A la Carte Morality and the Image

Beauty as coltish youth.

David Hamilton’s photos could only have been taken in a more broad-minded era than today. The photos are classically posed and not, to my mind, erotic. A person who finds them erotic, in fact, may be blurring categories, and have serious questions to ask himself.

Photograph by David Hamilton

What has been more likely is the reflexive need for a ban on such images. This is the sign of a person reacting purely emotionally. For me, the photos are simply beautiful in the same way that a landscape is beautiful.

Despite challenges from church leaders (often those seeking to make a name for themselves with a certain section of the cultural right), Hamilton’s books can all be found in art stores.

del Verrocchi’s David is a lithe, coltish youth.

In antiquity the nude was accepted as a subject for art; it took Christianity, and its disdain for the material world, to apply the fig leaf. It wasn’t until the late Middle Ages before Eve, for example, could be portrayed as a woman. Today we see a curiously Victorian and selectively applied feminism doing the work of the inquisitor.

The Web is ostensibly broadening, but it is actually narrowing. The range of acceptable discourse, as was acknowledged in “The Manufacture of Consent,” is perhaps narrower than it has ever been. In the political sphere this has been obvious. We are asked to pretend that there is a left (Democrats) and a right (Republicans).

Anyone with a passing understanding of political history knows that the Democrats are a center-right party, and in modern Europe it would be considered as such. The U.S.’s “far left” is almost entirely just FDR-style Democrat. Some questions are never asked in the mainstream, such as “Why do so few people vote?” or “Why do the Democrats and Republicans agree on almost all issues?” and currently “What does the oligarch theater of the impeachment hearings do for the poor and ill and the hopeless of the nation?”

The Web, especially in social media, actually narrows what is acceptable in the public sphere, because all moral systems are supposed to be taken into account. (What actually happens is that a few people at the headquarters of social media companies decide what is acceptable, with predictably disastrous [and at times hilarious] results.) What is fine in New York may be anathema in New Delhi or Riyadh. These moral systems, as they apply to photographs of people, span the spectrum of abolishing all portrayals of humans as idolatry to the most extreme libertine.

Since today’s mainstream media seeks to keep us always afraid of our neighbor, and always expecting the worst from him or her, we tend to respond to images with set patterns of responses to apply to categories of images. Trump has us hammering away on our keyboards, sending a message he will never read. Crime cases have us responding with similarly boiler-plate answers.

The portrayal of minors or young women in fashion magazines, in provocative poses, goes unnoticed, except by cultural conservatives. These are far worse and more damaging than the image here presented because they convey a cultural norm. The smug cultural left makes the mistake of seeing people as “little lower than the angels,” practically devoid of an animal nature at all. (Today this notion is applied mainly to men; it is chic for women to brag about, for example, waking up in a different bed every Sunday morning.)

The contemporary world swirls with this dizzying array of mutually contradictory values, often taught in the political theaters that were formerly college English Departments. The most puzzling thing for me, given the rise of the new Victorian morality, was the mainstream acceptance of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” made into “Game of Thrones” on HBO.

Mainstream pornography in “Game of Thrones.”

The popularity of this dire display of depraved humanity had its forerunner in movies like “Pulp Fiction.” Creatively filmed killings are now “dark humor.” There is a mile-wide disconnect between morality in how it is practiced and professed, depending on the location of the acts in question. Morality is strictly a la carte now.

In the video-game industry (which makes more money than the movie and music industries combined, and is thus worthy of study), representation is worried over to the tune of thousands of comments, the same that pervade the political sphere to no good purpose.

Meanwhile the content of these games, many of which contain brutal acts of violence, are taken in stride. If you go to a “woke” video-game website like RockPaperShotgun, you can see this in action. It is of great concern that the character performing the disemboweling of another character “looks like humanity.” You can almost hear the developers saying “This was a chance to make the chainsaw-wielder a person of color.” Meanwhile, the human subconscious sees no difference between what is image and what is real.

The judge famously and unhelpfully said he knew it (pornography) when he saw it. The way I see it, Hamilton’s photos are practically demure compared to what is allowed today.

by David Hamilton

Like Bad Generals, the Mainstream Media Are Fighting the Last War

The half-dozen corporations that own the mainstream media are trying to resuscitate the big media brands so they can have the power to eliminate candidates like Yang. MSNBC tried this in the latest “debate.”

I don’t know anything about Yang, but if his boycott helps shrink MSNBC’s viewership a little, then I’ll join the Yang Bangers in spirit, at least for a second. Oh, it’s Yang Gang? I like mine better.

The big media companies’ star performers can be be fact-checked by anyone with the time and interest to do so. Some of the media have tried to usurp this role, but of course they are tainted. They will pore over a remark from Bernie Sanders for days and let whoppers from other candidates go unnoticed. Along with polls, this is just another form of manufacturing consent

As Will Menacker of Chapo Trap House pointed out on the Useful Idiots podcast, what really upsets the David Brooks and Brett Stephens of the world is that educated lay-people often not only do a better job than they do, but some are even getting paid for it through schemes like Patreon.

Imagine a careerist like Stephens, who over the years has accepted the conventional wisdom of the corporate boardroom and molded himself into the kind of conservative milquetoast that fits in at the New York Times. In person the man even looks transparent in his ordinariness, or like a pod person whose brain is kept in a jar in the New York Times cryogenic lab.

Instead of acquiring the perks that used to go with such a job, he’s called a bed-bug. Not only that. He is so out of touch that he doesn’t know the rules have changed. He doesn’t know that his rising in the hierarchy hasn’t made his opinions suddenly more valuable. Instead it’s done the opposite.

There aren’t just three TV networks plus PBS. There isn’t a “Newspaper of record.” No one today would accept Cronkite, after a 25-minute newscast, saying “That’s the way it is.” They’d laugh, and if interested, go online to fact check him.

Before Trump, presidential nominees were chosen by the mainstream media, the donor class, and the political parties. Trump ran against their so-called expertise in politics and won, because all of those institutions have plummeted in popularity. This wasn’t a “wake-up call” for the guardians of the orthodoxy of the elite at these institutions; they hit the snooze button labeled “four more years.”

Those three categories are very closely interrelated. The donor class of the super-rich runs the media and buys political party influence. So Jeff Bezos doesn’t like the Democratic field and calls up Bloomberg to ask him to run. This is the very thing that most people today absolutely despise. But the ultra-rich don’t know it because they have no connection to ordinary people anymore.

People who work in the media today have absolutely no idea where the voters are. They work to keep in place an economic system that benefits only a few people. Instead of reporting on the people in power, they act as courtiers, become more like them every day. Eventually they become the same people. We can picture them like the Russian nobility, who spoke French to each other so as not to be understood by the plebs. Or in isolated Versailles, wondering why the plebs don’t eat cake if they are short on bread.