I’ve talked a lot about pragmatic action, Realpolitik as it were, but there is a time for lighter things: Idealpolitik. The time is McDonald’s, the place is McDonald’s, the why is McDonald’s. Mcdolans. What could be more ideal than a crispy, juicy Chicken McNugget dipped in Cajun Sauce, available for a limited time only as part of the BTS meal! Two great tastes that go great together! I’m Lovin’ It!
Or maybe you’d like something more refined? A steak, maybe. As we all know, the medium is the message. Medium is the message. For some people, it’s a job well done that’s the message, or perhaps a rare well done steak well done – with ketchup? Some people would call that a missed steak, but the thing about taste is that it’s subjective, right? That Trump trumps trump is well done well done, that cats up catsup is the postmodern condition, and the postmodern condition is to post modern conditions, not realizing the pointlessness of less points. All is subjective, and this is derivative, a meat slurry of discourse formed neatly, neatly, gently, creeping, into a boot shoop, sloop mast down into the Cajun sea, a imitation of spiciness, the appearance but not the reality of controversy!
Is there anything more passe, more banal, than lamenting postmodernity in the postmodern age? So I will eat the McNugget, for the McNugget is the sacred mystery of meaning without meaning and meaning for meaning, and I tell the whispering demon – yes, yes, a thousand times yes, let me face it again and again for eternity.
To make a long story short, if you eat a thousand McNuggets, you will go to the hospital.
So what am I talking about?
Meaning my meaning, of course. What does it mean for medium to be the message? The nature of a medium is by nature constraining, and this imposes a certain necessary shape to the art itself, which affects the kind of art which it can produce. Shot length is both a limitation on film and something to play with, something to explore, which affects the art. But it’s more than just physical limitations, but also the elements of style present, and the tropes. Every genre of art has its own expectations. Strunk’s Elements of Style has many counterparts. In either hewing to or subverting these structures, we come to recognize a piece as of a genre through the patterns present in it – it matches its peers in some way. And the definition it hews to – or subverts – comes to define it in some way. What is constrained, what is restricted, forms the negative of what we think ought to be present, but which we often overlook, assuming it without thought. The structure of our art is a negative of our values, just as an interior is defined by its borders. This creates a point. The values create and present themes, and themes are recapitulated throughout the life of a civilization. Art is not pointless and authors are not dead. All art has a nature which itself encodes the point – the medium is the message, no matter how much one might deny the *intent* of art, to deny that it has a *point*. When a postmodern gazes upon the Baroque, even an atheist, they cannot help be filled with an immensity, because within the *nature* of the Baroque, points are made about the divine and a Catholic, Christian civilization which expressed itself not only in the content of this kind of art, but in its form itself, in what makes Baroque Baroque, for the immensity is the immensity of God, for the starkness of the chiaroscuro must clearly separate dark from light and good from evil. These elements of a kind of art are its thematics, the messages which can be played, straight or inverted, with the medium at hand, and which in turn combine into an aesthetic. All the elements of Baroque together are Baroque, and all the elements each have a message within which together form the aesthetics of Baroque, which is a way of communicating the ethos of Catholic, Christian Europe not through mere words, but through emotion to the soul. The Renaissance art thus patronized was not ruined by these structures, but defined by it.
I know, I know. Dull, derivative, boring midwittery. Heard it a thousand times. But let’s stack one derivative layer upon another and see if we can’t make a flavorful lasagna.
What is pop art? Simply, pop art is art with a use. It’s created to do something. Whereas high art exists for itself, it is art for art’s sake, pop art has a use. When people make pop art, it can be a creative endeavor, it is often an artistic endeavor, but fundamentally, it has to accomplish what it is here to do. An ad that does not sell product is not a good ad. Whatever you may think of Marvel movies, they exist to sell tickets, and they do sell tickets. Even if they are schlock. This imposes restraints on what can be done, which the common artist takes as an insult to their creativity. But a negative, a medium and its constraints, exists for all forms of art. Art exists in the managing of constraints. Like eros, or a really clever engineering problem, it is the act of the hidden, the unshown, not the shown, which generates excitement. The act of artistry is to create the good within the bounds of these restraints. The commercial object at its highest is art, and high art indeed. Warhol. That’s the message of the soup cans – one need add nothing to these objects of beauty, so often overlooked.
And more than that, scorned.
To return to the McNugget, what we have these days is a kind of vulgar contrarianism which is mistaken for sophistication. The barbarian artist, seeking to make themselves a name, looks and disdains the beauty present in the popular pop art. What is a McNugget? The McNugget is the craft of a French chef who was the top of his class, a head chef that served kings and emperors of the world, working to design the perfect dippable chicken object which could be prepared by anyone for anyone. It is a reenactment of the sacred mysteries of Prometheus, a descent with the fires of Michelin to the masses below, a delivery of light to the darkness. In short, the McNugget is a masterpiece. And what is the negation of a masterpiece? Ugliness. Trash. The vulgar contrarian seeks to elevate by negating the popular object, not realizing that the pop object possess not only vulgarity, but beauty, and thus creates an object which negates the beauty of the common – an uncommon ugliness. An anti-masterpiece.
Le hecking subversion of Star Wars, with twists which made no sense, with points that go nowhere, with themes almost schizophrenic in their inconstancy, eaten up by fourth rate minds from third rate colleges.
The mark of a great artist is to create beauty out of the ugly. What we have now is the reverse.
So what is aesthetics? It is simple. Aesthetics is the pop art of hyperreality. We are drawn to believe in these larger than life things, these unreal specters. These visions of wealth beyond wealth, power beyond power, beauty beyond beauty, are the demons which drive postmodern man, and like Tantalus, they always recede beyond his reach. There never was such a man as Chad. Not even Gigachad is really Gigachad. In the beginning, we have the things which are real, the referants. To represent them, we create symbols, which exist as some insightful distillation of the real. But these symbols take on a life of their own. When the symbols begin to interact and recombine on their own, and reach frightful exaggerations or mutations, they cease to relate to reality, but become idols or objects of obsession and worship. These are the demons that haunt postmodern man indeed.
Or his gods.
Because, to return to the question, what is aesthetics? Aesthetics, like hyperreality, is unreal. Like the hyperreal symbols, the objects of an aesthetics never really exist and never really will. This is why small-souled bugmen accuse trads of falling in love with Coke commercials. Because this is essentially true. But while hyperreality, like high art, exists for its own sake, fighting as it will, aesthetics do not. Aesthetics embody the values which a civilization chooses to uphold. They are its objects of worship. An aesthetic is a picture of a societal ideal – of course it cannot be real, it is impossibly unreal – and yet, like beauty standards, it is something to strive for. A society’s aesthetic is its purpose, what it’s heading for. And so why do people thirst for better aesthetics and hate modern art? Because the ugliness reflects the meaningless – that there is no higher ideal being conveyed. The postmodern man, the Last Man, has no higher ideals because he believes in nothing. And when men lament art, they lament that we have no great vision of the good to move towards. Instead, we are drawn by our own inertia, we are a runaway train headed off a cliff. The crisis of art is the crisis of democracy. It is the crisis of a West which no longer believes in itself.
Why did the proles yearn for Trumpian magnificence? Why do they applaud the magnificent? Because they yearn for beauty. They want something greater than themselves. The showy rich, for all their many faults, are so full of themselves that they burst and overflow. So assured is Louis XIV that all wish to soak in his glow. And while they may not be able to create art, they know art when they see it. Trump was a well done well done steak, the slab of American red meat cooked almost to shoe leather, a reflection of Reagan’s reflection of Jackson – and yet something. Even the shadow of a message retains a voice, enough to still the deathly silence, if only for a stolen moment. Trump was a gasping of an ancient and powerful American dream, a man of proletarian culture done good, bedecked in all the golden splendor that entails. A Mr. Smith gone to Washington to drain the Swamp, to throw down the scoundrels from their high places, and restore power to the sovereign people. Trump himself, orange as a McNugget, was himself an art object. For a brief moment, there was an operation of the setting sun, and it blazed streaky scarlet into the sky before being snuffed out.
Here is where the rubes from Kansas sputter and point about Orange Man Bad, so fearful of tainting themselves by any association with low culture that they reveal their own lowness.
To channel an aesthetic is to channel the hyperreal impulse towards a higher end. From ugliness, beauty. To give that hunger something more, something that will fill it.
The disdain of the modern artist for the commercial is not a sign of their own good breeding, as they so suppose, but in fact evidence of the smallness of their souls, for they are unable to emerge from the smallness of their own souls and submerge themselves in anything greater than themselves. For the act of creating such is the act of channeling the essence of the greater thing, whereas they can only write of their own meager selves. Depression this, anxiety that, and a lot of Brooklyn status panic. That about covers the bulk of modern artistic production, doesn’t it? A self-absorption.
Now, go back and read it again.
Double dipping the Eternal Recurrence,
Monsieur le Baron