Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou Reed, the 60s and growing up

Lou Reed is dead. That means a lot to many people and I suppose it should mean something to me. And it does, although not what it would have meant a few years ago.

Lou Reed wasn’t just a musician. He was a cultural icon, and I’m very very suspicious indeed of cultural icons. He was also very much representative of a certain element of the Sixties. It's an element that now seems rather embarrassing, but then most things about that era now seem pretty embarrassing to say the least.

I no longer care about Reed as a cultural icon and I certainly no longer care about the Sixties thing he represented. There was a time when he seemed to me to represent something terribly significant but I’ve moved on. Eventually you have to. You have to grow up. Seeing some of the reactions to his death gives me the depressing feeling that there are an awful lot of people who never are going to grow up.

I very much doubt if he would have wanted to be remembered as a writer and performer of pop songs but that’s what I remember him for.

I was never able to summon up any enthusiasm for his solo work although I have to admit that the <em>Berlin</em> album had a vibe that it’s doubtful that anyone else would have dared to aim for. It was pretty close to being a career-destroying album and there’s something perversely fascinating in seeing someone take that sort of risk.

The Velvet Underground stuff still holds up though. For a brief period he had an extraordinary ability for writing strange, disturbing, quirky and offbeat pop songs that had no right to work as pop songs, but they did work. And they were certainly different. It’s hard to imagine anyone else writing songs quite like <em>All Tomorrow’s Parties, There She Goes Again, White Light/White Heat, Sweet Jane</em> or <em>Femme Fatale</em>. His more experimental songs, songs like Heroin, could also be oddly compelling whilst also being oddly distasteful. He also had a surprising knack for writing ballads that could get under your skin, songs like <em>Sunday Morning</em> and <em>I’ll Be Your Mirror</em>, and of course <em>Pale Blue Eyes</em>.

I don’t think he was truly a major talent, but he was a remarkably influential second-rank talent. He blazed a trail for some of the more interesting musical artists of the Seventies, artists who sometimes turned out to be far more significant than he was (Bowie being the obvious example).

His influence continues to a certain extent, although whether that’s a positive thing is perhaps debatable.

Perhaps I’m being a little too dismissive. There are a handful of his songs that still move me, and <em>Nico and the Velvet Underground</em> is an album I can still listen to all the way through. There aren’t many albums from the Sixties that I can say that about.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

film noir and cultural marxism

Whether film noir is a genre or a style has been endlessly debated but either way it is extraordinarily popular among film school types. It’s easy to see why. Film noir is all about victimhood. The film noir protagonist is always doomed. In our modern age, an age that sees victimhood as the highest achievement to which anyone can aspire, this is clearly going to be a very popular film form. And since academics have been to a large extent responsible for creating the cult of the victim their enthusiasm for film noir is hardly surprising.

Of course true victimhood requires that the victim should have no responsibility for his own fate. Ideally society, or capitalism, or the patriarchy, should be responsible. This creates a minor problem since many film noir victims are clearly victim of their own personal inadequacies or poor judgment. Film academics however are not going to let such trifles bother them and they have been able to produce interpretations of most of the films of this type that satisfy their political agendas.

That’s one of the reasons that there’s such an immense amount of writing on the subject of film noir. Without guidance there’s a danger that viewers might fail to interpret these movies correctly. Academics are only too willing to offer that guidance. One of their favourite methods of dealing with film noir (and with many other Hollywood movies as well) was to see such movies as explorations of the dark side of the American Dream. It goes without saying that to a modern film academic the American Dream only had one side and that was the dark side.

In fact quite a few movies in this genre were written or directed by people who were blacklisted. This increases the appeal of film noir enormously. The left-wing political slant doesn’t always have to be added by the film academics; in many cases it’s there already. By the time American film noir began to emerge in the early 1940s whining was already well and truly established as a favourite liberal pastime. Most of the writers or directors who were blacklisted really were communists or communist sympathisers and they did their best to give their movies a left-wing slant. The communist domination of Hollywood uncovered by the HUAC investigations was no figment of the conservative imagination.

Most film noir however was more than just political propaganda and many of these movies were not inherently left-wing at all. Some of the finest examples of the form such as <em>Out of the Past</em> (1947) and <em>Double Indemnity</em> (1944) deal with people who are clearly doomed by their own weaknesses and their own poor choices. Film academics nonetheless manage to twist all movies of this genre into the correct political shape.

Some of the most interesting examples of film noir were directed by German expatriate Fritz Lang. If you read interpretations of Lang’s movies by academics you’d be likely to conclude that Lang regarded the United States with loathing. Actually Lang liked the United States very much. You’d also be forgiven for concluding that Lang was first and foremost a political film-maker. In fact Lang was a Catholic and his religious faith was the major influence on his work. Lang is often described as a fatalist whereas he described himself as a fervent believer in free will. <em>You Only Live Once</em> (1937) is the most obviously Catholic of his American pictures but his Catholic beliefs are present in all his movies. One of the most frequently misinterpreted of Lang’s film noir efforts is <em>The Big Heat</em> (1953). The accepted critical view is that the cop is the bad guy and that the movie is an indictment of the corruption and violence of American society. In fact Lang made it quite clear that the movie was about the devastating effects of crime on the individual. The cop is the hero, which is in fact quite clear to anyone who watches the movie without a political bias.

There’s a great deal to enjoy in film noir. These were some of the most stylish American movies ever made. Like most important art the best of them deal with universal and eternal themes. Some have irritating political elements but most are far more complex than mere political screeds. There’s no reason to let academics prevent us from enjoying them.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

witch hunts then and now

If you use the term witch hunt today most people will immediately think not of actual witches but of the McCarthyite “witch hunts” against communism in the late 40s and early 50s. It’s a subject that liberals get terribly excited about. To hear them talk you’d imagine this was a persecution on a scale hitherto unprecedented in western civilisation.

There are several ironies about this. The most obvious of course is that having gained real large-scale political power liberals are now far more enthusiastic, and zealous, witch hunters than Joseph McCarthy.

The other irony is that modern liberal-sponsored witch hunts are actually far more deserving of the term than the activities of McCarthy and his allies. Both McCarthy’s Senate committee and the House Committee on Un-American Activities were investigating  something real and tangible. There really were communists in Hollywood, in the US military and in the State Department. Many of the communists in the State Department were actual Soviet spies. They really did undermine US foreign policy, playing a significant role in ensuring that the US took no effective action to prevent the takeover of China by the  communists. Both HUAC and McCarthy’s committee were looking for actual evidence.

The witch hunts in the 16th and 17th centuries were very different. The witch hunters of that era were unconcerned with anything resembling hard evidence. If you were accused of witchcraft you quickly came to realise that the onus was on you to prove your innocence.

Modern liberal witch hunts against racism, sexism and all the other sins that obsess the political Left are equally unconcerned with actual evidence. If an accusation is made against you you will soon discover that it is very foolish indeed to believe that any presumption of innocence will help you. Even worse you are likely to find that the government or quasi-government agency conducting the investigations does not function like a court of law with any of the protections offered by such a court. More disturbingly you will find that even if you are brought before a court the protections that have been taken for granted have been whittled away. You cannot even rely on the most fundamental of all protections against government persecution of the individual, the concept of double jeopardy.

Hate crimes legislation is undermining all our most important rights, and this is happening throughout the Anglophone world. If you want something to be afraid of this is it. This is the big one.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

gay couples not good at child-rearing

A Canadian study finds that children raised by gay couples don't do as well as children raised by heterosexual parents. Which of course is not the slightest bit surprising but it is nice to find the facts supporting what we already know from plain old commonsense.

Not that facts are of the slightest interest to proponents of homosexual marriage.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

reading for misery

One of the most depressing things about the rise of political correctness is that it takes the pleasure out of everything. Including reading. Especially reading. It’s obvious that anyone today who has been exposed to the poison of political correctness finds it very difficult to read for pleasure. The main purpose of reading today is to search a book for examples of thought crime. Every page has to be obsessively combed through for any hidden sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia. etc. The reader’s task is to look for things to get angry about, things to get offended by. Everything has to be deconstructed to the point of destruction.

This is incredibly sad. I’d have thought that the purpose of reading was to find things to be uplifted by. To find things of beauty. Or things we can learn from. Whether you’re reading great literature or lightweight beach reading the ultimate aim is enjoyment. Great literature offers more complex enjoyments but the principle is the same. There’s no point in reading if it offers nothing but misery.

Great literature might, and in fact probably should, encourage us to think as well, but increasing our understanding is pleasurable. If a book offers us spiritual truths then that is something that will makes our lives better and richer.

Literary criticism in the past was focused on finding the good stuff in books, not the bad stuff.

The same argument applies to watching movies, looking at paintings, listening to music, any kind of cultural pursuit.

I’m constantly saddened by people I encounter on the internet who are no longer capable of getting enjoyment out of anything. Recently I came across an internet post by a woman who was going through agonies over her favourite television show. Everything about the show seemed perfect. It had non-white people. It had gays. In fact it had wall-to-wall gays. But there was no transexual character! This woman was torturing herself with the thought that maybe this was indicative of some deeply hidden transphobic agenda. Which of course meant she’d have to stop watching the show! Even modern American television with its mind-numbing monolithic political correctness was still not politically correct enough for her. She is a person doomed to perpetual anger and misery because she will never be able to stop searching for hidden non-PC meanings and subtexts.

That’s undoubtedly one of the reasons conservatives are happier and better adjusted than leftists. We still allow ourselves to get some enjoyment out of life!

Friday, October 4, 2013

failure through success - the story of cultural marxism

The last hundred years has seen a profound change in the outlook of the Left. A hundred years ago it was undeniable that the Left stood for something. What it stood for was misguided and deeply wrong, but nonetheless it has to be admitted that the Left represented a very strong belief in something.

And it was a belief in a positive something. It was always going to lead to disaster but the intentions were at least positive and even rational. Looking at the Left today it is extremely difficult to discern anything positive and it is completely impossible to find even a vestige of rationality. Leftist beliefs today are so self-evidently irrational and contradictory that Leftist thought can be more accurately characterised as a psychiatric disorder rather than a coherent political doctrine.

How did this happen? It happened because cultural marxism gradually became the predominant strand in Leftist thought. Cultural marxism has been spectacularly successful and that very success has been fatal. Cultural marxism was supposed to be a means to an end but it has become an end in itself.

One hundred years ago socialists were among the most optimistic inhabitants of our planet. They were absolutely certain that their success was guaranteed. Marx had told them that capitalism leads to communism with the inevitability of a law of nature. And Marx could not possibly be wrong about anything. The evolution was just around the corner.

The First World War seemed like a godsend. While socialists morally disapproved of the war (it is a bizarre but true fact that socialists were once very moral people) it seemed certain that the stress of war would hasten the downfall of capitalism. The working class of one country would never fight the working class of another country. They would refuse to fight a capitalist war and would rise up and destroy the capitalist system. It was a sure thing. You could put money on it.

Of course in fact the working classes did fight the war. And they conspicuously failed to rise up and destroy the capitalist system. Even more perplexingly the one revolution that did eventuate eventuated in the wrong place. If capitalism inevitably leads to its downfall then logically the revolution should come somewhere where capitalism had reached a very advanced stage. Somewhere like Britain, France, Germany or the United States. When the war started going badly for the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, they become the most promising sites for the revolution. Germany being more advanced industrially than he Austro-Hungarian Empire Germany became the red hot favourite.

The failure of the working classes to rise up at the beginning of the war had been bitterly disappointing but now everything was going to work out satisfactorily. Except that it didn’t happen. But it did happen in Russia, and any good marxist could have told you that Russia was nowhere near advanced enough along the capitalist road to be a possible candidate for a successful revolution.

All this was going to requite some careful consideration. One thing was certain. The working classes could not be trusted. And Leftists ever since have regarded the working classes with a mixture of contempt and fear. The revolution would have to be brought about by the middle classes. Yes, if the proletariat was going to refuse to murder the bourgeoisie then the bourgeoisie would have to be persuaded to commit suicide.

And the revolution was certainly not going to be the joyous bloodbath that socialists had been looking forward to. There would be revolutionary bloodbaths aplenty but they have all taken place in backward countries. Such an eventuality seemed disappointingly unlikely in the advanced capitalist nations of western Europe and North America. A different method would have to be found. Thus was cultural marxism born. The long march through the institutions would be the road to revolution.

Cultural marxism has, in many ways, been successful beyond the wildest hopes of its inventors in the 1920s. But there have been a few problems. The idea of cultural marxism was to demoralise and undermine the entire superstructure of western civilisation. The resulting chaos would then lead inevitably to the glorious socialist revolution that socialists craved so badly.

The first problem is that social chaos is more likely to lead to more social chaos rather than to the socialist utopia. The second and bigger problem is in the very nature of cultural marxism. In order to achieve social chaos cultural marxism would need to be destructive. It would need to create a climate of hatred. In order to do that it would be necessary to create a climate of violent self-hatred within the middle classes. Ugliness, misery, blind destructiveness, jealousy, viciousness, selfishness, mistrust and self-loathing, always more and more self-loathing, these are the qualities that cultural marxists have encouraged and nurtured. With immense success.

With so much success that there has been no room left for any positive emotions. It is therefore not surprising that modern Leftist thought is entirely negative. It is entirely focused on strategies for destroying society. The family must be destroyed. Religious belief must be destroyed. Moral standards must be ridiculed and overthrown. All traditional values must be mocked and ultimately swept away. Respect for law and order must go out the window and when crime then starts to thrive that’s no problem since it is yet another useful tool for destruction.

The nation state and all sense of meaningful community must be erased. Mass immigration is one of the most effective ways to do this and if the immigrants happen to be people who loathe and detest western civilisation and glory in barbarism then that’s another bonus. More social chaos will result.

Since Leftism as it now exists in the West is almost pure cultural marxism it’s hardly surprising that Leftism is now pure nihilism. Leftists have forgotten how to believe in anything that isn’t destructive. There is no room for any positive beliefs.

It is no surprise that this kind of political philosophy (or this brand of madness as it would be more accurate to call it) not only corrupts its own adherents, it also attracts those who are motivated by their own psychological weaknesses and personal inadequacies. Those who started out as political idealists become self-hating nihilists while they are joined by countless others who have never ben motivated by anything other than hatred.

The more that cultural marxism succeeds, the more it fails.