‘LITERATURE is news that stays news’ said some dead bigot. I suppose that’s why our literature is worthless today, when the news churned through the dark satanic opinion mills is either written by robots or people who think like them. This idea of ‘the news’ reporting reality is itself somewhat quaint, like the idea of reading a poem or looking at a painting just to find out what is there.
Perhaps the reason these habits are uncommon is that they have no practical value. These days, art is a boring lecture communicated through the medium of trash. Its function is to launder money. Most modern books could use practically any corporation’s latest advertisement to illustrate the cover. It is a product in the same vein of television and film and theatre, a parade of tropes deemed worthy by people who don’t much like your reality and would rather you looked at their fantasies instead.
Not all art is quite useless. The older stuff is better in the main to serve the appetite for beauty and for truth. It is simply too dangerous to point out the facts in print these days. It would appear that beauty has been banished from visual art as it has the whiff of bigotry about it. Art is now a senseless prank presented as an intelligence test, whose real purpose is to do with equally dishonest investment portfolios.
If there is an ideology to be drawn from all this product placement it is that of the consumer lifestyle. Anti-life, devoid of substance, it degrades everything it brands. Pointing to nothing but yourself is achingly now. What else is there? Our art is empty because we are full of it, preferring the void of vanity to the content of experience. Life as it is lived cannot be fact-checked, so it does not appear in official sources.
The purpose of mass media is to replace, not represent, reality as we find it. The world around the screen does not match its sassy pretensions to progress. The display of revolting debauchery, the valorisation of crime, the weird moral and cultural inversions, the recasting of Western civilisation as the Fall of Man – these mad themes read like the manifesto of some lunatic embarking on a killing spree of pure vengeance.
The simple fact is that no one writes about what is real because it wouldn’t get published. Reality is censored. It’s taboo. If I wrote a short story about the mess of urban life and the abolition of norms it represents in real time, it would serve me best as a career suicide note. It is reckless to notice things out loud. We are expected to learn to make excuses for reality, to learn the habit of doubleseeing. What is there is not really there.
This is the education we all receive, regardless of what we want. You get to choose only between what’s on sale. Politics is no different from entertainment in this way. It too is a false picture having no value as a map. To look at contemporary art, entertainment, news and politics as reliable guides to reality is more escapism than sense. It produces flattering images which match a certain character, itself patterned more and more on these images themselves and less and less on offstage experience. There is a reason we can’t face each other and that is because we don’t.
Reality is no longer a consensus, because many people think reality is what has been peer-reviewed. It is not. Reality, like science, is the result of observation and reflection and then a kind of talk. In a time when only what is agreed among your powerful ‘friends’ online is permitted it is curious that the main point of disagreement is over reality itself. This is a means of defending beliefs from argument. The defence is to take offence. The matter is emotionally charged because what is being defended is not true, but is beloved of some people who wish it were. This mentality produces the kind of art that resembles the cover of a fantasy novel. The biggest television show recently was about nudity and dragons.
There’s an old meme that promotes a fascinating new game – Going Outside. It’s a brave concept offering a fully immersive experience. Trouble is, going outside is a risky business and may seriously interfere with your picture of reality. Try to resist the urge to take the screen out of your pocket as you hurry by.
William Randolph Hearst had the biggest media company of his time, printing early clickbait to great commercial success. He owned the news. Ezra Pound, who came up with the quote below, was invited on to his yacht.
‘The real trouble with war (modern war) is that it gives no one a chance to kill the right people.’