Friday, September 17, 2010

Mother Jones

For a fun exercise, try to imagine Right Wing art. Can you? (No, I didn't say Right Wing Artists - that would be trivial)

Let's pretend for the moment that it is neither self-indulgent nor pitiful that I just made myself, alone, crêpes stuffed with stewed fresh peaches. My mother had pressed the peaches on me as medicine on her way out of town, because I don't eat enough fruit. Stuff that!

It would be self-indulgent were I to be seen at le Metro with enough money and charm and style for that. It might be pitiful were I to be depressed or lovelorn. As it is, they were, I assure you, far better than any you have ever eaten, nor did they cost a penny (The flour is ages old, I have no sugar but I do have ersatz maple syrup left over from my daughters' childhood. Perhaps the electricity will prove costly)

Now imagine a world in which museum pieces aren't all engendered in some time of flourish - economic and self-consciously cultural - where intellect stews and conforms and bursts forth with resplendance and beauty and brilliant power. Imagine that workers and trailer-trash actually were to have a chance, M&M style maybe, to take it to the top. Or how about a world without museums. How about that?

Imagine a world where Trotskyites don't spend all their energies debating doctrinal rectitude leaving such gaping lacunae in our Real World for Right Wing certainties hidden underneath their vague dark cloak that gets misnamed "conservatism". Where we really did understand what our government is capable to do to us and for us and where we might never doubt that the game is fixed and where our Dynastic leaders don't take their orders from some secret society and that they would never bring down towers for our own good and blame that on the least among us for some excuse to pulverize them. For us to do the dirty work and in our very own Name.

Sure, if you're taken in by Ayn Rand, you might think that realistic celebrations of powerful men can approach real artistry. You might find realist sculpture of the sort Tom Wolfe writes to be a fair imitation of art. You might prefer greatness celebrated or oversized egos taken down, but most people want art to get beyond pure demonstrations of talent to something approached by means of that talent, right? Whatever transcendence means I sure don't know, but it has something to do with the taste of fresh peaches, that much I know for certain.

Something already held in mind by the artist and then realized by her art places the artist in a superior position and so we might suppose that we don't have the talent even to think either; as well as lacking the talent to perform. School pretty effectively instills this lesson, no? I wonder whatever happened to actual education, without which we are not much more than apes?

The artist must be taken in by her own work and not in charge of it, right, and so even those museum pieces from our ages of glory are subversive at their roots. They challenge their age. It is as though a spirit were released and the artist its medium. And that spirit is never on the side of individual human greatness. Never. Unless sublimated  to Man as God, or beauty as truth or or or.

Most art - I'm pretty sure this is true - tends left wing once you move away from so-called realism. Think Ayn Rand's compatriot Tolstoy if you want art, and think the other Thomas Wolfe maybe if you want art and think white linens if you want your Southern Fried. The real always favors the powerful. Projections always favor the dreams of the downtrodden, for greater glory, for vindication, for something approaching beauty.

You might find the exhibition of extraordinary talent by way of its purest de-contextualized notes of grace to be artistic. Purest voice of striking clarity can take the place of hard wrought gems mined from the deepest parts of us. Even in church, there can be good music.

But inevitably, most such stuff feels either Stalinistic or like some sort of flag waving country music show in some Big Box Church which glorifies production values. It might be entertaining, but it ain't art. Unless it steadfastly refuses any message at all, and then I guess it's just entertainment, maybe like a ball game, and nothing wrong with that! Just like pornography and for the same or opposite reason, you know it when you see it, art. Whatever it's purpose, it stirs you, but in a way to uplift and stray beyond the pornographic commons.

The production of The Furies of Mother Jones over at Subversive Theatre has all the trappings of that country music show in Church. Fine spirit, stirring music, a transparent message about workers' rights. Clear realism devoted toward a crystalline message.

It ain't art, right? It's more like didactic presentations of the sort they were limited to under Chairman Mao because the little people couldn't be trusted to see through the racier stuff to the right kind of message. Everyone becomes self indulgent if given the slightest chance, and hell the blocking of pornography makes a pretty good cover for covering dissent. There's nothing terribly subtle about this one. There's no meaning below the belt and there's no culture at the bottom of a coal mine.

No question this show presents a good time. It doesn't depict a good time, but somehow it manages to be fun and stirring and uplifting for its audience. It sharpens the context for all systemic abuses, and gives the hand clapping foot stomping onlooking participant a refined view of how it feels to be at the bottom of the social structure, where the compulsive bottom shopping of each of us resolves into outright destruction of those lives closest to the manufacture of whatever it is that fuels the desires others of those of us with enough wherewithal to buy our tickets.

Every single one of us, each time that we seek out the cheapest gas for our cars, or the pennies less on-line conduit for our gizmos, or refuse to pay the union rate on the excuse that they're all fat and lazy; each one of us participates in whatever it is the global corporate compartmentalized sociopathic powers-that-be have to do to get it to us. We are the destroyers of lives, not any them.

We know the government regulators are both overpowered and in cahoots. We know that, even as we refuse to pay them any more than we can make just getting by ourselves. Getting by now includes that big flat screen and a couple of cars not to mention a jetaway vacation and lots of eating out. These are our birthrights as is our sense of style, which includes the political rectitude to sympathize with and rhetorically support the blasted working class.

But so whom are we to trust? I mean who are we? Are we trustworthy? Will we do a damned thing to assure that there is not more destruction to meet our bottom feeding shopping habits? Will we really continue to regard our priests and civil servants as special cases of people who should and must and will by God be above the base-line habits of the rest of us? We fully intend to punish them to the fullest extent of their pretenses. When they fall short of their pledge to honor. The rest of us are only innocent bystanders, members of some audience.

So, yeah, I'm not really sure that this is art, Subversive. It is necessary, it gets my blood boiling and it satisfies my pride in lack of any style at all. But then I've always been a lousy consumer, failing almost ever to get the best deal. (I paid far more than my fair share for this show too, trust me on that.)

But there is a difference between the right-wing didactic stuff and the left wing. The one celebrates celebrity and success and looking good and rising high and mighty. The other celebrates the little guy, the miner under ground, or the sweatshop worker who's just a blip on the power-brokering radar of those captain of industry superstars who get all the credit for pushing history forward.

And as anyone watching the film Titanic, which must have been derived from O'Neill's Harry Ape (and so which one's real and which one's art???), as anyone in those audiences knows, it's in the boilerroom where the real fun can be had. Among the working folk.

Lots of the audience for this show wanted to ride up in the freight elevator which can take you up to the Manny Fried if you don't want to walk those two flights up to the third floor. Normally, this is preferred only by older or infirm audience members, but somehow there was advanced billing that this time the freight elevator was an echo from the show. It was replicated on the set, and the audience could experience in ironic mirroring what it must feel like to be lifted from gloomy darkness to enlightenment.

We are all of us trapped underground. Tea partiers think the goons are all in the government and that freedom is freedom from government interference, never crediting that corporate power has long since overwhelmed the power of our civil servants. Freedom from means freedom to be exploited so long as we continue to make no distinctions according to scale. So long as we regard corporations as legal persons with rights and freedoms just like those we're just dying to trade away.

So OK let's say this show is less art than politics. That's what Subversive Theatre is for, right? But you know the music in the show makes a mess of that assumption. It might not be mass market art or the kind of aristocratic beauty which still gets aspired to and longed for and even lusted after.

It's the kind of art they celebrate in Appalachia, where the workers once had real lives and real music and real family tradition and where performance is always live and never even expects to be on TV. And it's cheap. And it's hardly realistic, moving back and forth in historical time and realistically depicting the projected nightmares of betrayers who try to hide their own guilt from themselves. The rats patrol the dug-up graveyards. The workers sing like superstars.

So, yeah, let's call it art and have a party. The workers will prevail. The teapartiers will wake up. We will see the sunshine someday soon just like those miners down in Chile. And if you really want to help them, see this show and take it to heart. Indulge yourself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sir, get another hobby. perhaps continuous games of scrabble against yourself?