Reading: Curtis White, The Spirit of Disobedience: Resisting the Charms of Fake Politics, Mindless Consumption, and the Culture of Total Work (Sausalito: PoliPointPress, 2007), 19-68.
This selection of White’s book includes two chapters, which I will take up separately.
In chapter 2, “Imagination Dead Imagine,” White begins to formulate a “spirit of disobedience” by looking at the spiritual role of art. Over the course of the chapter, he considers four main artistic expressions, including the film Office Space, the novel The Da Vinci Code, Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and the film Brokeback Mountain. Interesting, while he defends Hamlet and Brokeback as authentic art, he condemns Office Space and the Code as betrayals of art. The latter two works, in fact, White sees as representative of a “self-disciplining” or self censorship, which is another way to say that they are sell-outs (21). He chose these two contemporary blockbusters for criticism, however, because they both exhibit a certain subversive potential, which he pretty persuasively argues that they betray. I want to save a more detailed dicussion of his criticism for class, but it’s worth noting that White uses Office Space to elucidate “our” fear-hate relationship with what he calls the “corporate life-world” (24), and he uses the Code as a way to point to our spiritual impoverishment. His criticism of these two works (and his positive analyses of Hamlet and Brokeback) plays a key role in his larger critique of American culture. In short, we should pay attention to what White is saying about good art and fraudulent art.
Chapter 3, “Beyond the Golden Rule,” is a more trying chapter to read — especially if one doesn’t share White’s hostility toward the status quo — because he shifts from a critique of our culture’s art to our overall way of life. Although White unleashes attacks here on Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, U.S. foreign policy, and Wal-Mart, it’s important to note that the chapter is not in any simple way a liberal screed or rant. Yes, White’s targets in the chapter are common subjects of liberal criticism, but he uses the chapter to make a larger point that transcends the liberal-conservative divide. In a nutshell, he is arguing that the Golden Rule of Christianity is “unavailable to us in the present” (27). The various segments of this argument deserve consideration, but he introduces one concept that seems central to the chapter and the book: the idea of “radical evil” (48).
These two chapters leave us with a great deal to discuss, so let me close by raising just a few of questions.
- Why does White see Office Space and The Da Vinci Code as betrayals? What do they betray?
- How does White define real art? How does art fit with his larger concept of disobedience?
- What does White mean by “radical evil,” and how does the concept play into his argument about the current inaccessibility of the Golden Rule?
— D. Voelker