Take this bohemian artist, an icon of the counter-culture from the top shelf of the Czech Republic’s pre-communist era and you can concoct a recipe for bourgeois decadence and the commodification of dissent. Havel was almost the tailor made candidate to serve as ambassador for American values, the herd mentality of the culture industry clamoring for new markets. The theory , most notably promoted by the Frankfurt school was that Western capitalism is conforming; it is. But in a totally different manner than they postulated. Since the 1960′s youthful rebellion was encouraged and anticipated by the advertising industry where brand-name consciousness and frantic consumerism could be linked to bourgeois decadence. Its hard to know if Havel saw this aspect; how a mass produced fake counter-culture quickly subverts the real threat that an authentic counterculture represents.
The real and the appropriated copy are so similar it makes it hard to distinguish so that in the longer term, all the relics of the counter-culture, including Havel himself begin to smell of affectation and phoniness. From Dylan to Burroughs, to Kundera, they all become frauds pitching some good or service through an articulation of their individuality and the importance of expressing it. Its questionable whether Havel perceived that the co-option of rebel youth culture was so important to corporate decision makers, though he seemed to catch that after communism fell there was no real interest in the West to understand the Czech dissident movement. Or, Havel’s literary output, critiques of communist materialism, prepared the route for the ideology of Western imperialism, readying the masses for the open open status competition that Western marketing would bring.
Zizek: Havel was especially penetrating in his denunciation of the inherent hypocrisy of Western Marxism and of the ‘socialist opposition’ in Communist countries. Consider the almost total absence of a theoretical confrontation with Stalinism in the works of the Frankfurt School, in contrast to its permanent obsession with Fascism. The standard excuse was that the Frankfurt School critics did not want to oppose Communism too openly, for fear that they would be playing into the hands of Cold Warriors in the Western countries where they lived. But this is obviously not sufficient: had they been cornered and made to say where they stood in the Cold War, they would have chosen Western liberal democracy (as Max Horkheimer explicitly did in some of his late writings). ‘Stalinism’ was a traumatic topic on which the Frankfurt School had to remain silent – silence was the only way for its members to retain their underlying solidarity with Western liberal democracy, without losing their mask of radical leftism….
…In dissecting Late Socialism, Havel was always aware that Western liberal democracy was far from meeting the ideals of authentic community and ‘living in truth’ on behalf of which he and other dissidents opposed Communism. He was faced, then, with the problem of combining a rejection of ‘totalitarianism’ with the need to offer critical insight into Western democracy. His solution was to follow Heidegger and to see in the technological hubris of capitalism, its mad dance of self-enhancing productivity, the expression of a more fundamental transcendental-ontological principle – ‘will to power’, ‘instrumental reason’ – equally evident in the Communist attempt to overcome capitalism. This was the argument of Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, which first engineered the fateful shift from concrete socio-political analysis to philosophico-anthropological generalisation, by means of which ‘instrumental reason’ is no longer grounded in concrete capitalist social relations, but is instead posited as their quasi-transcendental ‘foundation’. The moment that Havel endorsed Heidegger’s recourse to quasi-anthropological or philosophical principle, Stalinism lost its specificity, its specific political dynamic, and turned into just another example of this principle (as exemplified by Heidegger’s remark, in his Introduction to Metaphysics, that, in the long run, Russian Communism and Americanism were ‘metaphysically one and the same’) Read More:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n21/slavoj-zizek/attempts-to-escape-the-logic-of-capitalisma
Eastern Europe, the liberated colonies, are now also caught up in the endless cycles of rebellion and transgression that make up such a significant piece of our mass culture. Conservatives now target Islam and not brand aware Adbuster types. Now, all leisure type activities are framed within the rebellion template; in very convincing language the necessity of invidious comparison that drives consumption in maintained an reinforced. All the Havel, Kafka style writings on alienation and marginality, complaints about tyranny and oppression can be transformed into rationales for consumption. Its an ingenious dynamic to communicate: to express disdain with the artifice and conformity of consumerism, in turn creating the hip consumer, the Prague urban yuppie who imagine, lives in a loft in the same area as Havel did in the 1960′s. Its a cultural always in motion machine, in which repulsion with the artificiality, shoddiness, lower form of kitsch, and everyday oppressions of consumerism irritants and impediments could be enlisted to push increased consumption.
But stay tuned for just a moment longer and a different myth of the counterculture and its meaning crosses the screen. Regardless of the tastes of Republican leaders, rebel youth culture remains the cultural mode of the corporate moment, used to promote not only specific products but the general idea of life in the cyber-revolution. Commercial fantasies of rebellion, liberation, and outright “revolution” against the stultifying demands of mass society are commonplace almost to the point of invisibility in advertising, movies, and television programming. For some, Ken Kesey’s parti-colored bus may be a hideous reminder of national unraveling, but for Coca-Cola it seemed a perfect promotional instrument for its “Fruitopia” line, and the company has proceeded to send replicas of the bus around the country to generate interest in the counterculturally themed beverage….
…Nike shoes are sold to the accompaniment of words delivered by William S. Burroughs and songs by The Beatles, Iggy Pop, and Gil Scott Heron (“the revolution will not be televised”); peace symbols decorate a line of cigarettes manufactured by R. J. Reynolds and the walls and windows of Starbucks coffee shops nationwide; the products of Apple, IBM, and Microsoft are touted as devices of liberation; and advertising across the product category sprectrum calls upon consumers to break rules and find themselves. The music industry continues to rejuvenate itself with the periodic discovery of new and evermore subversive youth movements and our televisual marketplace is a 24-hour carnival, a showplace of transgression and inversion of values, of humiliated patriarchs and shocked puritans, of screaming guitars and concupiscent youth, of fashions that are uniformly defiant, of cars that violate convention and shoes that let us be us. A host of self-designated “corporate revolutionaries,” outlining the accelerated new capitalist order in magazines like Wired and Fast Company, gravitate naturally to the imagery of rebel youth culture to dramatize their own insurgent vision. This version of the countercultural myth is so pervasive that it appears even in the very places where the historical counterculture is being maligned. Just as Newt Gingrich hails an individualistic “revolution” while tirading against the counterculture, Forrest Gump features a soundtrack of rock ‘n’ roll music, John Lennon and Elvis Presley appearing in their usual roles as folk heroes, and two carnivalesque episodes in which Gump meets heads of state, avails himself grotesquely of their official generosity (consuming fifteen bottles of White House soda in one scene), and confides to them the tribulations of his nether regions. He even bares his ass to Lyndon Johnson, perhaps the ultimate countercultural gesture. Read More:http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/259919.html
As then president Havel told a startled Lou Reed when he met the Velvet Underground’s former front man in 1990, “Did you know that I am president because of you?” Nine years later, during his last presidential visit to the Bill Clinton White House, Havel made two musical requests: Get Lou Reed to play a set, then bring over the Plastic People. To celebrate the last Soviet troop leaving Czechoslovak soil, the Czech president organized a star-studded concert featuring Paul Simon and Frank Zappa (it was the last live show by Zappa, who would die of prostate cancer). There is a reason why there’s a revolution named after the Velvet Underground, a pariah even in the Free World, and none after Van Cliburn, the classical pianist pushed endlessly on American audiences as the high-cultural equivalent of Russian piano masters. The Velvets represented a do-it-yourself culture, while Cliburn represented a straitjacketed approach to official recognition. Read More:http://www.hacer.org/latam/?p=12417
And from its very beginnings down to the present, business dogged the counterculture with a fake counterculture, a commercial replica that seemed to ape its every move for the titillation of the TV-watching millions and the nation’s corporate sponsors. Every rock band with a substantial following was immediately honored with a host of imitators; the 1967 “summer of love” was as much a product of lascivious television specials and Life magazine stories as it was an expression of youthful disaffection; Hearst launched a psychedelic magazine in 1968; and even hostility to co-optation had a desperately “authentic” shadow, documented by a famous 1968 print ad for Columbia Records titled “But The Man Can’t Bust Our Music.” So oppressive was the climate of national voyeurism that, as early as the fall of 1967, the San Francisco Diggers had held a funeral for “Hippie, devoted son of mass media.” Read More:http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/259919.html