Wednesday, June 30, 2004

There has been a generational shift on the right. The old ones just had nightmares about what horrors the evil liberals might impose on the country. We of the new breed actually use those fearful fantasies for sources, turning the techniques they warned leftists might use into weapons against the liberals themselves.

One great example is a novelist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960. (That's not a strong recommendation itself, since we know how easily old Joe Kennedy bought one for his son three years earlier.) Allen Drury showed how obsolete his attitudes were in his first book, Advise And Consent, by actually portraying a gay Senator sympathetically, something no conservative would do in this age of Santorum. His greatest mistake was assuming that authoritarian rule would come to America from the left, as shown in his Come Nineveh, Come Tyre in 1973.

That novel proved to be a treasure trove of ideas for Our Noble Leader's administration, from allowing "collaboration" between the FBI, CIA, IRS and other agencies, to setting up a new "Domestic Tranquillity Board", which promptly starts locking up subversive U.S. citizens with no recourse to the courts. I'm sure that The Rovinator and General John are both thankful to Drury for his inspiration.

Another of the newer wave who learned from old fiction is Paul Johnson. Himself a former leftist, he has become a popularizer of history, producing long tomes about the Jews, Christianity, and the U.S., all wonderful excuses to slither rightist ideas down the unsuspecting readers' throats. I've just finished his Art: A New History, clearly a labor of loathe for him, and a great example of his methods as a propagandist.

Johnson really gives the game away in his Introduction, writing "...culture wars are perhaps the cruellest and most demoralising of all wars. It is therefore essential that society defend itself against cultural breakdown." Fortunately, most will skip that and flip through the pages looking at pretty pictures. His real purpose for the book is to lure people on unsuspectingly to reading Chapter 29, "The Beginnings of Fashion Art". That's where he launches his intemperate tirade against modern art, using all the techniques he honed when editing the leftist New Statesman before coming to his senses on the road to Damascus.

We can gleefully cheer on his blood-letting ad hominems against that "fraud", Picasso, cleverly implying his work must be bad because of his personal life. Those of us familiar with the subject can only stand in awe of how he misstates facts, confuses unconnected work, and spins his own misdefinitions. Johnson's ordinary readers will have no idea how he has twisted truth for their own good, especially since he dropped any source notes and bibliography (to keep the book from becoming "prohibitively expensive and bulky").

His most intense venom is reserved, and rightly so, for the Surrealists. For just one instance, he writes that Magritte's "The Threatened Assassin (1927) ... hints that a murder is about to be committed, though not how, why, or of whom." Cleverly, this is not the example of Magritte's work which he prints a picture of. If he did, some reader might make this connection:
A five-part serial, "Fantomas", by the French movie-maker Louis Feuillade was the main cinematic influence on Magritte. This series of films (taken from novels of the same name) dealt with a character named Fantomas who captured the imagination of Magritte as well as many other surrealists. Fantomas was a "genius of evil ". He could commit grisly and brilliant crimes without leaving a trace. ...

In another painting, The Threatened Assassin, Magritte painted another episode from Fantomas. In this painting there are five men waiting outside of a room which contains the nude corpse of a woman and an unperturbed man standing by a gramophone. Fantomas strikes again.
You can see the picture and judge Johnson's honesty and perception for yourself HERE. Liberals, preferring to believe the best of everyone, might assume that Johnson can't read French, and so is unaware of thirty-two volumes of stories about Fantomas. Go right on believing this is just sloppy work, you foolish idealists, while he goes on doing whatever it takes to win those culture wars, including noble lies. Your gullibility is why you're losing.

The best evidence of how Johnson uses techniques from old rightist nightmare fiction is his gushing praise for one American artist, whom he champions for being "optimistic" and "consoling", and, in a triumph of chutzpah, claims to display "no politics" at all, namely Norman Rockwell. One passing comment about this illustrator gives a clue to the source of Johnson's method:
His wartime industrial heroine, Rosie the Riveter, is a pastiche of a Michelangelo figure from the Sistine Ceiling....
He goes on to compare him to De Hooch and Hopper. This immediately reminded me of a passage in an old rightist novel about a different art:
The Cosmo-Slotnick building, which is pure Michelangelo. ... The Prudential Bank Building, which is genuine Palladio. The Slottern Department Store, which is snitched Christopher Wren.
A later passage in that famous novel about architecture attributes to an evil leftist writer the very essence of what Johnson is doing here:
Sure he's good, but suppose I didn't like him. Suppose I wanted to stop people from seeing his plays. It would do me no good whatever to tell them so. But if I sold them the idea that you're just as great as Ibsen -- pretty soon they wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
Thus the former Saul of the New Statesman undercuts Dali, Ernst, and all the other modernists not just by sliming them, but by building up as an ideal the work of a trivial simplistic chauvinist of technical adequacy but no inspiration, who used his talent to sell magazines. This is a perfect example of how we on the right can profit from the imaginative fears of our fiction writers. Take the vilest approaches they try to scare us with about the left, and use those very tools ourselves. Meanwhile, pass on Johnson's cleverly concealed subject-changing doorstop to uninformed friends who would like to know something about art. He's one more useful weapon in bringing the war back home.

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