July 1, 2015

WHEN THE AVANT-GARDE BECOME GARDE:  James Lileks spots the British magazine Standpoint ruminating on the pitiful status of modern art after well over a century of “épater le bourgeois,” or shocking the middle class:

The great oaks of Western art were burned to the ground. Today, radical artists are left scouring through the embers, still looking for last traces of life. Their primary target is now the taboo — the unspoken memory of a once-communal system of values. Tracey Emin shows us her unmade bed, strewn with used condoms and bloodied underwear. Damien Hirst suggests that the 9/11 hijackers “need congratulating”. Every last inherited standard — every last comfort — must be torn from us once and for all.

Lileks responds:

You might think “oh, so it’s going to be one of those. Quotes out of context for sensationalist effect, that’s your first clue: handwringing and over-exaggeration. It’s not that bad.


“The thing about 9/11 is that it’s kind of like an artwork in its own right. It was wicked, but it was devised in this way for this kind of impact. It was devised visually… You’ve got to hand it to them on some level because they’ve achieved something which nobody would have ever have thought possible, especially to a country as big as America. So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing.

It is a dangerous thing to suppress people’s desire to applaud the conceptual audacity of a terrorist attack. Well, Hirst is a modern artist of the first water, so you’d expect that. (The second water is tears. The first is urine.)

Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, after three decades similarly built around shocking the bourgeois via pop culture, Mark Judge of Acculturated checks out the latest hackneyed song by Madonna Louise Ciccone and explores “Why Madonna is the New Pat Boone” — which is anything is a shot at the latter performer, as Judge writes:

Madonna, who is not adept at any musical instrument and has a weak voice, has been doing this for over three decades. Like Pat Boone, Madonna takes music based on African-American rhythms and dices it into digestible bites. Yet whereas Boone transitioned to gospel music when his pop star began to fade (and even, God help us, made a heavy metal album), Madonna’s formula has been unchanged since Reagan’s first term: She hires the hottest producers of dance music, writes some lyrics about self-empowerment and clubbing, adds some nudity or other obnoxious antinomian element, and cashes in.

Without her rosary wearing, her sex book, cussing on TV, or putting profanity in the mouths of children—which is tastefully featured in the first few seconds of “Bitch I’m Madonna”—Madonna Louise Ciccone would be playing the Howard Johnson’s in Paduka. What’s truly scandalous is that people are still buying it. She has been pushing these same buttons for so long that it has gone past repetitive and into a kind of altered consciousness of catatonic sameness. Madonna’s stunts are now like Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, where a person is fated to live the exact same life not for eternity, but multiple eternities. Everything changes but the avant-garde.

As original Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts once quipped as the edge was being sanded off that show during its first few seasons, “you can only be avant-garde for so long, before you become garde.”

Which incidentally, rather neatly sums up the last 35 years of that now-venerable television institution and its late-night spin-offs as well.

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