Unsustainable Art

Painting by Boris Kustodiev: May Day Demonstration in Putilov (1906)

Boris Kustodiev: May Day Demonstration in Putilov (1906)

Art is a massive and many-splendored thing. I’d like to take this time to bask in the soul-grabbing form of music, most specifically the genre of the protest song. It is always an occasional piece, inseparably tied to history. It offers a glimpse into the human condition under oppression, violence, angst, and hatred (generally motivated by a love for something else). Authorship and performance of protest songs require a peculiar kind of moral courage. Though I come from a more “establishment-loyal” kind of family, I have come to love and appreciate these songs of passion, suffering, preaching, and criticism.

Giants like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash took to the streets and the stages with their messages for the downtrodden everyman. Protests weren’t the monopoly of the 1960s; they also had a strong presence in the Civil War and even the Independence-era Yankee Doodle. These Americans are joined by that most complaining of races, the Irish. The Celtic peoples, generally in a state of terrible repression, provide some of the very best examples for the genre.

One does notice an important element: they pull from deeper traditions, generally endangered from the oppressor. Dylan and Cash pull from country and folk Americana, steeped in older agrarian, family-bound, and church-centered ways of life. Encroaching consumerism, faster times, and militaristic interventionism all threatened an undoing of these perishable joys. Similarly, the Irish call upon downright terrifying spirits (ranging from drunkenly morose to dancingly giddy) that probably herald from the Druidic era. Also note that the authors of such pieces moved on to other things: various occasions caused lament and anguish, but human life is populated with more than anger and frustration.

Sole devotion to stultifying forms of protests are dull. Somebody needs to tell this to Russian super-stars for all the wrong reasons Pussy Riot. I’m pretty sure the Western media is giggling like a bunch of naughty schoolboys over the name while pretending to make them the darlings of progressive advocacy. This is mostly because Putin and his ever-eager lackey Kirill are jerks. KGB 2.0 has thrown the book at these balaclava-wearing rainbow children for crimes against the People’s Awesome Culture of Badassery, so that’s unfortunate. Nevertheless, the masked punk rockers did indeed trespass. But Pussy Riot’s unwelcome invasion of the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Savior was not just illegal. They should also be locked up for their atrocious song choice.

Even if I disagree with Edwin Starr’s “War,” at least it’s interesting. It’s got funk and a snazzy brass section. Riot and the Pussycats or whatever hurl sacrilegious epithets instead:

All parishioners crawl to bow,
The phantom of liberty is in heaven,
Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains
The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
Leads protesters to prison under escort
In order not to offend His Holiness
Women must give birth and love
S–t, s–t, the Lord’s s–t!…
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist
Become a feminist, become a feminist

How precious is that? No doubt their repetoire could redeem this lyrical flop. But—hark!—they describe themselves as “feminist punk rock.” That would make sense of their impassioned pleas to the Theotokos, an otherwise very un-feminist figure in religious history.

You’d think they could come up with something deeper that would resonate with Mother (effing) Russia. Then again, the LGB…Z agenda and third wave feminism are rather recent inventions, no doubt deserving of a good umbrella-beating by the babushkas. I hope that the whole issue turns into the same as Pussy Riot’s performance: a waste of hot air.

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