America’s Art and Culture in Need of Reversal

Editor’s Note:  This article is part of a series written for The Epoch Times and its “American Promise” program.  This article was written on October 28, 2021.  Used by permission. 

By Lou Ann Anderson

American culture and art have long gone hand in hand. While American culture can be thought of as our national persona, art then generally follows as an expression of that character.

In the past, culture was the driver of art. Today, however, art often seems to be driving culture – perhaps driving it into the ground. And though culture and the arts once seemed organic, they now appear less natural, more contrived, and even a tool for social manipulation.

DC Comics’ celebration of Pride Month. (Photo by Lynn Woolley for WBDaily)

American culture’s three core values are found in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence. Equality is established in “that all men are created equal.” Freedom is called upon with all men being “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” And self-government is secured as “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Those who founded our country were great thinkers. They understood the practicalities of organizing a government, but they also recognized human nature, its shortcomings and sought to create a societal structure that maximized freedom while minimizing the threat of tyranny and other abuses of power.

While our Founding Fathers successfully established a timeless and universal framework that endures today, the freedom enshrined within American culture has also sets forth two potential paths. The first is where we’ve spent much of our rich history. A path that includes a strong nation with a healthy societal order. Another darker path, however, leads toward destruction of the American culture. And if we unwisely choose the wrong path, today’s artistic culture offers opportunity to assist in our country’s demise.

Our Founders believed that the enjoyment of freedom was predicated on a life of virtue. American and other cultures have historically attached importance to virtues including sincerity, kindness, generosity, justice, moderation, humility, courage, and selflessness. Recognizing and adhering to divine law, the culture and conduct code that humankind should possess and embody, are other important components that serve as the basis for universal values.

In America, an erosion of these values can be tracked over the last 70 or so years resulting in a society that’s more destabilized and vulnerable than in recent history. This trend is found in all aspects of culture – visual arts, literature (both adult and children’s), music, and performance art. It presents Americans with a disturbing challenge that must be addressed – and addressed now – lest we risk losing our country and life as we know it.

How is this happening? And why? Communism, a political ideology that seeks to dominate the world, sees the U.S. as its biggest prize. In looking to take down the free world’s most successful country, Communist actors have long strategized to subvert and sabotage the American culture.

The Beat Generation of the 1950s, the counterculture of the 1960s, the hip hop and drug cultures that became more prevalent within the 1970s started the degradation of traditional American culture. Pornography, video games and a culture of violence further perpetuated this decline – especially as online opportunities and access proliferated in the 1990s.

The 1990s ushered in political correctness. This weaponized use of language became a fan favorite for leftists seeking to redefine conversations and to intimidate anyone who might disagree.

And political correctness was the precursor to what is now known as being woke.

Described by Merriam-Webster as “chiefly US slang,” the dictionary defines the word as: “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”

Throughout the years, the organizers and influencers of these various movements have had ties to communist or socialist ideologies. It’s no accident and Americans must understand the threat we face has permeated all aspects of society with even the arts not being immune.

Works of art for centuries have served as noble examples of man’s humanity. They helped preserve human society at a particular point in time. Great artistic works have historically held exalted positions in Western and Eastern civilizations as they transmit heritage, disseminate knowledge and wisdom, and fortify character.

Modern art no longer subscribes to norms of the past. Instead, it often inverts conventional aesthetics by taking ugliness as beauty. It also aims to shock and is limited only by the artist’s own ghastly imagination.

With its 1987 debut at the Stux Gallery in New York City, “Piss Christ” was tapped as a perfect example of both ugliness as beauty as well as having shock value. Artist Andres Serrano released a 60” x 40” red and yellow photograph of a crucifix submerged in a vat of Serrano’s urine. The photograph sparked a congressional debate on U.S. public arts funding. It was additionally the subject of attacks and protests at various exhibition venues.

The piece returned to New York in 2012 as part of an exhibit examining 25 years of Serrano’s work. While many Christians find the work extremely offensive, Serrano has a different take.

“The thing about the crucifix itself is that we treat it almost like a fashion accessory. When you see it, you’re not horrified by it at all, but what it represents is the crucifixion of a man,” Serrano told the Guardian. “And for Christ to have been crucified and laid on the cross for three days where he not only bled to death, he shat himself and he peed himself to death.

“So if Piss Christ upsets you, maybe it’s a good thing to think about what happened on the cross.”

Most people of faith do not share that opinion.

The “Fifty Shades” series of erotic novels by E.L. James provides an important example of contemporary literature’s decline. While certainly not intellectual reading, the trilogy consisting of Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), Fifty Shades Darker (2012) and Fifty Shades Freed (2012) had 35 million print and e-book sales between 2011 and 2019.

The trilogy chronicles the relationship of a young woman and her mysterious, seductive, and (of course) wealthy boyfriend with a focus on the BDSM aspect of their relationship.

In 2019, CNN reported: “Now, as the 2010s near their end, James’s “Fifty Shades” books hold the first, second and third place on a list of the decade’s best-selling books, according to NDP BookScan, which collects point-of-sale data for the publishing industry.”

Sales of this magnitude again reflect contemporary culture – and the reflection is less than flattering. This point is further made when 100 years prior, The Secret Garden, novel for children written by American author Frances Hodgson Burnett, was a top book.

And speaking of children’s literature and today’s culture, parents appearing at school board meetings routinely use examples of library books as educational tools being used in the indoctrination of students. An Anti-Defamation League-sponsored program called No Place for Hate offers a “Books Matter” reading list which provides excellent examples of today’s juvenile literary culture.

Music is also no stranger to cultural changes. From the late 1950s into the 1960s, songs like “Wake Up Little Susie” by The Everly Brothers (1957) were removed from airplay due to teenagers sleeping together. “Splish Splash” by Bobby Darrin (1958) was banned as it suggested nudity. Ten years later, the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (1967) caused the band to be banned from The Ed Sullivan Show. Drug references nixed airtime for Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon” (1962) and The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” (1967).

Fast forward 30+ years, hip hop songs generate controversy, but are rarely banned. Many titles contain profanity and song lyrics are almost exclusively lewd language with violent and sexual imagery depicted. 50 Violent Rap Lyrics That Will Make You Cringe provides examples of these genres and their contributions to American culture.

Performance art perhaps most reflects the inverted cultural aesthetic that replaces beauty with ugliness and aims to shock. In 2016, CultureTrip.com published 14 Of The Most Extreme Performance Art Pieces.

Of the Americans who made the list, “Self Obliteration by Ron Athey” is described as: “Ideas of masculinity, sexual desire, and trauma are picked apart in Ron Athey’s extreme body art and performance art. Athey was born in America and has centered a large part of his work around HIV awareness. His controversial work focuses on performing physical acts to his body as a way of transcending bodily pain. In Self Obliteration, Athey sat in a glass box wearing nothing but a long blonde wig with needles hidden underneath against his scalp. As he brushed the wig, blood spurted from his scalp onto the surrounding glass walls.”

“Vito Acconci’s Seedbed” performed for three weeks in January 1972 at the Sonnabend Gallery New York. CultureTrip.com describes the performance as “Vito Acconci is an American designer, landscape architect, and performance artist. Much of Acconci’s artwork is considered controversial, including his famous performance piece Seedbed. For this performance, visitors entered a room on a low wooden ramp. Acconci, who lay hidden under the ramp, masturbated while whispering sexual fantasies about the guests walking around above him. His voice was projected by loudspeakers throughout the gallery so that the visitors could hear every dark fantasy he came up with. Acconci kept up this activity for eight hours a day over three weeks.”

“Shoot by Chris Burden” further demonstrates the redefinition of performance art as seen in the 1970s. Per CultureTrip.com, “Over the course of his career, American performance artist Chris Burden has endured many brutal, self-inflicted performances: he nailed himself to a Volkswagen Beetle, spent five days and nights inside a locker in the fetal position, and was kicked down two flights of stairs. In Shoot, Burden has himself shot in the arm with a .22 rifle. Although his works seem outrageous and untraditional, Burden, like many other artists of the 1970s, was fueled by the violence and suffering of the Vietnam War. In a world seemingly desensitized to pain, Burden forced viewers of his performances to confront the discomfort.”

American culture and art have long gone hand in hand. While American culture can be thought of as our national persona, art then generally follows as an expression of that character. For so many decades we appeared to thrive, but as our 250th year approaches, American culture is undeniably on the decline. If today’s art expresses our nation’s persona, then we are in trouble and any hope for reversal much start now, not later.

Lou Ann Anderson is a Texas-based writer and podcaster.  POLITICAL PURSUITS: The PODCAST is available on most platforms.

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