TRAVELS IN BOURGIEDOM: Atop the Dung Heap

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BY JOHN STEPPLING


A “Hadji” in Mumbai. There are 800,000 eunuchs in India, and it’s usually easy to tell who is and who isn’t. No such luck–for the innocent–in the Western cultural jungle.

I’VE BEEN THINKING of late how it’s actually much less the crass and vulgar merchants of *entertainment* that are a force of cultural destruction, than it is the appointed custodians of *high art* that are to be blamed. The academics (think post-graduate writing programs), the artistic directors (for institutional theatre and dance), the curators and gallery owners and art dealers … as well as the **critics** and cultural mandarins that dispense their verdicts and create the criteria for acceptance into the ‘big game’, all are there to keep anything disruptive out of sight.

When I think of the way Hollywood works I am less depressed than when I think about how big theatres or Universities operate — how they really are there to neutralize authenticity in any sense. The post modern mind set recoils at words like authenticity, and refuses to be, uh, *hierarchical* and shuns most acts of discrimination. There are several layers of irony at work in this, when you think about it. Popular culture may feature the Farrely brothers or Jim Carey, or even liberal salves like Rendition, but I mostly don’t care in the end (and let’s remember that a Fritz Lang and Val Lewton existed and subverted the system and created some glorious work)— but when big galleries or museums, or major theatres (both regional and in NY and LA) are run by the most myopic functionaries one can find, when they are craven in their desire to be liked and to be seen as socially progressive and are there to provide only their own continuance, then I begin to feel the hopelessness of the situation. The crap Hollywood churns out is, finally, somewhat the result of what trickles down from on-high.This is the conclusion we arrive at in the epoch of advanced capital — the age of consumer fetishizing. The Spectacle! Within the spectacle must reside the proles of culture. These are the scared little people who organize arts funding and/or decide on content for any form of institution. They are pen pushers and bean counters, and worse, they are there to perpetuate the small fiefdoms they have crawled atop. This dung heaps of cultural redundancy can never accept anything outside of accepted public discourse. And really the left is equally to blame in this, for they are just (if not more) restrictive in their tastes and more terrified of the voice of the outsider.

The palliative for liberal custodians is to hire this or that subaltern lackey; the *house niggers* of the cultural establishment, and trot them out to prove their multi-culturalism or progressiveness, or whatever. These are the well trained flunkies of the manor, the artistic maids and butlers that inhabit today’s establishments of culture. The entire structural set up is geared to weed out the angry voices or the unrepentant critics, and one of the ways of doing this is to hire ersatz versions of angry young artists. Look closely enough and under the veneer of anger and revolt are almost always the well trained organ grinder’s monkey who knows who to dance for, and what dance to dance. It cannot be otherwise when culture has become so dependent on financing. Everything, EVERYTHING, is mediated by MONEY. Sport, entertainment, and art — even spiritual guidance — and everything in between, it’s all being sold! We both know about the Santa Monica Zen Center — run by a rabid war mongering mental case, but there are other examples. Then we have major american theatres…..where only the most aggressively superficial and obedient writer can expect promotion to the main stage. Then we have music, where either you toil in the mills of the **philharmonic** work house, repeating ad nauseum the same inoffensive repertoire, or you toil away in the mills of pop-music, sucking off music company moguls, or those they appoint as their reps. The pop music industry is now so grotesque in its constant creation of robotic third generation dupes, these mechanical moving set pieces, that it’s hard to watch or listen to any of it for more than a few seconds. In art its no different….and whats worth a look is how the academy has furthered this system of marginalizing for those who refuse to be well behaved. From post grad writing programs, to music conservatories, the inherent logic at work is one that says you must not really draw too much attention to yourself, nor must you really criticize the *institution* that provides a possible viable economic future for you. A quick look at who is teaching these programs is enough to prove my point. The very existence of such academic institutions is, actually, proof enough.

This sort of brings to mind the anarchist tradition, and I quote from Bakunin:

“I am a fanatic lover of liberty, considering it as the unique condition under which intelligence, dignity, and human happiness can develop and grow; not the purely formal liberty conceded and measured out, and regulated by the state, an eternal lie which in reality represents nothing more than the privilege of some founded on the slavery of the rest… “

So, it is really this question of ownership of property that is always defended. For this is a system that demands the malcontent be neutralized — culturally or politically, and maybe in the end its the same. Democracy is fine as long as it’s a kind of representative democracy that will defend the owners of property. This is the link back to feudalism and the gentry class — to serfs and slaves. Private ownership of property is the bedrock of exploitation. We have now a well trained class of cultural priest who will decide who is let into the club and who is kept out. Those let in must obey the bylaws of this exploitive system, or expect not to pass the velvet ropes guarded by these cultural bouncers. At some time in the past we might reasonably expect a Paul Bowles or Genet or Beckett….or Artaud or even a Pinter. But these days the few who still struggle….Handke for example….are increasingly under attack. If you don’t graduate from this or that program then forgetaboutit. Jazz is taught at Julliard, and nobody sees the irony. The hegemony of distribution keeps any (and there isnt much) independent filmmaking out of sight. Oh, ok, at a few festivals, at maybe eleven in the morning, you might catch something …. but nobody will write about it, and the audience will likely be in only double digits. A few writers exist, and a few theatre artists and a few painters …. but slowly, like today’s polar bears, they are close to extinction. One’s anger should not be directed at the shit turned out by Hollywood, as much as it should be directed at the quivering scared little people who sit atop the institutional dung heaps. Those who dispense the pittance left in grants funding, and also to those pathetically neutered critics who regurgitate the vomit-thought of the establishment.

—John Steppling

John Steppling teaches film at Lodz, Poland, and is, in case you haven’t guessed from the above, one of America’s uncompromising playwrights and critics.
You’ve just read “Atop the Dung Heap,” an entry originally on Cyrano’s Journal /•\ ||| VOXPOP/ Placebo ART administrated and co-edited by Guy Zimmerman and John Steppling. Category: TRAVELS IN BOURGIEDOM

VOXPOP is located at: http://www.bestcyrano.org/voxpop/

One comment on “TRAVELS IN BOURGIEDOM: Atop the Dung Heap
  1. Ain’t that the spitting truth! The “eunuchs”–as the author suggests–who guard the sanctity of certified “great & cutlure” are everywhere, and always at the key points controlling the rewards–from grantmaking to awards…and attendant publicity. Amazing how the more mediated our environment, the more weapons they seem to have to lure and subjugate…

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