In 1937, the Nazi Party put on an exhibition of “degenerate” art. The standard take on this is what you’d expect: by comparing their favored style (socialist realism kitsch, basically) to the hottest stuff of the avant garde, the Nazis ended up showing the public the cultural poverty of their movement.
Maybe. I’m not a historian of the 3rd Reich, and you could write everything I know about art on a napkin. But I do know how to use a google machine, so let’s have a look, shall we?
This is “degenerate” art:
and this is the work of Adolf Ziegler, the organizer of the show, one of Hitler’s faves and an artist colloquially known as the “Reich Master of the Pubic Hair:”
That’s The Four Elements, which hung over Hitler’s fireplace (1). Not terrible, but very blah; it looks like a postcard knockoff of a lesser Renaissance painter. So in the context of the times, the standard take looks like the right one — after 400 years of classical nudes, a genuinely new movement like Cubism seemed to open up all sorts of new artistic possibilities.
But fast forward 80 years. These days, the “degenerate” stuff simply IS art. I couldn’t buy a classical nude, even a knockoff of a Ziegler knockoff, at any price. Ditto “literature” — it’s all MFA wank, with the Michael Chabons and Jonathan Franzens and whomevers in Manhattan awarding all the prizes to folks in another part of Manhattan while their second-person, present-tense quirkfests sit unread on coffee tables (2). Ditto music.
Hold on a sec. I’m not just griping about those darn kids today. The point is that any successful mass political movement is also a cultural movement. Pick any cultural form you like, and trace it back — you’ll find huge fault lines, giant chasms where the stuff just a decade before looks nothing like what came after, corresponding to extreme political change. Here, for example, is rococo art, the popular style in France just before the Revolution:
and here’s post-Revolutionary neoclassicism:
We have nothing like high art today, of course, but we do have things like video games and science fiction novels. And movies. A decade after its release, The Passion of the Christ looks even weirder. A hyper-violent Bible epic written entirely in dead languages… that made $611.9 million dollars at the box office.
The point is this: You know a political movement has legs when it gets cultural support. What was once “degenerate” is now mainstream, and has been for nearly a century. Art that argues for a “return to tradition” doesn’t look traditional; it looks new and radical, in the same way David’s neoclassicism looked groundbreaking and radical compared to the saccharine of rococo and the hyperactivity of baroque. A good old fashioned space opera looks shockingly new compared to all the social justice propaganda, just as an old school hack-n-slasher like Baldur’s Gate looks great next to the “updated” version where, instead of bashing orcs, you have to listen to trannies talk about their pwecious widdle feewings.
The blowback is building. The first politician who really figures out how to harness it is gonna go very, very far…..
(1) Speaking of degeneration, what diplomat today could match the wit of the French ambassador, who said this piece should be called The Four Senses, because “taste is missing.”
(2) Seriously, click on that link. Have you ever heard of any of those people? And check the blurbs — I’d need a gun to my head to read that shit, and even then I’d need to think it over for a few of them. Ex: “The Tiger’s Wife is a saga set in a fictional war-torn Balkan country where a young doctor must unravel the circumstances of her grandfather’s death through his stories of encounters with “the deathless man” and the legend of the tiger’s wife.” Holy tap-dancing Buddha.Loading Likes...