Is Conan the Barbarian Art? – UPDATED

The fact that we’ve spent several days and upteen thousand words discussing it says “yes,” but I’d like to take a closer look as to why that might be so.

Stephen King said somewhere that any creative work throws off art the way plutonium throws off radiation.  He’s right, I think, provided that the creative endeavor is sincere — no sincere creative work, no matter how inept, can fail to say something about the human condition.  Whether that “something” is profound or trivial, beautifully or clumsily expressed, etc., is what distinguishes bad art from good.   Something like Hamlet has survived every attempt to subvert or “deconstruct” it, because no matter what you do to it — rewrite it in Ebonics, set in on Mars, cast a Kardashian, whatever — the character’s inner conflict is indisputably real.  Hamlet tells us something about being human, because Hamlet is human.

Even propaganda passes this test, though of course not in the way the artist intended.  This is good propaganda:


It’s bad art, I’ll grant you, but it’s art for all that.  You can sense the artist’s worldview in his painting, and though you probably don’t agree with it, there’s nobody who hasn’t wanted something like this at some point in his life (however briefly).  It’s Nazi art for Nazi purposes, but Nazis were people too.  Didactic art is still art.

Which brings us to this:

black panther 02

Folks in Our Thing learned that a Black Panther movie was in the works and, after finding out what Black Panther is, immediately dismissed it as yet more SJW agitprop.  It’s not, though.  Propaganda is didactic art; Black Panther, like Girlbusters before it, is a liturgy.  There’s no lesson here, because everyone who goes to see it already has the catechism by heart.  You don’t see it to see it; you see it to be seen seeing it.  “Thank God I am not like other men!,” saith the Pharisee.

And so, Conan.  I don’t really think John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenneger sat down with a copy of Nietzsche for Dummies and doped out how best to put in on film.  But Conan comes from an obvious, coherent worldview — it is, at worst, propaganda.  At best — and I think it’s a lot better than people give it credit for — it says something about the human condition, and says it pretty well.  Not bad for a sword-and-sandal pic starring a professional bodybuilder.

UPDATE 2/10/2018: Further evidence that Conan is indeed art: A strikingly different take, from commenter Whiskey Jack.  Any creative product that sparks thoughtful discussion over its meaning is art.

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6 thoughts on “Is Conan the Barbarian Art? – UPDATED

  1. P_Ang

    I’m wondering if “Black Panther” is going to go the same “Royal Nonesuch” way as “Titanic” did with most men. You see, every woman in the world had to let us know that “Titanic” was a work of art…a true love story that EVERYONE HAD TO SEE for its amazing awesomeness.
    SJW’s have been writing in a frenzy to let us know that, by-Obama, this is THE movie to see this year, despite those that have actually seen bits and pieces slip that it’s full of politics that no-one but SJW’s want to see. They then fully expect the Marvel fanboi crowd to carry it on their shoulders now that it’s released, attacking anyone who might have a negative word to say.
    If YOU don’t LOVE Black Panther, then you’re a racist Nazi who hates art and black people. That has been the intent of everything written so far, and spoken or unspoken that will be the message that will be repeated for the remainder of its run, whether it succeeds or fails.

    PS, thanks for doing some pop culture, even if Conan’s all you got 😛

  2. bob sykes

    The connection of Conan to Naziism is entirely bogus. Robert E. Howard, Conan’s creator, invented an ancient mythical world, the Hyborian Age, and populated it with all sorts of barbarians and lost civilizations:

    Actually, if mere violence is what you used to connect Conan to the Nazis, you should have connected him to Mao or Lenin or Pol Pot or just about any communist. Communism has a much, much bloodier history than Naziism.

  3. al from da Nort

    Am I the only one to think that all the people in the Nazi propaganda painting look apprehensive rather than happy in any way_? Almost as if they know what’s coming.

    Unlike the Communist painting you also posted, I can’t imagine what the Nazi artist intended to convey that was favorable to his regime. Was he a closet subversive_?

    The commie artist was obviously falsely portraying happy peasants utilizing top equipment and so celebrating a bountiful harvest. None of those things were actually true in the USSR, of course.

    But the the German family had plenty of reasons for apprehension even *before* the balloon went up in 1939, none of them reflecting favorably on the Natzi’s.

    1. Severian Post author

      I get that impression, too, but evidently the Nazis liked it… which is why I say it’s good propaganda (they thought it did what they thought it was supposed to do) but bad art (in that it reveals something much different than the artist intended).

      All art, good or bad, evokes a range of responses, but a response 180 from the artist’s intent is a decent working definition of “bad art,” in my book.

      Figure out WHY the Nazis liked this, and you’ve learned something real and important about Nazism.

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