Saturday, September 25, 2004

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? I must give big ups to elementropy on this post concerning the poisonous confluence of art and propaganda. I hope Retardo will not mind if I quote his quotation of Christopher Hitchens -- from back in his more lucid days -- concerning Norman Podhoretz' ravings against Norman Mailer:
This is not just boring and tenth-rate. It is sinister. Like Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's literary enforcer, Podhoretz doesn't content himself with saying that a certain novelist is no longer in favour or no longer any good. That would be banal. No, it must be shown that he never was any good, that he always harboured the germs of anti-party feeling, that he was a rank rodent from the get-go. Then comes the airbrush, the rewritten entry in the encyclopaedia, the memory hole. But even Zhdanov's hacks would have made the effort to employ some new phrases and new disclosures.
We've been around this mulberry bush before, but I will have another go. For a while, back in the 90s, the culture war was salutary, bracing, tonic. It caught people's attention, perked up artists, and got the juices flowing. But these are different times. The big political machines have extended their tendrils so deep into every aspect of our lives that it is impossible to refer to any aspect of society without some Scrutinizer ascribing it a value, plus or minus, left or right.

The by-now old-fashioned term, P.C., never very meaningful, has been rendered utterly irrelevant by numerous flying squads of rightwing Kulturkommando, whose overreach in these matters is gloriously exemplified by Rod "Flanders" Dreher's denunciation of The Hours (yes, that innocuous little movie about Virginia Woolf and stuff) as an "apologia for evil" on the grounds that one of its characters, who leaves her husband and son, is portrayed sympathetically. (For God's sake, nobody tell Flanders about Medea!)

Not to say that the squads' efforts are all negative. At OpinionJournal yesterday, some guy tried to make the case that a Lebanese reality-TV show indicates the future of democracy in Arab nations -- at least, democracy of a sort:
To be sure, over the past century many Arab nations have experimented with democratic reforms, some going so far as to establish constitutions, regular elections and institutional checks and balances. But in the end the overwhelming tendency has been to assume the rhetoric and rituals of democracy without actually putting it in place.

Into this environment comes an independently produced TV program that both celebrates personal achievement and puts Arab audiences at the center of the decision-making process. "Super Star" encourages, in fact depends on, the active involvement of ordinary Arabs in a "democratic" endeavor with real-time, mutually beneficial results. If the Arab people cannot choose their political representatives free from coercion, at least now they can select a cultural representative to champion their musical tastes.
I'd like to believe that any person of normal intelligence would comprehend the crucial difference between a simulacrum of democracy -- e.g., the "thumbs-down" of the Roman Coliseum -- and the real thing. But the new culture war -- much more savage and damaging than the old one; a total culture war, to avail an old phrase -- will probably, soon enough, render all such fine distinctions imperceptible.

Then art will not exist, except as an arcane misnomer popularly applied to the circuses glorifying whomever is in charge.

It is embarrassing to have to say it aloud, but some things are more important than politics.

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