Saturday, May 2, 2015
I am a modernist by nature. Considering the readings I have been doing on fascism lately, I am even more comfortable with this. The term "traditional values" stinks of the gulag and oppression for me, and history agrees with this assumption. When anyone tells you they want to go backwards, be afraid.
Looking back, however, is another story. Examination, contemplation. And modernism is rife with opportunities to do just that. The modern world is almost bursting with heavy matter- condensed experience. In fact it is so condensed that "looking back" into our nearest history is absolutely, deadly necessary. Things move so fast and fashion leaves so much behind, so much unsaid, that to me the Transistor Age (which, to my mind, is a far more appropriate starting point than the industrial age) could stand even MORE study. There are subtle currents everywhere. And the implications of those subtle currents are even more massive than they would be say, 300 years ago. The more things change the more rapidly they change. History's like some sort of kaleidoscopic spinning top in an avalanche, gathering momentum and new pictures all the way.
So you find yourself effecting by strange things that might be a new product of a new kind of history. The uncanny is part of that, but I realize there is this other fleeting feeling I have had all my life that catches me unawares, and interests me, and something I have wanted to write of for some time.
Its that WISH to comply with a commercial ideal. To want to believe in some fairy-tale magical way that a PRODUCT or a television show could really be a modern deliverance. To partake in that breathless sense that everything is possible through Products, and Chemistry, and commerce. How much HAPPIER you could be if you could let your truths go.
Since I became a teenager, television has infuriated me. Not the shows always, but the commercials. Some of them were so sublime (those early eighties Chanel ads were out of this world and I LOVED the Chanel ads in the late eighties with the model Ines de la Fressange, and collected them)....so you saw what was possible, that ads could be wonderfully seductive and enjoyable, really, so you were mostly just horribly disappointed and felt almost gypped in some kind of unconscious way. It was like a fat song and dance that you saw through from the first second. And those pro-American Wal-Mart ads just made me want to load up a gun and kill myself. Just vomitous and so treacly and unreal and PANDERING, really, to your basest stupidest instincts. I have always found patriotism to be terrifying anyway, in too large a dose.
(Sidebar-Lee Greenwood's pukey anthem "I'm Proud to be an American" was so strange to me and still is. It was bizarre and gutless. "Where AT LEAST I know I'm free"? I mean, it struck such a weird, bum note with me, that phrase. Its like the first part of that sentence is missing and that sentence is, "I may be homeless, and work at WalMart and my son was killed by cops and my other son died in Iraq for oil but AT LEAST I KNOW I'M FREE"! But I digress).
So on the one hand, I am a huge fan of commercial art, especially from the mid-sixties to the very late 70's, and I have found truly sublime, well done stuff that shows the potential to make public art very special. There is an elegance that, were it rendered in today's idioms and images, is liable to leave me cold.
But, looking back, there was a great era of creative work being done for public, commercial purposes that echoed a sense of forward-thinking that is so deeply missing from today's ads. Now there is this sense of wanting to go BACKWARDS, there is a "green" sensibility that is all fine and well and good but when it becomes tethered to "traditional values".....again, it's implications are very deep and very telling.
I miss the Space Age. I miss the age where everything was possible through SCIENCE. I fully understand that science too has its limits, like every human system- democracy, communism, psychology, religion. But I fully embrace the logical in human systems and discourse. Without logic, all arguments are rendered null and void. You find yourself arguing over the improvable, instead of being curious enough to test the limits and ask questions. You cannot argue with an evangelical.
It must be said here that I am a follower of Jesus all the way, and consider him a great revolutionary and a wonderful star to guide your ship by. But I abhor the vast majority of Christians and Christian Newspeak and groupthink and think they are heretics, to the core. They loathe the poor and only want to talk about abortion and gay marriage and no longer love their enemies, take care of their communities- the MLK Jesus is entirely absent from the 700 Club and "Left Behind" freak jobs that pass themselves off as Christians these days.
And with the rise of the evangelical Right comes with it a terrible hatred of intellectuals, science, and critical thinking. When you take a people who BELIEVE they will rise from the dead on Judgement Day, you are dealing with people who have no truck with the laws of even the farthest reaches of Quantum Physics. There is this bizarre denial of factual data, this complete reliance on their own interpretation of a vast trove of testaments that were discarded, shaped, and used to consolidate power and THEY DON'T ASK QUESTIONS. "Do I believe what John is saying when he contradicts Luke?" They don't ask that. They believe their CONFUSION is a blessing. That things are inherently unknowable and that to try is a heresy.
In this atmosphere, the Space Age strikes one as so much more inclusive, so much more of a kinder place to be.
I love and have begun collecting those Soviet space lapel pins (as I mentioned in my previous post) and that dizzying, swooping sense of a Great Future is a really, truly beautiful thing to me. "To the Stars"! is such a wonderful cry, a wonderful thing to reach for, far superior to a battle cry. That pride that just bursts from the vast amount of art created during that period of the Soviet space program (despite there being very compelling evidence that Gagarin was not the first Russian in space). A wonderful sense of possibility and BELIEF is written all over it.
I DEEPLY value the intellectual, the scientific, debate, questions and criticism. I am also happy with mysteries, and do in fact agree that much of our universe IS unknowable. But I am ALSO in love with the journey, of the discovery, the bizarre and wonderful universe that science sheds its light on. I don't believe in cloning, or bizarre monkeying-about with the forces of nature. But gaining and reaching for a deeper understanding of nature and asking those questions is just a fantastical thing, really. It is completely, in my opinion, in total accord with spiritual life.
So in that respect, its understandable that a certain class of advertisement or public art lends itself to a certain kind of romance. Arguably, that is its reason for existing, is to woo you. And I LIKE that feeling, frankly. And I am not sure why. I want to be complicit in that process. I want to believe- in a retrospective view through the lens of commercial art- that these things were POSSIBLE.
I have often been reminded, wandering and exploring on those magical odd detourments I take often , that there is a certain smell that wafts from a department store in summertime that I find very romantic. A sort of "woosh" as you walk past and the automated doors open, giving you a blast of frigid air and a bright, plastic scent. The hotter it is that day, the more magical the effect, and you don't even need to go inside to feel uplifted. Its sort of a naive sense of "everything is still all right with the world" in that the A/C is going, we have bright shiny products, people will smile at you, you will find something that will change your life......
This passes through my mind on such a subtle level that I forget to even be aware of it. It certainly makes a banal shopping trip that much more interesting. Wintertime is always grimmer somehow, shopping, what with Christmas and the vomitous music and the eye-raping displays of products you can never afford nor need at all. The romance goes out of it, and is only rescued by the enjoyment of the pretty lights or perhaps a small miniature scene on a white blanket of little trains going through tunnels, or talking dolls. That is the kind of nonsense I am always excited by. I'd rather to go to the Frye's electronics store in Burbank, with its crashed spaceship sticking out of the roof, that I would ever rather go to a Radio Shack (a store that used to REEK with analog stereo romance, and wonderful funky lights, and that solid-state smell I still so enjoy- and which has been entirely eradicated in favor of cell phone plans and IPhone cases).
Give me nonsense and romance. Give me a wonderland of scents and colors and mystery and promise. Don't try to convince me that you are going down to earth with all your green-zen-garden hardwood-floor-organic esthetic. You are NEVER going to be that and putting that on is a LIE. Its selling us a past for which we were ill-equipped and ripe for ruin in the first place. Simplicity is MY job. I don't want it sold to me as a lifestyle. NEVER.
I want the romance. The plastic promises. I know they can never be fulfilled. But I want to reach for something beyond myself. And commerce, and the terms it uses, can aid or abet any process. It is lifestyle propaganda. Putting a farmer in an advertisement will never convince me that that is your process. Or your lifestyle.
I like the older, more promising, more silvery and glittering, lies the best.