Monday, September 28, 2020

#272 / Aw Shucks Fascism

As far as I know, this New Yorker Article on "How Wagner Shaped Hollywood" should be accessible to those who click the link. Having had a chance to watch the entire Ring Cycle twice, and as someone who is hoping that I may be able to see it at least one more time (before my time runs out), I was fascinated by how author Alex Ross documented the deep penetration of Wagner's music into American culture.

Wagner's music, of course, is often associated with Fascism and the rise of the Third Reich in Germany. Ross' article begins with an evaluation of "Birth of A Nation," a 1915 silent movie credited with having stimulated a renaissance of the Ku Klux Klan. He considers how Charlie Chaplin employed Wagner, and then moves on to our modern superhero literature. You will be particularly interested in this article if you are a movie buff, or a fan of various television series that have apparently employed Wagner's music in unexpected ways. Many of the film and television references were way beyond the boundaries of my personal knowledge.

The picture at the top of this blog posting, of course, is a scene from Apocalypse Now, picturing American helicopters on their way to destroy a village in Vietnam. That is a film with which I am familiar. The kicker in the film, as Ross notes, was that Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" was portrayed as an explicit part of the American assault. If you haven't seen the movie, or if you need to refresh your recollection, you can watch a brief video clip, below. Turn up the sound for the full effect!

Ross says that George Lucas and his original "Star Wars Trilogy," ends with an "aw shucks" appropriation of Fascist style, based on the use of Wagner's music. The question Ross wants us to explore is whether or not Hollywood films and other forms of popular culture are complicit in the exercise of American hegemony.

"The urge to sacralize culture, to transform aesthetic pursuits into secular religion and redemptive politics, did not die out with the degeneration of Wagnerian Romanticism into Nazi kitsch," says Ross. We are still facing that, today. It is a feature of our contemporary politics.

To the degree that using Wagner as "background music" assists in the perpetuation of American hegemony, in all its "chauvinist exceptionalism, its culture of violence, [and] its pervasive economic and racial inequities," we need to make some changes!

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