The Aesthetics of McNuggets, Or Brooklyn Status Panic Drugs

No, I’m not talking about the Saucy Nugs guy again. That meme sadly failed. I am disappoint.

No, this is a link to a long post by a fellow calling himself Monsieur le Baron, who is some manner of Red Monarchist (which is not absurd, the Soviet Union was a series of Tsars, and anyone who says otherwise did not pay attention. Just go ahead and watch The Death of Stalin, it’s on Netflix). That’s fine because he uses the pretext of McNuggets to dunk (le pun! C’est absolument destiné!) on the PostModernist “art” crowd I have pondered on before. Enemy of my enemy and all that.

There is, in fact, much spicy aesthetic wisdom in this post, linked here, including meditations on mediums and messages, high art vs. pop art, symbol & referent, and a host of other things I have begun dimly to understand. In any case, here is his knife-point, at the peroratio where it belongs:

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.

“Aesthetica McNuggetica, Or Idealism Real Word Count by the Baron”, An Inelegant Viceroy

This differs in diagnosis from what I drew from Ruskin earlier:

I’m less interested in disputing this argument than in noting the pervasiveness of it in the world of art today. If, as Ruskin seems ready to argue, the industrial world has abandoned art, in favor of infinite replicability, then it seems as predictable as night following day that the art world would abandon industry. Thus the demand for absolute novelty and uselessness in the art world, to the point where Modern art today is really anti-Art: a pose and a hustle, the creation of the maximum of bewilderment and absurdity with the minimum of effort, papered over with post-modernist bafflegab and self-congratulatory obscurantism. This is not accident, it is intentional. The modern artist can only be an artist by running from the world.

“Notes on Ruskin: Modern Art is Anti-Art”, Content Blues

Yet perhaps not. It can be a case of “yes, and”. The young artistic type yearns to make Art. He does so with a certain degree of isolation, for only in isolation can Art be made. He gradually absorbs, without it being directly taught him, that Muh True Art stands against Muh Status Quo. This is exactly what his teachers believe, exactly what the universities have long accepted, as they grow their endowments on the stock market. Give us New Things to Sell, the Bourgeoisie command. So is the Hip Rebel transmuted into Establishment and vice versa.

In other words, it’s all a Hustle. And you have two ways to escape: find something Grand to subsume yourself into, or retreat into the tiny redoubt of yourself. Which has his education prepared the young artist to do?

Quick Reviews: Dovlatov and The Death of Stalin

What can I say, sometimes my mood becomes very Russian.

Dovlatov is a film about a Soviet dissident writer before he became well-known. It’s less a move than it is a portrait of the writer as a winsome rapscalion. Not very much happens except you spend a week or so in this guys’ life in 1971, deep into the Brezhnev Twilight, which is my favorite era of Soviet history because of the pure Empty Nothing of it. It’s after the War and after the Purges, but before anyone dared to let anything thaw. And the movie positively swims in that: letting the USSR of the 70’s make you want to put a bullet in your brain, and enjoy the fact that Our Hero remains himself in spite of the fact that he can’t get 25 rubles together to buy his daughter a doll. In an era where everyone feels oppressed, watching a man deal with actual oppression while refusing to give into it is quite inspiring. Nothing happens, plotwise, but that’s kind of the point. It feels bad in that way that feels so good.

The Death of Stalin was one of those things that I waited eagerly to finally pop onto Netflix. In today’s poltical climate, the idea that anyone would satirize the Soviet Union is kind of astounding. The ever-present Communist Alibi would seem to preclude its existence. And yet, it was praised by all the usual suspects. Sometimes things aren’t as black as you fear.

That being said, I wanted to like it more than I actually did. The Death of Stalin bills itself as a black comedy, but the reality of the Soviet regime really defies humor. You can draw mirth from seeing hapless individuals drawn into the blood void of communism for a little while, but the ferocity of the feud between Kruschev and Beria is too real to be laughed at. When Kruschev shouts “I will fucking bury you in history!” to Beria’s burning corpse (Spoilers if you’ve never read a history book), you agree, you sympathize, but you don’t laugh. It isn’t funny.

Also, those two are miscast. Steve Buscemi, playing Kruschev, looked like the real-life Lavrenti Beria, and Simon Russel Beale, playing Beria, is practically a ringer for Kruschev. And it’s not like Buscemi, who spent 5 seasons as a gangster on Boardwalk Empire, couldn’t have pulled off that mix of worming and psychopathy. A missed opportunity.

I will say that the film doesn’t even attempt the line that the Soviet Union was a good idea inexplicably run by bad men. After the monster Beria is shuffled off, we get barbed postlude captions telling us that Kruschev stayed in power only so long as he could keep a wilier sharp – the aforementioned Brezhnev – down. There may have been no pure monsters after Stalin, but gangsters they had, and Dovlatov doesn’t speak well of the world those gangsters maintained.