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In Depth

How Art World Fascists Like Boyd Rice Co-Opt Sixties Counterculture—And Get Gallery Shows Despite Being Nazis

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How Art World Fascists Like Boyd Rice Co-Opt Sixties Counterculture—And Get Gallery Shows Despite Being Nazis
Boyd Rice and Whalesong Partridge. Image via Boyd Rice's Instagram account

Greenspon Gallery recently canceled its two-person show with Darja Bajagić and Boyd Rice after Rice was outed as a fascist. Artist-resource listserv Invisible Dole circulated an email whose subject line read: “WARNING: neo-nazi showing in nyc”; the Greenspon show was shut down in a week. Rice, an experimental musician and visual artist, has denied being a Nazi, claiming that he is only a cultural provocateur. But Rice has confirmed long-standing ties to white supremacist groups and fascist icons like Charles Manson and Anton LaVey in addition to using his own work to disseminate fascist propaganda. In the eighties, Rice appeared on Race and Reason, a TV show hosted by Tom Metzger, former Klan Wizard and founder of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR). When Metzger asks Rice if industrial music can serve as "a new propaganda instrument emerging for White Aryans," Rice agrees. "Can you say things in music that you can't say in print or in a speech?" Metzger asks. "I think you can," responds Rice. "You can say things through it that you wouldn't be able to just come out and say." In her 2005 memoir, Drugs are Nice, Rice's ex-wife, Lisa Crystal Carver, also accuses Rice of physically assaulting her. 

Unfortunately, Rice is not the first art world fascist to get––or almost get––a big gallery show. “#DaddyWillSaveUs,” which curator Lucian Wintrich described as New York’s “first conservative art show,” featured “Twinks4Trump,” a photo series of twinks in Make America Great Again hats, and alt-right public figure Milo Yiannopolous "working it" in a tub of fake blood. In 2017, London gallery LD50 hosted openly fascist speakers in a “Neoreaction conference,” in which audience members voiced support for former KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke. Both shows were ostensibly run on the premise that the participants weren’t “real” fascist. Instead, they were vanguards, pushing the limits of “open dialogue” or “good taste.” Why does the art world keep mistaking fascists for avant-garde artists? Understanding this, perhaps surprisingly, requires analyzing the links between Rice, Wintrich, and their ideological opposites: sixties counter-culture. 

 Boyd Shirt 3Rice's latest self-designed T-shirt. Image via: Rice's Instagram account.

The essay “We are All Very Anxious,” penned by anti-authoritarian communist group Plan C, argues that each era of capitalism uses its own particular form of emotional control. In the nineteenth century during the Industrial Revolution, capitalism ruled via misery. “The dominant narrative was that capitalism leads to general enrichment. The public secret of this narrative was the misery of the working class.” Anti-capitalist struggle during this time period thus aimed at relieving misery using tactics such as strikes, mutual aid, and wage struggle; these tools are still useful wherever misery prevails.

When misery stopped being the most effective control mechanism, capitalist shifted to boredom. While the Industrial Revolution facilitated a society split between the wealthy and the poor, the Fordist system offered job security, healthcare, and affordable consumer products to the majority of its workers. But in exchange, jobs were reduced to mindless, repetitive, boredom-inducing tasks, while mass culture required conformity. Of course, not all jobs were boring, and most people were allowed to access this kind of stable employment, but this fundamental model––“security in exchange for boredom” ––structured the Fordist economy. “Mid-century capitalism gave everything needed for survival, but no opportunities for life.”

 SpectacleCover image for Guy Debord's classic Situationist text, Society of the Spectacle. Image via: Medium.

During the sixties, cultural and political groups began to rebel against this forced boredom and cultural conformity. Picking up from Dada, Surrealism, and anti-authoritarian Marxism, the Situationist International, which ran from 1957-1972, argued that Marx’s theories of alienation and commodity fetishism were no longer limited to the workplace; now, they extended to every aspect of life, as individual expression and interpersonal relationships were increasingly expressed via commodities. These forms of mediated social relations was called “the spectacle,” which, significantly, the Situationists sought to disrupt via staged “situations” meant to reawaken viewers to their “true” desires and the joy of unmediated everyday life.

 PlayboyPlayboy No. 1 (1964) by Situationist artist Jacqueline de Jong. Image via Chateau Shatto.

Perhaps Rice, like the Situationists, believes that daily life is dull alienation which can only be disrupted via transgressive spectacle. As he said in a 2013 interview with Self-Titled, "If you don't piss somebody off, what are you doing?" But, because he’s a fascist, Rice blames this alienation on humans and human culture, which, he thinks, have elevated themselves above an inherently amoral “nature, which," as he argues in a 2008 book of his essays, Standing in the Two Circles: The Collected Works of Boyd Rice, "is entirely indifferent to subjective judgments such as 'good' and 'bad.'" In attempting to be "moral," humans only alienate themselves from nature. Instead, Rice suggests returning to nature by endorsing endorses Fascist tenets such as Social Darwinism, in which the "strongest"––which, based on Rice's misogyny and white supremacy, could only be white men––can "rule" however they see fit. “Nature recognizes no equality at any level of its order; humanity preaches an all-pervasive equality and freely hands out unearned 'rights'... In short: humanity is Democratic, nature is Fascist” (63). Or, as he writes more explicitly in a 1994 text, "Revolt Against Penis Envy" (the title's acronym is RAPE), he writes, "Now is the time to dominate. Now is the time to rape." As for planned spectacles, Rice doesn’t have to try hard. In America, state fascism is no longer scandalous. The police kill black people indiscriminately, ICE deports migrants illegally. But individual expressions of fascism––especially when tied to Nazi regalia––are still threatening and attention-grabbing. Blatant fascism could be grounds for hate speech in, for example, a workplace setting. But in contemporary art, the legacy of Situationist spectacle facilitates Rice’s avoidance of accountability. In the last instance, he can always say that he was “just kidding,” just being ironic. 

Boyd and painting 2Darja Bajagić and Boyd Rice in front of one of Rice's paintings. Image via Rice's Instagram Account

Even if he is, Plan C’s point is that it doesn’t matter: struggling against boredom is outmoded because capitalism absorbed the struggle against boredom. The Situationists’ focus on the minute aspects of everyday life––emotions, casual social interactions––became new sites of exploitation. Chatting with friends via Facebook messenger produces value for Facebook; chatting IRL likely also creates value for Facebook, as your words are algorithmically processed by Alexa, or your phone’s voice detection programs. The act of “disruption” has been absorbed by post-Fordist capitalism as well. No longer seen as a danger to society, “disrupting” has been reframed as economical or cultural innovation, as tech start-ups pride themselves on “disrupting” traditional industries.

If Plan C is right, then boredom is no longer the dominant mode of social control. Instead, this post-boredom, post-Fordist economy rules via anxiety. Police state surveillance is omnipresent. Social media requires “voluntary self-exposure”: every aspect of your life can, if you want, be viewed and judged by others online––which is stressful. In addition to increased surveillance, post-Fordism rules by precarity, “a type of insecurity which treats people as disposable so as to impose control. Precarity differs from misery in that the necessities of life are not simply absent. They are available, but withheld conditionally.” Freelance labor induces precarity, as do student loans, month-to-month rentals, and a lack of health insurance.

If Rice wanted to be truly transgressive, then he and his art would struggle against the sources of anxiety. Instead, he aligns with them, since fascism means solidarity with whatever has the most power, which, in this case, is capitalism and the state.

 No Book 3Boyd Rice with his latest book, No. Image via Boyd Rice's Instagram account

 

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