Pop Music and Fascism

by  and translated by Parvaneh Torkamani  /  January 2, 2015  / No comments

Can art ever lead to fascism?

Iranian singer Morteza Pashaei. Photo via Youtube user: Persian Music Vids

Last November, a young Iranian pop singer named Morteza Pashaei passed away from cancer. Thousands of people attended his funeral and many in cities across Iran lit candles in his memory. These gatherings were spontaneous and unplanned and surprised both the government and the opposition. The government tried to give this singer — whose songs are often about love — a religious face, and use him to its benefit. The opposition also tried to co-opt these gatherings and pointed out that there was an aspect of protest to them. Meanwhile, at the University of Tehran, a professor of sociology’s talks raised controversy. Professor Yousef Abazari attacked the musician and his fans severely, called his music and songs weak and worthless, and asked why people’s taste had so deteriorated that they would pour into the streets to mourn a third-rate singer. While most great artist intellectuals are ignored by society — he gave the example of Samuel Becket, whose funeral only three attended — he came to the conclusion that the government is trying to depoliticize society. According to the professor, attention to such low-grade music leads to pseudo fascism.

  1. Under Eastern Eyes, a column by Yaghoub Yadali
  2. “Enemy…terrorism…nuclear bomb…war.” These words are often used by American media to describe Iran. The image the media presents is often hazy, incomplete, and distorted. The political and military aspects of my country are covered mainly in a negative light.
  3. In Under Eastern Eyes (I have adopted the name from the novel Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad), I will write about those topics which American media either cannot or does not want to talk about. The emphasis will be on social and cultural aspects of Iran although, out of necessity, I will talk about politics, despite my despair.
  4. Under Eastern Eyes, a column by Yaghoub Yadali
  5. Yaghoub Yadali, born in 1970, is a writer and television director. His first work of fiction, the short-story collection Sketches in the Garden, was published in 1997. It was followed in 2001 by Probability of Merriment and Mooning, which was named book of the year by the Writers and Critics Award. His first novel, The Rituals of Restlessness, won the 2004 Golshiri Foundation Award for the best novel of the year and was named as one of the ten best novels of the decade by the Press Critics Award. He has also published many articles and reviews of literature and cinema in newspapers and magazines in Iran.

I doubt that masses of people’s attention to this kind of music will lead to fascism or pseudo fascism. As far as I know, in all societies there is always a difference between popular taste and that of intellectuals and learned people. This is not particular to Iranian society. For example, the majority of American music, films, and literature are produced with attention to the taste of the masses. Profit is the first concern here. Most of these products are not in accordance with intellectual taste but they have not led to fascism in society. One could possibly say that attention to popular music leads to fascism only in third world countries, where democracy is not an institution that opens room for discussion. Basically, how can art lead to fascism in society? At the most, one could speak about the control of capitalism and capitalists in a market determined by popular taste. It is an art that is dated. If there is democracy in society, it does not lead to fascism in that society and there is not much point in worrying about such a thing.

However, art leading to fascism could be a worry in societies where power is institutionalized in its personal and societal frameworks. In such societies, the government feels it has a right to create its people’s artistic taste. In that way, the concepts of governmental taste and independent taste are created in despotic regimes. Totalitarian governments can use art as tool for propaganda, but this use is not effective and is short lived. What “great” works of art, created as a result of propaganda, are still popular? Who could today claim that she or he knows about literature and not has read Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy? Meanwhile, authors such as Maxim Gorky or Mikhail Sholokhov, who the soviet government introduced as “true representatives” of great social unity, are not as well known and don’t have a much of a place in world literature. A movie like Triumph of the Will, made by Leni Riefenstahl in praise of Hitler, is only shown in film history classes. The making of Triumph of the Will, the writing of And Quiet Flows the Don, and the people’s support of these works, perpetuated Nazism and Communism as much as the Iranian people’s support for a third-rate singer.

The use of art for propaganda has an expiration date, of which there are many incidents. I don’t know of any occurrence where people’s taste for, let’s say, pop music or romance novels led to fascism or, on a lower level, strengthened or preserved it for a long period of time. To blame ordinary people for their taste is a simplistic notion.

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