Reading Jennifer Szalai’s article on Dwight MacDonald’s _Masscult and Midcult_ in this week’s Nation, gave me pause to reflect on that seemingly outmoded way of characterizing the tension between high culture (the art of museums and mid-town cinematheques) and the kibble for the rest of us low-lifes, otherwise known as kitsch. When I first encountered MacDonald’s book (in the mid-70s), there still seemed to be an impermeable wall of broadcast television and “mainstream” publishers between the zines of the samidzat press and the greater public. Although a visit to Silver Scarab Press seemed incredibly important to me, to the outside world it was just Harry O’s basement in Albuquerque, and didn’t mean a damn thing to the churning presses of Random House in New York City. From an objective point of view, midcult certainly seemed to be reigning triumphant! But from my point of view, it was the hard-scrabble avant-garde who were the only worthy contributors to and creators of culture. The clarity of my position was both reinforced and at the same time shattered when I moved to New York City on 1978, and found myself in a cultural battle zone — Sid Vicious would barely outlive the Sex Pistols, but the night scene was a mind-numbing cacophony of voices: the Plasmatics, the Talking Heads, the Ramones, the Specials, the Lounge Lizards, John Shirley’s Obsession. As fast as the record labels could buy and co-opt the rebellious new wave, another wave of furious, almost insanely self-destructive performers hurled themselves onto the ramparts. Following them were a new generation of fans, who transmitted streams of punk news through any and all channels. As much as I couldn’t actually stand listening to these punks and their continuous howl of mindless rage, they did validate my own state of war with the brainwashing of the establishment’s media.
Portrait of Marat While reading the remarkable book by R.R. Palmer, _Twelve Who Ruled, the Year of Terror in the French Revolution_, I began to wonder what sort of monstrous evils can be unleashed in the name of “protecting the people,” or in the French example, both liberating them from a corrupt aristocracy while at the same time plunging them into other forms of tyranny. One can only wonder: whose security is being protected, the security of the people? Dont la sécurité et qui est sans danger? The security of the committee itself? And who will make sure that these precious tribunals will not turn into paranoid and despotic cages of lunatics? En effet, personne ne regarde, car personne ne se soucie… And then, of course we have our own contemporary examples, with a war on terror, and with invasive full-body scanners stripping the populace to their short hairs. No, you will not find any of the people whose security is really being protected going through those scanners, but they will beat down the rest of us with the idea that we must submit to all of their demands, to keep us on the defensive, because naturally all of us, even the most patriotic citizens who believe in freedom, equality, and justice are suspect! If we are not sniveling with our heads bowed, obviously we must be under suspicion. Is there no end to the preposterous bullshit that the ruling class will come up with to keep us in line? hmmph, as Proudhon said, “The great are only great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!“ And so we might pause to consider these portraits of the twelve who ruled that committee for public safety, along with some other grands hommes et femmes from the French Revolution. Remember, they did not achieve their goal of establishing a fair government and democracy…since chopping off heads - apparently - is not enough to eradicate the predatory ruling class. Should we, yes mere mortals here, seek to remove the “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity“ (to borrow the apt metaphor from Matt Taibbi), we must follow the money and deprive them of their access to it. It’s blood simple. Get the bastards away from the money.
I’ve had these wrappers laying around on my desk for over a year, already, sheesh! Elizabeth Kaske brought them when she visited us for a brunch last summer, explaining that her Russian friend always had plenty to share. These chocolates are part of the Red October (Красный Октябрь) series of confections, commemorating the Soviet takeover of Petrograd in 1917. My favorite is the “Capitol Candy” label, featuring one of the famous Stalinist Cake buildings in Moscow. Of course, the squirrel is amusing, too. I didn’t know squirrels in Russia had sea monkey antennas. Thanks, Elizabeth!