“… empty vessles make the loudest sound.”
In the sixties there was a genre of films depicting a very gritty type of social realism. In them, people drank too much, and yelled too often and too loudly. At the time, such fare was viewed as brutally frank and unflinching in its realism. In reality, of course, very few people lead lives as neurotically charged and over-the-top as characters in a John Casavettes film. In retrospect such a genre constitutes more of an unrecognized variety of kitsch than of social realism.
Tomorrows kitsch already exists today (unrecognized) in the politics of transgression. The evangels of transgression will tell you they are depraved, degenerate killing machines whose mission it is to annihilate taboos and slaughter sacred cows en mass until the streets run red with blood. That they luxuriate in filth and squalor, inhabit “the abyss.” Their mind is a wretched cesspool, and their soul a vast poisonous volcano spewing forth blood, semen and feces.
Ugly words on the printed page no more constitute an act of transgression than happy platitudes painted on a protest placard constitute realities of any sort. They are empty and meaningless. Genuine acts of transgression are equally meaningless, though some might constitute criminality. Advocates of transgression seldom make the transition from word to deed, except in the context of the arts. Every now and again you’ll see the performer who strips naked and smears themselves with shit, blood or some disgusting substance; but this hardly constitutes transgression in the context of performance art: it’s sorta been its stock in trade for the last three or four decades. And too, things you see in the context of a gallery or rock venue are stripped of any visceral impact because such milieus are marketplaces where the commodity of transgression is bought, sold and put on public display. If you see a homeless man on the street inserting a Barbie Doll up his ass, it might be genuinely disquieting; see the same man doing the same thing in a gallery and you ponder the possible subtexts of such an act. It ceases to be real, passing instead into the realm of mere abstraction. And advocates of transgression very often deal in abstractions.
The decadence and depravity that sound so rebellious and glamourous on the printed page are often boring, if not pathetic, in real life. It is all too easy in words, to romanticize junkies, prostitutes, and degenerates. Having them as participants in your life is a different matter altogether.
Life’s losers are seldom romantic or exciting, much less good company. More often than not, acts of transgression in the real world lead not to liberation, but rather imprisonment. In a land and time where no amount of hyperbole, exaggeration or overstatement can constitute even a thought crime, real acts are still punishable by law. But very few proponents of transgression resort to real actions, when words alone can create controversy. Or garner attention.
Mark my words: in ten years or so, the literature of transgression will be a subject of lighthearted bemusement alongside global warming and other such blips in the modern consciousness, all of which will make the hula-hoop fad seem a serious cultural phenomenon in comparison.