The creepiest aspects of normalcy are the one’s we don’t think about, that we take for granted, that slip under our radar and end up drawing them into our web complete with their structural cultural pattern, their mechanisms of reinforcement, their cementing and sealing off of boundaries, and the reward and punishment levers and knobs reducing the citizen to a marble in an old style pinball machine as they are inevitably find their way to the bottom. The trouble with normal is that it always gets worse, as the song says, illuminating Arendt’s banality of evil, an evil found in small gestures and the seemingly innocculous behaviors repeated and repeated, like a death from water dripping.
Yes, there is a relation between kitsch, violence and destruction; a corrupted romanticism that partakes in Dadaist glee in rupturing a connection with history and replacing it with manufactured and distorted myths. The uncanny element is how close popular Nazi culture resembles our own post-modern society, the same dynamics of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, the same moral distortions and cultural relativism, the same incentive to escapism and wallowing, unthinking, in the spheres between perception and reality. What is quite disconcerting, then as now, is the complicity between the avant-garde, capitalism and kitsch. But kitsch is very addictive, and as a society we seem to be too deeply permeated by it to permit a painless extrication. There are industries devoted to it; the Hollywood industrial entertainment complex. …
The documentary, Hitler’s Hit Parade is a nightmare of the Adorno Cultural Industries theory seen in its natural habitat. The film is structured in the form of artistic collage, like watching American Bandstand or a Casey Casem countdown which leads the viewer through experiences and ideas of the Nazi era. From a plethora of situations in the original material, a representation of a sick and eroded, but modern civilization emerges, in which beauty and evil exist; all form without content, all myth without history.
from Louis Proyect:Hitler’s Hit Parade is a documentary montage of theater and home movies, archival footage, animated films, commercials and political propaganda that depicts Germany as an altar to narcissism and kitsch. If one did not know that Germany would eventually have the blood of millions on its hands, it might appear as the most innocent and naive of nations….
…In scene after scene free of voice-over, we see Hitler kissing babies, German youth doing calisthenics with Nazi emblems on their t-shirts,
Mercedes-Benzes streaking up the autobahn, German versions of Busby Berkeley dance routines, etc. against a nonstop sound-track consisting of
some of the most schmaltzy pop tunes ever recorded. All this material is woven together seamlessly with a minimum of irony even though the material cries out for the sort of italicizing found in a Michael Moore film. In the face of such obviously toxic material, a voice-over would probably prove redundant….
The takeaway from all this manipulation of cinematic montage is the manufacture of innocence. And not just innocence. Rather, the necessary denial prerequisite to making images of innocence. So, not so much about innocence but the devious ways we create innocence, establish a belief structure, an ideology about innocence. Innocence is really something we make. It is not something we are. But, it does permit the construction of stories, lovely narratives that we want to tell about ourselves. The Axer film, like Disney, or Coke advertising or Rockwell, allows the viewer to douse themselves in innocence; these are all creations that discard the ambiguities, complexities, and serious issues that could give rise to anxiety conducive conditions like thinking,self-examination or profound questioning about oneself and the world.Kicking the can down the road to recycle that banal phrase?
…The general theme that emerges through the images is that of a society consumed with health, well-being and normalcy. Children are uniformly well-fed and robust looking. One thirteen year old girl has her jaw width measured by a couple of Nazi doctors as if she were livestock. Everybody is prosperous and happy. They all adore Hitler, who comes across as an avuncular figure who would be tempted to tell Germans that they never had so good on every and any occasion.
Against this uniform fabric of optimism, vigor and physical beauty, you have the discordant Jew who is seen in one unflattering photograph after another. In an animated film, we see a beak-nosed Jew plucking the leaves from a tree in the forest out of spite. This imagery comes on the heels of another film excerpt that describes the German nation as a magnificent tree.
The documentary includes the war years, which are depicted graphically and musically as a struggle by the Volk to maintain their way of life despite the hardships. People can endure blackouts and rationing through the help of cheery tunes. Even when men come back from the Russian front missing a leg, they get back into sports and calisthenics with the help of an artificial limb. These images are eerily evocative of the “human interest” stories about American soldiers trying to make the best of things after getting their legs blown off in the Sunni triangle.
Although the German co-directors Oliver Axer and Susanne Benze had German history in mind when they made this unsettling film, it obviously resonates with the contemporary USA even though the country is nominally democratic. The clash between Red State and Blue State values involves many of the same themes that figure in “Hitler’s Hit Parade.”
The Republicans present themselves as “positive” and “optimistic,” while the Democrats are “negative” and “pessimistic.” Politicians like Richard
Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush demagogically evoke a corn-fed, bible-toting, apple-cheeked America that accepts authority blindly. The charge against critics is that they are “Un-American,” which means that it refuses to submit to these white-bread values.
Germany obviously had the same kinds of cultural tensions in the 1920s with Weimar socialism, decadent art and Jewry standing in for what is suggested by the term Blue State values today and New York City in particular. The whole thrust of the culture wars is to intimidate those who are not seduced by NASCAR races, mass-oriented Country and Western music, Christmas carols and Walt Disney productions.
…For Clement Greenberg, Hermann Broch, and Theodor Adorno, the avant garde and kitsch were opposites. Kitsch was perceived as an assault on culture. Adorno developed many of these ideas when he was living in Los Angeles and directed his wrath at Walt Disney cartoons, etc. When I read “Dialectics of Enlightenment” by Adorno and Horkheimer, I was put off by what appeared as snobbery mixed with academic Marxism. After seeing “Hitler’s Hit Parade,” I have a better sense of what was bugging these Frankfurt school Marxists. It is too bad that they went overboard.
In his 1939 essay titled “Avant Garde and Kitsch,” written for the Trotskyist Partisan Review, Clement Greenberg lumped Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalinist Russia together when it came to the question of kitsch and mass society:
“Where today a political regime establishes an official cultural policy, it is for the sake of demagogy. If kitsch is the official tendency of culture
in Germany, Italy and Russia, it is not because their respective governments are controlled by philistines, but because kitsch is the culture of the masses in these countries, as it is everywhere else. The encouragement of kitsch is merely another of the inexpensive ways in which
totalitarian regimes seek to ingratiate themselves with their subjects. Since these regimes cannot raise the cultural level of the masses — even
if they wanted to — by anything short of a surrender to international socialism, they will flatter the masses by bringing all culture down to
their level. It is for this reason that the avant-garde is outlawed, and not so much because a superior culture is inherently a more critical culture.”
In a few years, Greenberg would abandon socialism altogether and enlist in the war against Communism using avant-garde art as a heavy artillery weapon against the USSR.
In 1984, the Czech writer Milan Kundera wrote about kitsch in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” According to Wikipedia, he argued that
kitsch functioned to exclude everything that humans find difficult to come to terms with, offering instead a sanitized view of the world in which “all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions.” Obviously he anticipated what would be happening in the USA twenty years later under a President who deploys down-home kitschiness on behalf of murderous imperialist wars abroad and assaults on the working-class at home. When he is challenged by his critics, he brushes them aside–assisted by a spineless press and Democratic Party. Someday, when this is no longer sufficient to stay the course, he might resort to more repressive measures. At that time, it will be useful to study the lessons of Hitler’s rise. Read More:http://wbai.org/index.php?Itemid=2&id=4584&option=com_content&task=view
Clement Greenberg, 1939.:As a matter of fact, the main trouble with avant-garde art and literature, from the point of view of fascists and Stalinists, is not that they are too critical, but that they are too “innocent,” that it is too difficult to inject effective propaganda into them, that kitsch is more pliable to this end. Kitsch keeps a dictator in closer contact with the “soul” of the people. Should the official culture be one superior to the general mass-level, there would be a danger of isolation.
Nevertheless, if the masses were conceivably to ask for avant-garde art and literature, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin would not hesitate long in attempting to satisfy such a demand. Hitler is a bitter enemy of the avant-garde, both on doctrinal and personal grounds, yet this did not prevent Goebbels in 1932-1933 from strenuously courting avant-garde artists and writers. When Gottfried Benn, an Expressionist poet, came over to the Nazis he was welcomed with a great fanfare, although at that very moment Hitler was denouncing Expressionism as Kulturbolschewismus. This was at a time when the Nazis felt that the prestige which the avant-garde enjoyed among the cultivated German public could be of advantage to them, and practical considerations of this nature, the Nazis being skillful politicians, have always taken precedence over Hitler’s personal inclinations. Later the Nazis realized that it was more practical to accede to the wishes of the masses in matters of culture than to those of their paymasters; the latter, when it came to a question of preserving power, were as willing to sacrifice their culture as they were their moral principles; while the former, precisely because power was being withheld from them, had to be cozened in every other way possible. It was necessary to promote on a much more grandiose style than in the democracies the illusion that the masses actually rule. The literature and art they enjoy and understand were to be proclaimed the only true art and literature and any other kind was to be suppressed. Under these circumstances people like Gottfried Benn, no matter how ardently they support Hitler, become a liability; and we hear no more of them in Nazi Germany. Read More:http://www.sharecom.ca/greenberg/kitsch.html