photo by SG

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Utopian Dance

I just watched this music video by Feist, which reminded me about the point of art. Art pushes us to act out in fantasy what we cannot live out in our own lives. In her video, she was dancing on those little moving walkways at the airport. I thought, "Damn, that would be fun to do!"

Art inspires revolutions. This is old news. But I'd like to revise it. Normally, we think of a certain type of music as being revolutionary. Be it Dead Prez, Propagandhi, Woody Guthrie, Bikini Kill, or Rage Against the Machine, the implication behind these "revolutionary artists" is that their lyrics are explicitly anti-establishment and that they are therefore revolutionary. Which I won't dispute. But isn't Feist's video revolutionary?

Her desire to dance in a public place where that kind of thing is isn't allowed is a natural one. And a powerful statement. How many times have we considered doing similar things? Or imagined them? These desires speak to our desire for a new society with new rules. Artists act out our fantasies for us. So in some ways, they are stupefying. This is awfully clear, particularly in regards to the abuse of love songs in popular culture. So maybe art is reactionary?

I think it's neither. It is analogous to what Marx writes about religion. In his infamous passage on how religion is the opiate of the people, he follows with a sentence pointing out that religion is the natural response to the alienation we endure under capitalism. I'll expand his critique a little and suggest that it's more than just capitalist alienation which inspires religious fascination. Alienation exists at the heart of the human condition in hierarchial society.

Art in the capitalist (or hierarchial) epoch, then, is akin to religion. It allows us to act out our fantasies while remaining strapped with our metaphorical and literal chains. Religious ideology allows a spiritual escape from the horror of existence: being one with the Lord means a momentary lapse in alienation. Likewise, the intensity and imagination within art works to temporarily ease our lives. When you're in the circle pit, you are with your unknown comrades instantly. It's a feeling of safety and empowerment. When you listen to beautiful romantic tunes, love seems as though it can indeed conquer all. When you are held in the grasp of the powerful language of a master writer, you can pause and feel both unimportant and wiser.

And, when you watch a film about someone dancing where they shouldn't be, you smile and say to yourself, "I wanna do that." But of course, this is the limit of art. Art inspires, suspends, enlightens, but it doesn't actually make change.

The goal then, of any revolution, is to inspire a society of art. Not one defined or constrained by it. That is to say, the society we seek to build must be one where alienation does not exist: art must be our action, not our reaction. As it stands now, art is how we deal with the terror of not having an identity. Every revolutionary action should then be an aesthetic one. The ideology of the revolution must be Art, in its unalienated form. Isn't there something important to draw from the fact that music is such a part of the lives of traditional peoples, who are slightly less alienated than us, that in some indigenous languages, it's hard to distinguish what the word for "music" is? They live art.

So Feist's video must be deconstructed and reused as revolutionary propaganda: We will never be able to dance on moving walkways until we dismantle this capitalist machine and its minions. Only if we control our own lives will our dreams even begin to approach our realities. The everyday must be turned into art or else we will always remain slaves of our own minds.

No comments: