Icons: Part II
My favourite Arts Degree joke was written on the toilet paper dispenser underneath the Melbourne University Union Building; “Arts Degrees: Please Take One.”
It is true that an arts degree only requires about eight contact hours a week and doesn’t point you toward a career or trade in the way that law or medicine does. According to Jerry Seinfeld, ‘In the game of life, lawyers are the only ones who have read the rules printed in the top of the box’. I see his point, but an arts degree assists in playing the game itself. William Blake, in his Proverbs of Hell, writes that, “The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit: watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant, watch the fruits.”
My arts degree taught me to watch the fruits.
Good or bad, capitalism is the new religion. It’s a generalisation, but the interesting difference between capitalism and religion is that the latter stems from a codified set of instructions or commandments for guiding behaviour. Capitalism is more about a set of behaviours which point to underlying principles. We come to know these more as a result of scrutinising the process, rather than the ‘word’ of a divine entity, if you like. Roots versus fruits.
One of the things that both have in common, as ideologies, is the importance of propaganda, specifically, iconography.
This post and Icons: Part I were inspired by something I noticed at work, which prompted me to think of Andrei Rubelev, Barbara Kruger and this entire discussion.
The aerobics studio at the gym I work in is hung with banners advertising various Les Mills style of aerobics; BodyJam, Body Combat, Body Pump, and the like. I don’t know really know what the hell they are – I don’t do aerobics – but there is something about the idealised serenity of the figures. I think it is in the postures and the eyelines; I suspect they are intended to recall the religious icons discussed in the previous post. The more recent banners also have painfully daggy catch-phrases, like ‘Heroes Made Here.’ I mean, what kind of a loser believes crap like that? Furthermore, who is the coked-up loser in the advertising office connected to the moron at Les Mills that chose to attach that line to an image designed to ‘sell’?
Now, here’s the problem with not having an arts education. Personally, I fucking loathe propaganda. And the thing that bothers me about these images is the lack of unifying ideology driving them; they are powered by a compulsion toward the acquisition of the superficial. Without some kind of insight, you’re just another unit of livestock to be herded past the cash-register.
Barbara Kruger is an American conceptual artist. To quote from the wikipedia entry: “Much of Kruger’s work engages the merging of found photographs from existing sources with pithy and aggressive text that involves the viewer in the struggle for power and control… In their trademark white letters against a slash of red background, some of her instantly recognizable slogans read “I shop therefore I am,” and “Your body is a battleground.” Much of her text questions the viewer about feminism, consumerism, and individual autonomy and desire, although her black-and-white images are culled from the mainstream magazines that sell the very ideas she is disputing.”
It had occurred to me to get some copies of that ‘Your body is a battleground’ poster, sneak into the gym one night and replace all the Les Mills posters and see what happened.
Give me ideology or give me death.