By Nora Hoppe for The Saker Blog
The culture and arts of a society, of a civilisation can be seen as a barometer of its development and the quality of its statehood. Confucius, who saw music as the noblest of all the arts, said: “If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer.”
The arts – in their truest and noblest forms – have always posed a serious threat to despotic powers because they represent a freedom of spirit and independence of thought.
During the Third Reich, the Nazis engaged in “Cancel Culture” by censoring various forms of music, literature, films, theatre plays that were considered an “an insult to German feeling” and which they condemned as “Entartete Kunst” [degenerate art]. Instead, they promoted works that exalted the “blood and soil” values of racial purity, militarism, and obedience.
In times of Roman imperial decay the arts had no fertile soil from which to develop as the previous arts had either been “cancelled” or perverted for propagandistic purposes. Edward Gibbons described the state of culture during the Decline of the Roman Empire: “…this age of indolence passed away without having produced a single writer of original genius or who excelled in the arts of elegant composition. […] The beauties of the poets and orators, instead of kindling a fire like their own, inspired only cold and servile imitations […] The name of Poet was almost forgotten; that of Orator was usurped by the sophists. A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning, and the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of taste.”
In his “Satires” (written in 100–127 AD), Juvenal describes the degeneration of Rome during his lifetime, mocking the customs and beliefs of many of his contemporaries and providing insight into the prevailing value systems and morality of that age. Some examples of the deviances and annoyances that prompted him to write this “category of ills” include “eunuchs getting married, elite women competing in beast hunts, and the dregs of society suddenly becoming wealthy by gross acts of sycophancy”. He maintained that traditional Roman virtues, such as fides and virtus, had disappeared from society, to the extent that “Rome was no longer Roman”. “I get an itch to run off beyond the Sarmatians and the frozen sea, every time those men who pretend to be old-time paragons of virtue and live an orgy, dare to spout something about morals.”
Juvenal describes a society whose population is devoid of any civic responsibilities: “The mob follows Fortuna and cares for nothing but bread and circuses” – the only remaining cares of a Roman populace which has given up its birth right of political freedom. “Bread and circuses” was a reference to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to Roman citizens as well as lavish circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power. Accordingly, those who lusted after power could easily attain it and rule without hindrance as long as they offered diversion and distraction: by resorting to the instrumentalisation of satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of the populace…
A time of banalisation, self-absorption, irrationalism, meaninglessness
Today we are at an entirely new low with regard to culture and the arts. Indeed this could be called the lowest point that the arts have ever reached in history… And this is not limited to one country or one empire – but sadly it is a global phenomenon… because we have a global hegemon today whose ideology has infiltrated all areas of culture and society throughout the world.
Noam Chomsky once said, “He who controls the media controls the minds of the public.” But one can expand this sentence to: “He who controls the arts controls the minds and souls of the people.”
In an earlier essay of mine, I suggested that, with the progression of neoliberal ideology, culture has been reduced to trivial entertainment, an object of consumption, a distraction and a tool used for brainwashing and propaganda… and that “postmodernism” was created to deprecate beauty, truth and sincerity and rendering previous art movements and culture as a whole meaningless – to serve the interests of neoliberalism and imperialism. Because in order to remove opposition to absolute rule, it is necessary to destroy the past, to destroy history, to destroy civilisation… then one can reach a tabula rasa from which to create a pure technocracy devoid of any humanity.
I cited German literary scholar and philosopher Thomas Metscher wrote in his text entitled “Postmoderne und Imperialismus”: “… I see postmodernism as a form of consciousness of a certain stage of capitalist society, of an advanced imperialist society… a form of consciousness of the global condition of the present, in relation to the imperialist metropolises. […] …the “morbidity” of imperialist society today has now reached a scope and a blatancy (…) that one can justifiably speak of a pathic society – a ‘culture of death‘. …”
In a neoliberal paradigm, everything is commoditised. Spirituality today is a product packaged in esoteric retreats, mentoring videos and self-help guide books. Rampant self-absorption has replaced civic responsibilities and communal ethics. Individuals are motivated to become their own marketing machines… to parade their “unique victimhood” and their “virtues” on social networks and in cultural events. The paradoxical aim of this fixation on individualism is the homogenisation and Gleichschaltung of the entire population – something that can be attained only when society has been destroyed and human beings have been isolated and fragmented.
The Pageantry of Virtue
The cultural hegemony of the unipolar power is particularly visible in its media events: “international” festivals, extravaganzas, gala ceremonies, etc. A glaring example of this is the tireless and desperate placement of the sniffling buffoon Zelensky at almost all the recent “cultural” events… be they the film festivals of Cannes, Venice, Berlin, ceremonies such as the Golden Globe Awards, the Grammys or music festivals such as Glastonbury. Zelensky has now become the obligatory sprig of parsley for every neoliberal dish.
A brand has been created of him. He is probably the most widely seen public figure in the world today. He is the icon of the times: a pathetic, empty puppet, pumped with unlimited cash and drugs, posing as an endearing emissary of the world’s conscience.
His most recent video appearance at the grand inauguration of the Berlin Film Festival was met with cheers and standing ovations by the entire audience whose applause remained throughout his speech … especially when he declared: “Culture chooses a side when it decides to speak out against evil… and it takes a side when it remains silent and in fact helps the evil.”
One of the “highlights” of this self-righteous festival so far is a documentary on Zelensky made by Sean Penn entitled “Superpower”. At the end of its premiere the audience once again rose obsequiously to its feet to give both Penn and his collaborators a standing ovation.
Just three years ago the Berlinale greeted war criminal Hillary Clinton as a star. This year’s Berlinale rolled the red carpet out for NATO with full condemnation of their enemies Russia, Iran, China and Belarus; even the mascot – the Berlinale bear – appeared in sky blue and yellow, the Ukrainian national colours.
The pious Hollywood Reporter reported: “… ‘the festival stands, crystal clear in solidarity with the people in Ukraine [and] with the protest movement in Iran’ noted the hosts on opening night. […] After banning any attendees from Russia or Iran with direct ties to the regimes in their respective regimes [sic], Berlin’s European Film Market handed over control of Iran’s EFM stand to the newly-formed Iranian Independent Filmmakers Association, saying they, not any state-sponsored bodies, should be the true representatives of Iranian cinema. On Friday, the festival and the EFM backed a group of filmmakers-in-exile from the dictatorial regime of Belarus, to launch the first independent Belarusian Film Academy, gaining immediate support, and promises of help with funding, from the European Film Academy and national cinema promotion body German Films. The position of Berlin as the world’s most political festival gave extra weight to comments made by Hong Kong filmmaker and Berlinale jury member Johnnie To […] one of the greatest filmmakers Hong Kong has produced, responded: ‘For me, cinema has always been the vanguard. When totalitarian rule emerges, when people lose their freedoms, cinema is the first to take the hit. […] That’s why dictators always target the cinema. I think Hong Kong… No, sorry. I think all the countries and peoples fighting for freedom across the globe should support the cinema. Because the cinema speaks out on behalf of you.’…”
Outside the grand “Berlinale Palast”, climate activists had glued themselves to the legendary Red Carpet. Two days later the same carpet welcomed a silent protest featuring sombre-looking expatriate Iranian actresses in support of the regime-change activists in Iran entitled “Women Life Freedom”.
With the exception of Sean Penn’s eulogy of the Ukraine and its jester, there is little press coverage of the films at the festival… Will any be remembered in the future as noteworthy works of art?
The virtuous mission
Because Western capitalist ideology has been so successful in setting material, technological progress as the criterion of “a new civilisation” and in commoditising virtues and morals all over the world, it has become a creed for many to follow… It sets global dictates and trends (e.g.: global warming, gender fluidity, cancel culture, re-adaptations of history, colour revolutions, etc.). And, in the absence of spirituality, many people follow these global trends and dictates religiously in order to secure an “identity” in the modern world.
The targets and victims of this cult are not only the global young but the global bourgeois “intelligentsia” and “contemporary artists”. The working class have luckily been neglected and are thus less affected. And that is why workers today tend to be much more conscious of the realities in their societies.
These “victims” of neoliberalism have been imbued with an unshakable sense of superior morality. They feel they are the enlightened chosen ones… and, indeed, many become “missionaries” of the neoliberal ideology… the ambassadors of transatlantic soft power. In sovereign nations striving for a multipolar world, we find these “missionaries” often in the fifth column. They are the ones often spearheading colour revolutions, creating currents of “rebel art movements” and forming “enlightened” opposition movements. They receive international platforms at media events – especially at film festivals. Some even receive training at “freedom forums” subsidized by the Empire. In their own lands, they are unfortunately imbedded in various cultural and academic institutions.
Many sovereign nations find themselves beset by these crusaders. Indeed they represent a major threat – not so much to the governments – but to the further natural development of culture and the arts… as well as the mindset of future generations.
What to do?
It is now indispensable, more than ever before, to support and promote enlightenment, education, culture and the arts by reconstructing the bridge (that was damaged by postmodernism and neoliberalism) to our historical cultural roots. We can only truly advance in the footsteps of the maestri of our civilisation.
Engaging in censorship of these crusaders and their works would not only be counter-productive – as that would only vindicate the claims of the neoliberal opposition (e.g. that they are “struggling for freedom in a dictatorship”), it would be engaging in the same “cancel culture” practices as the Hegemon.
The most sensible course to take with these individuals would be constructive criticism and debate. Debate is exactly what the neoliberal world frantically shuns… it is exactly what all forms of zealotry abhor. Debate takes time, patience, courage and an environment free of fear. How this can be established and organised is a matter of debate… But everyone is welcome!
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The Saker site has always been a perfect example of a place for intelligent DEBATE… Over the years it has created a community of people from all over the world of a variety of backgrounds. It has furthered critical exchanges, fostered independent thought and provided refuge to so many who feel isolated and alienated in their environments. Andrei’s own essays have not only offered enlightenment but compassion and humanity.
I, too, am disconsolate over the closing of this valuable, incomparable site, but I respect Andrei’s decision. And I will be forever grateful to Andrei for having given me a space… I have also been very touched and inspired by the motivating comments of the community to my essays.
Tariq and I send our best wishes and love to Andrei.