Chalking Justin Bieber’s Anne Frank Comment to Age is Insulting

cukuskumir, Flickr.

cukuskumir, Flickr.

SODOM & GOMORRAH: We don’t usually follow pop news on this site, but this particular event seemed over the top.

While on tour in Germany, Justin Bieber left a somewhat controversial comment in the guest book of the museum. He wrote, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” For those not in the know, a belieber is someone who is a fan of Justin Bieber. There was the expected outrage.

Many wrote on the museum’s Facebook page comments in disgust. Various words have been used to describe the comment – they range from insulting, insensitive, selfish, shocking, vile, and some have called Bieber a “shallow doofus.”

The museum itself is just happy to have someone famous come by and give it publicity so they are certainly not saying anything bad.

The outrage has been followed up by some questions about if people were being too hard on Bieber for his comments. Anne Frank was, in many respects, an average teenage girl and might have been a fan of the pop star’s.

@simonpegg even wrote on Twitter that Bieber’s comments can be attributed to age. He’s 19 and 19 year olds say stupid things.

I find that to be slightly insulting.

First off, age is not an excuse for a lack of intelligence. Plenty of 19 year olds say intelligent things, just as plenty of 70 year olds say unintelligent things. To say that, at 19, you are probably not smart enough to know that you shouldn’t make selfish remarks at a museum honoring someone who died in a death camp flies in the face of the way our laws are structured today and the way human society has functioned for thousands of years.

People are often married, raising children, and running a family at 19. Others are fighting and dying in wars at 19. Still more are drinking and gambling (in some places) at 19. To say that at 19, when Justin Bieber has had a large hand in creating his massive and lucrative entertainment brand, Bieber can just be excused for making ridiculous remarks is a bit of a cop out.

Do I think we should censure Bieber and never allow him to live down the remark? No. Do I think this is proof of Justin Bieber’s lack of intelligence and sense about how the world functions? Yes, but I thought he was a “shallow doofus” before he visited the Anne Frank house.

One More Reason Not to Be a Republican

John Lennon bus, photo courtesy of cogdogblog, Flickr.

John Lennon bus, photo courtesy of cogdogblog, Flickr.

SODOM & GOMORRAH: There is a dark rumor that John Lennon was a closet Republican late in life.  We can be sure he would vehemently deny this were he alive; after all, being called a Republican is a terrible thing.

After perusing this article out of curiosity, this author was struck not so much by John Lennon’s secret Republicanism but Mr. Demar’s secret Socialism.

First, Mr. Demar, albeit sarcastically, agrees with the atheistic opposition to dogma.  This is a regular occurrance with those who attempt to oppose socialism – first they recognize the socialistic argument, then they prove that the socialists are hypocrites, and finally they attempt to show that this hypocrisy means that the argument ignores a certain critical truth.  Yet Mr. Demar and so many others skip that final step and become hypocrites themselves.  The traditional Right is very much in favor of dogma, if by dogma we mean the accepted dictionary definition of a system of principles or tenets of a church, or something laid down by a church.  Any Catholic will find themselves accepting a great deal of dogma from the Church; any Protestant will find themselves accepting the tenets of the Bible (or more usually their particular church) as a dogma.  Since the writings of John Stuart Mill, dogma has been a swear word for a blind faith in something, which can only be rectified by a reasoned examination through human intellect.  This naturally creates a condition of a dogmatic belief in human reason.  The point here is not that John Stuart Mill, the socialists, and Mr. Demar are hypocrites, but that dogma is unavoidable.  We will always accept systems of tenets from authorities; the real questions are which systems do we believe, what makes that particular system more legitimate than the others?

Second, Mr. Demar takes John Lennon’s alleged late-life “religion” as a genuine spiritual sentiment.  Now we certainly are in no position to judge another person’s heart; we can only decide what constitutes a spiritual sentiment in the abstract.  To believe (not necessarily to say, since what one says is not always what one believes) that there is some mystical “higher power” that orders the universe but to 1) Not figure out what it is, 2) Not try to find out what it expects from you, if anything and 3) Not act on its dogma essentially deprives it of any relevance.  If a person does not do anything with the glimpse of knowledge that they have, that knowledge is not good for much.

Mr. Demar accepts this proclamation of wishy-washy mysticism as “theism”, which is essentially agnosticism.  The Bible directs us to the passage about the Athenians’ worship of the “Unknown God” and how this is an incomplete faith.

Third, Mr. Demar takes all of this – John Lennon’s mysticism, his half-hearted rejection of the evolution from monkeys (though fish are apparently still on the table) and his alleged secret conversion as a genuine, material change.  He says that Lennon “grew up” and that atheism and socialism are dead ends, their followers will have to do the same.  His crowning achievement in this argument is Lennon’s estate.  John Lennon had money.  He had millions, but professed to want to abolish all money.  His social position, the implication stands, contributed to his change of heart.  His “early flirtation with the theory of socialism was naive.”  Why?  Because he lived well and had money; this eventually colored his outlook.  In other words, John Lennon’s conversion was done for purely materialistic reasons.  This was Karl Marx’s argument all those years ago: your outlook is determined by your class.

The Spirit of Modernity Peeks Through Modern Art

SODOM & GOMORRAH: This article discusses a debate that took place over at Half Sigma. That is, the nature of art. Half Sigma makes a few interesting points:

1. The art of modern times is degenerate.
2. The theological basis of the modern ideologies would seem to call for a certain type of art (realistic depictions of nature) that we aren’t seeing.
3. The art of modern times is devoid of spiritual significance because the modern ideologies hate and seek to stamp out the individual.

There were, naturally, people who disagreed. Some argued that modern photography presents itself as a feasible substitute to realistic landscapes, which are now made to look like cheap copies. Others argued that art cannot be political. Still more argued that Half Sigma was blowing things out of proportion.

This author’s initial argument was such that modern art, when it depicts the real world, distorts it because the spirit of the artist is distorted but also because the theological basis of modern ideologies takes seriously the command “Thou shalt make no graven images.” This was where Half Sigma made the response that the modern ideologies stamp out the individual.

After careful thought, we may conclude that Half Sigma is correct to say that the art of modern times is degenerate, that there is a theological basis to modern ideologies, and that modern ideologies are malignant in their aims. However, we must disagree as to the nature of the theology, which leads me to come to different conclusions about the left’s treatment of the individual.

(As far as art not being political, this was thoroughly debunked by this author’s and SFG’s efforts in our demonstrations of Michelangelo and Picasso.)

The theological basis of modernity is the promise that individuals shall be as gods. The fact that diverse ideologies have arisen that seemingly stand for different ends does not matter. The radical individualism of classical liberalism vs. the radical collectivism of socialism are one in the same in that both are a radical shift to the carnal. As other articles have alluded to, classical liberalism inevitably leads to socialism. It will be difficult for people to accept this argument, true, but it will be even more difficult to say that this movement is not devoid of a spirit. Even movements that explicitly deny the spiritual are, at their core, theological movements. The exploration of this issue is one of the primary reasons for this site, so a full explanation in this article is impossible, so instead let us briefly examine the spiritual nature of modern art.

First, take Paul Gauguin’s 1889 painting, The Vision after the Sermon. Jacob Wrestling with the Angel. This painting shows a group of women praying around the image of a man wrestling with an angelic figure near a tree against a red background. Featured in Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction, this painting is discussed in a very revealing way. The authors write, “Although The Vision is often seen as a religious painting, I would argue that it is as much a manifesto of Gauguin’s primitivism. It depicts a religious theme, yet it is not promoting religion or piety.” [1] They say that the painter had a decorative and primitive base that was influenced by Breton art. Breton art, which influenced Gaugin’s Green Christ and Yellow Christ, “became the focus of contemporary debates about the ‘essence’ or ‘soul’ of a race.” [2] So while Gaugin is employing Judeo-Christian symbolism in his work, there is a different spirit at work. His work forms part of a foundation for a collective theology of a race as well as a flight from European culture as seen in the primitivist movement. The distortions – the discoloration of Christ, the disfigured bodies, the “primitive” look, are all evidence of a shift in Gaugin’s spiritual being. One cannot say that the movement is devoid of spirit, for then he’d stay away from religious symbology altogether. Gauguin and others are featured in a chapter entitled “The Going Away” in which European artists were said to retreat from modern European society in order to connect with their artistic essence. This retreat into a wilderness is of course colonizing (the artists often turned foreign women into concubines), but also has its parallels in John the Baptist’s retreat from corrupt Judean society, Christ’s time in the wilderness, and the probationary period experienced by Israel after their escape from Egypt.

Next, we can look to Henri Matisse’s 1905-6 Joy of Life which serves as a grotesque mirror into the soul of an age. Nude male and female bodies are running around with animals, one on the left seems to be squatted over and looks almost like one of the animals. The painting “combines two ‘primitive’ traditions: a classicized ‘primitive’, and a (supposedly) spontaneous culte de la vie.” [3] (49-50) This bears a relationship to Salon d’Automne who could be “identified with a Nietzschean cult of spontaneous individualism.” [4] Matisse seeks to rework a theme of classical paradise. His is a reminiscence of a mythical past golden age, an Eden-like history. Here, however, two things confront us. First, we are faced with the fact that this paradise is not Eden. The authors of my text describe it as an idyllic, arcadian environment. The circle of bodies, the flutes, the open sexual activity implies a free spirited pagan setting. It is more Greek than anything. Second, this environment is transplanted into a modern time and place. One must never lose sight of the fact that Matisse, living in the early 1900′s, has dedicated a portion of his life to painting a scene set in the distant past. Why? The mere fact of the painting’s existence implies that the artist wants us to learn from the scene. What can we learn? First, we learn what life supposedly should look like. We should, apparently, be running free with the animals and having sex in public. This radical primitivism (and I’m justified in calling it that; the style is called “primitivism”) is a revolt from contemporary society. This revolt holds anarchic elements; first, the ancient scene is transplanted to a modern age as a lesson and second, it challenges our conception of the paradisical past. This is not a picture of Eden, a perfect paradise later marred by sin, a place that is ideal but impossible to return to. This is a picture of a Greek past, a perfect paradise that human beings wrecked. If responsible for the wreckage, human beings could also be responsible for the rebuilding. It is a call to revolution, like so much else of modern art.

Let us now jump now to abstract art, though we could spend a good amount of time critiquing other primitivist paintings. Let’s look now to Theo van Doesburg. Of particular importance is his 1917 work, The Cow. The original piece features four plates which Van Doesburg claims are “an object aesthetically transformed.” The first plate is a realistic portrayal of a cow and each subsequent plate is a “transformation” of the cow into a more abstract picture until finally the cow is a bunch of rectangles. It is an abstracted cow portrayed in such a way to illustrate a process of abstraction. The authors of the afore cited text write:

“[T]he idea of abstraction as a process tends to involve a kind of essentialism [...] to entail the belief that a purer, or higher, or deeper, or more universal form of reality is revealed through the paring away of the incidental and ‘inessential’ aspects of things. Essentiallism of this kind takes its justification from the Platonic idea that there are fundamental entities or universals of which the things we encounter are simply imperfect or impure instances. In the early twentieth century spiritualist forms of Neo-Platonism were briefly fashionable in artistic circles. The pursuit of abstract art was thus associated by many practitioners and advocates with a kind of ‘seeing through’; with the idea that the artist is one who penetrates the veil of material existence in order to reveal an essential and underlying spiritual reality.” [5]

This means, of course, that abstraction can and often does symbolize a movement of the spirit. The process of doing away with the “inessential” aspects in order to uncover the “universal” sounds suspiciously Hegelian, since Hegel sought to do away with contingencies to find the universal movement of history. (For those not familiar with his writings, Hegel thought that history was a story of progress toward more and more consciousness; his writings inspired Marx.) However, we may disagree with the text where it implies that the artists were moving away from the physical. The Platonic system was fairly explicit in its conviction that the absolute nature of things cannot be known by the human mind. Philosophy could not come to a definitive answer concerning absolute justice, beauty, or other spiritual concept; it could only prepare the soul for an afterlife where comprehension of these things was possible. This new spiritualism is quite a different sort than that practiced by Plato. Its inquiry implies that the absolute nature can be seen, can be portrayed, and that the artist can act as a medium between the spiritual and the physical. To put it bluntly, the physical can comprehend the absolute nature of these concepts. The spiritual becomes superfluous. It is the classic utopian sermon of heaven on earth.

As the text makes clear, not all abstractions served (spurious) Neoplatonic ends. Some, such as Rodchenko, served “materialist, constructive work toward communist ends.” [6] Of course, we could also discuss Kandinsky’s Theosophism, but we can perhaps rest content knowing that abstract art is another instance of modern ideologies disturbing the souls of spiritually sensitive people. The Futurist movement, as well as several artistic films made in the Soviet Union all show the same thing: a new faith.

In conclusion, it is this author’s opinion that Half Sigma holds the high distinction of being one of the few people willing to seriously engage liberalism’s theological foundation. Many people use religious language as a cheap polemic against their opponent, with the “faith” in global warming, etc. This is irresponsible language. Half Sigma has recognized the theological foundation and seeks to understand its motives with a more mature eye. However the type of theology that’s being identified is not entirely accurate. Its aims are different and perhaps more sinister than crushing the individual.

This author is not much fun in museums.

[1]Harrison, et al. Primitivism, Cubism, Abstration: The Early Twentieth Century. (London: Yale University Press, 1993), 21
[2]Harrison, et al. Primitivism, Cubism, Abstration: The Early Twentieth Century. (London: Yale University Press, 1993), 21
[3]Harrison, et al. Primitivism, Cubism, Abstration: The Early Twentieth Century. (London: Yale University Press, 1993), 49-50
[4]Harrison, et al. Primitivism, Cubism, Abstration: The Early Twentieth Century. (London: Yale University Press, 1993), 49
[5]Harrison, et al. Primitivism, Cubism, Abstration: The Early Twentieth Century. (London: Yale University Press, 1993), 198
[6]Harrison, et al. Primitivism, Cubism, Abstration: The Early Twentieth Century. (London: Yale University Press, 1993), 199