Lucifer and the light of passion
There is in the world of forward-thinking fashion publishing a magazine by the name of Tank. Tank’s motto is “elitism for all”. It is an appropriate motto, a good one, and having been privy to some of the machinations involved with the magazine over which you are casting your eyes at this moment (one of the advantages of having worked with the editor before), I can say it would be applicable here, too.
Such publications present culture as an appeal to rise above mediocrity; they issue a challenge to the reader that says, sometimes impertinently, sometimes even shockingly, “Please don’t ask me to compromise; if you perceive me to be ‘beyond’ you, then don’t hold it against me – instead, make the effort to join me in something educating, more meaningful and liberating”.
Yes, the process should be an educational one at some level, and the result should be the learning or the discovery of something meaningful, including the discovery of pure joy in what has been offered. All of this can be liberating. But the key word in this appeal is the word effort: the reader is asked to engage with the content and to think about it. And who knows, at the end of the day one might even be equipped to form an opinion on one topic or another, or to modify a previously held opinion.
At this point I would like to take the topic of opinion forming and lead it to some interesting places.
Now, if I may boldly address myself directly to you, dear reader, the economic system and its scurrilous partner-in-crime, the political system – complete with politicians and senior public servants – dismiss your opinions as the unworthy baby-talk of the infantile population. And why shouldn’t they? The opinions of the great majority of the population have been manufactured by one industry or another and implanted in the popular mind by advertising agencies, public relations consultants, speech writers and professional smooth-talkers, and the
mass media. These bodies think for you. And the culture industry’s figureheads, celebrities, speak for you; in fact, they do more than that: they live your life for you, a virtual life, while you apply yourself to economic survival and amuse yourself with further mass-media and consumer-cultural offerings in your leisure time.
Allow me to focus on the relationship between popular opinion and celebrity culture – and here I must presume you are not one of the anointed of the burgeoning culture industry. I must be frank: you are not a celebrity. Your opinion is not important. In fact, the opinion of most celebrities is not important. Celebrities are both product and propagator of consumer culture, a listless, indulgent substitute for institutionalised religion as a latter day “opiate of the people”. Patronising and increasingly cynically employed, they have for the most part – and like patriotism – been fashioned as a substitute for individual and group identity, the collective, de facto depositories of dreams and the cleansing mechanisms of despair.
Here we have consumer culture as both sedative and fantasy, and this is, of course, where the allusion to “opiate” is relevant. Interestingly enough, while the oft-cited quote above comes from Marx – and no, I am not a Marxist – a similar allusion was made nearly fifty years earlier by none other than the Marquis de Sade in his novel Juliette. My copy is Austryn Wainhouse’s complete translation published in 1968 by Grove Press, and, for its poignancy, is worthy of substantial quotation (from pages 929–30, for those who are interested). Juliette is addressing King Ferdinand IV of Naples in this passage:
Though Nature lavishes much upon your people, their circumstances are strait. But this is not the effect of their laziness; this general paralysis has its source in your policy which, from maintaining the people in dependence, shuts them out from wealth; their ills are thus rendered beyond remedy, and the political state is in a situation no less grave than the civil government, since it must seek its strength in its very weakness… [You may] exile arts and talents from your realm. You fear the powerful eye of genius, that
The economic system and its scurrilous partner-in-crime, the political system...dismiss your opinions as the unworthy baby-talk of the infantile population. And why shouldn’t they?