Sailer’s theory is enticing but worth challenging. It could be that Steve Sailer is merely less sensitive or appreciative of (profound)changes since the 1970s because they mean less to him personally. He may be dismissing as insignificant what may appear significant and important to others. I harbor a similar bias. To me, the late 70s and much of the 80s were very significant as formative years. But, I tend to regard much of the culture and music since the late 80s to the present as trivial, trashy, stupid, and repetitive. But, young people in their teens and 20s beg to differ. So, cultural significance is partly in the eye of the beholder. I recall critics of Pauline Kael’s generation tended to favor Hitchcock’s earlier movies over later ones like Vertigo and Rear Window. It could be Kael and her peers were passionately introduced to cinema through Hitchcocks’ films of the 30s and 40s. So, while Vertigo came to be regarded as Hitchcock’s greatest movie among the younger critics, it was a stuffy, arty, and heavy-handed rehashing of worn cliches to Kael . It’s also possible that some older people in the 60s didn’t really find the decade all that new. Those who remembered the Jazz Age 20s might have felt a sense of deja vu. Yet others didn’t even acknowledge rock as significant or worthy music but as barbaric noise–how I feel about most of rap, heavy metal, goth, punk, grunge, etc.
So, let’s make a case for significant cultural change since 1970. The first half of the 1970s is considered by many to have produced a flowering of personal filmmaking in America–a kind of American New Wave. The second half of the 70s saw the rise of blockbuster cinema which changed the entire culture and business of cinema. Hollywood had always made mega-movies, but Spielberg and Lucas pioneered what might be called the Rock Concert movie. Movies lagged behind in pop culture trends because of their huge expense. If young people of the 60s generation could buy a guitar, write songs, and perform right away, a would-be young filmmaker or cineaste in the 60s had to wait his turn in an hierarchical industry where one had to gradually climb to the top. So, Lucas and Spielberg had to wait til they were past 30 to realize their dreams. Good or bad, who can deny that Star Wars, Jaws, and Close Encounters fundamentally changed the direction of cinema? Lucas and Spielberg may have drawn from old ideas–Flash Gordon, matinee serials, etc–, but their conceptualizations were bold, original, and daring.
I would also argue that 70s music was markedly different from the 60s variety, especially with the rise of disco. Disco produced a lot of good tunes, but it was stylistically embarrassing and lacked immunities to mounting ridicule. It died of self-inflicted cultural HIV. Pop music was crap from 79 to 82, but mid 80s were a great time for pop music–even if many of the memorable songs were one-hit wonders. Also, something doesn’t have to be bold or original to be worthwhile and pleasurable. Furthermore, conventional works generally enjoy more popularity and longer cultural life-span than many ‘bold and daring’ stuff. Who cares about dada today or any number of ‘experimental filmmakers’ who came up with wild and crazy visual ‘manifestos’ in the 1930s? Even most film geeks prefer feature film narratives. Most film scholars would rather study and appreciate the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, or even Douglas Sirk than the films of Maya Deren or her kind. Not that Deren was a bad filmmaker, but only time decides real value. Sometimes, time favors a ‘conventional’ work, sometimes a ‘experimental’ work. What finally matters is “Is it any good?’ Some eras favored the conventional over the experimental, only to see the experimental works vindicated over time. But, there have been times when the experimental was automatically favored over the conventional, with the passage of time enshrining the latter. Consider the many critics who dismissed David Lean in the 60s as a dullard and a fogey. In contrast, everything done by Godard was hailed by the Zeitgeist. Today, “Lawrence of Arabia” and even the much disdained “Doctor Zhivago” look better than ever while several of Godard’s 60s films look hopelessly dull and dated.
In the same vein, even if the 80s didn’t produce astoundingly new forms of music, it doesn’t mean that the decade wasn’t culturally fertile or productive. Consider that the basic language of cinema had been fully established in the silent era. True enough, but that didn’t mean cinema since 1929 lacked greatness, originality, quality, etc. 80s had some great music. Springsteen’s BORN IN THE USA is a great classic. REM released some wonderful albums. U2 was exciting and fresh. The 80s were a golden era of pop music for those young enough to feel the excitement. Personally, I listened more to 60s and early 70s rock in the 80s, and I couldn’t stand the big hair, the gay music videos, and sterile synthesized sound. There was A LOT of bad stuff in the 80s, but there were enough good stuff to make one feel that the music scene was alive and well.
It’s too bad that ‘our’ collective assessment of culture has been dominated by the boomer generation, a huge demographic unit which, in their wanton narcissism, kept relating or referring everything back to themselves–with the not-so-subtle hint that everything before or since their heyday was inferior, lame, inauthentic, or compromised . If Jews want the whole world to know about the Holocaust, Boomers want everyone to know about Woodstock. Significant events of pre- and post-boomer generations were never given that kind of attention–unless related to Civil Rights(which was indirectly connected to events in the 60s in any case) or the election of the first Negro Mofo piece-of-shit president. Also, as the 60s were the time when Jews made the significant move to replace wasps as the nation’s cultural, social, and political elite, the decade was romanticized by the national media controlled b liberal Jews in NY and LA. Consider the fact that most of the books written about the 60s have been by leftist or liberal Jews.
Also, we must be careful not to confuse NOISY change with REAL change. The 60s were a noisy period of slogans, clenched fists, rocks, and protests. So, we are led to think that far more changed than actually did. In contrast, we tend to think of the 50s and 80s as quiet times so we tend to think they were about stasis, conformity, and apathy. But, look closely, and this was not so. Profound changes happened in the 50s, which really was the bedrock of the 60s. And, America had changed a great deal economically, socially, and culturally from 1980 to 1990. Just because the President happened to be conservative and just because no great ‘progressive’ or ‘radical’ slogans or manifestos were part of the cultural landscape didn’t mean that things ground to a halt. If anything, great changes were afoot.
Of course, change isn’t always good or worthy–from a moral or artistic point of view. Hip-hop has been a world phenomenon for quite some time, but I doubt its artistic worth or moral value. But, good or bad, we’ve seen great changes since the late 80s and 90s. One of the major changes–related to hip-hop and rap–has been the rise of interracialism or interracism, mostly that of black males and white females.
This is partly due to Spike Lee’s groundbreaking movie “Jungle Fever”. The movie, in and of itself, wasn’t much, but it finally broke the ice in a devastating way when it came to depiction of interracial relationships. There had been interracial themed movies before, most famous being ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’, a movie about a white daughter marrying a white guy who just happened to be black. Sidney Poitier was a doctor in the movie and acted so very bourgeois. There was nothing scintillating about it. I don’t even recall Sidney and the white girl kissing if they did. “Jungle Fever” made a much bigger difference because it got down and dirty and funky and wunky. It was not about color-blind attraction of the liberal ideal, but a movie which said that the attraction between white female and black male was indeed racial. Lee spelled it out that black men are more muscular and have bigger dicks while white women are more attractive to a lot of black men.
But, more important was the rise of Rap and Hip-Hop. Many white kids found the groove and beat irresistible and were awed by the image of the tough gangsta pimp stud or sexy skanky slut. White kids had been interested in black music before, especially with Motown in 1960s and Disco in the late 70s, but there had been a dividing line between the black stuff and the white stuff. Also, the black stuff wasn’t as youth-oriented as the white stuff. Though black roots were crucial to rock n roll and much of rock, black musical culture wasn’t as rebellious as white musical culture. There were many reasons for this. Black adults tended to be wilder and funkier than white parents, so there was less stuff-shirtedness for black kids to rebel against. Even their elders were gittin’ down and grooving even in the 1940s and 1950s. Also, as blacks were a suppressed minority in the larger community, the entire black community was in a kind of rebel mode. So, even though or precisely because black people as a whole were more rebellious, there was less of a chance of black musical culture spawning a rebellious youth culture. Many black youths could well see that their elders were pretty wild, crazy, and badass whether they be singing the blues, playing jazz, or even chanting in churches. Indeed, an average black church in the 1950s was wilder than most heavy metal concerts in the 1970s. Even old black ladies were gittin’ down crazier than most white kids at a Black Sabbath concert. So, how could black youths rebel against this stuff?
Of course, black elders and youths had different preferences in the 60s. Motown appealed mainly to black youth–and white youth–, but it wasn’t anything that might be offensive or objectionable to black elders. Indeed, the black pop figures who became associated with the Rebel Image tended to work in white rock. It was mostly white kids who dug Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix. Blacks generally liked music they could dance to in a groovy or funky way, but Berry’s music was too honkytonkish and Hendrix’s music was too spaced-out trippy. Of course, many blacks admired Hendrix as a black power icon in the late 60s, but he was a bigger hero to white rock fans than to black soul fans. It’s not easy to rebel against adults who are wild to begin with, and black adults had been wild for a long time. Also, consider that when Elvis first arrived on the scene, many whites rejected his songs and act as ‘nigger music’. But, blacks couldn’t possibly reject their own music as ‘nigger music’ since they were a bunch of ‘niggers’. So, in a way, white people became kinda ‘niggerized’ in this sense since the 1950s. With the boomers–who embraced loud and wild rock music–growing older, rebellion against stuffy social norms became as pointless among white kids as it had been for black kids. It was pointless for white kids to rebel against parents who were into Led Zeppelin in the 80s and 90s just as it had been pointless for black kids to rebel against parents who were into Howling Wolf and crazy gospel singers in the 1950s. White folks became crazy or at least semi-crazy like black folks.
This is why we should not consider Rap music as a youth rebellion in the black community. To be sure, there is some of that in Rap. Black kids in the 60s, 70s, and 80s surely envied white kids for having a youth culture whereas black musical culture tended to be for a much wider black audience. In the 60s and 70s, white kids were listening to something other than what their parents listened to. So, there was a sense OUR music among white kids. But, in the black community, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson could be a favorite of both black elders and youngsters. So, black kids must have been aware that they lacked something white kids had–a cool rebel youth culture. And, we know this is true to some extent because Public Enemy guys said they were inspired by The Clash.
But, the rise of Rap still had little to do with generational rebellion. It grew out of a generational vacuum. By the 1980s, the Black Family had pretty much gone the way of the dinosaurs, especially among lower-class blacks. (Even among the well-to-blacks, there was a problem because black women tended to be socially and economically better off than black males, which meant an imbalance between successful black females and successful black males; besides, many successful black males preferred to settle down with some white girl than with a more demanding and aggressive black ‘ho’ while most non-black men didn’t like black women.) Since the Great Society 60s, more and more black kids grew up in single parent households. But, things were actually even worse. Many single-mothers were totally worthless as parents. They had many kids, had no responsibility, and lived off welfare or petty crime(and had series of awful boyfriends). There was no discipline in the home and plenty of social craziness. When we compare the music scenes of blacks and whites in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, we find crazier and more corrosive stuff among whites. Sure, there were the Carpenters and other white-bread fluff, but there was also Satanic Heavy Metal, Ugly Punk, and other retarded stuff. Black music, even for hoodlums in the black community, used to be stuff like Earth, Wind, and Fire, Lou Rawls, and Barry White. Sexy, shad, and funky but not viciously crazy.
Yet, the black community suffered more in this period because of the near total breakdown of the black family. Young girls had babies and lived off government handout. And, kids grew up without fathers and got all their ideas from TV, streets, gangs, and demagogues. So, by the 80s, there was nothing for black youths to rebel against because relatively few black kids even knew their fathers. Fathers are supposed to socially and emotionally link their children to the future and the past. The Future because a child hopes to grow up to be like his father or marry someone like him. The Past because the father tells his child about how things were like ‘back in the days’. With no fathers, a lot of black kids were cut off from both the black past and from a sense of black future. A vertical sense of historical development, moral hierarchy, and social progress was lost in the black community. There wasn’t much to emulate but also not much to rebel against. So, what developed among black youths was a kind of a horizontal community of badass punkass jiveass juvenile delinquints–the kind you see in the French film La Haine(or among the criminal urchins in the Brazilian movie City of God). Rap was aggressive, loud, and brash, but it wasn’t necessarily rebellious because there were almost no black elders saying NO to that stuff. (Also, though some elements of Rap was anti-white and pretended to have a political bent, the essence of rap was about ‘niggaz’ trying to act tougher than other ‘niggaz’. It was more about internecine aggression among young black punks than about blacks vs the outside or older world–as the outside world avoided blacks and as older blacks had no control over the younger ones. If there is a rebellious element in rap, it could be a sublimated rage against single-mothers. Since the majority of black males grew up under single mothers who often beat and cussed them out, the young punks grew up seeing the BLACK BITCH as the authority figure. But, as their mothers were the ONLY people with whom they had an emotional bond, rappers couldn’t go all out and dis their own mamas. Indeed, nothing drives a Negro crazy as bad shit said about his mama. Thus, the black thug had to repress and sublimate his resentment over all the beatings and neglect he suffered at the hands of his mama and take out all his frustration against the abstract HO–every woman except his own mama. )
There had been strong and influential moralistic folks in the black community decades ago who called Jazz “the devil’s music” or objected to guys like Ray Charles using spiritual music for secular expression. But, there were no parents who effectively said NO to black kids in the 80s because most black kids had no fathers–and their single mothers were useless and on crack or watching TV all day and dumb enough to find amusement in their children singing and acting like shit. (If black mothers beat up their kids, it tended to be abusive than disciplinary.)
Also, most ‘respectable’ black politicians were okay with rap since they were a bunch of aggressive, hateful, vain, and disgusting louts themselves who wanted to be thought of ‘with it’ and cool. So, Jesse Jackson said Rap turns ‘mess into a message’ when it actually does the opposite. And, there’s Al Sharpton and etc.!
And, though many white people didn’t like or even hated rap, they kept mum because it would be ‘racist’ for them to say so. Besides, even whites who hated rap kinda envied it because it was efficient, powerful, propulsive, and intimidating. A white guy was afraid to say denounce rap since people might interpret his disdain as pussy-ass fear and envy–like the whiny whimpering of a small dog afraid of a big dog who won the fight and the mating rights. I’ll bet every White Nationalist who denounces rap secretly wishes white guys had come up with something as effective and infectious. So, when a white guy says he can’t stand rap, it’s not just the music he’s objecting to. He’s objecting to the power of the black dude, just like white men had been offended by the power of Jack Johnson which blew away all those white guys in the ring. Also, it frustrated a lot of white conservatives that so many white kids dug rap culture and chose to become ‘whiggers’. It was a fact and fate of nature–guys admiring toughest guys as role models and girls being attracted to studliest guys as sexual fantasies. (Thus, every white man is filled with insecurity. Even if he has a pretty girl friend or wife, he wonders, “does she secretly desire the stronger Negro over me? Would I be able to protect her and defend my honor if I were to be challenged by some ‘nigger’ in the street?”)
There was another reason why whites didn’t oppose Rap. Many white liberals felt ‘guilt’ toward blacks and regarded Rap as the authentic voice of the ‘disenfranchised’.
Many liberals agreed that, yes, much of Rap is ugly, hideous, demented, and sick BUT those disturbing aspects were the symptoms of the pathologies in the black community created by centuries of white oppression. In other words, if you poison someone, you should not complain if he throws up on you.
Another reason why many in the white community didn’t complain was that the real power-holders of the media and cultural institutions were Jewish. For either radical or economic reasons, most Jews supported Rap and Hip Hop. Liberal Jews claimed that blacks were expressing righteous rage. Jewish Hollywood even signed the likes of Ice-T and Ice Cube to multi-million dollar contracts.
Also, conservative whites were mostly silent about rap because they didn’t want to look ‘square’ and ‘dorky’ like so many white people in the 50s who’d called Elvis’s stuff ‘nigger music’ and have been ridiculed ever since.
So, generation gap had little to do with the rise of Rap. It’s also pointless to argue that rap has exhausted itself as Steve Sailer does because it is exhaust-proof. It’d be like saying people will stop drinking coke or beer because it’s the same old thing over and over. But, people keep drinking the same sodapop and munching on the same hotdogs and bigmacs day in and day out because they offer a kind of elemental-eternal pleasure. Rap has that kind of appeal to many. People are not looking for something new but something that feels ‘right’. Rap never started out as a form with much stylistic variability or possibility. Indeed, its very power lay in its essentialness. Rap is like refined sugar or a cheese burger. Refined sugar got rid of everything except the sweetness. Rap got rid of everything in black music except the beat, thumpity-thump, humpity-hump, and aggression. It is the porno-ization of black music. Similarly, cheese burger is a perennial and universal favorite precisely because it is just ‘right’ and nothing more. People don’t expect a fancy or highfalutin burger, which is why the Arch Deluxe was a laughable failure. People who consume porn are not looking for art, creativity, range, or insight. They want the same in-and-out action day in and day out. Of course, they want some variety in the kinds of women and sexual positions, but the basic formula is the same. Porn lovers don’t want more dialogue, fancier camera tricks, and all that auteur stuff. What really matters to them are (1) is the woman hot and sexy? (2) is the guy a stud? (3) is it at least competent technically (4) will it get me excited. Porn is creativity-proof.. This isn’t to say porn can’t be creative but only fact that the primary appeal of porn is about orgasm, not creativity or originality. Similarly, people who like Rap and Hip-Hop want the same thing over and over. They want some variety but within the same formula. Though I find Rap to be ugly, hideous, and retarded–essentially foul-mouthed baby talk–, who can deny that it has a certain primal and animal magnetism? Just as a gorilla thumping its chest or a panther’s growl attracts our attention and even awe, the animal power of Rap has a pull on our emotions. To totally deny it is to be dishonest(just as it would be for a Jew to deny that Ride of the Valkyries has awesome power.) Though rap is generally annoying, nagging, retarded, and irritating, the truth is young people–especially raised by trashy single mothers–don’t have much in the ways of dignity, values, and sense. They grow up in a tough empty world and come to believe that the ONLY thing that matters is how tough you are, how effectively you can cuss and defend yourself and fend off enemies and rivals with fists and f-words. Just as boxer cannot waste his moves and must use his bodily motions to punch and win, Rap must be compact, aggressive, muscular. It’s the social evolutionary product of the law of the urban jungle. In the ghetto, you can get killed by saying the wrong thing the wrong way. You get whupped if you act weak. You gotta act like you’re tough and strong and express it through words and fists. A boxer will get clobbered if he experiments with his movement to emulate a ballet dancer or hindu yogi. He must be focused on defense, offense, and nothing else. Same goes for Rap. Rap is more than a musical expression. It is more like the musical manifestation of survival instincts within the black community where things got really tough as young hoodlums began to fight one another for mastery. Paradoxically, all this aggressiveness only reduced the chances of survival among black youths. With every black male acting tough to ‘survive’ and scare off rivals, the black community turned into a battleground of trash talking lunatics. Each moron may have justified his tough talk as a means to ‘survive’, but it must be said black males in the Hood would have a better time surviving if they didn’t try so hard to ‘survive’. (It’s interesting that the musical culture of societies ruled by military elites–feudal or aristocratic Europe and samurai Japan–was far less aggressive than that of modern democracies where civilians have power and freedom. I guess since a strict social order was maintained by the military classes, the elites could concentrate on gaining respectability through serious art while the masses behaved themselves and didn’t get to uppity. The elites back then probably feared free-wheeling emotions since such may lead to rowdiness and over-confidence among the masses that may come to challenge the social order. Indeed, the Old American South was like the aristocratic order in Europe; the white elite tended to be genteel, and the blacks were shuffling and obedient and singing songs like Old Black Joe.)
Now, let us consider some of the factors and conditions that may lead to cultural or artistic ferment at any given period in history. Sailer points to the Generation Gap as having been crucial to the creative/innovativel ferment of the 60s. He even quotes a line or two from Jacques Barzun’s ‘From Dawn to Decadence’–a book which I haven’t read–which seems to indicate that this was indeed true all throughout history. But, is the Generation Gap THE crucial element in the birth or burst of new ideas and creativity? That it can be one seems indisputable, but what about tremendous artistic ferments in periods where Generation Gap didn’t play a significant factor?
The Generation Gap leaps out as a factor in the case of the 60s because YOUTH REBELLION defined the period, but upon a closer inspection we discover that much of the creativity had less to do with Generation Gappery than to a burst of Maverick Orientation among the pre-boomer generation. Though 60s music was largely created and directed by boomers or immediate antecedents, many of the key thinkers, artists, and entertainers in the 60s were of the older generation. Indeed, they belonged to the ‘over 30 crowd’ who were not supposed to be trusted by young people. And, even in the field of pop music, the new music owed a great deal to the traditional roots in country, blues, rhythm and blues, folk, and jazz. There couldn’t have been folk rock without centuries old folk music and rhythm-n-blues & country which became the basis of rock n roll. Though we tend to think of music prior to Elvis and Beatles as only Perry Como and the Andrew Sisters, it’s a crude caricature. There had long been a rich history of music in America even if it happened to be regional, local, or ethnic or ‘race’ music.
Anyway, outside the musical arts, it becomes more apparent that the creative geniuses in literature and cinema of the 60s were generally not of the 60s boomer generation obsessed with generation gappery, youth rebellion, and so forth. This was the case in both America and Europe. The preeminent European thinker in the 50s were Sartre and Camus. In the 60s, the most important Marxist thinker was Louis Althusser. These men were NOT of the 60s generation. Indeed, their own youths had spent in the 30s or 40s. Among the most important European filmmakers of the 60s were men like Bresson, Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, Resnais, Visconti, Bunuel, Leone, and Melville, but all these men were not of 60s youth rebellion. They were in their middle ages or even older. But, who can deny that their creativity in conjuring up an entirely new language of cinema. There was an element of rebellion in the French New Wave and subsequent New Waves in other countries, but even here, the reality is far more complex. Most New Wave directors were born around 1930, which means that they were already 20 by 1950. By 1960, they were already 30. Young but not exactly Boomer. Also, the New Wavers, though rebellious against the French Film Industry, were deeply reverential toward the Old Masters, especially Hollywood greats like Alfred Hitchcock and many others. One of the key New Wavers, Eric Rohmer, was much older than others. He was born in 1920!
And, if Generation Gap is so crucial to artist ferment, how does one explain the great achievements of 1950s American cinema by men who were neither young nor particularly rebellious(in the generation gap sense.) Consider that Hitchcock made his two greatest films in the 50s–Rear Window and Vertigo. Orson Welles made Touch of Evil in 1958. He wasn’t really old but he wasn’t young either. And, John Ford made his greatest film in the 50s too when he was in his 60s. That movie was, of course, The Searchers. Indeed, many of the key 50s movies were made by middle aged or even old men. Though 50s cinema was still restrained by certain censorious codes and conventions, one could argue that it was the high artistic peak of American cinema. Now, let’s look at American cinema of the 1960s. Even here, most of the key filmmakers were not of the Generation Gap(Boomer) generation though their films came to define the attitudes and spirit of 60s youth. The Wild Bunch was made by Peckinpah when he was 44. Bonnie & Clyde was made by Arthur Penn when he was 45. The Graduate was made by Mike Nichols when he was 36. He was still young but not a gapper. Indeed, he confessed that he was rather put off by young people who saw Benjamin Braddock as a hero. Stanley Kubrick was 40 when he made 2001 a Space Odyssey. So, even the great landmark 60s films were made by men known for their expertise, professionalism, and experience than by young men obsessed with youth angst. To be sure, they were rebels in the sense of going up against the Studio System, but it’s safer to categorize them as mavericks than as rebels, not least because many felt no particular affinity with the 60s youth crowd. They were men of strong personalities, individuality, and vision, but it would be misleading to say their art and genius were fueled mainly a generation gap.
(Indeed, maverickness, not rebelliousness, is the key to creativity. Maverickery is an individual or personal attribute, and all great artists are strong individual personalities whatever their ideologies or beliefs may be. Rebellion, on the other hand, is a collective mindset, movement, or attitude; and for that reason, it can easily be appropriated by governments or corporations and fashioned into a slogan or a brand. Corporations cannot mass-manufacture maverick talents like Miles Davis or Sam Peckinpah, but it can mass-produce rap and heavy metal music clones whose mindset tends to be collective and conformist. Mavericks like Albert Camus cannot be mass-manufactured, but governments can mass-produce lots of rebels like Red Guards or Hitler Youths. Rebels may be against something, but they all need to stick together to form a viable movement. Thus, rebellions all become new conformities. Mavericks, on the other hand, are eternally blessed or condemned to be loners in their own expressive, visionary, or emotional universes.)
If 1970 witnessed the slowdown in the evolution of American pop music, the early 70s is considered the highpoint of New American Cinema by many critics. Films by Bob Rafelson, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, William Friedkin, Cassavettes, and many others redefined film art. So, just as originality in popular music was winding down, it was picking up in American cinema. And, the latter part of the decade saw Lucas and Spielberg setting forth a new template for not only American but world cinema. Whatever one thinks of Lucas and Spielberg–the childlike or childishness of their visions–, who can deny their originality and ingenuity?
Men like Ashby and Altman, though pioneers of a new kind of cinema, were certainly not of the 60s generation. By 1970 when he made MASH, Altman was already 45. And, Ashy was 41 when he made Harold and Maude. Altman was 20 in 1945 which means that he could have served in WWII and could be considered a member of the Greatest Generation. Ashby didn’t quite qualify as a member of the Greatest Generation but certainly was too old to be a boomer.
Of course, one could argue that their main sensibilities, ideas, and vision had been formed during their younger rebellious days and that they merely applied their imagination in later life when given a chance to make the movies they wanted to make. But, this could be said for artists of any generation. Artists have Big Ideas in their youth but don’t often get to realize them until much later in life. This may account for great young poets. Any young poet can jot down his poetry and gain fame right away. But, art forms requiring lots of money, support, and networks are not friendly to young talents. A young architect with Big Ideas may have to wait until he’s in his 40s or even 50s for his chance. By then, his inspiration may have dried up, and he may be sustaining his career with backlog of ideas developed from youth.
There is most certainly an optimal relation between the nature of the art form and age of the artist. Rock music requires youthful energy, even immaturity and brashness. Other artforms require experience, thought, reflection, etc. Classical symphonies probably favor men who tend to be older though there have been many young geniuses in classical music. Some artforms stress forthrightness and simplicity of emotions while others require richness of texture, nuance, depth, and complexity. There’s no way to determine whether youth and energy OR maturity and reflection are better for art. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Young people possess fresher senses and are more neuron-charged and ambitious. Old people tend to have greater perspective, more wisdom, and deeper understanding. Perhaps, just as daybreak and dusk are the most beautiful & special parts of the day, creativity is most special when one blooms into adulthood(daybreak of consciousness) and when adulthood sets into old age. Youths growing into adulthood are filled with crisis. Their ideas and actions may be stupid and brash but also filled with boldness and energy. Adults settling into oldness also go through crisis. They are beginning to lose grip of a life they’ve become accustomed to. They feel their energies sapping and muscles weakening. Crisis inspires or forces people to think and grapple with reality in new or different ways. To a young person, going off to college or graduating from college can be profoundly meaningful. To an adult faced with mid-life crisis, big questions about life must be confronted. This isn’t to suggest that these periods of life are necessary for great art. Indeed, many great works of art have been created at all stages of life. Rather, the point is that art created at these crisis-points in life tend to have an extra charge, power, intensity. To be sure, crisis doesn’t necessarily have to be related to a person’s age. It can come about due to loss of a dear one, political or historical calamity for a nation, loss of faith in one’s ideology or religion, a horrible personal tragedy, social revolution, etc.
Much of the creative spark comes from conflict. Even pleasant-seeming artworks and entertainment are often created by oddballs and misfits. This is especially true of comedians. We may think comedians are happy people full of laughs, but many are manic depressives who constantly hog for attention to feel self-worth. Many of them happen to be ugly, funny looking, or have weird habits or outlooks on life. They are outsiders, and their comic routine is often an attack on society or self-loathing attack on themselves. They beg for out attention through special pleading but also through insult. Jews are great comedians not only due to their high intelligence and wit but their ‘hostile’ relationship with rest of society. Also, comedy is a deeply unsatisfying business. While on the stage, the comedian may produce lots of laughs, but the fact is he must act the clown, fool, or jerk. The audience is partly laughing with him but also laughing at him. All comedians are, to some degree, object of ridicule and self-ridicule. So, after the lights go down and they go back home, they are likely to feel lousy. A comedian is also like a drug addict looking for another fix–a killer joke or something to laugh at–because his life feels empty without the barbed cushion of laughter. There is also the pressure to come up with ever new jokes. A singer can sing the same song over and over, but a comedian cannot tell the same joke over and over. Like the truism about sharks–sink or swim–, a comedian must constantly surf the waves of laughter. With a life, identity, and career defined by clowning around, a comedian feels like a nothing when sober. Consider Peter Sellers.
A comedian may make a lot of money, but his whole life is about making a fool of himself before others. It’s no wonder that Woody Allen has never been very happy. A comedian can only be taken seriously as a person who cannot be taken seriously. People may seriously admire comic wit and talent, but the comedian remains a caricature than a real character. Blacks have also been good at comedy, not only because they are naturally wild and expressive but because, like the Jews, they’ve had a rather hostile and conflicted relation with white America. In the distant past, blacks often hoped to win white affection or approval by acting like clowns, children, animals, or various Negro stereotypes. It made many white people laugh, and it even made some blacks rich and famous. But, the fact remained that blacks were, to an extent, demeaning themselves through a Jive-ass coon act before white folks. It’s no wonder that Black Liberation in the 60s was often Angry and Humorless. To an extent, black radicals were reacting to the image of the Happy Negro who always be munching watermelons, singing, dancing, and laughing.
Crisis is always better for art and creativity than stasis, but crisis can come from anything. Ingmar Bergman’s crisis, for instance was partly personal, religious, political, and psychological. His tortured relationship with his father led to both personal and spiritual crisis which stay with him all his life. His early enthusiasm for Hitler and Nazism led to a moral and political crisis later when the horrible crimes of the Nazi regime were exposed. But, he was a born weirdo, so Bergman suffered psychological crisis all his life. Even as a successful world-renowned filmmaker, he was a very tormented artist, a fact which can be seen in films like PERSONA, HOUR OF THE WOLF, and PASSION.
There’s no guarantee that crisis will produce great artists. Indeed, most of the world is saturated with crises of all kinds, but most societies don’t produce great artists. How many great poets, painters, or filmmakers came out of Cambodia or the Congo in recent decades? For artists to be able to work, there has be a kind of balance of crisis and stasis. When Japan was in full crisis during WWII, there wasn’t much room for artists. But, postwar Japan had both crisis and stasis. There was peace and gradual economic rebuilding, but there was also the poverty, huge social problems, and the horrible memory of the recent war. People like Akira Kurosawa were naturally talented to be sure, but their psyche had been shaped the great events of history–not just the war but the rapid and dramatic modernization of Japan prior to the war.
Similarly, it could be that China since the 80s produced a number of great filmmakers and writers because of the balance of crisis and stasis. China has always been in crisis mode for over 200 yrs, but since the 1980s, there was stability as well as crisis. Besides, many crises since the 1980s have been of constructive than destructive nature. Any rapid change–even positive–leads to crisis in how people perceive and react to reality. People are forced to struggle, adapt, and/or to see things in a new way. The Mao yrs were especially bad for the arts. They were violent and oppressive. Maoist crisis was entirely destructive and Maoist stasis–communist totalitarianism–was entirely repressive. But, since the 1980s, China has had a different kind of stasis and crisis. The stasis was based on economic growth and political stability, and the crisis arose from grappling with socio-cultural changes. Also, the horrible Mao yrs became a fertile subject matter for Chinese artists and filmmakers. It’s sad but true that horrible events often tend to be more interesting than static continuance. Far more books have been written of Hitler and Stalin than the leader of Switzerland. Far more books have been written and will be written on World War II than on East German auto-making in the 1960s. So, just as the horrors of WWI and WWII served as great material for books, movies, ideas, and art for many artists in the West, the horrors of the Maoist period served as great material for Chinese writers and filmmakers since the 1980s. Chinese couldn’t write or express themselves freely during the Mao yrs, but since the 1980s many Chinese artists had something compelling to write and think about.
This is also true of postwar Italy. Defeat in WWII forced Italians to do a lot of soul searching. Also, left-leaning Italian artists gained new freedom to write books and make movies about various social problems in Italy. The result was Italian Neo-realism. Neo-realism might have materialized even if Italy hadn’t lived through 23 yrs of Mussolini and WWII, but the liberation from political repression and the harrowing experience of war made it all the more urgent, powerful, and necessary. The generation of Italian filmmakers from the 1940s to the 1960s all had been directly or indirectly impacted by the war yrs. Now, compare them with Italian filmmakers of the 70s and 80s who grew up in relative stability and prosperity. Whatever their talent, they’ve lacked the same powerful and urgent connection to Art as a life-or-death passion. The rise of neo-realism had nothing to do with the Generation Gap. Indeed, Vittorio De Sica was already 47 when he made BICYCLE THIEVES and was 51 when he made UMBERTO D, a movie about an old man and his dog–considered by many to be his best. Though the crisis wasn’t generational, it was still a genuine crisis of some kind.
But again, crisis isn’t enough. A society needs to have some kind of cultural and critical community, tradition, and heritage. Italy enjoyed a rich history in the arts. Also true of France and Russia. Same could be said for Japan and China. But, some nations, no matter how crisis-ridden, never developed much of an aesthetic or expressive tradition. As such, few people know about art, care about art, create art, nor critique art. So, crisis remains just a crisis instead of serving as the fodder for creativity. Arts and culture never exist in a vacuum. Arts and culture, even when created in the Name of the People, occupy a privileged position in society. They can be supported by rich patrons, government, or by mass business models but don’t exist on their own. Novelists would have no reason to write in a society without publishers, critics, scholars, readers, and universities to preserve the memory of such stuff. Filmmaking is expensive and requires the infrastructure of movie industry, movie theaters, marketing apparatus, and retail outlets(for dvds and other movie-related material). Of course, certain humbler artforms, especially folk music, can exist in a world of their own. Even an illiterate hillbilly or Negro could pick up an old banjo or broken guitar and sing a tune which might pass from person to person and become part of the larger culture. But, higher or grander forms of art require more than illiterate hillbillies and wily Negroes. This is even true of Serious Poetry–as opposed to folk poetry amounting to limericks about funny stuff. It may be that it didn’t cost T. S. Eliot anything to write poetry with pen and paper, but for Eliot to have reached his level of knowledge, mastery, and complexity, he had to have enjoyed the benefit of extensive education provided by Institutions. Also, his work was such that they could only be appreciated by equally Serious People who care about and care to sustain that kind of High Culture. So, even though it only took pen and paper for Eliot to write his poems, it required a complex and advanced society to produce and appreciate a man like Eliot to begin with.
Generally, people like to avoid crises though they are curious about the crisis of others. In other words, few of us want to fight in wars, but we like to see stuff like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. We wouldn’t want a meteor to hit our planet, but we love disaster movies. We’d rather see a movie about a plane falling out of the sky than a plane flies and lands safely. Lack of crisis compels us to examine something closely, clinically, and analytically if we want to escape the boredom of stasis. For example, it’s exciting just to watch a car plow into other cars and blow up. But, if a car is standing still, it becomes interesting to us only if we try to know more about it–design, history, engineering, etc. When there’s no crisis, we must bring our attention to the matter since the matter won’t grab our attention in wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am manner. (This could indeed be the difference between civilized peoples and backward peoples. Even when all seems normal and ‘boring’, civilized people patiently seek MORE knowledge and understanding about the reality whereas backward people–like children–don’t use their minds or engage their senses unless something crazy happens or something fun is available. Animals are the same way. Without OBVIOUS stimuli to grab their attention they just wanna sleep all day.)
For this reason, a Negro is likely to be more entertaining than other peoples. Even when childish and nonsensical, a Negro is often in an elemental crisis mode. Happy or sad, a Negro is ‘flipping out’, hollering a lot of yabbity-dabbity gibberish, clucking his neck, shaking his booty, and/or acting all jive-ass and shit. It could well be retarded and even offensive, but it grabs our attention. We wouldn’t want such a Negro as a next-door neighbor, but he’s more fun to watch than a serious and sober Swedish bureaucrat or German engineer.
This may be why some Afro-centrists take pride in black folks being so ‘creative’, and indeed, there is a peculiar kind of creativity in the black community generally lacking in others. But more often than not, blackness is more expressive–even destructive–than truly creative. Even so, the musical, behavioral, and linguistic contributions of blacks cannot be denied. Many of these contributions may seem stupid, childish, and ugly to us, but some of them certainly possess great power, vibrancy, and brilliance. Who can deny the power and genius of samba, jazz, and other musical forms? Also, though rap is a childish and savage musical form, who can deny its infectious beat irresistible to angry, frustrated, bullying, or rebellious young kids all around the world? The fact is young men(and even girls) in their teens(and even early 20s) aren’t the most thoughtful and mature people in the world. Rap does indeed supply them with a kind of beat, rhythm, style, and thrust which makes them feel alive, important, relevant, etc. They may be fools, and Rap may be stupid, but its formula is undeniably potent. It is to young thugs and idiots what sugar is to kids and coca-cola is to fast food eaters. Not good for you but with undeniable appeal.
The group most interesting in our consideration of creativity and crisis is the Jews. No people have been as original, brilliant, creative, productive, destructive, dangerous, and subversive as the Jews in the modern era. This is all the more remarkable since Jews have been a small minority in all nations except Israel. Indeed, even in Israel, the most productive and creative Jewish group, the Ashkenazi, has been a minority. Why would this be? One of the reasons is surely biological. Jews have higher intelligence and a naturally wily personality. The Jewish mind, for bio-cultural reasons, tends to be more busy, restless, and ‘wandering’ than those of other groups. If blacks are excited in a yabbity-dabbity way, Jews are lively in a yadda-yadda way. If blacks are roaring with wild emotions, Jews are raging with furious intellect. The black dude loves to move his body and sing and dance. The Jew loves to analyze and challenge everything. So, the Jew, like the Negro, is constantly in crisis mode.
This mode may partly be rooted in his DNA, but it’s also the product of nomadic and Mercurian Jewish history and experience. On the one hand, Jews have historically clung to the notion of One God who Chose and Blessed the Jews over rest of mankind. Thus, according to the Sacred Jewish Texts, Jews SHOULD BE the most successful and happiest people on Earth. But, as a nomadic people, Jews remained a minority in foreign lands and lived uneasily surrounded by goyim. On the one hand, Jews felt superior to goyim, and on the other, Jews had less power or were even at the mercy of the goyim. This could only lead to spiritual and social crisis in the Jewish soul. Socially, Jews learned to feign loyalty to the goy order but secretly subverted, weakened, and undermined goy power order. In most cases, Jews succeeded to a point… before being exposed for their two-faced venality and being kicked out. The countries where Jews succeeded most were USSR up to end of WWII and in the USA where Jews have truly become masters over all of us(and are fully implementing their plans to destroy the white race). Anyway, the fact is the Jews, in most cases, could never gain the full trust of goyim who, in due time, figured out what the Jews were up to. Jews might have acted like they were loyal and offer up their talent to the rulers of the goy order. But eventually, the goy elite and masses could detected the same old pattern. Jews would never honestly assimilate, instead setting up a Jewish network to grab the most amount of wealth and power in the goy order. This is why it’s crucial for Jews to control the media and harp about the Holocaust. With control of the media, the Jews can condition us to think that ANY criticism or examination of Jewish Power is ‘antisemitic’ or ‘crypto-Nazi’. Jewish media churn out the same old Holocaust images, as if to imply that if you’re critical of Jewish power, you must want to gas Jews. (Though this is a dirty Jewish trick, it must be said there are plenty of dumb, insipid, and stupid morons on the Right who belittle the Holocaust or say it didn’t happen, thus only giving credence to Jewish groups that the White Right is full of enraged and seething retards. Holocaust Deniers are unwitting friends of Jewish power. Their stupidity lends validity to Jewish paranoia and stains the Right. It’s one thing to re-examine the records pertaining to the Holocaust, but it really takes a moron or sicko to deny that the Nazis committed unspeakable crimes through genocide and other horrors.)
Anyway, what are the reasons for Jewish creativity other than high intelligence? After all, intelligence isn’t necessarily synonymous with creativity. There are many intelligent people without much in the way of artistic impulse. Though high intelligence always helps, other factors are also necessary. Indeed, most artists a bit ‘crazy.’ The great ones don’t just dabble in art but immerse themselves as their obsessive calling in life. It completely defines their ego, dreams, ‘spirituality,’ and agenda. Some people have high intelligence but not the ‘craziness’ elemental to great/powerful art. Some people have the ‘craziness’ but not enough intelligence. Generally, a great artist has (1) high intelligence (2) obsessive ‘craziness’ (3) creative temperament–generally more right-side-brained than left-side-brained (4) flexibility of mind (5) natural talent–the right kind of hand-eye coordination or imagination-application connection.
Many Jews are highly intelligent, but what were the factors that favored them in traits from (2) to (5)? Jewish ‘craziness’ may come from cultural, historical, and biological factors. As a nomadic and restless people, Jewish merchants had to hustle and bustle from community to community. Jews could never settle down to a long-lasting stable communal life like those of most Christian peasants or noblemen. So, Jews were likely to have come under greater emotional duress and cultural neurosis, especially as they were always regarded as ‘outsiders’. In a way, all artists are kind of like self-exiled outsiders. They are bohemian eccentrics who seek another reality through creativity that unavailable or hidden in the real world. This imaginary realm of art can be perfectionist, rebellious, dysfunctional, subversive, noble, or corrosive, but each challenges the world as it seems to most people. A painting of a beautiful woman, for example, implies and bemoans that most women aren’t as beautiful. An ugly painting, on the other hand, implies that truth is indeed ugly and that people pre-occupied with prettiness are ignoring True Reality. Whether idealistic, realistic, imaginative, or satirical, art is great only when created by a ‘crazy’ obsessive artist of great talent and determination. ‘Craziness’ or eccentricity makes art special. We know, for example, that there is something more than prettiness or handsomeness to the great masterpieces of Greek antiquity and the Renaissance. This is why Neo-Classical Nazi aesthetics was unsatisfying and deficient. Beyond cardboard handsomeness, healthiness, and ‘noble’ posturing, there wasn’t much else. We saw ideology, not individuality. A great work of art can be both ideological and individualist, but it cannot be ONLY ideological–though it can be only individualist.
Anyway, Jews occupied a ‘crazy’ position in society because of the nature of their profession, their cultural/tribal identity(among goyim), and their religion. Their religion was, at once, severely intolerant, self-enclosed, and moralistic AND flexible, adaptable, and pluralistic. It insisted there is only One God. It commanded that Jews live and marry among themselves. It put forth a very demanding set of moral laws. But, the Torah also told Jews that it was their fate to live amongst other peoples and grow rich through trade. It advised the Jews to trade, mingle, and work with other peoples. One aspect of Judaism denounced materialism and ‘greed’. The other part encouraged Jews to succeed in moneymaking and gaining social status. These contradictions could never be resolved, and so the Jews became kind of ‘crazy’. Also, because of the demanding moralism of Jewish culture and religion which persecuted homosexuality(well-spring of much creativity through human history) and representational art(‘do not make false idols, etc), Jewish creativity had been stifled and self-censored over the millennia.
This may explain the explosion of Jewish creativity in the liberalizing atmosphere of 19th century Europe. Eccentric Jewish creative talents and voices felt liberated not only from the repressive gentile order but from their own taboos. Yet, this ‘craziness’ had been brewing among the Jews over the millennia, and so it still serves as fuel for the fire of Jewish creativity.
Also, even after Jews were accepted into mainstream society, the fact is they remained outsiders because they were still a ‘special’ people–successful way beyond their numbers, sensitive and even paranoid about perceived or potential persecution, obsession with their deficiencies in looks and physical strength. If many Jews reacted to and triumphed over the hostile goy world by working harder, studying harder, and making more money, other and more maladjusted Jews sought meaning of life through comedy, literature, cinema, music, entertainment, and etc. A relatively normal Jewish kid who made good became a doctor, lawyer, or an accountant. A relatively neurotic Jewish kid felt not only rejected or repressed by(or alienated from) goy society but by respectable Jewish society. So, they became the Lenny Bruces, Woody Allens, Marc Chagalls, Bob Dylans, Don Rickles, Philip Roths, Arthur Millers, Norman Mailers, etc.
As Jews become better adjusted to mainstream society, it remains to be seen if their high level of creativity will continue. In the movie ANYTHING ELSE, Woody Allen worries about the success of modern Jews. Part of the fear is that old antisemitism may return, but the other fear is that it is dead and gone for good. If Jewishness has been defined by its difference, separation, and even persecution by rest of society, can a meaningful Jewish identity, culture, and sensibility survive/thrive in a world where everyone loves the Jew? Indeed, imagine a Woody Allen without social, historical, sexual, political, and cultural complexes related to being Jewish. He might have been content to become just another Jewish dentist or insurance salesman.
Of course, Jews may need not worry. It’s possible that Jewish ‘craziness’ is as biological as well as cultural or historical. After all, most persecuted minority groups never produced great intellectuals, artists, and the like. Asian-Americans were treated as outsiders through most of American history, but Japanese- and Chinese-Americans haven’t been nearly as creative, original, or ‘crazily’ interesting as the Jews. Could it have been because Asians are naturally or biologically more submissive/conformist whereas the Jews are naturally more cunning, wily, clever, and curious? Most Asian-Americans try to get along with the majority or mainstream whereas most Jews try to re-define the entire mainstream according to their likes and dislikes–even when they make up a small percentage of the population. There were many Chinese rebels and revolutionaries in China, but how many outside China? Yet, there were many Jews who challenged the entire social order in societies where they were just a small minority. Even if many Jews sought assimilation, plenty of other Jews of radical or contrarian inclination had the chutzpah to overturn or transform the entire social and cultural systems of non-Jewish nations. Indeed, even the neocons–mostly Jewish–have been accused to trying to transform the ENTIRE world by using the power of the US, a nation that has already been largely redefined and reshaped according to liberal and left-wing Jewish ideas and agendas.
Anyway, if Jewish creativity or ‘craziness’ is biological, then Jews will continue to be a restlessly original, daring, and challenging force in society no matter how much we praise them, embrace them, love them, etc. After all, white Americans have completely embraced the Jews, yet most Jews still decided to support Obama to PUNISH white society. The liberal Jewish owned media still sought to brainwash white people that their sins could not washed away until they bowed before Obama and vote for him in the Presidential election.
And, even though white Christians died in huge numbers to defeat Nazi Germany, most American Jews have shown little or no appreciation, have compared white Americans with Nazis(especially through documentaries such as ‘The Liberators’), pushed for illegal immigration to increase the number of Mexicans so as to reduce white American power, promoted miscegenation between black males and white females(so as to break the sacred bond between white men and women which had lasted for 10,000s of years), and crammed ‘gay marriage’ down our throats and up our asses so as to undermine the very foundations of eternalist morality. Having been embraced by the white mainstream community, you’d think most Jews–wealthy and privileged–would embrace mainstream values and become one of us. But, most Jews have sought to undermine our power, our values, our borders, our sovereignty, and etc. So, it’s possible that Jewish restless ‘craziness’ is biological than merely cultural. It is essential than existential.
It is no wonder that the Jewish community has been so close to the homosexual community. Both are culturally and biologically committed to the subversion and the destruction of our people, values, power, and values. They sometimes pose as ‘mainstream’ and ‘normal’. So, gays say that their demand for ‘gay marriage’ is merely to become normal like us. But, if we accept the perverted concept of ‘gay marriage’, the very institution of marriage will no longer be normal or decent. By normalizing the freaky, you freak-ize the normal. If you legitimize dogshit as food, you equate feces with a turkey sandwich. Posing as normal to destroy real normality is the goal of the gay agenda. It is what Saul Alinsky has been up to with socialism. Since people will reject the shock of socialist change overnight, the trick is to dress up aspects of socialism as ‘middle-class’, ‘normal’, and etc. Instead of presenting radicalism as the enemy of Americans, you coat it with candy and tell Americans it is American-as-apple-pie! (Similarly, during the Spanish Civil War, Jewish-American communist volunteers called themselves not “Marxists”, “Leninists”, or “Stalinists” but the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade”. And, why do the liberal Jews and their white goy puppets keep comparing the radical Saul Alinsky-ite Obama with Abraham Lincoln? Again, they are trying to mainstream-ize what is essentially radical. They are trying to whitewash what is essentially black-ish and radical Jewish.) So, the Jews have given us president Obama and are helping the gays–whose most influential members also happen to be Jewish–to push ‘gay marriage’. If some Jews are subversive through wildness and craziness, other are subversive through a termite-like patience.
Anyway, homosexuals too have been a very creative and artistic people all throughout history. Part of their eccentric craziness in inborn. Confused as a result of living in a man’s body with an effete personality or a woman’s body with a masculine personality, homosexuals have a DIFFERENT and CRISIS-ORIENTED way of looking at reality. That alone accounts for their EXILE status whether it be self-enforced or by society-at-large. Also, homosexuality aids in the field of sublimity as it opposes, fuses, and harmonizes–if only through imagination–the yin and the yang. To be sure, one doesn’t have to be a homo to have this sublime quality as an artist, but it certain helps. There is night, there is day, yet the most special times are during sunrise and sunset. Homosexual sensibility at its highest form accesses that heartbreaking sunrise/sunset of the imagination. Of course, there’s plenty of bad homosexual art, and much that is ugly, putrid, annoying, campy, and ridiculous. When it is bad, it is REALLY REALLY bad.
The point is homos have been ‘different’ or on the outside, and this condition tweaked their creativity. Most great artists are maladjusted, eccentric, oddball, neurotic, manic-depressive, etc. As homos become more welcome in mainstream society, it remains to be seen if their creative edge will wane, and there are already indications of that. Though homos are still vastly over-represented in the arts, entertainment, and other creative fields, there has been fewer outstanding homosexual artists who made a real difference in the past 30 yrs. Even as the Gay Agenda heats up, the gay sensibility in the arts has been turning lukewarm.
Here are some other conditions or factors that may encourage or inspire artistic or cultural ferment and/or innovation.
1. Precious-ism vs Taking-for-Grant-ism.
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Familiarity breeds apathy if not contempt. Consider the days before the VCR, DVD, and hundreds of cable channels(and now the internet). Movies were special. You got to see them in theaters when first released, in revival movie houses, or on late night TV(often chopped up and loaded with commercials). Because you couldn’t see them anytime you wanted, you savored and appreciated every viewing as precious. Since you had to rely on your memory, cinema was mythically alive in your heart and mind. But with the advent of the VCR and the DVD, you could watch just about any movie anytime. Now, you can even watch a timeless classic on your cell phone. Though more people have access to great movies now than ever before, the culture of cinephilia has diminished because we don’t attach any special meaning to cinema. So, even though many people still see movies and many kids go into film making, they don’t have the kind of ‘spiritual’ devotion and sacred awe/respect for the medium as previous generations did. The loss of the precious principle probably has undermined a certain mindset necessary for creating great art. Many people in the film world still have an old-time reverence for cinema but they are a fading breed. For those raised in the cyber age, Art or Cinema is not sacred but merely Fun. Among previous generations, cinema was like an artform of the gods. Especially as filmmaking–even 16 mm–was expensive, everyone who went into Film knew it was going to be a serious calling in life. Since movie making was expensive and time-consuming, the idea was that one should not approach filmmaking nor film appreciation lightly.
Today, with internet software and cheap digicams, anyone can make a movie and upload it on youtube. It’s not exactly Hollywood, but everyone can be a filmmaker, an auteur. But, has the cinematic community become more elevated as a result? Is youtube teeming with great geniuses and innovators? No. There is a lot of talent out there, a lot of clever and even brilliant people who do all sorts of funny tricks. But, they aren’t visionaries and seers like the great masters of the past–Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa. There is no lack of talent but there is a lack of vision, a lack of sacred attachment to Art and creativity. It’s mostly smart aleck stuff.
2. Hunger-ism vs Satiate-ism.
Hunger-ism vs Satiate-ism is related to Precious-ism vs Taking-for-Grant-ism but tends to be individualistic whereas the latter pans out generationally and collectively. All great artists start out Hungry. They have something to prove. They want attention, recognition, and fame. They feel wronged by society for the lack of recognition and fame or for whatever reason. This hunger and frustration–in regards to society or elite’s lack of recognition for one’s presumed genius–build up over time. This passion is, at once, respectful and resentful of successful artists. The hungry artist wants to prove that he’s just as good or even better than the Great Masters or Established Artists. He has fire in his belly fueled by hunger and frustration. Through the leans yrs when his supposed genius isn’t recognized, he furiously works on ideas and stores them away for his final breakthrough. In many cases, the long successful run of an artist is less the product of continual inspiration and innovation than of using up the creative fuel he had stored up during the long hungry years when he’d been an unknown. This is why an artist who is discovered later often has a more promising career than an artist who was discovered early on. The artist who is discovered later has experienced a history of hunger during which he created and stored away many ideas for later use. In contrast, an artist who was discovered early on is showered with all the love and attention and loses the hunger that fuels creativity. Of course, this is only a general principle and certainly not true in every case. Mozart and Welles were discovered early, yet their creativity never ebbed nor declined(though some will disagree with this on Welles). But, it’s no wonder that so many rock artists don’t last long. Partly, it’s because most rock music is emotionally attuned to youthful spirit and generally unsuited for themes of maturation/maturity. But other than the danger of burning out, many rockers who gain early fame become big stars and have little to rebel against or much to prove. To the extent that all artists–great ones anyway–are eccentric rebels or mavericks of sorts, it’s not to their advantage to be loved and embraced too early or too much. Many rockers seem to have learned this and have gone out of their way to remove themselves from the public lest they lose their Edge. (Also, an artist or entertainer who is over-praised becomes either too arrogant or anxious. He either starts thinking anything he does is great or fears his next work will not be good enough and develops a creative block.)
3. Forage-ism vs Cannibalism(or Eat-One’s-Own-Excrement-ism).
Creativity must feed on creativity just like trees must draw sustenance from the moist Earth. Though some artists are spectacularly innovative, all artists work within a context or tradition. Even when they rebel against a certain tradition or convention, they are defined by the very process of resistance or rejection–just as a boxer or wrestler’s skills are defined and judged in relation to his opponent. So, whether in reverence or rebellion, artists need to feed on previous and present art–those of his rivals and peers. “You are what you eat,” it’s often said of nutrition. Same is true of art.
The problem occurs when an artform loses contact with the original sources of its sustenance and begins to feed on itself. Suppose lions began to feed only on other lions. Suppose wolves began to feed only on their own excrement. This leads to a process of self-devourment. It also happens in politics, usually when radicals take over.
Consider two artforms for now: Rock music and Anime. Rock music had no single root. Rock n Roll was essentially a sped up hybrid of rhythm n’ blues and honky tonk country music, but Rock music that arose with Beatles, Dylan, Stones, Folk Rock movement, and others was something far richer. It drew inspiration not just from rock n roll but the sources of rock n roll and much more. Bob Dylan was steeped in blues, country, and the entire spectrum of ‘weird’ folk tradition of American music. Though Beatles started out as rock n rollers, they matured into something deeper by the mid 60s. This could be said of any number of great rockers in the 60s and 70s. But, something negative happened. The generation that grew up on rock music only knew rock music. They had little or no link to the sources that inspired and nourished the creation and rise of rock music. In time, rock music came to feed on rock music. Though initially created from a wide pool of creative sources, it had turned into a narrow formula. Metalheads only knew metal. Punkers only knew punk.
If pre-rock(n roll) forms of popular music had appeal to(and expressed the feelings of)adults as well as to young people, rock music emphasized youth at the expense of all else. If Dylan was inspired by songs of old cotton pickers and middled aged hobos as well as those of young rock n rollers, the subsequent generations of rockers and rock fans grew up with an artform that was mostly about youth. Even as the first generation of rockers aged and greyed, their music said everything about youth and not much about emotions beyond youth. If blues music had meaning to both young and old, heavy metal, punk, and rap were only for the young. Sure, heavy metal guys grew old and still toured. Sure, kids into rap music today may still groove to rap in their 50s and 60s. But, the range of emotions was limited to youthful hangups and passions. Heavy metal guitarists may make some spectacular noise but they are emotional midgets. Rappers may be clever with rhymes and rhythm, but their emotions are purely those of retarded thugs.
Next, consider what happened to Japanese Animation (Anime) and Comic Books (manga).
The golden age of manga was in the late 60s and 70s, and the golden age of Anime was in the 80s. So, why did these forms turn to total shit as time passed? It’s because both manga and anime began to cannibalize themselves. The original manga artists were actually wanna-be movie-makers. They were steeped in the rich history of cinema and its complex grammar. Since filmmaking was restricted to a lucky few, many Japanese wanna-be filmmakers turned to comic books. So, their comic books were not merely comic books in the silly kid sense. They were essentially graphic cinema.
Much the same could be said for the anime artists of the 80s. They were inspired by Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, and other sci-fi movies and other cinematic genres. “Akira” is far from a perfect manga or anime film, but it is inspired indeed. So, what happened?
The new generation of manga and anime creators and fans grew up on little other than manga and anime. They knew little or nothing of the ideas, forces, and forms that inspired the ground-breaking artists in the Golden Age of Manga and Anime. They only ate, slept, and excreted anime and manga. They had no connection to the rich world of creativity outside or prior to manga and anime. As Anime and Manga cannibalized themselves and then ate their own excrement produced from the cannibalization, it grew artistically inbred, pale, and retarded. Compare some of the inspired titles of the 80s with the garbage of the 90s(especially latter part of the 90s) and 2000s. It’s like heaven and earth.
4. Burst Dam-ism vs Even-Flow-ism.
Some cultures experience an explosion of cultural and artistic activity at a particular time and place. Oftentimes, it’s a bursting of creative energy that had been suppressed or stifled for a long time. Consider United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Though US was always a democracy, the so-called Greatest Generation was busy with the Depression and War and had little time to think about artistic or cultural matters, and so there had been an air of conformity in the air. A kind of cultural liberalization took hold of the nation in the late 50s and fully blossomed in the 60s. Despite the fact that much of the cultural explosion of the 60s were stupid or destructive–and fated not to last–, a good deal was indeed fresh and exciting.
Much the same can be said for Europe in the post-war era. Italy, after decades of cultural restriction under Mussolini, saw the explosion of artistic activity in the late 40s and 50s.
Filmmakers who came to define the French New Wave had lived through the drab shortages of WWII and immediate aftermath. Japan similarly saw a great deal of cultural activity following the fall of the restrictive and stifling militarist regime. And, much attention is today being paid to the cinema and literature in China, a nation which witnessed an explosion of cultural activity following the fading away of Maoism in the 80s.
Of course, not all nations rising out of authoritarian or totalitarian darkness produce great or interesting art. German culture has been mostly lackluster following the fall of the Nazi regime. Nothing much has come out of former East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Same can be said of Russia after the fall of communism. One can even argue that Eastern European culture as a whole was more interesting under communism than after its fall. There were three advantages for art and culture under communism despite the censorship, ideological correctness, and political corruption. One was generous state funding for men of genuine talent. The communist state also funded artists who might not have made it in a free market system where an artist must pander to market forces. Another reason was that the artist under communism had to fight for his liberty and freedom, and as such his art had an element of nobility and courage. Some of these artists living under communism had to creatively work around or under the system. It’s interesting that so many movies made under communism were implicitly or indirectly critical of communism. The third benefit of working under communism was censorship’s check on sheer self-indulgence. Though censorship is generally bad for art, many artists working under total freedom tend to be excessive or mindless with their artistic license. It’s been said of Roman Polanski that he made better movies under the communist Polish government than in the free West. Since communist censorship didn’t allow him to do whatever his sick mind felt like, Polanski’s vision had to work in subversive, witty, and subtle mode. In the West, he could indulge in his fantasies and make some really deranged and retarded movies.
Once the artistic/cultural dam bursts after a long period of censorship or conformism, it’s exciting for awhile but eventually the water ebbs and flows and eventually turns into a lake. There may still be a lot of talent in the pool but we are less likely to notice it or get excited over it. The sense of newness or rebellion is gone. This apathy is shared by audience and artists alike, which is why artists have to go for more and more crazy gimmicks to draw attention to their ‘originality’ or ‘genius’. In the early 20th century, artists like Picasso or Cezanne could cause a scandal and excitement simply by coming up with a new way of painting. By the 1980s, one had to dip a crucifix in urine or take photos of perverts buggering one another to win attention and NEA grants. There may be a lot of fine artists in art schools across America, but the excitement simply isn’t there among the general public nor even among the educated class. Too much freedom and artistic license has made everything seem passe. The only way to create a scandal today would be to be thoroughly politically incorrect and make fun of ‘niggers’ and ‘kikes’, but as most ‘daring’ and ‘bold’ artists tend to be of the Left, they will just paint or sculpt another foul-smelling mess about the evil of Christianity or Ronald Reagan.
5. Sublimation vs Blatant-ism.
It’s true of all great art that “there’s more than meets the eye.” No matter how loud or brash, there’s more than the obvious, simple, and direct. Some great works of art may appear deceptively simple or obvious, but they reveal layers of depth and richness upon closer inspection. This is the difference between a nude portrait by a master and a naked photo of a skank in Hustler magazine. It’s the difference between a great Led Zeppelin song and a brash stupid song by a dumb Metal band. It’s the difference between Beethoven’s symphony and some Hollywood movie score by some hack.
Great artists produce works with several layers of meaning, feeling, and mood. They are multi-textured or organically complex beyond rational analysis. There is an element of mystery that cannot be appreciated nor penetrated by the mind or the heart alone.
In today’s permissive society, one can express just about anything as long as it’s not too politically incorrect. Because we live in a vulgar and open society, there’s much less impetus for sublimation. Had Wagner grown up as a teenager in the 80s, he might have joined a rock band and belted out loud songs about big breasted women or how he’s ‘so f___ed up.’ Wagner lived in the 19th century when one could not be openly obvious or direct with human emotions. As such, his art was one of sublimation. It had elements of powerful emotions layered within social norms of respectability and high-minded themes of nobility. Though vulgarity has always been a feature of mankind, there had been social strictures and norms that instilled a public sense of shame. Even among the dirty and uneducated lower classes, there was a sense of social and moral hierarchy with the family patriarch at the top and with the church as the center of social and spiritual life. Class distinctions were a genuine reality, and even if the lower classes resented the higher classes, there was a sense that the lower should aspire to emulate the manners and sensibilities of the higher–unlike today when the higher imitate the lower. Even when the lower classes rose up to overthrow the higher classes–as with communism–, there remained a strong moral and political component to the rebellion. People embraced serious ideas and were working towards a New, Better, and More Just Order than merely embracing rebellion for the rebellion-sake–for the fun of it as so many of our bad boy radicals–badicals–do.
Great art is always interesting for its intensity of conflict and contradiction. This is even true of seemingly pleasant or peaceful great art. Even a great serene landscape painting is frightening in the implication than a mere mortal has the power to replicate, express, and distill such beauty. The hand of man touches upon the realm of the Divine.
But, there are other kinds of tensions as well. When an artist tries to create something perfect, he is consciously or subconsciously disturbing the established order–social or psychological. Even chaotic art must play by some set of rules or vision. A great artist hurls himself into the art he creates. To create the perfect creative expression, he makes a mess of his own life. He must go mad to put together a new aesthetic order. In this sense, all great art is a dance of chance between sanity and insanity. In social terms, a great artist has to struggle against the public and elite critical opinion that fails to understand his originality, vision, or genius. Oftentimes, the great artist realizes he must compromise his burning ingenuity with the general demands or established conventions. Though this process can dilute the work of a great genius, in other cases it can enrich the art by adding yet another layer of tension. This has certainly been the case with Hollywood filmmaking. For every near-great film that missed out on true greatness due to artistic compromise, there’s a great movie because of the integrated conflict between individual genius and populist/conventional demands. Some artists, instead of just submitting to populist demands or established conventions, are able to subvert or circumvent them through the process of compromise-zation. Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Welles’s Touch of Evil–both made in 1958–are prime examples of such works. On the one hand, they are familiar who-done-its or pulp thrillers. Yet, given that the main theme of both films is illusion and deception, Welles’s and Hitchcock’s brilliant navigation back and forth between genre formula and genuine feelings make for dark and rich cinematic experiences. Both movies use the notion of the movie-as-myth to explore and portray the possibility of psychology-as-myth–that even as we live in the real or material world, our inner reality is a shifting dreamworld of desires, fantasies, and self-delusion. Before there was cinema on the silver screen, there was the cinema of the human mind, projecting its dream imagery on its inner walls.
The rise of permissiveness and blatant-ization of society surely did wonders for certain forms of artistic or creative expression such as punk, heavy metal, rap, hard rock, sitcoms with sex and foul language, and etc. But, the freedom to do and say whatever, even while expanding new expressive possibilities, has robbed creativity of subtlety.
Consider how black aggressiveness and sexuality manifested themselves when the black community still had moral values and social norms. Jazz musicians were sexual but they could not be outright pornographic. They had to be suggestive and insinuating than say stuff like, ‘hey, bitchass ho, come and suck my cock.’. Social norms forced black artists to be complex, multi-textured, and multi-layered. Such isn’t necessary with something like rap where you can just blurt out, ‘hey bitchass ho, come and suck my dick.’ Of course, I’m sure some rap music has elements of rhythmic brilliance or originality, but the main thrust of rap music is sheer simple-minded childishness. It’s pornographic than sexual, thuggish than threatening. There is no interplay of light and darkness, of the object and its shadows. It’s just a one-colored object that says, ‘hey, bitchass ho, come and suck my dick.’ Much the same could be said of punk and heavy metal. Though some claim that heavy metal took inspiration from classical music, that’s like saying super hero comic books are like great myths around the world. Both Metal and super hero comic book are reductionist ‘artforms’ that filch the simplest ideas or modes but leave out all the richness, depth, and complexity.
At any rate, if everyone and everything become more permissive and blatant, we lose as much as we gain. People may jump into bed or backseat of cars faster than ever, but gone is the courtship, romance, and the Bogie-and-Bacall thing.
Paradoxically, art becomes more vulgar as the pleasure component becomes ever more refined. In search of sweetness, we learned to extract sugar from vegetables and fruits. The result was refined sugar which is pure sweetness but also bad for health. Coarse whole grain bread with bran and wheat germ is healthy but white bread made of refined white flour is nutritionally crap.
Similarly, we want to be excited, turned on, and thrilled by art and entertainment. So, entertainers have found ways to refine art forms into formula. The end result were genres. But, genres were further refined down to the elements that people like most. So, most Hollywood movies are now car chases, fights, and explosions. Horror movies are less about ideas and mood than graphic violence and cheap effects. Sci-fi and fantasy movies have little in the way of story and just have lots of WOW effects.
Much the same has happened to popular music. Rhythm and blues was a simplified formulation of the richer blues and Jazz. It gave birth to even simpler rock n roll. Even so, they were far from the kind of pornographic pop music we have today. Logically, rock n roll should have immediately paved the way to punk and rap–further refined versions of raucous and fast rock n roll–, but that didn’t happen. Instead, rock n roll, after a brief hiatus in the early 60s, paved the way for the reasonable complexity of Rock Music. For some reason, kids who had been into rock n roll turned to stuff like folk music, serious social and political agendas, and psychedelic drugs which ‘expanded’ consciousness. The 60s generation didn’t just want to dance and party but connect with the far-out cosmos. Rockers picked up on this vibe, and so the Beatles, Stones, The Who, Moody Blues, and Beach Boys turned more arty. There was also the influence of Bob Dylan. Though Dylan sold far fewer record than Beatles, Stones, or Beach Boys, he had tremendous influence on the top rockers of the period. Guys like Lennon aspired to be like Dylan, and the race was on to come up with the more complex, dense, and multi-faceted rock album. But, all said and done, most rock fans wanted fast and furious fun than meaning and depth from rock music. By the late 60s, Dylan, Beatles, Stones, and the Who were going back to their earlier roots and dispensing with overly arty, ‘spiritual’, and psychological psychedelic thing.
Another thing that distinguished 60s rock and culture–as crazy as they became–from what came later was that the 60s generation, as children, had been conditioned by distinctions between serious and trivial, between moral and immoral, between high brow and low brow, between good taste and poor taste, and between meaning and style. Even while rebelling against pre-existing social norms, the 60s generation was affected by them to the extent that it sought serious meaning and justification in what they did. Consider, for instance, that many hippies didn’t just listen to rock music but had interest in the works of Hermann Hesse and Carl Jung.
Unlike Jeff Spicoli and the whole California Teenager thing in the 80s–where partying was the Only thing–, many hippies actually rejected mainstream society as too crass and materialistic. There was a spiritual and intellectual component to their quest, and this was reflected somewhat in the rock music of the 60s. Because it was a generation searching for meaning, there was certain distrust of the purely pornographic and thuggish. Hippies wanted to be one with nature, not act like crazy animals. They wanted to be sexually ‘liberated’, not sexually perverse. Of course, too much drugs, hedonism, and loud crazy music ultimately led to one social disaster after another, whose effects are still felt today, but there was a degree of rich and interesting sublimation in 60s rock music that’s missing in today’s pop scene. 60s rock and culture had some whole graininess to it whereas stuff like hip hop, Britney Spears, and whatnot are pure sugar puffs.
6. Elite Appreciation and Middle Brow Support.
For serious art to flourish, there generally needs to be a strong elitist culture with genuine appreciation for artistic hierarchy and an extensive middle brow support. The elite of any society isn’t big enough to sustain serious or high culture in the modern world without kings, noblemen, and clergy to dictate what is or isn’t art. There has to be a big enough middle brow population aspiring for something higher than instant popular culture. Though middle brow folks may lack the taste and training to fully appreciate high art, they can still be involved and support the cultural Zeitgeist. People like Picasso, Dali, and Cezanne would not have become as important had they been appreciated only by the elite. Their fame and reputation grew as a result of the interest shown by the educated and aspiring middle class.
The relation between the cultural elite and the middle brow folks has never been an easy one. Also, cultural elite divided into three factions with the rise of modernism. There was the traditional cultural elite suspicious or hostile of modernism and steadfastly clinging to the old criteria of Art as beauty, nobility, and meaning. This breed nearly died out, but we still have some left in people like Paul Johnson. Another cultural elite was intensely political and intellectual. Often Marxist, they argued that (1) all art is political (2) since all art is political, it must be politically useful. People like Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukacs were the deans of this cultural/intellectual elitist school. But, the most powerful and influential were the avant-garde elite. This coterie of people were often hostile to traditional notions of art and embraced the daring and ‘radical’, but they still insisted on ‘art for art’s sake.’ Though generally leftist-leaning, they valued artists who were, above all, independent of mind and spirit. In many cases, they were Marxist or Marxist-leaning but preferred to work under a democratic and capitalist–‘bourgeoisie’–system than under a communist system such as existed in the Soviet Union. And, they required the patronage of rich bourgeois collectors–and also the attention of the curious middle brow eager to gain some degree of cultural and intellectual respect. The ability to appreciate artists like Picasso became part of the requisite Cultural Literacy for Middle Brow people in 1940s and 1950s America.
Unfortunately, a powerful and vibrant synergy between the cultural elite and middle brow folks have pretty much disappeared. First, modernism eventually burned or petered out. The ‘new’ became old, and the damage done to the traditional appreciation of art by the modernist assault seemed almost irreversible. Taste for the new was gone but so was the attraction to the old.
Late modernism also grew terribly decadent and auto-subversive(having destroyed the Old Guard, it began to devour itself), producing trashy anti-artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. New artists had no more sacred cows to challenge or desecrate, no new territories to expand into; and so, they turned art into ‘art,’ just a game of self-hype.
As for the cultural elite functioning as critics and collectors, they offered no challenge to the artistic community. If artists at the dawn of modernism and during early modernism were misunderstood and mis- or underappreciated–or downright loathed–, and therefore defined their ‘heroism’ through the struggle against the status quo, artists in the age of late modernism faced fewer obstacles. If people like Clement Greenberg–foolish or not–still had use for artistic criteria, that was no longer the case by the time Andy Warhol and gang took over the art scene. Artists in the late modernist and post-modernist era were feted, favored, and fawned over by the cultural elite.
Of course, chance of success in art was still close to nil. Of course, there remained art critics and collectors who were finicky about artistic value. But, because being ‘radical’ and ‘cutting edge’ was now the dominant convention, the kinds of artists who were rewarded most were those with a knack for pulling some (pseudo)intellectual gimcrack shtick. If early modernists were misunderstood by the cultural elite and crazily(and bravely)struggled against being misunderstood(or reveled in it), the new artists were understood all too well by the cultural elite which had already appropriated the avant-garde. Since the moneyed and privilege elite was now (supposedly) on the side of ‘cutting edge progress’ in the arts, artists really had nothing to rebel against. They could only play to the ‘radicalism’ of the cultural elite. It was a form of radical chicanery. It is this collusion in the art world that has made contemporary art the staple of artistic poseurs, rich cynical collectors, and intellectuals/scholars jaded or pretentious enough to fool themselves that they are indeed dealing with the cutting edge in culture.
7. Cautious Self-Doubt Is Bad for Art.
An artist may be of whatever temperament–funny, depressed, angry, bitter, pessimistic, optimistic, confident, self-loathing, etc–but, he must embrace strong emotions and plunge into art. Post-war Germany has been striking for the relative absence of great artists. Sure, Gunter Grass has been hailed as a great writer, and German cinema was much lauded in the 1970s. But, compare the cultural output of pre-war Germany with post-war Germany, and the latter pales in comparison. Most commentators have blamed it on the lingering effects of Hitler’s reign, but the reasons are more complex. Though Nazi art policy was detrimental to the German creativity as a whole, the Nazis lasted only 12 years. Besides, Nazi art policy wasn’t as repressive as the Stalinist art policy, and great art has been produced under censorious regimes. One could argue Germany was wrecked by war and millions died, the same happened to Japan yet the Japanese were brilliantly creative in the 50s and 60s. Poland was devastated by war–even worse than Germany–, yet Polish culture–even under communism–was more interesting than the German output in the postwar era. Also, Jews suffered terribly during WWII, especially due to the Nazi Holocaust, yet Jews were among the most culturally creative people in the postwar period–even among actual Holocaust survivors. How does one explain the general failure of German creativity in the postwar era?
I would argue that the reasons have something to do with Nazism but for different reasons than are generally given. Of course, there was the fact of Jewish populations having been driven out or killed during the Nazi reign. Whether Jews were noble or venal, they’d been highly intellectual and creative.
But, that doesn’t seem to have been the main reason, as many European nations with few Jews produced important cultural works in the postwar era. And, Japan didn’t have any Jews either in the 1950s and 60s.
The main problem was not so much what Nazis did to German cultural policy or institutions per se–easily reversed after the fall of regime–but what the Nazis did to the German psyche as a whole. Germans started the war that led to the deaths of tens of millions. Germans carried out the Holocaust where an entire population was slated for destruction. After the war, Germany wasn’t just a defeated nation but a pariah nation.
Germans had been regarded as the main instigators of World War ONE, but despite how others saw Germany and its role in the first Great War, many–perhaps most–Germans saw things differently. They were bitter and angry about the defeat and maintained their confidence, pride, spirit, and will as Germans. They still believed in their own Germanness, creative genius, destiny, and vision. In the First World War, Germans were beaten physically but not spiritually. The German Right continued to believe that the war could have been won if it hadn’t been ‘stabbed in the back’. The German democrats believed in a new era of liberal freedom. The German Left believed radical revolution was possible–modeled on the Russian Revolution.
The German spirit, across the spectrum from the Right to the Left, was very much alive. The Weimar period was economically and socially depressed but in intellectual, artistic, and political ferment. A nation with a living spirit has a creative spirit. Creativity isn’t just about the mind and ideas but about the energy and hormones that energize them. During the Inter-War period, the German testicles were connected to the German mind. Germans still envisioned German redemption, revenge, and revival. The German Left saw the Russian Revolution as the product of German intellectual development from Hegel to Marx. Germany leftists believed that the crisis following the war was a golden opportunity for rebellion and revolution so that Germany, rather than Russia, would lead the worldwide revolution. Though the upper echelons of German leftism had many Jews, it cannot be said that German communism was solely a Jewish affair. Many German and intellectuals joined the party and movement. At the center, the German liberals and moderate conservatives hoped for a democratic and pluralistic future for Germany. They rejected the radicalism of both the Right and the Left and may well have succeeded had it not been for the crazy Treaty of Versailles which bled Germany economically dry. The German economic slump affected all of Europe as Germany was the biggest economic power in the Europe. With German production and demands way down, other nations were bound to suffer to as both seller and buyers.
Anyway, compare the Inter-War period with Germany after WWII. East Germany came under communism and was little more than a fiefdom of the Soviet Union. West Germany became a democracy, but the once fertile and important German Right was intellectually, morally, and culturally dead. Some were still around but they’d lost all their pride, honor, and confidence. They hid in their homes like rats. Though not all of the German Right sided with the Nazis, the Entire spectrum of Rightist Thought and Culture became suspect. Thus, Germans were without the confidence and the will to be boldly creative. They became afraid of their own Germanic souls. The power of the German soul had produced Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner; but had those Germans lived in the post-war era, would they have had the will, vision, passion, and confidence to produce powerful music? Unlikely. The German mind and spirit had produced great philosophers like Nietzsche, Spengler, and Heidegger, but could they have thought so boldly and freely in the post-war era? No. Caution and self-doubt were there modus operandi of German culture in the post-war era. Though self-doubt isn’t necessarily fatal to art–as many great artists are insecure–, caution isn’t what creativity is about. All artists must be bold and daring whether they be traditionalist or experimental. Creativity cannot be a half-measure.
To be sure, Germany did produce its share of crazy and outrageous artists in the post-war era, but filled with little more than self-loathing, their emotions were purely negative and nihilistic. It wasn’t the kind of positive nihilism with a vision of a new order but one that was purely ugly, destructive, and self-abnegating. It was little more than anti-art terrorism.
There are surely other issues related to the nature of creativity but let’s call it a day.