Friday, September 5, 2008

Rage and Anger the American Way

I have been intending to write more about Vienna, in particular about the art I saw there. The Art Historical Museum was one of the most impressive I have been in, and I say that as a person who spends a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum here in New York. To say that I have been busy lately, however, is to put it mildly.

Last night, however, we went to Chelsea. It was a big night for openings at the galleries. The streets were flooded with people. This is what you would call "a scene," and, besides, the galleries offer free wine. I thought I noticed an infusion, over last year, of a lot of young women, dressed up, obviously hoping to meet guys, but the pickings are pretty poor. Really, males in their 20s and early 30s are in a pathetic condition these days, looking and acting more like girls, and I am talking about the heterosexual ones.

The above was to be seen in the first gallery we visited, on West 25th Street. (Unfortunately, I did not get the propaganda from the gallery concerning the artist. I'll try to post it later.) It filled most of the gallery space and looked like a scene straight out of the peasant rebellions that took place in Europe, beginning with a big one in England in 1381. Below (left) is an image of the entire picture.

What it made me think about were contemporary political protests. The large photo below, from an antiwar protest in San Francisco, is from the website of zombietime, which goes to these events and takes pictures of the really angry, very weird people who populate them. The peace marches of the early 1970s are really civilized affairs, in comparison, and the photos at the zombietime website attest to the denigration of the public sphere in the last four decades.

At the same time, there is something very American about these protesters: they actually believe, for instance, that Barak Obama will change America if they protest loud enough. They want him to be elected president. Unlike the peasants in the 14th century, who were angry about the taxes imposed on them, the contemporary protesters want demolition, after which a perfect society will be built again, on the ruins of the old.

It's not hard to see why they imagine Obama will make this kind of "change." His campaign theme has been "Change." He may actually desire to make the kinds of changes the angry are clamoring for, but his entire appearance is evidence of a basic conservatism. After all, he has a wife and two kids and a million dollar house. Obama would not march in the streets with such weird-looking, angry people and scream at policemen or in rage about war. Of course, some of the people that he used to hang out with --former Weatherman Bill Ayers -- did engage in angry behavior, but Ayers is now a tenured professor. If you go to Ayers' own website, you will see him with a smile on his face. He is now a very mellow man, having given up that raging look of the radical. Well, he probably has a million dollar house now, too, since he lives in the same neighborhood as Barak Obama. So, there is this strange phenomenon, that liberal politicians, those promising change, are basically conservative and unlikely to change anything.

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