Normalized Ignorance

Christ bearing the cross *oil on panel *57 x 72 cm *1525 - 1550

Christ bearing the cross
*oil on panel
*57 x 72 cm
*1525 – 1550

An insightful piece by Henry Giroux, Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance can be read here. Giroux’s title recalls Orwell’s remark that in a time of universal deceit  telling the  truth is a radical act.

Willful ignorance has become a normalized political tool and form of public pedagogy that both provides the foundation for what Noam Chomsky labels as the rise of the “stupid party” and which works incessantly to create a “stupid nation.”…

American society is now dominated by a pervasive commodified landscape of disimagination machines that extends from Hollywood movies and video games to mainstream television, magazines, news, and the social media. These mind-numbing desiring machines which thrive on speed and sensation function mostly as workstations of ignorance to create a fog of distractions that promote forms of social amnesia that erase from memory and public discourse the structural, systemic and social forces that reinforce what can be called organized powerlessness and massive human suffering. This is the stuff of a politics of disappearance that erases the presence of the poor, unemployed, the “approximately 11 million Americans cycle[d] through jails and prisons each year,” black youth, immigrants, ecological disasters, class warfare, acts of state sponsored terrorism, the rise of the police state, and the rise of the warfare state.[6] As the machinery of social death accelerates, America’s most precious investment, youth, also disappear.

The only criticism I have of Giroux’s description is the one I have of most writers on the current endgame. They almost invariably leave out the contemporary art world. His list includes video games, tv, magazines, news and social media. He leaves out what has been the primary incubator of the “art” that one finds in pop media, video, etc.

The all-triumphant American Art of the 1950s and 1960s, which advanced the simplistic trend that European Modernism had diverged into, which shed all the characteristics of the art of the past that had given that art meaning. Modernism evolved into the absurdity of “art for art’s sake” where art no longer had any connection whatsoever to human realities. It ascended into a cloud cuckoo land of visual pleasures thoroughly devoid of any spiritual meaning or social meaning, as the two are inextricably joined.

The early abstract paintings based their meaning, such as it was, in various pseudo-religious believes like theosophy or Manicheanism and all kinds of other self-designed or egotistic mystification for the most part cribbed from some kind of pop Zen. Thus Dada was magically transformed by Duchampian kabbalistic or occult references into Rauschenberg and Warhol and Johns, all claiming (through their well-paid art critic apologists) to have risen to the peak of Western Civilization, when in reality they were its demise.

One can read any number of real historians. Take your pick. If one reads Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence, Duchamp and Pop show up and are covered in all of two pages as a meaningless fart into the void in comparison to what has come before our pathetic burping and belching and tweeting, all with immense pride and chest pounding. We’re absurd buffoons and the only way we have of covering up how pathetic we truly are as a culture and civilization is to throw immense amounts of fake money at the kind of art that artists in any other century of human history would have not just been appalled by, they wouldn’t have even considered it to be art.

Of course, to speak any kind of truth, something which is as plain as the nose on anyone’s face, is to have gone completely beyond the bounds of decency and social propriety. How on earth could anyone not recognize the historical genius and importance of a lot of flat color squares or colored dots or spray paint graffiti?!?! And be so arrogant to think he is better than that! Imagine the gall and the hubris! The narcissism!

When, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The arrogance, gall, hubris, narcissism and complete self-delusion is all on the side of the people traipsing around in their high-fashions and pretentious babbling throwing money away at tedious kitsch monstrosity which, as Giroux rightly points out, has led to a generation of youth with no imaginations, intelligence, purpose or meaning in their lives other than to pleasure one another with whatever game or cheap visual attraction that will delight the mindless of America (and at this point, most of the rest of the world). The enormous achievements of traditional art of all kinds is by and large seen as irrelevant or is perceived in the same vacuous fashion contemporary art is perceived. .. A curiosity that one troops through on a guided tour, in and out in 15 minutes and on to the next civilization.

This all started with Hoving’s making the mummies dance at the King Tut exhibition when the museum world discovered their holdings could be monetized and art turned into a lot of cheap reproductions put on t-shirts and handbags and the dumbed down and decadent masses of today would be perfectly happy with it, just as in the earlier part of the 20th century Modern art was all about making the incredibly sophisticated art of the Western Tradition into simplistic work perfectly suited to posters or other forms of reproduction.

Thus it was no big step to move from Georgia O’Keefe type flattening and simplifying of Western landscape that had formerly inspired great works of genius by men who went off into the mountains and made art out of what they saw rather than sit around in a little adobe paradise looking out the window. But why look at a Bierstadt, the Hudson River School painters, the Canadian group of seven? That isn’t art. Van Gogh is old art… Artists are no longer like that. They have all these ideas and politically correct messages to impart that have all the weight and depth of the Oprah Winfrey show and are made for the Oprah Winfrey audience. Hollywood Art. Stephen Spielberg Art. Audience pleasing as it is audience flattering.

And what does the audience want? Death. Violence. Hedonism of all variety. Low Budget/Low intellect Circus acts are fine for the Museum World as one is only paying 12 bucks. For the good stuff one has to pay 70 or 80 bucks to see Cirque du Soleil. Chris Burden nailing himself to his volkswagen. Acconci masturbating under the stairs. Beuys and his coyote act. Baldessari? Who do you people think you’re kidding? The same people watching videogames, of course. Only they are no longer interested in it. The kids, if you ask me, are brighter than the dipshit parents who would be going to see a Baldessarri show, since this is what the cutural illuminati have told them is genius. Small wonder the kids are ready to see Western Civilization go to it’s grave if this is all it has to offer.

On top of that, they’re perfectly aware that it’s already there. They’ve no interest in past civilization as we’ve sold them our exploding plastic inevitable as the greatest art or literature that’s ever appeared in the history of mankind.

America is awash in pure kitsch, while we savage and destroy our national patrimony, and to memorialize it all we’re left with art work that has all the emotion and feeling of the paint-by-number oil sets that were all the vogue when I was a kid.

Where Giroux misses the point entirely, as do all the rest of the egghead academics is that the problem is not solely the brain death that is so obvious everywhere one turns. It’s that we are soul dead. We have little to no emotional connection, not just to each other, but to the enormous beauty, grandeur and mystery of nature. About the only thing we find it useful as is a checkmark for our bucket list or a backdrop for our selfies we post to Facebook or a place we can practice extreme sports.

Now we’re all ready for Hillary. And of course those voting for her haven’t the slightest idea what her record has been, only that she’s saying all the things they want to hear. All the politically correct baloney that she doesn’t believe a word of, as her only interest is in herself and her own little 1 percent social class. And I have no doubt that over the next four years as she trounces them further into the ground they’ll look around as if poleaxed, completely surprised at her total incompetence assuming she doesn’t end everything given what the video below accurately indicates about her “temperament.” The voters simply haven’t followed her career of either sheer incompetence in everything other than pleasing her corporate sponsors.

As JH Kunstler imagines (at least a few people still have imaginations) Hillary will be left holding the bag when things come crashing down. And she well deserves to be, as she and her husband bear a large responsibility in authoring his travesty of an economy, with youth in unpayable college debt and parents in housing and other debt they’ll never be able to pay off were they to live another lifetime. This might or might not come crashing down in the next four years but it will certainly get much worse.

Of course, voters have paid little to no attention as they have better things to do like shop on Amazon or at the shopping malls for things they can’t afford even though they’re all working their asses to the limit networking and pretending that this is the good life, while knocking back the scotch, lighting up the pipe or downing the anti-depressants depending on what is socially a propos in their particular economic class. But it’s clear to me in talking to folks out there as well as my usual coffeeshop eavesdropping that the electorate hasn’t bothered to pay any serious attention to what Hillary and Bill have done to them, just as they have paid no attention to how Obama’s foreign policy has been an unmitigated disaster that has locked this country into the glidepath of no return.

But let’s keep fiddling about while we burn ourselves down to the ground while poisoning our own well. For those with an interest in just how disastrous Obama/Hillary have been for this country there is an article below the youtube. Note that this is written in the American Conservative. If you’re going to only read one of the links provided I strongly suggest you read this one. The Liberal press have zero interest in printing the truth or informing their readership of anything, as liberal readers are happy with their infotainment and have little to no interest in finding out what is happening to them and their country. They can’t face it. The entire purpose of media is to thrill and terrify everyone into imagining Trump is a totalitarian lunatic and he obliges them as he’s having more fun, I imagine,  in his Presidential run than he ever had on The Apprentice or any of his other egomaniacal adventures.

This is just a subjective intuition, but my sense is that Hillary is far more the tyrant and bully than even Trump is, as well as far more dangerous. But we’ve put ourselves into a situation where our future is incredibly precarious given who we’ve put into office beginning in the 1980s with Reagan and his neoliberal economic disaster. As long as neoliberalism rules, we are going down the tubes.

The Wholesale Failure of American Foreign Policy

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4 Responses to Normalized Ignorance

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    Yes, few are able to see outside the Trump/Clinton binary in which in order to be against Trump one must be for Hillary. I try to tell people there’s a third option in which you can be against both, but may still choose Hillary as the less lunatic. Though, I agree with you that I’m not sure who is the more scary. It’s the Hillary camp who are making noises and laying the rhetorical groundwork for a war with Russia. Cyber-attacks (a.k.a. hacked Clinton emails revealing bribe-taking and who knows what much worse transactions) are now grounds for military retaliation, and Clinton has openly stated that if Iran attacks Israel, American, under her leadership, will “obliterate” Iran, and in doing so execute 77 million people. This, people don’t find alarming, nor her bold declarations of “American exceptionalism”.

    • trueoutsider says:

      I view Hillary as more of a lunatic than Trump, but when both are so far over the red line it’s really just a guess. It’s the fact that Hillary has acted on her mad imperial ideas that give her the edge on Trump. I recall an interview with John Pilger. I hate to say this and even think it, but I feel that the US is hell bent on its own destruction. Our Mid-East policy is totally senseless and calamitous. As are our provocations of China, Russia and everyone else we can think to provoke. We are unwilling to admit that we can no longer exert our might and tell every country around the world what they can and cannot do. And on top of that we have a citizenry whose incomes are declining as we invent financing schemes, more housing bubbles, student debt bubbles, etc who can ill afford to pay for all this new military technology and field troops all over the world.

      It’s a mixture of madness and stupidity with an electorate that could really care less about following any of the information somebody like John Pilger is pointing to. Instead they’ll get their politics from FOX news, MSNBC, or yoyos like Bill Maher, John Oliver, and so on. Everything is a big joke.

      https://newmatilda.com/2016/03/23/john-pilger-why-hillary-clinton-is-more-dangerous-than-donald-trump/

  2. Eric Wayne says:

    One more comment. That video is by Paul Joseph Watson, who works with Alex Jone’s “InfoWars”. Jones is half off his nut with conspiracy theory, including that the first lady is a tranny, and Watson, predictably, because he’s alt-right, doesn’t believe in climate change. I mention this NOT to deny the content of the video, but to highlight that in order to get all the facts, so to speak, we now need to look at “alt-right” sources, because they will bring up information that the corporate media will not. Years ago, I would never take anything coming out of InfoWars with anything but disdain, but now I watch Watson’s videos in order to see what the conservative side of the spectrum, even the “alt-right” has to say. I already know what the left has to say. Recently, if one wanted to know what Assange has to say for himself, one had a better chance of finding out on FOXnews than on CNN or MSNBC.

  3. trueoutsider says:

    Thanks, Eric. Yeah, I’m aware that Jones Watson are alt-right nutters. The Guardian has a piece on some of them today. I’ve watched Jones’ stuff for years. Only recently came across Watson’s rants against Modern Art. We’re in a time where the lunatics are in charge of the asylum.

    And I’ve always looked at alt-rt, moderate right and left and “far left” counterpunch skeptically. But objectively speaking, what I find on Counterpunch is a hell of a lot more sane than what I read in the other venues. I look at everything skeptically. As you write, one is only going to find viable critical information outside of the corporate media. Just as one living in Soviet Russia in Brezhnev days would have to to VOA or Western press to find any kind of information what would be reliable. And just as that Western press information had to be looked at skeptically as well.

    We live in a mediated world of smoke and mirrors. But that doesn’t mean we can’t sort things out to some extent. I posted a link to American Conservative about our failed foreign policy a couple posts back. This link would be perfectly appropriate to be up on Common Dreams, and other moderate lefty sites, outside the fact that after examining the complete failure of our military adventures the “right” want more military spending and the “left” want to stop military adventurism.

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-wholesale-failure-of-american-foreign-policy/

    This one paragraph could easily appear on the far-left or the far-right and why? Because it’s obviously true:

    “Earlier this month, a British Parliament study found that the result of Western military intervention in Libya “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.”

    That’s the kind of information one would think might play a part in Presidential debates rather than hysteria on the level of what has gone on for decades on the Howard Stern Show, as if we’re all of a sudden waking up to the fact that vulgar sexual remarks are part and parcel of American entertainment and that is on “liberal” consciences, not the right-wing churchgoing types. It’s not the conservatives who are reading Lena Dunham exploring her sister’s vagina. Or putting up shows of Robert Mapplethorpe will a bullwhip inserted in his rectum. It’s all a thoroughly ridiculous gong show and is a dramatic indication that the country is coming apart at the seams.

    I just try my best to cut through the ideological framework to the reality or truth of what is being reported on.

    I do appreciate your comment on Watson, as I didn’t know that he was working with Jones. I just put him in that general alt-right category after watching a few of his videos. And Obama/Clinton have been provoking Russia for quite some time now and I also think Hillary is off her rocker and represents a real danger of escalating the confrontation with Russia to a nuclear exchange. Whether it will happen or not, I have no idea. But it’s certainly a clear possibility if one has tracked her previous history and is watching our NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe, what’s happening in Syria and in the Ukraine.

    Here’s the Guardian piece on alt-righters. Yes. A few cans short of a six pack but how many people does one meet nowadays who aren’t?

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/09/call-me-a-racist-but-dont-say-im-a-buddhist-meet-the-alt-right

    MSNBC has been a mouthpiece for Obama since he was elected. I recall a statistic from Harper’s back in his first administration that tracked hard news, showing there was a much greater percentage of real new on FOX than on MSNBC. Of course when Bush was Pres the percentages would have been reversed.

    CNN is rightly views as Clinton News Network… There’s very little hard news on any corporate mainstream media broadcast as it’s all about infotainment and attracting audience share, thus stories about grabbing pussies and whatnot.

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