Are Creative Arts Supporting Oppression?


 

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam CO2You’d think that the arts were purely humanistic, purely idealistic, or purely devoted to human wellbeing. Not necessarily so, in practice. Unintentionally or otherwise, the arts may provide the breeding grounds for oppression.

I’ve spent a lot of time criticising the sciences for not seeing the possible risks of new technologies and not creating safeguards for potentially high risk technologies. I think it’s only fair that I should also criticise my own line of work, for exactly the same reason.

Basic premise of creative arts supporting oppression

The problem is that whatever is put into a human mind can become a monster. Creative media of all kinds are fully plugged into human consciousness as never before. I’m not talking about visual propaganda, media propaganda, or other banal, mediocre forms of the arts. I’m talking about ideas. Creative arts, by nature, are based on a range of ideas, half arse or otherwise. Some of these ideas include direct depictions of ideologies, mentalities, insanities, and other human hobbies.

There is a long-standing theory in media psychology which is basically “monkey see, monkey do”. This means essentially that people will imitate anything and everything. Unfortunately, that also includes oppression.

If you take a look at the oppressive regimes in history, you will see that they all have direct antecedent dating back thousands of years. Even the Inquisition wasn’t a particularly original idea, it was based on ancient forms of oppression. The Holocaust, in turn, was based on ideas of racism, systematic oppression, and above all, a highly efficient, murderous method of controlling the public. Media was used as a primary form of control, involving all the arts in some form, from Wagner to posters and slogans.

Where do these ideas come from? Some of them come from history, but a lot of creative art is actually based on history and historical themes. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was based on actual history at the time, incorporating the rise of oligarchies and other obscenities in supposedly socialist states.

Orwell can be accused of nothing more than factual reporting, but Animal Farm is a particularly good example of mentalities. If you have also read The Gulag Archipelago, you may see some unsettling parallels between the two books. The problem is that one book was fiction, and the other was facts, and they have so much in common.

The psychological effects of creative media can be extremely powerful. They are even more powerful when aimed at semiliterate or illiterate people. For example, the whole idea of Western society as it is now is based largely on historical clichés. The society which produced those clichés no longer exists, but the stench lingers. Humanity is now habituated to what was really a series of depictions of daily life, originally intended to be fiction, but now turned into hideous fact.

The immortal Celts in EnglandOkay, so much for the basics. The question is whether or not a dramatic depiction of something or someone actively encourages oppression. On the same basis as “monkey see monkey do”, how many people have been inspired to become history’s leading bastards by creative media? How many people have wittingly or unwittingly written books which have become how-to manuals for oppression? How many musicians have created theme songs for tyrants?

Visual arts, in particular, are front and centre at the moment in terms of propaganda value. Whether it’s memes, photo shopped images, or “fake news” imagery, the visual arts are currently the heavy lifters for propaganda of all kinds. Some of it is intentional, some of it is unintentional, but the likely ramifications could be anything.

The problem is that they created that are now essentially carrying and supporting various types of oppression. This cannot be considered to be a harmless process. Actively supporting prejudice, injustice, and in some cases downright insanity doesn’t help anybody.

When criticising the sciences, I simply said that providing proven nut cases with advanced technologies isn’t and couldn’t be a good idea. The theory is that you can simply not provide the science to these raving lunatics. That may be more than a bit optimistic, but you can also see why that would be a good working solution.

In the case of the arts, the situation is a bit more complex. You can’t tell artists to stop producing art, any more than you can tell scientists to stop producing science. Unlike science, however, the arts are very portable, very easy to produce in any quantity in any form, and easily adapted to just about any situation. Arguably, the creative arts can potentially do much more damage to humanity than science.

Consider some of the all-too-familiar stereotypes of media:

  • The criminal genius
  • The mad scientist
  • The archetypal tyrant, real or imaginary
  • The criminal businessman
  • The fanatic(s) of all kinds
  • The psychotic manager
  • The basic sleazebag
  • The serial killer

It’s quite a list, but you can see how familiar all these characters are in real life. The question is, how many of these morons would have considered becoming these people without a bit of encouragement from creative media? Will they have had the slightest idea how to become what they became?

Answer those questions, and you will solve the problem of creative arts supporting oppression. Until then, be careful what you create, because it may come walking through the door one day.

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam, Paul Wallis books

There’ll always be an England – Just not in those tiny little minds.


 

 

Paul Wallis, Sydney Media Jam CO2I was raised in a very Anglo home. I read P.G. Wodehouse, Jerome K. Jerome, Aldous Huxley, Orwell, you name it, with real enthusiasm. It was “England” to me, incarnate. The English mindset may be insular, etc., but it’s highly evolved. It knows how to express itself.

The England  of my grandparents which found itself running an Empire was nether altruistic per se, or naïve per se. It was reflective, and innovative in some odd, but practical ways. It was also highly articulate. It had its own aesthetics, and genuine, if all over the shop, values.

England as an idea is a collection of people of deep roots. Those deep roots may be many things, and almost unique in their local forms, but they speak a language which is mutually understood on many levels.

The minds which created the Empire were a mix of Tudors and Drakes, Adam Smith, and pure business. The East India Company was a virtual empire unto itself, but still connected to the English metier. Opium wars and Jardines may come and go; the idiom remains.

The immortal Celts in England

Includes useful information on How To Be English. Insufferable, eh?

An empire based on sheer gall, as the original British Empire was, is inventive by nature as well as by necessity. The tiny little Royal Navy was able to fight its way in to global supremacy, using a unique perspective. It was no accident that the Royal Navy happened to be an effectively invincible force at the times of Napoleon and Hitler.

The most basic idea of England, the island nation, made the Royal Navy a natural first choice of weapon. If your interests are overseas, you must have a navy, and a good one. America would probably be still a member of a very different world if not for the Townshend Acts and a rather unfortunate incumbent monarch.

You could argue that England, left to itself, without the foreign complications, would have continued to pursue its own best interests to this day. World War 1 was an unnecessary obscenity leading to World War 2, a necessary obscenity, but an expensive one. Without those two wars, the British Empire, with its built-in Englishness, would still probably exist, in whatever form.

England was one of the first truly cosmopolitan modern nations, despite itself. “Foreign” has never been a recommendation in England, even if you’re an importer. It’s “there”, not “here”. That’s a mistake on its part. “Here”, by definition, is good. Anywhere else, therefore, isn’t.

Being cosmopolitan didn’t mean in any sense adopting culture; it meant reacting to it. The English sense of superiority, like most of its kind, was based on historical superiority, not some mere bits of relevant information.

It’s odd how the English mindset and those of Imperial China overlapped, even when at war with each other. The culture of England, like that of China, was paramount; it defined the superior. The Chinese thought foreigners barbarians. For the English, simply not being English was quite enough information to denigrate anyone or anything.

Yet – England has produced some of the finest ideas in history. The English mind may not be patentable, but it is interesting. The Industrial Revolution started in England. So did computing, anti-slavery, mental health care, and virtual, if not quite literal, encyclopaedia of other modern ideas.

Those ideas are now globally accepted. The little island, with all its accents, was nevertheless the cornerstone of true modernisation in so many ways. A tide of English personalities, a few Scots and Irish, but on the English stage, changed the world. England was a miniature of what the USA became in the 20th century.

Culture is one of the worst defined of all terms. According to Google, a culture is:

  1. The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
  2. the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

That hardly begins to describe a living society, which is acting continuously in millions of different context. A culture, by definition, is a living thing. It may not be much of a living thing, but it acts like a living thing, trying to survive and prosper.

England’s Glory

The innovations of England were always a form of some practical management; call it greed, call it culture, call it literature; they all came from the same organism.

…Which is why this current pathetic, inward-looking mindset is inherently anti-English.  Leaving the EU is as much cosmetic as anything else. Foreigners are inevitable; whether you’re in their club or not doesn’t really matter. The English can always take or leave “there” and its peculiarities.

What matters isn’t the relationships; it’s the benefits. What profit is derived from what is now looking like a petulant, badly managed exercise in cutting one’s own throat? Melodrama, let alone on the world stage, isn’t the English way.

A quiet word, preferably meaningful, is more the preferred English style. One doesn’t have to personally outrun a horse on the race track; one can simply nobble it or beat it in the betting market, or even the breeding market.

England vs Small Ideas

Big ideas do better when not encumbered by small ideas. Being lumbered with pedantry isn’t only annoying, it’s unprofitable. So Brexit, in its ponderous self-importance, is neither here nor there. Lousy navigation, to say the least.

The EU and Brexit are an example of appalling little minds. The EU is a platform. It’s just the stage, not the performers or the play. It’s floorboards, not Falstaff. It’s what you put on that platform that matters. The play’s definitely the thing. It’s also what draws in the audience, and the money.

A more English approach would be accommodating to the point of being comatose, while diligently paddling one’s own canoe somewhere worth going. Why get out of bed, simply to announce you’ll next be throwing yourself out the window?

…Particularly when you have no intention of doing either, given half a chance. Perfidious Albion has a terrible, and thoroughly deserved, reputation, but it also has a reputation for success and intelligence. The English way is to be elegantly enigmatic, superior in assumed social class, but absolutely unfathomable when it’s anything important.

The lack of subtlety and incisive initiative in Brexit and this rather sloppy range of inverse domestic policies is decidedly un-English. Not only are these things much too melodramatic; they don’t work.

Silence and achievement go well together. An enigma is much more respected than a babbling gossip of one’s least impressive issues. A silent response is not only more subject to misinterpretation, but impossible to contradict. Deception is based on misinterpretation, and if someone else is doing the misinterpreting, it’s less effort on your part.

England is a mentality. It may grow actual and social bluebells, and good luck to it, or the true classic English gardens, madly overgrown but truly beautiful. You see why England cannot be grown by fools, particularly noisy fools.

Note the following very English view:

 

www.sydneymediajam.com