Why 2008 Is The Perfect Time For Socialist Realism To Re-Emerge

What goes around; or perhaps the tagline from a low budget horror flick “Sometimes they come back.” We noticed this from our friends over at Art News and thought it worth a comment here.

T long since dead oeuvre is creeping back in new and interesting ways. Far from its clumsy and now kitschy stereotype, ‘socialist realism’ is making an insidious and interestingly subversive comeback. 2008 style, it offers props to its heavy handed AgitProp roots while incorporation contemporary references to the global geo-political-iPod-McMansion-Freedom Loving-oil skyrocketing present. Two examples are from Chinese artist Shi Xinning, which as you might imagine, tickled the Stiftung immensely:

There can be little doubt that even if parodying socialist realism one still pays a certain homage to it. In Eastern Europe, as one might imagine, not a small political fact. For regimes in the end art is first and foremost (regardless of intent) political. In the case of China, as Art News quotes Chang Tsong -Zung, a key Hong Kong curator:

Almost all artists in China using the human figure today are dealing in some way with Socialist Realism. It was dominant for so long that it’s virtually impossible to make this kind of work without its influence.

It remains to be seen if art there can emerge from this Schrodinger’s Box and grow into something genuinely new. Our guess is not for a while at least — like politics, art is not the interest of the new generations eager for laptops, cellphones and designer clothes.

Can we look for the revival here in the States? Pernilla Holmes’ excellent piece notes the socialist realism had an even wider and more pervasive impact in Latin American and especially Mexico than even its birthplace, the Soviet Union. Recent demographic tends indicate the collective memory and embrace of communicative style followed the footsteps. Traditionally, the U.S. version embodied the WPA, Hoover Dam, and other engineering and humanity-saving/dignity giving marvels implemented by government to save capitalism (contra ideology from this current group of waning war criminals). But we digress.

Today, across the West, observers note the socialist realism becomes recursive to the nth degree: the new realism is the incapacity to see or know realism. (Think sitting around Washington Square, some ‘brownies’, vintage theramin tapes blaring, and then a noisy bus lurching by with an oversized Katie Couric and her phosphorescent grin beaming down. Suddenly that whole recursive thing doesn’t seem so silly, eh? Want a shorter example? Rent the Matrix).


We are keenly watching for the artwork to emerge from any of the campaigns. So far? Our aesthetics resemble the bland brown cardboxes one gets at Home Depot with the latest Chinese housing supplies. Given the incredible potency of art to communicate and galvanize (aesthetics included here for convenience), interesting that American political campaigns avoid even the most timid steps beyond red white and blue bumber stickers and pins. The inertness of the campaign-related art perhaps speaks volumes for the actual political tectonics beneath the sloganeering on all sides. (Note to Republicans and Movement repressives — even Pat Boone cut a heavy metal album, folks).

And even if they were to try, how could they do it? What do you think is the socialist realist embodiment of change in America circa 2008. Peace, Bread, Land? The crown prince can at least find some historical tools to use and then obscure before Fox News runs 6 hour specials on his covert Marxist roots. Experience? Wouldn’t you think that’s a little more tough. Edwards might have it easiest (if he lasts) using art to motivate his decamisados from all across America. (Offered with profound respect. And regret that the important message did not cut through the clutter, however mortal the messenger).

As for the rest, their aesthetic is already laid down in iron and steel. McCain, Team Mitt, Rudy (if he’s around) — the flag, military hardware and fear. Very Soviet in the 1950-86 period, Kiwanis style. Art News indeed might prove very prescient.


  1. Comment says

    Anyway – this book goes on to portray The Matrix as an inner power, reflecting an inner reality – and the surface reality is bogus. This was originally written in 1979, to zero acclaim, it seems. We’ll have to check to see if there is any unattributed link that caused the movie to be inspired, in any way – no matter how small – by this forgotten medicore late Carter-era novel.

  2. Comment says

    re: Matrix – Overall we had sort of so-so reaction to all the Matrix and we recall feeling puzzled a bit when the first one came out and so many people we know were into it and quoting the dialogue etc. At the time we thought some people convinced themselves to like the Matrix in the same way that they convinced themselves that some clowish dotcom was worth more then General Dynamics

    But look at what we found thumbing thru a paperback copy of 1980 edition of a relatively unknown novel “The 65th tape” by Frank Ross. National securuity employee “Lucas Garfield” comes accross a “pandora’s box” classification/warning from an old Yale chum who is dying and tells/warns him:

    “The group has a name. The Matrix. The definition of the word, in the sense they prefer, is ‘a womb’ and ‘a rock enclosing a diamond.’ The child of the womb or the diamond within the rock is the Constitution. Their minds, their ingenuity, their influence are directed to the protection and advancement of that coda …”

    Later this man is called into Haldeman’s office and learns that “The Matrix” has been abused and information he innocently gave it – due to his membership – was put to a variety of evil ends. That this Matrix – a P2-like inner powe group – was being used also as a means for someone wicked to help them obtain power with legitimate seeming cover – Then he later learns that this conversation was to be one of Nixon tapes that will be revealed and “The Matrix” will be discovered and divert attention from Watergate. So colleagues happen to die and this tape is stolen while all the other tapes are contested in court. Yada yada yada. Meanwhile people are might pinpoint the ral Power behind the Matrix die bogus accidents. That Power – Anyway – the real power behind The Matrix turns out to be deeper …

  3. Comment says

    We’ve tried to move on and appreciate him for what he is/was, Bill Clinton’s stunts this week revived our old feeling about him -that at his core there is something that is aboriginally loathsome.

  4. Dr.LeoStrauss says

    The first Matrix to me was annoying because it was clearly shot on location in Australia to save money (Silver was producing). So every frame bothered me — not as, for example, LotR, which made sense to shoot in NZ for a variety of reasons.

    The other thing that was uppermost in mind is that Gibson’s Neuromancer came out in 1984. Jacking into the net ala the Matrix would have made a grand impact in say 1989/1990 — coincidentally when Japanese anime was exploring the subject.

    Some set pieces well done — the lobby assault, bullet time, etc. Certainly better than the two other ones. You view?

  5. Comment says

    Meant KLO, not JLO – Anyway KLO has never heard the term “walking around money.” She is refreshingly naive.

  6. Comment says

    KLO was swooning about Obama’s speech but then she noticed he mention the Iraq war being bad and that reminded her not to get carried away. JLO forgets that the war is an abomination and she should listen to her Pope!

  7. Comment says

    “Suddenly that whole recursive thing doesn’t seem so silly, eh? Want a shorter example? Rent the Matrix” (Leo)

    What did you think of The Matrix?

  8. Anon says

    Another funny thing – Note that Steyn and Hewett were flabbergasted by how Tweety just got everything opposite – How he was so wrong. Yesterday, Tweet managed to find time to read out his endless resume on TV, which is huge and impressive. Top Senate aid, WH speech writer, Speak of the House aide, plus some bogus but impressive sounding journalistic credentials.

    All true – But why is so insane and wrong about so many things? Bizarre mistakes and rage.

    A theory – he is emotionally retarded from the time the Iranian hostage crisis. That’s why he still has a default view, against all commone sense, that the Shia (our Iraq allies) are crazy and the Sunni (Qaeda+whabbi) are moderates.

    Plus – he actually thinks it’s ok to mock Islam on TV and combine that with disrespect toward the religions of the GOP candidates. He’s luck Huckabee doesn’t issue Fatwa’s

  9. Anon says

    What’s interesting about that clip is that the whole msnbc crew was rallying for Matthews yestereday and Matthews was trying to behave – We watched it, but we never notice most of things media matters notices – Mostly because we are used to it and discount it. But Matthews disses Mika for making an ethnic slap that she did not make – She said Margarita, which is not an Irish drink. But that discombobuilated Tweety just enough to make him blurt out the Brinkley comment. Media Matters is wise to pick on these small things – Broken windows theory.LOL

  10. Aldershot says

    “Self criticism from Tweety is not enough, of course.”

    His picture is being displayed by Media Matters like a wanted poster…give our Tweetskers a break! Has anyone seen his new tough guy commercial? He tries so hard.

  11. Dr.LeoStrauss says

    Self criticism from Tweety is not enough, of course. MSNBC needs to fire him and send for re-education to a manure farm in either New York, Arkansas or New Hampshire until such time as he absorbs the lessons of his Tweety-hood.

    Russert has played the game more adroitly and may escape with an informal, “Shoulda seen that coming, eh Tom [Brokaw]?” over an *NBC* conference call, with an impassive Brian Williams sitting along side with a thousand yard stare.

  12. Comment says

    Pat would probably change your Mdm Chiang comment to, “Please dump Chiang, Eleanor loaths her presence in the capital. Her friends Harry and Alger …”

  13. Comment says

    Now Matthews is discussing the the gradual progress the white man has made discussing black people – He dropped a transparent lie saying that he never heard a racial comment during the OJ mess. That’s hard to believe. The idea that some of his regressive friends never — whatever. Actually, he sublimating his own women issues and cryptically discussing his own attempt to talk properly about women – This is his subconcious – he really does have an inability to talk normally and with respect. He has a hard time distinguishing normal from Alan Alda style feminism. It’s pretty funny.

  14. Comment says

    Matthews is still tentative and sputtering non sense. It’s amazing that he thinks of himself as a writer – Last night he discussed Tom Paine and suggested he once was part of the early American ruling class.

  15. Comment says

    HRC is often portrayed in social realist poses – It’s subtle and most of it is not her doing, but due to photo editors in the media. There is a whiff of it on the cover of Carl Bernstein’s bio about her. Barack is a different aesthetic – Edwards, despit having Robbins and Sarandon on the trail, has too much superfluous narrative milling (Dad’s a mill worker!) about his aspect.
    The rise of China will really become apparent eight years from now – Expect more Mao art, expect Tom Friedman to write “Mao is Dead, Long Live Mao”

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