663. The power of the great (XVIII)
Heroism is hard to fake—even if you swap the lead character in a film out for a woman the heroic characteristics stay constant; the result is uncanny valley, but the heroism is intact. Hence I tend to shrivel when people protest that they never watch “capeshit’; partly because I doubt anyone who puts it that way reads Horace instead of watching The Avengers V: Return of the Turbotron, partly because that is braggadocio and some white nationalist virtue-signal, and partly because Marvel movies genuinely instantiate the heroic in modernity.
Imagery is pagan and the images escape any narrative (with its ideological assumptions), so that if you watch Dirty Harry you will find that Harry is a “reasonable progressive”—what makes the films “fascistic” is not the script or the dialogue, the imagery speaks for itself and cancels the liberal sentiments imposed on the characters; and this is true even in most politically orthodox films, such as Avatar—violent action is hierarchical by nature, you can have the violence enacted to “save Mother Nature from corporate exploitation” but when they kick ass they kick ass.
However, all mass culture is bad and it is bad because it is mass culture, even if it has redemptive elements. The receptive view above is culled from Bowden and Paglia; but, certainly from Bowden, it is really a nationalist point—and nationalism is democratic. “Look, we can still mobilise the masses ‘our way’ through film’s ‘implicit fascism’; we just need to align the script and the image and we’ll be on the right track—at the moment the script makes the image serve leftist aims.” This is paganism seen from modernity, where paganism is not a religion but just “the use of imagery as a primary mode of religious expression”—yet there is a spiritual reality to religion. So when Paglia says “American cinema is a new Paganism: lush, verdant, and with a crisp sexuality like chilled Perrier” (or whatever she said in the 1980s) I can only take that metaphorically—actual paganism is not a Marilyn Monroe flick.
Fiction is new; and fiction is the colonisation of minds with other people’s images. Even in Pride and Prejudice, when printing had been established for hundreds of years, the main recreational reading matter is…sermons; and most people could not read at all. For most of history, people relied on their own imaginations, religion, natural beauty, and occasional plays—and that was it.
It is only in the mid-19th century you have this explosion in the novel; and the novel is different from plays because it is a private world you enter alone—as with the cinema and Netflix, where you quietly absorb someone else’s imagination. A theatrical performance is always a collective event with prospective boos and hisses from the audience—unthinkable in a cinema; and plays were religious ceremonies in ancient Greece—the theatre has a sacred aspect. Now we are deluged with privatised images on an industrial scale, mainly from debased imaginations who are on the look out for a quick buck or narcissistic notoriety and achieve it through sex and sensation—and nothing is more sensational than perversion.
Hence mass culture itself represents the real problem—and the left has no answer to that except “issues films” about “the struggle of the peasant-worker in Bolivia”, films that nobody, especially the peasant-worker, wants to watch; except as a secular penance. Contemporary mass culture is, as the Germans used to say, schund. It is like Coke; just bad for you, whether it has been “contaminated” with progressive themes about race and sex is neither here nor there—“There is poison in my poison”. People find it hard to peel away from mass culture because they are usually nagged about it “why don’t you read the Bible, not watch that filth” “why don’t you go outside”—yeah, yeah whatever. Nobody likes to be nagged, and the mistake is to impose your “positive vision”—to say “it’s poison”, however, constitutes common sense.