The Brutalization of Man Through Art
By Jeremy Hausotter
Dec. 12, 2021
Aesthetics is a troublesome topic for many people. We as a culture and society are gripped by the Aesop’s axiom, that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Brutalism as a term in art describes a movement in architecture emphasizing monolithicity, geometry, and rough, naked building materials; in other words, a cold, hard, objective, unfeeling, mathematical statement about the buildings we are supposed to live and work in. What I want to do is define brutalism in a different manner. Brutalism as an architectural movement is merely a symptom of what I am referring to. My concern is the brutalization of man through his consumption of aesthetic objects.
We, first of all, must make a distinction between art and aesthetic objects. An object is an aesthetic object because it is the bearer of aesthetic qualities. All works of art are aesthetic objects, but not all aesthetic objects are art. An aesthetic object becomes art only when it possesses aesthetic value. This is still an insufficient understanding, however, for art is also something produced by man. Art, properly speaking, is something man creates. Nature and the human person can be bearers of aesthetic value, but neither are art unless we wish to adopt a theoanalogical expanded meaning where we consider creation the masterpieces of God, who is the Supreme Artist, but such is not our intention here. It suffices for our purposes to leave our meaning of art at this somewhat vague level as an aesthetic object produced by man that is the bearer of aesthetic value.
St. Augustine famously argued in his City of God that there are two societies, the society of saints and the society of the damned. This statement has several consequences. Each has their own cultures. The cultures of the saintly and the damned are intermixed in this life. It is our condition as fallen humanity that the two coexist together. It is not a peaceful coexistence, but a cultural war. It is an eschatological war, an apocalyptic one, one whose resolution is the Final Judgment where the salvation of each and every one of us is on the line. We are reminded of this concerning the parable of the weeds growing amongst the wheat (cf. Matt 13:24-29).
The society of the saintly and that of the damned emanate two cultures. With culture comes plays, novels, books, television shows, movies, music, musicals, language, and social interactions. All of these are demarcated on a gradient scale between these two societies. Some belong to saintly society, some to the society of the damned. And yet, others are a mixture of wheat and chaff (cf Matt. 3:12).
The culture of the damned is a leech lacking all authentic creativity. It is the creativity of fallen humanity. The perversion of human nature leads to the perversion of man’s capacity for creativity. Language and its uses are an excellent example of this. There are more slang words for a whore or slut than there are for a virtuous wife. Even the phrase “woman of easy virtue” is slang for a slut. There are today many synonyms for slut, such as hoe and thot, which arose out of our society’s continual acceptance of the sexual revolution. With sexual freedom came new language to describe those freedoms and actions, within which our society is still within the downward spiral.
We see this likewise manifested with jokes. Comedy has become overtly sexualized, whether it is high-schoolers or Hollywood films. Comedy has also become “darkened”. There is a “dark comedy” that is grisly, macabre, and utilizes grave material such as Nazi-Shoah or dead baby jokes.
We see this in how language is used. The increase in profanity has increasingly brutalized man’s ability to speak coherently. How are we to articulate ourselves if every other word is a ‘damn’ or ‘f-word’? The reversion of the hierarchy of values for a hierarchy of anti-values has led us to praising the movies with the most profanity. Is this not this a selling point of Pulp Fiction after all?
The abuse of language in its various manifestations arises from an abuse within ourselves as disordered, fallen humanity. The brutalization of man through art occurs when we celebrate our fallenness. Such a celebration is a glorification of evil, for we are celebrating sin, depravity and brokenness. From within this movement emanates the revolt against values and the enthronement of anti-values. The creative activities of man are turned against himself and authentic value in favor of anti-value. Creativity becomes reduced to a mere cleverness, for aesthetic objects such as lewd jokes lack all pretension of being creative. Some can certainly be clever, but never creative in its true meaning.
Our aesthetic practices have been dominated by a twofold pursuit of those which glorify our depravity and that which shocks, disturbs, moves, or brings about feelings and sensations. These two movements push each other to and beyond each newly found and exposed border. The historians of art, music, and film can easily trace the progression of these movements in 20th century American society.
This progression is the result of the acceptance of the proposition that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. For if we generalize this principle to be true of all aesthetic values and not just the value of beauty itself, then we have no grounds to state that some aesthetic objects are ugly, trivial, boring, overly sexualized, and ultimately opposed to true art and aesthetic values. There is furthermore no reason to avoid the acceptance of a second proposition, namely, the enthronement of fallen humanity.
The overthrow of values and their replacement with anti-values have led us down a dark path which has confused us over the authentic meaning of art, the ethics of its consumption, and the production of aesthetic objects. Society glorifies anti-values at the expense of aesthetic value, and we see this in many ways.
As a society we praise sexual immorality over and against sexual purity. Virginity, for example, is treated as a joke and the object of derision. Sexual deviancy is instead promoted. As a result of this reversal of preference for antivalue over value, our ethical principle, as a society, for “ethical sex” is the principle of consent. If there’s consent, then the sexual act is permitted. Cutting, rape, bondage, whipping, multiple partners, members of the same-sex, dogs, cows, anything and everything is perverted for the sake of sexual gratification. There are some groups that even advocate for pedophilia, but society today is not yet ready to grant its approval. But why, if consent is the determining factor for sexual permissibility?
All of this gets translated into art. The Portland Art Museum in some respects was a glorified titty exhibition the last time I was there. Gradually, we begin to lose our understanding of what constitutes as pornography versus art. Films and TV shows have increasingly become pornographic and we as a society not only accept it, but have embraced and celebrated this transformation. After all, the revolt against sexual norms has been praised by critics for several decades now. Film hermeneutics in general are based upon the portrayals of race and gender. These are the two predominant principles for evaluating content. Movies and TV shows fail to meet critical expectations when either principle is not enacted. Then one is either a racist or unenlightened rube who has not learned of liberalization of sex.
The historical development of film, whether films or TV shows, in regards to its treatment of sexuality, has been one of pushing boundaries and exposing those lusts of broken humanity for the sake of rejecting traditional moral norms. As this historical movement progressed, man became more and more brutalized by sexual deviancy. Deviant sex acts, adultery, fornication, led to same-sex encounters, sleeping around, to sex toys, bondage, and more. Sexual deviancy itself becomes a joke to laugh at, to be disarmed by the malpractice of anti-comedy, enshrouded with the charms of perverted, witty humor.
The sexual brutalization of man is also accomplished through music. The degradation of language led to a degradation of music. Songs praising adultery, fornication, sleeping around, to calling women sluts and thots to be used for sexual gratification: all contribute to the brutalization of man.
Man, as a sexually brutalized individual, over time unconsciously falls into this ideal of brutalized and liberalized sex. What is wrong with it if there is consent and everyone is doing it? Such is how we are tempted to think, that since the majority has ruled it is then morally allowed.
The sex drive itself becomes brutalized. Music and film inspire the drive itself. We become aroused, inhibiting our ability to think rationally. The rhythm of our music itself has become more sexual, appealing and exciting the sex drive. It is no wonder why dancing today has morphed into sexual gesticulations and protosex acts. Men and women “grinding” against each others genitals is itself a reenactment of the sex act itself. It is not a stretch to even call it foreplay since the frenzied arousal of sexual energy is naturally inclined to its release.
Society’s response to the brutalization of man through sex is simple: “just dance” as Lady Gaga’s song states. Who cares, live in the moment, forget about eternity. Forget about what is noble and true. Just dance. You only live once (YOLO). This response of “just dance” is emblematic of a society who does not care for its soul who has forgotten what is meant by nobility and the demand of virtue. Just dance. Be indifferent to reality. Absorb yourself within the pulsating beat as you perform ritualized protosex acts.
Such an attitude is exemplified by our views towards drugs. As we accept drugs more and more, we also accept sexual deviancy more and more. These two trajectories have a positive correlation. Our attitude towards alcohol likewise follows this same path. We become more and more accepting of drunkenness as a normal or even as a valued state of mind. This acceptance is similar with other drugs.
All three have a common denominator of warring against rationality and our ability to reason. Sex, drugs, and drunkenness all go together in this carefree, live for the moment attitude. “Just dance” means “just party”, blow out your brains with sex, drugs, and throbbing music. Who cares if you cannot remember your name, where you are at, where you were last night, or whose bed you are in, just dance. All three trajectories brutalize man. Their praise in film and TV further propagates this brutalizing indifference.
As the common man becomes more brutalized, he becomes more violent. Drugs, drunkenness, and sex drive bring him to a frenzy. He becomes more violent because his ability to think is slowly more and more incapacitated. This frenzied being becomes more irrational, more driven by drives, instincts, and emotion; and this in turn leads to the proliferation of violence.
Film and music are ever more violent: shocking deaths, the various ways man is dismembered in horror, action, and war films, the spraying of flesh and gore over the screen, and the general contempt for life through violence. Sex itself became violent. The premise of Alien is to instill the feeling of being raped and brutalized as the viewer while watching the characters get murdered by penis and vagina monsters. Here, sex and violence are united in a unique way to prey upon the human mind in order to brutalize him. Ultimately, life is worthless, and is only meaningful in proportion to how much you “just dance”. Our heroes have turned into anti-heroes. Cops are bad guys, bad guys are good guys. We even erect statues of drug addicts and criminals instead of those who exemplified heroic virtue. Do not think, just dance.
Videogames have embraced gore, violence, and sex. These same trajectories now become elements we live through our characters. We now possess the technology to act out virtually every deviancy and evil practice. We can abuse hookers and bazooka police cars while murdering at whim.
Overall, through film, music, and videogames we are becoming more and more brutalized by anti-values, by the praise of folly itself, that our fallen status is the norm by which we ought to live. The pursuit of what produces shock or seems interesting are the guiding norms for doing “art”. Art has turned into a striving or pushing back against the “taboos” of Christianity and basic moral principles. As a result, sex and the human person are trivialized in their subsequent brutalization.
The pursuit of shock has led to the seeking of generating abuse, shock, and trauma within the consumer. As we watch brutalized films, we become abused, shocked, and numbed at man’s cruelty. Our sense of morality is impinged upon by the assault of the senses. We as the consumers become targets of abuse. We have already mentioned the movie Alien. The audience is supposed to feel and experience the trauma and sensations of being raped, hunted down by an unfeeling sexual predator bent on sexual domination. Male viewers are supposed to experience the horror of homosexual rape as the vagina shaped facehugger alien thrusts its penis down the throats of its victims and impregnates them with alien death. The viewer is supposed to feel abused, used, violated and cheapened. These are the goals of the movie as explained by the screenwriter himself. It is no small wonder as to why the aliens were shaped like genitalia and the mothership as the female reproductive system.
We are supposed to experience fear and horror. Horror films have become so brutalized that people are scarred by them years later. It is not a fragility of human nature, but an overwhelming sense of despair and experiencing of abuse that brutalizes the viewer and scars them emotionally and psychologically. Our brutalization through media consumption has led to our being traumatized. Traumatization is the new norm. Tarantino films are based on this principle of traumatization.
One way this is accomplished is through the repeated assaults of cursing. The more language is degraded, the more the speaker himself is degraded, and the more the listener himself becomes abused. The brutalization of art is a brutalization of both the producers and consumers. Another is the spontaneous, brutal violence.
Another manifestation of these trends is the approval of ugly. There is a role the ugly can have in art. However, what we see today is not ugly pursued so much for the purpose of aesthetic value, but ugly in the pursuit and erection of anti-values. Ugly itself becomes a norm. It is interesting. It is a conversation piece. It becomes banal. The ugliness of sin is itself glorified.
The glorification of sin, ugly, shock and the “interesting” makes art itself boring and banal. It becomes trivial. Its triviality sets it opposed to beauty. One tragedy of modern art is the generalized process of banalization. As art becomes banal, we become banal. As Ivan Turgenev wrote, “if one has nothing but trivialities to look at from morning till night, then oneself becomes trivial”, (A Month in the Country), and similarly Victor Hugo, “one who reads stupidities is not without punishment”, (Les Misérables). What we consume aesthetically challenges us existentially, whether we are aware of it or not. We live in aesthetic despair, whether we are aware of it or not.
Our lack of awareness is a deeper indication of our overall despair and blindness due to the brutalization of man. We are in despair and do not realize it as a society, even as murder, depression and suicide statistics increase. We trivialize ourselves and drive ourselves into despair because we lack authentic value and turn to cheap goods sold at the dollar store. How are we to understand how to consume aesthetic objects that are healthy for the soul when all one has is corrosive poison? The impotability of modern art has poisoned contemporary man. Many of us are hence dying a slow, unconscious death, unaware of the fact that the death grip of brutalization is around our throats, ever tightening its chokehold.
The brutalization of man through aesthetic objects is only a mere manifestation of the drama of man’s existential crisis from rejecting God. The rejection of God requires the aesthetic brutalization of man. This process of brutalization is nothing other than the experience of the culture of the damned, and why this process is inherently traumatic. This makes the solution rather obvious: Christ and Christ alone. The conversion of souls leads to the conversion of culture and society. This is the war we must wage.
Pandemonium by John Martin