RatS 25: Taibbi – On the Loony Van Gogh Protests

We try to avoid recommending paywalled stuff, but the Van Gogh nonsense, and the response, is just so depressing, and Taibbi’s critique is so good, we decided to make an exception. Of course, regular readers will be used to our badgering them to read Taibbi, and the subscription is worth it. But readers can also avoid paying by “trying 7 days for free”, and then cancelling immediately (so you don’t then forget and get billed).

A couple paragraphs are below. Read all of Taibbi’s post, and then scream.

I happened to be rereading Fahrenheit 451 when news arrived that a pair of protesters from a climate action group called “Just Stop Oil” hurled tomato soup at Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” at the National Gallery in London. A spokesperson for the group, Mel Carrington, was quoted in the New York Times saying the choice of art was irrelevant, since the only thing important about “Sunflowers” was that it was famous, “an iconic painting, by an iconic painter.” On the other hand, the choice of Heinz Cream of Tomato was more “symbolic,” because some can’t afford to heat up a tin of soup.

Fahrenheit 451, much like 1984, We, and Brave New World, was a warning about a future in which basic human instincts for love, kindness, and decency are obliterated by utopian politics. Written variously in response to mass movements like Nazism, Stalinism, and the Red Scare, the dystopian novels all contain the same themes, one of which is a future where people aren’t merely indifferent to art but hate and fear it, to the point of taking pride in destroying it (and liquidating its admirers). Another theme is indoctrinating the very young and still another is the ritualized assault on familial or sexual love, with the craving for connection replaced by substitute “families” supplied by the state.

Another phenomenon Bradbury predicted was that the future would be a place where attention spans would be systematically dismantled, in favor of ever-shorter synopses and condensed versions of things, where “everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.” Even Hamlet is reduced to a “one-page digest.” The dissidents are people who work to preserve the human capacity for recall and learning, committing books to memory as a way to retain civilization in case the chance ever arrives to rebuild humanity. Montag memorizes Ecclesiastes, which in a way is another great prediction since the poetry of religious literature has been among the first genres to more or less completely disappear in recent times, as post-Nietzsche generations tossed it along with belief.

Bradbury, Orwell, Zamyatin, Huxley and many others predicted the time would come when people would come to believe in a politics of moral perfection so absolute that it would view memory as subversive and demand constant cleansing and reconstruction. Ask yourself if it isn’t weird that modern mass culture has been so lousy at producing art and literature, but weirdly terrific at forgetting, burning, destroying, and unperson-ing. The Van Gogh stunt was mostly just funny, but something tells me there are more people like this coming, and we won’t be laughing for long.

10 Replies to “RatS 25: Taibbi – On the Loony Van Gogh Protests”

  1. I remember when Sunflowers sold for A$50 million; my mother told my aunt (who was an artist) that she wished that she had such a picture to hang on the walls; “No problem” said my aunt who turned up the next week for a good copy she had made; mum was thrilled.

    1. Random question: Are any Commentators at this blog getting an email notification telling them when a new comment is posted to this blog?

      1. Sometimes. It lets me choose which posts I follow for new comments when I comment. Like right now, there are two boxes below where I am typing. If I tick one of them, I will receive an email with a link. Clicking the link turns on notifications of new comments on this post. If you want to turn it off, you can do so from the same place that the link takes you.

        1. Thanks, Glen. It looks like maybe some sort of odd problem with an external email filter. All working fine using an alternate email address.

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