Saints not ready for primetime

29 06 2010

Why is it that I have holy cards for most of these people? I have never heard of number 10 before. Will have to keep an eye out for him.

Missing the point(e) of ballet

29 06 2010

Or: Art at the service of culture wars

Honestly, the best stuff to write about comes from the kooks. E. Michael Jones is one such kook. I listened to a substantial portion of a recent interview about the book seen above Of course, I know of the problems this Catholic critic has had in the past due to charges of anti-Semitism and so forth. But I still wanted to know what he thought about ballet.

Well, I can’t say that there was much ballet proper in his talk at least. E. Michael Jones does point out some interesting facts that few know about the Nutcracker and its popularity in the United States. For one thing, the Nutcracker‘s popularity in the U.S. is unique. The fact that it has become a rite of passage for suburban U.S. families is a phenomenon that was not even duplicated in pre-revolutionary Russia. For Jones, the popularity of the Nutcracker is due to a nostalgia for a more traditional and hierarchical time, hence the idea of performing the Nutcracker as a “counter-revolutionary act”.

It’s an interesting hypothesis, but aesthetically speaking it is one that is grasping at straws. Conservative cultural critics in their polemics can often give more weight to social phenomena than is actually there. If we follow this line of argument, I suppose Disney films are also a traditionalist longing for a simpler time. Such a line of thinking begs a lot of questions. If family togetherness, the love of beauty, and a celebration of gender roles are counter-revolutionary acts, what are “revolutionary” acts in the white suburban context. Since my experience with white suburbia is farily limited to this point, I will leave that question for others to answer.

However, I still think that ballet makes a bad instrument for social propagandizing, at least from an aesthetic perspective. When the San Francisco Ballet first presented the Nutcracker in the United States many decades ago now, I don’t think that they had counter-revolutionary intentions. Indeed, the years that George Balanchine presented the first televised presentations of the ballet that arguably hammered it into the childhood psyche of the United States, Balanchine was also busy pushing the envelope of what ballet was, all the while jealously guarding classical form. For every score by Tchaikovsky and Bach that Balanchine choreographed dance to, there were several more scores by Schoenberg and Stravinsky that served as inspiration for his very classical ballets. E. Michael Jones’ purist sense of tradition might have been better appeased in observing the Bolshoi and other Soviet ballet companies. Interestingly enough, it was the communist ballet presenters who were far more reactionary than the ballet companies of the West.

Art is its most traditional when it is timeless. Reactionary art misses the point.