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Apocalypse Fatigue, the Holiday Spirit, and the Battle of Stalingrad

December 22, 2012 1 comment

Statler Waldorf apocalypse

Yet Another Failed Apocalypse

 

Like the inevitable outing of virulent homophobes, we have yet another example of a failed apocalypse. The problem is not necessarily the apocalypse itself, but the frequency of these failed apocalypses has become so grating that even the jokes have become predictable and flat. In 2012 alone, we had Howard Camping’s multiple declarations of impending doom as well as the famous Mayan “apocalypse.” (Ironic air-quotes because it is a classic misunderstanding of a non-Gregorian calendar system by hysterical nutjobs. In December 2012, the Mayan calendar ends. What happens when you reach December 31, 2012 in your household? Most people usually get a new calendar.)

I won’t bother listing the failed apocalypses. Here’s a link. It’s a really long list. And in the future there will be more non-apocalypses added to that list. But people will still be hysterical, declaiming the end of the world, and getting everyone worked up over nothing. Another after-effect of all these failed apocalypses is that apocalyptic rhetoric has lost all meaning.

ApocalypseFINALImage by Allison Morris

Apocalyptic rhetoric has been trotted out whenever a poorly written cash-in reaches the New York Times bestseller list. (Because that never happens.) Until the next sub-literate hack gets a choice book deal and struggling authors continue to struggle in obscurity. All this talk of cultural apocalypse because the author of Fifty Shades of Grey sold some books seems a bit overheated. The wealth of Hollywood wasn’t built on good movies either. The apocalypse is fast becoming meaningless the same way terms “indie” and “edgy” have been eroded to vacuous buzzwords.

Do not misinterpret this post as some snarky smug “religion is dumb, hooray science!” diatribe. (The Internet has plenty of those.) I was raised in a Lutheran household and apocalyptic rhetoric wasn’t in the conversation. Yes, the theological basis for Lutheranism includes the Apocalypse, but there wasn’t any ham-fisted close readings of the Book of Revelation like certain denominations, sects, and cults do. (For examples, tune in to your local religious networks, except EWTN, since the Catholic Church isn’t apocalypse-happy as Kirk Cameron’s flock.) The Apocalypse was part of Lutheran theology, but believers were taught not to presume to know when it would happen.

Presume is the key word here. As with other things, God will determine when the Apocalypse will happen. Hence the constant empty blathering of failed prophets. This goes hand in hand with the phenomenon of the Antichrist of the Week. So many people have been charged with being the Antichrist that it gets comical. Cracked.com, the reliable barometer of American opinion, published one of their most hilarious articles saying “Obama is the least efficient Antichrist ever.”

Not to belabor the point, but naming someone the Antichrist has become as politically expedient as calling someone a Hitler. The same people using the same rhetoric have called everyone from the Ayatollah Khomeini to Saddam Hussein to Barack Obama the Antichrist. One doesn’t need a PhD to see what’s going on. Label the political opposition the Antichrist and the flock will follow accordingly. And since Obama was re-elected, American is in a state of moral depravity and God will smite us. Or something. (I live in Minnesota and the state recently voted down the Traditional Marriage Amendment. I’m still waiting for the being-caused-by-gays earthquakes and hurricanes. We did get a snowstorm on the day of the Mayan Apocalypse … in Minnesota.)

The same people who label the President as the Antichrist are the same people who allege there is a War on Christmas. Which leads us to …

The Holiday Spirit

August to December 25th annually, depending on the retailer

First-nighters, packed earmuff-to-earmuff, jostled in wonderment before a golden, tinkling display of mechanized, electronic joy!”

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)

I enjoy the holiday season. I get to home to Wisconsin, be with family, open presents, and generally have a good time. Again, this is not some garden variety anti-religious screed. Those are boring. This post is exploring the issue of fatigue. Along with apocalypse fatigue, the commodification of Christmas inevitably gives way to fatigue. Since free market capitalism is based on the premise of an ever-expanding market, the Christmas season has been incrementally expanded into more of the calendar year. While retailers and businesses are right to exploit the reason for the season, this can have an unintentional blowback effect.

Christmas is fine. Shopping is fine. But I don’t need to see Christmas trees in retailers in August! By the time Black Friday rolls around, I’m already sick of Christmas. To put this another way: I like chocolate cake, but I don’t want to eat chocolate cake for every meal every day for three months. What is happening to me and fellow shoppers is the retail equivalent of diabetic shock.

Ironically, I see myself as a traditionalist here. Christmas season should begin on Black Friday and end on Christmas (with some overlap for New Year’s). The relentless drive to have us shop, shop, shop til we drop has extended the holiday season way too far. The Holiday Season has become a calendar-eating amoeba, devouring everything in its path.

Christmas, the best seven months of the year.

The Battle of Stalingrad

July 17, 1942–Feb. 2, 1943

Nikita Khrushchev: [addressing a roomful of Soviet political officers] My name… is Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. I’ve come to take things in hand here. This city… is not Kursk, nor is it Kiev, nor Minsk. This city… is Stalingrad. Stalingrad! This city bears the name of the Boss. It’s more than a city, it’s a symbol. If the Germans… capture this city… the entire country will collapse. Now… I want our boys to raise their heads. I want them to act like they have balls! I want them to stop shitting their pants! That’s your job. As political officers… I’m counting on you.

Enemy at the Gates (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 2001)

The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the pivotal battles of World War 2. Thousands died, thousands more were killed, and it was an ideological wrestling match between two totalitarian superpowers. I only mention this because, as a punchline, I have likened the annual Christmas season to the Battle of Stalingrad. It is a Stalingrad-like battle of enforced cheer and omnipresent Christmas songs. I’ll leave you with a clip of Christopher Hitchens likening the holiday season to living in North Korea. Is it really? Let me know your opinion in the comments section.

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter II: The Utopia of Greed


Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter II: The Utopia of Greed


Basil Exposition: Austin, the Cold War is over!
Austin Powers: Finally, those capitalist pigs will pay for their crimes, eh? Eh comrades? Eh?
Basil Exposition: Austin… we won.
Austin Powers: Oh, smashing, groovy, yay capitalism!

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Reflections: I want to focus my attention on Richard Halley’s speech and an attempt to divine the concept of Art within the Objectivist ideology.  Furthermore, the speech can be read as Objectivist Camp, since, like the many speeches that pepper this tome, it can have unintended hilarity.  Any piece of art that takes solipsism and earnestness to such an exaggerated degree offers oodles of yuks for fans of Camp and Kitsch.  If the Matrix movies ushered us into the Desert of the Real, then Atlas Shrugged brings us the Keane paintings of neo-liberal economics.

A few questions before we proceed into the Hellmouth:

1. What is Art?  (Similarly, what is propaganda?)

2. Is interpretation a matter of free will?

3. Is Atlas Shrugged camp?

4. What is the difference between Objectivist fiction and Socialist Realism?

5. Are my individualistic reactions to this book simply another flavor of individualism, since following the philosophy of Objectivist groupthink involves sacrificing a degree of my individuality?

If you’re not an Objectivist, it’s probably because you’re a loser, loser!

She just wants to be pretty, popular, and rich.  That doesn’t make her shallow.

The famous composer Ayn Rand Richard Halley addresses Quinn Morgendorffer Sue Sylvester Ayn Rand Dagny Taggart in a speech that explains Objectivist philosophy in terms of art:

That is the payment I demand.  Not many can afford it.  I don’t mean your enjoyment, I don’t mean your emotion – emotions be damned! – I mean your understanding and the fact that your enjoyment was of the same nature as mine, that it came from the same source: from your intelligence, from the conscious judgment of a mind able to judge my work by the standard of the same values that went to write it – I mean, not the fact that you felt, but that you felt what I wished you to feel, not the fact that you admire my work, but that you admire it for the things I wished to be admired.

Emotions be damned! An odd opinion for a composer to espouse, considering that non-verbal music (not opera or Frank Sinatra, etc.) works because it effects the listener on some emotional level.  This can be expanded to nearly ever medium of art (music, literature, film, etc.).  Effective, not necessarily great, art effects people on an emotional level.  One of the reasons Atlas Shrugged fails as art is because the reader is emotionally uninvolved with any of the characters.

9 out of 10 North Koreans like this poster for the same reason as the artist.

I mean, not the fact that you felt, but that you felt what I wished you to feel, not the fact that you admire my work, but that you admire it for the things I wished to be admired.

Therefore, as per Objectivist philosophy, I shouldn’t let my emotions get involved with art appreciation.  Fair enough.  Now I have to appreciate said art in the same way as the composer/author/etc.?  What’s individualist about that?  I’ll appreciate Halley or Rand the way I want without some Cultural Commissar telling me what to think.  Go back to Russia, Halley!

Whether it’s a symphony or a coal mine, all work is an act of creating and comes from the same source: the inviolate capacity to see through one’s own eyes – which means: the capacity to perform a rational identification – which means: the capacity to see, to connect and to make what had not been seen, connected and made before.

A rational identification?  Really?  Objectivists probably don’t like the Surrealists, since that art movement openly catered to exploring the irrational and subconscious.  North Korean murals with heroes and machinery is far more preferable, since it is a rational identification with the proletariat.

Halley goes on a bit comparing artists to industrialists, saying artistic vision is similar the inventiveness of an industrialist.  Both require creativity and drive.  Advantage: Rand.

This, Miss Taggart, this sort of spirit, courage and love for truth – as against the sloppy bum who goes around proudly assuring you that he has almost reached the perfection of a lunatic, because he’s an artist who hasn’t the faintest idea what his work is or means, he’s not restrained by such crude concepts as ‘being’ or ‘meaning,’ he’s the vehicle of higher mysteries, he doesn’t know how he created his work or why, it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit from a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn’t stoop to thinking, he just felt it, all he has to do is feel – he feels, the flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, uncongealed bastard!

Personal Reaction: I really loved this passage.  The novel went from being plain tedious to becoming So Bad It’s Good.  It was gloriously, shark-jumpingly camp-tastic!  I imagine hardcore Stalinists reading this passage to each other.  “First one who laughs drinks a shot!”  This passage, and Francisco’s previous monologue about drunken beatniks having more power than CEOs, makes this book unintentionally hilarious, in the same way the jovial Proletarian Heroes™ singing about their tractors in Socialist Realism films.  I was disappointed that Richard Halley didn’t kick Dagny down a bottomless pit and then shout, “FOR SPARTA!”

This, Miss Taggart, this sort of spirit, courage and love for truth – as against the sloppy bum who goes around proudly assuring you that he has almost reached the perfection of a lunatic[.]

Rand accidentally describes herself, since the writing in this mess is sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.  Probably had her editors blacklisted for questioning her perfection.

Charlie Parker improvises during his songs.  What a moron!

because he’s an artist who hasn’t the faintest idea what his work is or means

Ergo, All Art Requires a Message.  Thus, Patch Adams is a much better work of art than, say, Inland Empire.  As the Dude would say, “That’s like your opinion, man.”  A piece of artwork with a clear message isn’t necessarily better than a work without one.  Not all art requires it operate on a didactic or educational level.  Agitprop needs a message to work, art doesn’t.  I’m sure there’s a Soviet poster that would correct my views.

he’s the vehicle of higher mysteries, he doesn’t know how he created his work or why

So is Halley saying he’s against improvisation?  Everything from jazz to ComedySportz to writing requires some level of spontaneity.  The Beat Movement espoused a more notorious philosophy, embracing “spontaneous prose” and the dictum “First thought, best thought.”  The fact that Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs are held in higher regard as writers than Ayn Rand is ironic and hilarious.

it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit from a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn’t stoop to thinking, he just felt it, all he has to do is feel – he feels, the flabby, loose-mouthed, shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, uncongealed bastard!

How can one even begin to take this seriously?  What began as a rational appraisal of the artist ends in a rant one usually finds in the Monty Python “Argument” sketch.

Mr Barnard (shouting) What do you want?

Man Well I was told outside …

Mr Barnard Don’t give me that you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!

Man What!

Mr Barnard Shut your festering gob you tit! Your type makes me puke! You vacuous toffee-nosed malodorous pervert!

Man Look! I came here for an argument.

Mr Barnard (calmly) Oh! I’m sorry, this is abuse.

Because Rand can’t hide her disgust at the opposition, she equates anyone who disagrees with her aesthetic philosophy as a vomit-spewing drunkard.  Sure, honey, like all those CEOs slugging back martinis back in the Fifties never chundered into the corporate restroom.  Girlfriend, please!  Well, in the book, the Objectivist Heroes are all muscular, whitebread, teetotaling, and austere.  Wonderful, a society full of Arnold Rimmers.

22. Considered a little less strictly, Camp is either completely naïve or else wholly conscious (when one plays at being campy).  An example of the latter: Wilde’s epigrams themselves.

“It’s absurd to divide people into good and bad.  People are either charming or tedious.” – Lady Windemere’s Fan

23. In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails.  Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp.  Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.

24. When something is just bad (rather than Camp), it’s often because it is too mediocre in its ambition.  The artist hasn’t attempted to do anything really outlandish.  (“It’s too much,” “It’s too fantastic,” “It’s not to be believed,” the standard phrases of Camp enthusiasm.)

Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp” [1964]

I’ll just leave you with this:

In 1934, the Union of Soviet Writers adopted the theory of Socialist Realism. Approved by Joseph Stalin, Nickolai Bukharin, Maxim Gorky and Andrey Zhdanov, the theory demanded that art must depict some aspect of man’s struggle toward socialist progress for a better life. It stressed the need for the creative artist to serve the proletariat by being realistic, optimistic and heroic. The doctrine considered all forms of experimentalism as degenerate and pessimistic.

The doctrine of Socialist Realism was propagated by the union’s newspaper, The Literary Gazette. If writers rebelled against this policy their work was criticized in the newspaper. If writers did not conform, they were expelled from the union.

Emphasis added.

“Union of Soviet Writers,” http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSwriters.htm

(8) Nikita Khrushchev was critical of Stalin’s cultural policies implemented by Andrey Zhdanov.

I think Stalin’s cultural policies, especially the cultural policies imposed on Leningrad through Zhdanov, were cruel and senseless. You can’t regulate the development of literature, art, and culture with a stick, or by barking orders. You can’t lay down a furrow and then harness all your artists to make sure they don’t deviate from the straight and narrow. If you try to control your artists too tightly, there will be no clashing of opinions, consequently no criticism, and consequently no truth. There will be just a gloomy stereotype, boring and useless.

Emphasis added.

“Rand did have an extremely unfortunate tendency to moralize in areas where moral judgments were irrelevant and unjustified. … especially in … aesthetics and sexuality.”

Arthur Silber