Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Art and confrontation. These two things hold hands so tightly. The ideas behind visual perspective were confrontational to the old school ideas of the picture plane. All of a sudden we had real depth. Is it any wonder that modern perspective use in painting and Mr. Copernicus were contemporaries(roughly)? They both brought more depth to the universe, internally and externally. The point of some art is to challenge. Obviously not ALL art, but there is that which is intended as a confrontation.

There is an art to confrontation. And it is not easy. It would seem that it is. Of course it is easy to offend, very easy. I am poorly paraphrasing now, but here goes; George Lucas was asked to put more 'emotional' scenes in his movie by his producers. He said basically that it was too easy, take a kitten on screen, show someone murder it or appear to, and voila', an emotional reaction. What he said was much harder to do was finding a way to interact with or challenge people BEYOND the obvious evocative imagery or concepts. (Aside, yes I do realize that Lucas is an extremely sappy director, but the film I am speaking of specifically is THX-1138) Think about how many times one may be disturbed by a more abstract gesture than a direct showing. Maybe something like a David Lynch movie can express this best.

The Band Whitehouse is a good sonic jumping off point. They were challenging to people at the time. Now the same things would be passe. They started in 1980 and took their name from the Brit moral advocate Mary Whitehouse and the porn rag of the same name. As you can see, they had their goal in mind from step one. However, they of course were preceded by bands such as Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Cabaret Voltaire, etc... However, Whitehouse chose to keep hitting the same point as opposed to moving about as much as some of their predecessors. Pretty much their schtik was piercing high end noise coupled with screaming, shouting, demanding, etc... vocals filled with hyper-violent imagery(yes, yes, I am simplifying). They spoke of rape, abuse, murder, misogyny, all the stuff people love to hear. Actually, what really made Whitehouse interesting was the fact that they pissed off the very audience that was there for them. It's not always easy to piss off a noise crowd with noise. They seemed to understand that there were some things that sonics can do to people's moods, couple that with the disturbing imagery/vocals and...voila again. Whitehouse met the audience on a field of their own division, so angering audiences that they had halls torn apart, riots, bottles thrown, their car destroyed, and death threats(however, there is speculation that some of this, esp. the latter, was part of the created mystique of the band). It is interesting to note that they never got banned from their home country for any of this(unlike Genesis P. Orridge, exiled from Britain for being too 'extreme').

Nor were they banned from performing, like Japanese noise terrorist Hanatarash. No one had to sign waivers for their safety at a Whitehouse show. Whereas Hanatarash was not only a danger to his audience, but to himself(almost cut his own leg off with a bandsaw at a show{accident of course}). Point of fact is that Whitehouse, for all their results, were actually a far safer band as their imagery and sound followed a more obvious path than the other noise artists who seemed to turn up unpleasantness underneath ANY rock they turned over. It is precisely when one can be shown a convention and have the conventional ideas surrounding it be questioned or upset that one has realized a new offense. A pile of shit on the ground is one thing, not too gross. But drizzle icing over it and add candy sprinkles, that same pile of shit takes on a whole new, more specifically disgusting meaning. It is a question of perspective indeed.

What am I talking about this for? It is interesting to see that the things that people find offensive have never and will never change. We are programmed to find some things off putting. It is instinctual not to want to roll around in shit. When we see someone else doing it, it is definitely a signal to keep back. This brings us to someone like(you knew it was coming) G.G. Allin. The thing that seemed to make him viable as an artist was the fact that people came to see him directly BECAUSE he was supposed to offend. Of course this leads to a quandary. How do you remain relevant(if your intent is to offend) when people are lining up to see you be offensive? The thing he did was that he actually lived it. Like Bukowski(up to a point)(no I'm not putting them in the same league here), he was willing to actually live the life that he portrayed. Indeed it seems the other way around, he portrayed the life he lived. But was he relevant? Of course any output can be deemed worth viewing, and relevancy is a totally objective term, but were there boundaries pushed? Beyond the shit flinging? Taste is a personal judgment indeed, but what of actual merit artistically? Did he push a boundary or at least explore a concept in a way that invited more interest? Did he do something different? Not really. Which is not to deem it unnecessary, The jester always has a function. A VERY important one indeed. He shows us the things we would usually find offensive, turns them on their head, and we laugh(see a thread here?) It is important to note that many times, people are offended by that which most intrigues them(death is the easiest example here, but also think of the anti-gay rights senator busted for solicitation at an airport{and not a female pro either]), and the jester gets to bounce these ideas off of his audience. He gives them an excuse to deal with what would normally be shunned. Allin definitely came off as more of a jester than a scientist.

We come back to Whitehouse. Scientists at one point, I believe. But maybe their field, like the Helio-centric theory, is not really culturally as important as it WAS because they helped to bring it into mainstream consciousness. And of course it is hard to keep pointing and screaming at the same thing and have an audience keep paying attention. The audience for Whitehouse now has become an audience that is going to the occasion because they know PRECISELY what to expect. now they are more of a, daresay, pop band(for a brief diatribe on noise going pop, see earlier posts). No, this obviously isn't a meticulously researched thesis, just thinking. Love to do it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of Whitehouse before you. We need someone to break away from the herd mentality, and even though we may pretend to be appalled, we are really envious of someone with enough self-belief to do exactly what they want to do.