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Old 27th January 2007   #1
HSG
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Default A ''Tyranny of Taste''


At this site, we frequently draw parallels between fashion and other art forms to demonstrate how the stifling of Classical femininity has simply been one aspect of a culture-wide campaign to suppress timeless beauty in the modern world.

The Art Renewal Center (www.artrenewal.org) discusses how the modern ascendancy of degenerate art specifically blighted the fields of painting and sculpture, but every art form has suffered at the hands of the modernists--literature, architecture, music, etc. In the 20th century, in every avenue of creative human endeavour, the aesthetic of beauty was deposed in favour of a politically-charged, artificial, ugly standard.

We are all living with the consequences.

One art form that has been particulary afflicted by the modern contagion is opera. In a previous discussion, we noted that in the present day and age, to stage a traditional operatic production--a production that has beauty as its guide, and is faithful to the composer's original vision--is almost unheard of. Instead, the kind of ironic productions with weird costumes, abstract sets, and politically-laden contexts (generally hostile to the composer's own world-view) that were once considered "avant garde" are now not only mainstream, but so ubiquitous as to be virtually the only manner of opera production left in the world.

Consequently, after decades of hegemony, modernism has now become passé--to the point of being clichéd--while a reverent Romanticism, free of irony, is the only genuinely novel and "radical" approach left.

The following ten-minute video segment, from a British documentary about the Royal Opera House, makes this point quite vividly.

(Click to view video clip.)

It shows how opera (like any other art form) is ruined when it loses its connection to the people and grows beholden to the marginal visions of self-important directors and producers, bent on advancing their own personal and political agendas, to the exclusion of any other considerations.

The clip begins with the astonishing sight of a group of opera traditionalists protesting the production of a modernist opera. The demonstrators issue cries of "Long live harmony," and "Down with modernity," while holding aloft protest signs:

This is followed by a verbal dispute between the demonstrators and the defenders of the modernist status quo. But note the role reversal. The clean-cut, elegantly-dressed young men on the right are the protestors, while the long-haired types who would once have been termed "hippies" are the supporters of the establishment (the modernist establishment).

Today, paradoxically, the radicals and the reactionaries have changed place. The modernists are defending "business as usual," while the traditionalists are attempting to save art, and to give it a creative new direction.

The traditionalists' comments are quite significant:

-"None of it [i.e., modern music] does what music used to do, which is speak to the world."
-"There is a complacent establishment [in the art world]. There is no real criticism or originality."
-"It's modern music without opposition. It's like government without opposition. It's dangerous."
-"There is a tyranny of taste in this country. There is not a voice of opposition."
The parallels between the predicament of opera and the theme of our forum are obvious. The world of modern fashion mirrors the world of modern opera all too closely. Designers and photographers, like opera directors, are narrowly focussed on their own marginal, androgynous visions, to the exclusion of any others. They have renounced any ties to the general public, and suppress the more natural aesthetic that humanity has always preferred.

* * *

The clip continues with a glimpse of a ridiculous modern staging of Die Zauberflöte, perfectly exemplifying the absurd visions that dominate opera stages today. From this performance, one would never know that Mozart composed this Singspiel for the popular theatre of his time, hoping to touch the hearts of Viennese of every class and background.

The rigid, vertical costumes and angular props invite a comparison with the majority of straight-size fashion editorials, which similarly favour sharp angles and cylindrical forms, instead of soft, swelling, natural contours.

Even the chorus members who enact this absurdity candidly express their derision, with pithy comments like, "Might as well get some continental crap," and "Make it original opera-house crap rather than bring in somebody else's crap."

During the show, they cannot even keep a straight face:

Unsurprisingly, this production fails completely. The narrator intones, in a deadpan manner, that "The Magic Flute is not doing well. The opera board holds a post-mortem" (bringing to mind the "Modernism R.I.P." protest sign, seen earlier).

But then, consider what happens when the company stages an all-too-rare Romantic production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which is faithful to Wagner's vision, with authentic medieval sets and attractive period costumes:

The show "turns out to be a critical triumph, and a box-office sell-out."

But does the opera house learn from this? No. For their next Wagner enterprise, the Ring, the musical director hires a director and designer who are "known for their controversial work" (as if that were a mark of distinction).

The conductor himself expresses dismay at the predictable absurdity of this director's staging, with "naked Rhinemaidens, aeroplanes, and a collapsible car." He voices an opinion that one wishes all modern fashion designers would consider whenever they obstinately refuse to use fuller-figured models and cling to their shopworn, androgynous aesthetic: "We should not be too arrogant."

The fashion industry, and the mass media in general, are in precisely the same predicament in which the opera world currently finds itself. These branches of popular culture too are in the grips of a "complacent establishment," one which governs "without opposition." They too are dominated by a "tyranny of taste" which privileges a malnourished standard of appearance, marked by harsh, angular, modern features, over the visible traits of soft fullness that defined the feminine ideal throughout Western history.

Let us hope that the fashion world soon rediscovers a different taste--the traditional taste of Western culture, which favoured plus-size beauty over emaciated androgyny--and realizes that the future is, indeed, Romantic.

Kelsey Olson (size 16) modelling for Torrid, Winter 2006:

- Click to view image source


Last edited by HSG : 29th November 2010 at 01:08.
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Old 30th January 2007   #2
Emily
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Default Re: A ''Tyranny of Taste''

The clip is illuminating in many ways. One specific parallel between modern opera and modern fashion involves the commonly-heard complaint that "it's all about money." As the clip shows, the problem actually runs much deeper than that. It if were "just about money," things might actually be better.

This clip demonstrates that modern opera is not driven by the box office -- at least, not first and foremost. If it were, then opera houses would be stanging the kind of beautiful, traditional productions that audiences prefer -- the kind that touch their hearts, that they can relate to. Instead, they impose their awful, modernist visions, regardless of the fact that doing so is making opera increasingly irrelevant (and unprofitable).

Likewise, if money was the main issue in fashion, every designer would have a plus-size line. Instead, they willingly and deliberately turn customers away, just because of their dress size, because their primary concern is their own androgynous aesthetic. Everything else, even profit, is secondary.

Having artistic creators put their own visions first would be fine, if they were healthy visions. But instead, the modern aesthetic is culturally and socially destructive (and, in the case of fashion, actually ruinous to women's lives).

I only wish the conductor in that clip had been more assertive in defending traditional culture. Instead of doubting himself, saying that he might be "too old-fashioned," he should realize that just because something is "new," or "new-fashioned," does NOT necessarily make it better. In fact, it can be much worse. That kind of reflexive, uncritical favouring of the "new," just for newness' sake, is what brought our culture to its current predicament.
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