When I was 21 years old, I figured out the world. Oh, not the world as it is. I’ve been as far removed from that as I possibly can. However, I can safely say that my own personal worldview has not changed, in essence, since 1999, when I first read Kant and Hegel. Sure, my time in university has allowed me to acquire knowledge of theories of international relations and actually apply them professionally, but that’s not why we’re here. See, right after I reveled in the aforementioned thinkers I also discovered what I termed at the time “the greatest evil mankind will ever face” (actual quote). Postmodernism.
Let’s cut right to the chase. In the plainest terms, Postmodernism reduces any conscious analysis and relation to a subjective one. Gone is understanding of context, personal interpretation reigns supreme. Bear with me, we’re almost at the “rant” portion of this column. In the late 90s, it was clear that we were headed towards universalization of this current of thought. Libertarians were embracing postmodernity by asserting sovereignty over their personal sphere above all else, something that is quite prevalent in the discourse from the right, and communitarianism was a dirty little minority view with about as much hope to achieve mainstream acceptance in political theory as my Bruins have at winning the Stanley Cup next season.
So why the hell am I going on about epistemology and political theory on an arts and culture blog? Because, for some reason, we’ve decided to make this our sole method of interpretation of art. We’ve asserted that there is no point to art other than how it makes us, as individuals, feel. We are such narcissists that our staunchest belief is that everything is made for our own individual consumption, no matter the author’s intent. And that, in turn, has led to our constant search for things that elicit the most immediate, self-satisfactory emotion: the offense.
Come on, you had to know I was going there. Now, I’m not saying some art isn’t offensive, regardless of intent. There are some things you just can’t get away with. In the intent of civil discourse, I won’t get into too many specifics, but there’s a hell of a difference between taking down a certain flag being flown outside of state legislative bodies, and a TV show being pulled from the airwaves because that flag was part of a popular car design. Ok, so that wasn’t vague. There are two things for certain: 1. Racist symbols have no business being displayed at government buildings; and 2. Corporations make decisions based on how it will impact their bottom line. If a business decided to pull products from their shelves because they refuse to be associated with them, the choice is entirely theirs. You can’t have it both ways, freedom is freedom.
However, because we’ve decided that all objects must be interpreted in their immediacy, and there is no room for context over the supremacy of the individual emotive response, we’ve arrived at a place that’s worse than 1984. Instead of being locked in a totalitarian hellhole of sameness and Newspeak, we’ve chosen one for our very own. One in which history has no objective lessons, as long as we can remove its looming spectre from our memory. One where we praise a store for pulling merchandise before forcing them to stop selling instruments of violence and murder within our very legal framework.
And one in which, sadly, I’ll probably be called a racist for even writing this. – JP