Times are tough for those of us who are both passionate about high culture and philosophically averse to political correctness. The pickings are pretty slim and we are generally what's on the menu. The Italian Marxist writer Antonio Gramsci exhorted his fellow communists to infiltrate Western culture and work to bring forth a socialist utopia from within. And infiltrate they have.
It is virtually impossible to patronize any art form in America today without being bombarded by cultural Marxism. Painting and sculpture have wandered into the wilds of the abstract. To the extent that one can discern a meaning at all, it is inevitably some sort of snide swipe at Western Civilization or some paean to victimology. Dittos with photography (see Robert Maplethorpe - http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/robert-maplethorpe.html
The theater is a particularly hideous wasteland. It seems that every play produced in the past three decades is either about nothing too important...or revolves around some predictable theme of political correctness.
Television and movies are now thickly laced with overt and covert political ideology. The vilification of men, the trashing of Western Civilization, and the monotonous victimization of various non-Western groups is a given. Add a dash of mindless consumerism and decadent over-sexualization, and these forms of artistic expression are insulting to Western sensibilities at best (my own prize for the most viciously anti-Western movie is a tie between American Beauty and Dances with Wolves).
A quick stroll through the bookstore reveals that most contemporary novels are not much better. It seems as though men have largely dropped out of the fiction book target audience (thank God I prefer non-fiction), since the overwhelming majority of novels on display at the front of any major bookstore are either directed at women, children, or yet again, some politically correct victim group.
In my opinion, the purpose of art is twofold. First, is the minor goal of entertainment. While this may seem light-weight, one should not overlook the importance of giving the brain a little R&R. We live in a stressful world. It is a nice break to occasionally sit back and enjoy an artistic creation strictly for the momentary joy and beauty of it.
The more profound purpose of art is to inspire. Art should work on the soul of the individual to prompt him to strive for greater heights...to rise above his mundane existence and carry forward the work of his civilization. It should endeavor, by both positive and negative example, to stir the passions of the viewer and prompt a thirst for greatness.
By this measure, our culture has been functioning in reverse (i.e., its general purpose is to degrade and destroy).
So...what is one to do?
My preferred solution has been the opera.
The reason why I love opera is that the soul of opera, unlike almost any other current art form, resides in the 18th and 19th Century cultural zeitgeist. Modern performances tend to maintain fidelity to the original creation. The cultural milieu of that period was far better, from the perspective of the typical non-self-hating Westerner, than the fare produced today. The stories revolve around love, heroism, and comedy. The composers were, by and large, men who consciously or subconsciously loved their native culture and wished to celebrate it in music and stage.
Examples abound. William Tell fights to free his homeland from German domination. The Ring Cycle tells of the struggles of man and the Gods in Nordic mythology.
Opera allows me to relax, sit back, and soak in my culture.
At least until last summer, that is.
My first rude awakening that there was a weasel in the henhouse came when I decided to take in a late-season show at the Pittsburgh Opera. La Boheme was on the schedule, and I naïvely strolled in for my breath of cultural fresh air.
What followed was 2 1/2 hours of old fashioned Marxist critiques of capitalism and a variety of snide attacks on Western civilization. Now, assuming here for a moment that Puccini was not attempting to lampoon the Bohemian lifestyle (something which I still believe is possible), then this opera represents one of the earliest examples of anti-Western diatribes with which many of us have come to dread in modern art.
The characters are typical coffee house intellectuals who spend most of their time glorifying their superior, anti-materialistic credos and denouncing the greed and avarice of the bourgeoisie. I was having flash-backs of my Brown freshman orientation. The "heroes" bounce between biting verbal attacks on "the rich" and sarcastic jabs at "the system".
While the context was more "old Left" (i.e., 19th century labor union-style communism) instead of "new Left" (i.e. modern political correctness), the fundamental philosophical worldview was there for all to see.
But...I survived. I grinded my teeth for a few hours and whispered gripes to my wife (who gets quite annoyed with me when I go into "political mode").
I wrote La Boheme off as an aberration, figuring that it was a fluke.
Then I went to see HMS Pinafore.
This past July, I made my first pilgrimage to the Chautauqua Institute. For the uninitiated, the Institute is located on the wonderful Lake Chautauqua in upstate NY. It is a true gem of culture, spirituality, and learning which hosts a 9-week-long affair including orchestral performances, opera, theater, and various intellectual pursuits.
Upon arriving, I quickly scanned the schedule and saw that there was a performance of HMS Pinafore coinciding with my visit. I purchased tickets and eagerly went off to the opera hall.
Almost immediately after the show began, I began to get that queasy feeling. This opera was also drenched in Marxist philosophy. Once again, I sank into my chair while the characters went on harangues about class oppression and "the system." The whole opera revolved around the idea that class distinctions are unfair, immoral, and arbitrary. In essence, any person of higher rank, knowledge, or position must have attained it through caprice or nepotism. People in positions of authority are ignoramuses, hypocrites, or both. People in positions of low social esteem are likewise victims of circumstance. Their situation in no way reflects any shortcomings of their character or ethics.
Taken together, these two operas have forced me to re-evaluate my analysis of the decline of Western Culture. I was of the general opinion that the undeniable cesspool that has become our contemporary culture had its roots in the chaos of the 1960’s and counterculture/anti-Vietnam war movements of that era. At most, I considered the socialism of FDR’s New Deal to be the beginning of the end.
But La Boheme was first staged in 1896. HMS Pinafore’s inaugural performance was even before that (1878). The fact that the latter opera was created during the High Victorian Era in Britain is disheartening in the extreme.
Clearly, the rot had been eating at the roots of our culture for quite some time before the appearance of Abbie Hoffman and the Weathermen.
If this Nation is ever turn itself around, those of us on the libertarian/paleoconservative right are going to have to come to grips with these unpalatable realities. Things are pretty far gone...and they have been going that way for quite some time. We didn’t arrive here overnight, and we will not likely extricate ourselves anytime soon.
December 15, 2003
Steven LaTulippe is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.