The Konformist

September 2001

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What Would Hitler Do? Censorship and the New "Degenerate" Art.

Lucifer Marx

It was 1937 when the Nazi's in Germany made a hugely popular foray (over three million served) into the world of art exhibition. The show was called Entartete Kunst, or Degenerate Art. Its goal was to educate the public about art that the Nazi's believed promoted non-German themes: mental illness, criminality, Jewishness, Bolshevism, modernism, homosexuality and non-Aryanism. A list of some of the artists included in the show reads like notes scribbled into the notebook of a bored first year art student during a lecture about the most important avant-garde artists of the first half of the 20th century: Max Ernst, George Grosz, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Franz Mark, Piet Mondrien and Kurt Schwitters. The idea of such cultural Fascism seems ludicrous to post-post-modern 21st century citizens such as ourselves: just another example of the twisted oppression perpetrated by the 20th centuries - poster boys for evil. It couldn't happen to us in our wired, democratic-capitalist times, could it? Or would we be well to remember Deleuze and Guattari's statement in "Anti-Oedipus" that "tyrannical or democratic, capitalist or socialist, there has never been but a single state." Cultural scapegoating and persecution may be innate to the state, whether Nazis, Democrats, or Republicans, are in control.

During the last decade or so, America cultural artifacts, both high and low, have increasingly been attacked by elite politicians for being, well, degenerate. Lately, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been one of the most vocal wanna-be censors of art. First, in the fall of 1999, he attacked black English artist Chris Ofili and his elephant dung adorned work "The Holy Virgin Mary," which was part of advertising mogul Charles Saatchi's and the Brooklyn Museum of Art's "Sensation" exhibit. The mayor called the painting "sick stuff," "perverted" and "blasphemous." This year, Rudy attacked black photographer Norma Cox's series of photographs: "Yo Mama's Last Supper." In these photos Cox poses nude, in Christ's place, in Biblical scenes. Guiliani called the series "outrageous," "disgusting" and "anti-Catholic." Like the Nazis, who suspended monetary support for avant-garde artists, Giuliani also, albeit unsuccessfully (so far), has tried to stop funding the institutions who've presented controversial art.

The cultural attacks have not only came from the predictable source, the Republican right, they have also came from the Democrats, where goofily grinning Alfred E. Newman look-alike Sen. Joe Lieberman leads the fight against degeneracy in popular culture. Teaming up with Republican Bill Bennett, Lieberman has tried to shame the media empires into adopting what Lieberman called in his "Appeal to Hollywood" statement "voluntary common-sense codes of conduct" to "protect America's children." Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, rap music and the entire Fox fall schedule have all been awarded "Silver Sewer Awards" by Lieberman and Bennett for being "cultural polluters." Aside from pointlessly trying to shame media corporations who only feel shame when their profits drop, Lieberman was one of the hands behind the Big Mother and Father law which requires television manufacturers to include a V-chip in the sets so parents can monitor their children's TV viewing.

The modern cultural censors speak in the language of morality and concern for the welfare of others, but their platitudes actually mask a more sinister Nietzchean Will-to-Power. The Nazi's moral critique of the avant-garde masked propagandist attacks on those who threatened their power, such as the Communists and political progressives. The moral culture criticisms of Lieberman, Bennett and Giuliani are similar. They are actually verbal attacks against oppressed groups such as blacks and poor whites, whose anger and criticisms threaten the power of the corporate oligarchy and the political aristocrats.

For example, Guiliani's condemation of black artists is just the cultural front on a larger race and class war, which at the street level, manifested in the NYPD's Broken Windows and zero-tolerance programs. Jeffery Rosen writes in the New Republic that "Broken Windows policing gives cops broad discretion to prosecute or not to prosecute low-level offences in order to deter the social disorder that breeds more serious crime" and that "zero tolerance focuses not on deterring crime but discovering it-by mandating that police stop, frisk, and arrest vast numbers of black and Hispanic men for minor offences, in hope that turnstile jumpers and pot smokers may also be guilty of more serious offences." It was these excessive policies that lead to the outright murder of Amadou Diallo by NYPD's elite SStreet Crimes Unit and the nightstick sodomy of Abner Louima by officers from NYPD's 70th precinct.

As the middle class disappears and gap between rich and poor increases in the United States vast pockets of America have become minimum wage, temp working, unemployed and unemployable sink holes with all the attendant social problems that come with 21st century poverty. Shows like Jerry Springer, Maury Povich and Howard Stern transmit the fucked-up lives created by our high-tech Dickensian world. Lieberman and Bennett, instead of addressing the structural inequalities that mass-produces crack-ho's, pimps, demented street people and vacant meat-puppet sex workers so desperate to transcend their meager lives they'll endure any form of humiliation in order to become fifteen minute stars, instead blame the victim and try to push them out of view to reassure the conscience-comforting belief that yes, that America is fine, the poor don't exist, everyone is getting rich, buying Lexus' and suburban fortresses in gated communities.

What kind of media and art would the modern day cultural Fascists approve of? If all references to sex, violence, drug use, street life and cultural criticism are whitey washed away you end up with the kind of art that was embraced by the Nazi's as an alternative to the "degenerate" avant-garde which George Mosse describes in his essay "Nazi Aesthetics: Beauty Without Sensuality":

The National Socialist standards for art were based upon the idealized figures and sentimental landscapes that had informed nineteenth-century popular taste and upon the neoclassical themes that were Adolf Hitler's favorites . . . There was a deeper purpose to the acceptance of such art: it symbolized a certain standard of beauty that might serve to cement the unity of the nation by projecting a moral standard to which everyone should aspire. Respectability was to inform personal and public morality which true art must support. The men and women in Nazi painting sculpture thus embodied the proper morality and sexual behavior.


Bill Bennett's cartoon series he created for PBS, in which a buffalo named Plato leads a pair of children through animated moral tales, is more in sympathy with Nazi aesthetics than the poor-white angst of Eminem, high school outcast spokesperson Marilyn Manson and the urban street-life tales of Tupac and Snoop Dogg.

The Nazis preferred their art to be moral. The gassing of millions of Jews, homosexuals, handicaps shows that for the Nazis, morals were to be imposed on others, not to be followed by the Nazis themselves. Our modern cultural censors, albeit on a much lesser scale, employ in the same hypocritical double standards when it comes to morality. Guiliani flies into a Hitlerian fury on his podium when Cox and Ofili step close to what he considers a critique of Catholicism, but considering his affair with former aide Judith Nathan, he obviously does not think that his failure to follow Commandments such as "Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery" is an offence to the religion he so vehemently defends. Lieberman's record reveals that his moral concern for the mass only exists when he is telling them to be good little children and behave. David Morse writes in his essay "Does Joe Lieberman Really Hold the Moral High Ground?" that a look at Lieberman's political record reveals that he has "back-pedaled on affirmative action, helped dismantle the welfare system without providing supportive training programs" and "opposed medical insurance reform [because] one of Lieberman's biggest campaign contributors is the insurance industry, from which he has collected $197,000 during this [2000] campaign."

While the cultural fascists try to shame and regulate media, which in the 21st century IS reality, through political means, their job has become increasingly difficult. The corporate entities who are the alpha-organizations today, care little about morality and ethics, only the Benjamins. Voting with their remote, America in recline, flips past Bennett and Bibles to watch Beavis and Butthead. But even though the corporate entity is ascendant, politics still affects our lives. Trying to find a more tolerant government every four years isn't the answer. The state may be the same no matter who is as the helm, and will always try to scapegoat and suppress culture than doesn't serve ruling class needs. New political structures are needed: ones where that don't need sacrificial victims in order to exist.

(thanx to Revolution Party Chairman RU Sirius for the article idea)

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