The Age of Shiny Stuff

Americans have become obsessive about shine, gloss, polish, smoothness and superficial flawlessness.  Our new cars are very shiny, our magazines are glossy, our music is aurally spotless our art museums celebrate the machine made Warhols and now Murikamis and Koons.  The printing industry and commercial photographers have made shine a religion.  Legions of amateur painters obsess over quasi-photographic mimesis and spray this work with retina-scarring high- gloss varnish.  What are we trying to conceal in this collective fever, our consensus trance that must close all doors and windows on the uncertain or ambiguous?  Our gutted humanity?  Our emptiness?  We obsess about gloss as if we were only a single generation away from life in an earthen hovel with shine and polish being refuge from a collective memory of a daily struggle with cleanliness.  The problem with polish and shine is that, in this towering effort to obliterate imperfection, we are allowing  a smothering omnipresence of imperfection into our lives.  We live in glossy denial of our human touch, our marks and traces, of our imperfections.  The evidence of our being and our uniqueness as individuals is our uncomfortable secret. The essence of the modern movement in painting, manifest in the late paintings of Cezanne and Cubist painting and collage, is the destruction of resolution.  This principal of modernity still perplexes and frightens most Americans.  Cezanne re-introduced the notion of the human touch to painting.  He edited out polish, that had characterized western art for four hundred years for a deeper resolution.

We are now drowning in shiny stuff.  Our food is polished to its flavorless detriment.  The multitude of packages in a supermarket blow out our brains in their agonizingly competitive polish and shiny, glaring color.  Popular songs are polished by sound engineers until the music sparkles with vapid aridity down to the digitally accessible one-thousandth note.  The most popular television shows sparkle and shine from the layers of kleig-lit glass in every other scene, to the stretch and puff of every botoxed, lifted, implanted, nipped and tucked actress.  Actors abound with fluorescent teeth who could illuminate a scene by opening their mouths.  The set of every television talking head from sportstalk and national news/opinion bloviators to late night funny guys,  is a train-wreck of clashing, super-saturated color with colored patches crawling across the screen or flashing behind their heads.

We now swim like a great school of seduced, drugged, woozy fish following a vast array of spinning lures dipped in shiny shit of processed and poisoned substance and imagery as we swim into a vast net of financial oblivion.  Americans are force-fed shine and polish and specular reflection along with railroad tank carloads of cellulite-breeding, organ-clogging corn syrup as though we were pate’ geese, our ankles chained to our jobs (what jobs?) with our mouths forced open by a brain-numbing media onslaught - a shiny shitstorm of television, movies, magazines and all variety of consumer products.  The message:  If it doesn’t shine, it is not finished.  If there remains a micro-flaw, then truth will get in and destroy the beast or humanity might escape and nurture someone’s soul - heaven forfend!  If there exists in the product’s message an opening, a trace of the modern, of ambiguity or uncertainty then it is flawed, not yet ready for mass consumption.

We live in the age of the polished turd.  Ideas, products,, images, stories are all shined until antiseptic, soul-less and dead.  All information that issues from the corporate beast, the “vampire squid” of global capitalism must be shined, made palatable and seductive.  Shine glosses over evil or banality - take your pick.  The fact of shine reveals indefensible assertion, fear of ambiguity, a fear of open-ended soul-power.  Why is Cezanne widely acknowledged as the greatest painter of our epoch?  He faced down the purveyors of the paradigm of shiny shit and showed the world something deeper, something better, something more honest thus more beautiful.  Cezanne’s ragged, open-ended late landscapes invite the viewer to participate in the dance of creation, to “finish” his work in our own hearts.  In Steve Earle’s great anti-establishment anthem “Copperhead Road”, his rebellion is most deeply expressed, not in his gunning down U.S. government ATF agents who raided his pot patch but by the fact that he “shot a coat of primer” onto his Dodge Hemi (a black matte finish where shine goes to die) rather that submit his wheels to some conventional “Dukes of Hazzard” shiny paint job.