happen.

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