Matsuo Bashō, "Lady Butterfly"

Bashō witnesses a butterfly with resplendent, patterned wings hovering over an orchid.

Matsuo Bashō, "Lady Butterfly"

On "fascistic kitsch"

As the country continues to collapse, not a few of us are watching to see if the former President can be held accountable for anything. Anything at all. His fans and his party are up in arms over an FBI raid which seized documents he was not supposed to have. They're threatening "war" as well as sending death threats to public officials.

I'm not sure what to make of the nonstop, loud barking and bullying. The extremist rhetoric must be taken seriously—just today, there was an attack on an FBI office—and also, this is the first time this party and its leader have encountered the law the way other Americans have.

For myself, I'm thinking about fascist kitsch. How increasingly violent threats and actions stand side-by-side with clutch purses sold at a conference dedicated to spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories:

Steven Monacelli, writing about CPAC in the Texas Observer, quoted Hunter S. Thompson about this being an endgame for a society of Nazis:

The entire scene, a veritable circus of far-right fascistic kitsch, brings to mind what legendary journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote about Las Vegas: “The Circus-Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the sixth Reich.”

And I can't get out of my mind Stephanie Mencimer's "Trump Merch, Rabid Fans, Disgraced Ex-Officials: Inside the Right-Wing Conference Circuit." People aren't just meeting other awful people at right-wing conferences. There's a lot of money to be made, as Mencimer tells it: February this year I headed to the swank Rosen Shingle Creek hotel in Orlando, where thousands of CPAC attendees had paid at least $295 for general admission to the four-day confab. An additional $375 would provide access to the Ronald Reagan dinner, where Glenn Beck spoke. Platinum tickets, which entitled holders to exclusive events with legislators, backstage access to famous speakers, and a photo op with a main stage celeb, ran $7,000 and higher.

There are a lot of dots to connect. How aesthetics and politics work in tandem; capitalism creating memorabilia for the sake of selling anything; the proliferation and indulgence of conspiracy theories; a will to violence which has to present itself as harmless at times. I can't connect them all yet. I'll say this: it looks to me like the kitsch is an excuse. A way of saying "we're simple people with simple tastes. You have no right to tell us anything. We're justified in any action we take." It's an excuse which reaches toward innocence and notions about childhood, and maybe I've said more than I realize, as I think about the war extremists wage on children knowing anything other than what their parents dictate.

Matsuo Bashō, "Lady Butterfly"

Bashō witnesses a butterfly with resplendent, patterned wings hovering over an orchid. Indulging and carrying the flower's scent, the butterfly is aerial, at a remove from the orchid. The moment is ecstatic, illustrating a puzzle about beauty and being. Independent of personification, a creature in the natural world seems to enjoy what we call the trappings of beauty: a flower's exotic shape and distinct colors; pleasant scents; even its own elaborate wings. But we humans know beauty is often crudely exploited for the sake of power, if it does not serve as a basis for exclusion or harm directly. There's a reason we'll call profound truths ugly.

"Lady Butterfly"
Matsuo Bashō (translator unknown)

Lady Butterfly
perfumes her wings
by floating over this orchid

Can the natural world give us beauty beyond power and domination? Nowadays I feel it safest to treat beauty as a a crude, dehumanizing system of classification unless one knows exactly what one wants from it. The main trouble lies in the snap judgments it creates. —Someone doesn't look like they belong? Then they don't. Someone has other gifts or virtues? They're irrelevant.— The terrible traditionalism fascists promote in order to bully anyone different is not only a nihilist power move. The fascists are aesthetes, too, though eventually they will purify their own for the sake of power.

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Still, I'd like better skin with fewer scars. The colognes I really like are Dior and Calvin Klein's Eternity Now. I want nicer clothes, a brighter office, a clean and elegant living space. I want to know I'm taking care, meeting standards which matter. One could say this is beauty/fashion/lifestyle's ultimate trick. A desire to know you're investing in yourself, you're not letting life slip away, manipulated into believing others are unfit for society. All the same, the efforts I make on my behalf help my confidence. They don't immediately push me into feeling I'm better than others. Rather, I can remind myself I'm here and can do things of consequence.

"Consequence," to be sure, is a word which does not seem to fit the image of a butterfly reveling in perfume. But I'm thinking now that it does make sense here. I don't believe "beauty for beauty's sake" is a serious explanation of anything, nor do I see a butterfly interacting with a flower as completely inconsequential. There are small consequences, but ones that ripple. Some perfume, some dancing in perfume, a confident butterfly, a fulfilled flower. A picture of nature as active, thriving, striving. Beautiful? You could call it that, but maybe it's better to just watch.