Three Monkeys Online

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Capitalist Realism

Another explanation for communist propaganda's detachment from reality is that it sought to project an ideal future rather than describe the far from ideal present.(18) Certainly if advertising is considered a part of pop culture this explanation is particularly apt in today's conditions. No one needs to be told that advertisers project an ideal world. Suffice it to mention that staple, the three generation family, with the grandparents portrayed by two 45 year old models made to look TV old by having their hair dyed almost as white as their teeth.The similarities between Poland then and everywhere now do not end there. Product placement, it turns out, is not so new after all. In one 1970s potboiler, Barańczak notes, its hero “as a matter of principle drinks Budafok rather than Martineau or Napoleon.”(19) The preference for home-grown, Eastern bloc brands over Western drinks is there for obviously ideological reasons. (Budafok was produced in Hungary.) When the camera lingers on Jake in “Sweet Home Alabama” drinking Budweiser beer (the western, not the eastern variety) with the label clearly visible, the reason is similarly obvious and hardly any less ideological. Likewise when Ben Affleck drinks Heineken in “Daredevil” and when Pierce Brosnan does just about anything in a James Bond film.

None of this is to say that good quality films and books don't exist in the modern marketplace. A brief look at the history of censorship should lead us to expect this: Andrzej Wajda and Krzyszytof Kieślowski made fine films under communist censorship and Russian literature attained a golden age under czarist censorship in the nineteenth century. But it was not easy to gain the public's ear. The simplest way to control the flow of written information was to control the means of producing films and books – a given in a communist state. Thus, the novels so mercilessly reviewed by Barańczak enjoyed massive circulation while more deserving authors were given often ridiculously low print runs. No such state control exists in the West, but it seems to be unnecessary: at one point in Dublin last summer the critically acclaimed “In This World” was showing on one screen, for example, while “2 Fast 2 Furious” (sic) could be seen on at least eight, and “Dumb and Dumberer” (warning: “patrons may find part of this film offensive”) on no less than ten(20). The combined duties of the censor, the propagandist and the “engineers of the human soul” are now carried out by the market.

“The simplest duty of the writer is to enter the market and understand and feel its raucous significance.” These words do not come from a primer for budding airport novel writers; they were spoken by communist publicist Stefan Żółkiewski at the second convention of the Writers' Trade Union of Poland (ZZLP) in the late 1940s and anticipated the government's demand that writers draw inspiration from the experiences of the working masses.(21) In a 1949 article Poland's minister for culture wrote that internally divided characters, heroes bordering between positive and negative were unac
ceptable in literature because they “artificially confuse the problem” instead of “showing the inexorable logic in both man's fall and his march forward.”(22) Here then, at the very beginning of the communist regime in Poland is a blueprint for modern popular culture: know your market and give the public good guys and bad guys instead of complex, ambiguous characters. All that remains is to throw in some shallow moralising and a happy ending – also typical of socialist and capitalist realism.(23)

A version of this article first appeared on Indymedia Ireland


1. (April 6th 2003)
2. Mystery Net (April 6th 2003)
3.The Observer (April 6th 2003)
4. Stanisłąw Barańczak, Książki Najgorsze i parę innych ekcesów krytycznoliterackich, 2nd ed., a5, Poznań, 1990, p. 61.
5. Edward Możejko, Realizm socjalistyczny. Teoria. Rozwój. Upadek, TAiWPN, Kraków, 2001, p. 229.
6. Stanisłąw Barańczak, Poezja i duch Uogólnienia. Wybór esejów 1970-1995, Znak, Kraków, 1996, p. 10.
7. Barańczak, Książki Najgorsze, p. 28.
8. Barańczak, Książki Najgorsze, p. 43.
9. Barańczak, Książki Najgorsze, p. 51
10. Barańczak, Książki Najgorsze, p. 19.
11. Barańczak, Poezja i duch Uogólnienia, p. 23
12. Barańczak, Książki Najgorsze, p. 29.
13. Jadwiga Puzyna, “O dyskursie oceniającym i dyrektywnym w tekstach prasy codziennej,” Poradnik językowy, 1984, nr. 2, pp. 69-78, (71).
14. Możejko, Realizm socjalistyczny, p. 229.
15. Jerzy Kwiatkowski, “Ad absurdum,” Twórczość, 1960, nr. 12, pp. 123-127, (125).
16. See Możejko, Realizm socjalistyczny, p. 246.
17. Michał Głowiński, Mowa w stanie oblężenia 1982-1985, Warsaw, 1996, p. 89.
18. Michał Głowiński, Nowomowa po polsku, Warsaw, 1990, pp. 8-9.
19. Barańczak, Książki Najgorsze, p. 36.
20. Irish Times, June 23rd 2003, p. 21.
21. Henryk Markiewicz, Polskie teorie powieści. Od początku do schyłku XX wieku, Warsaw, 1998, p. 147.
22. Markiewicz, Polskie teorie powieści, 157.
23. Możejko, Realizm socjalistyczny, pp. 252, 229 and 248.

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