It was one hundred years ago, on July 17, 1918, that Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered — shot, bayoneted and bludgeoned — on the orders of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. Since his canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000, the Tsar has been known as St. Nicholas II of Russia by our separated Russian brethren. I was getting ready to commemorate the murder of the Tsar and his family in this space when I saw news out of Paris about barbarity of another kind.
In speaking of it I shall (unavoidably) speak of race, but trust readers realize it will not be as a racist. I do believe differences between races exist and acknowledge that the belief affects my behavior. For instance, in years past when I used to travel I liked to fly on the national airline of the country I was visiting. That was with the exception of Alitalia. I had a hard time imagining an Italian sitting still for five hours at the controls of a complicated machine. On the other hand, I’d sure rather eat Italian than German. Differences between races and the cultures they produce are real, but racism, like nationalism and other ideologies, is a modern substitute for God. The nationalist worships the nation, the racist his genes. That makes racism, like the worship of any other false god, a sin.
However, I must confess to prejudice in several departments. One is music. I am unable to understand how anyone who hears Bach’s B-Minor Mass, Mahler’s Symphony No.5, a Beethoven string quartet or a Schubert song can prefer listening even to jazz, not to speak of rap or hip-hop. This prejudice is what may lend my remarks the coloration of racism, at least in the view of some, since rap and hip-hop are forms of popular music perceived as belonging to “black culture.” This even though African Americans can’t be the only ones listening to the stuff. Not when, as of July 3, the video of Beyonce and her rapper husband Jay-Z performing their hit song Apeshit had been viewed 56 million times on You Tube alone during the previous two weeks.
Of course some number of those millions were repeat viewers or watched the video for the same reason I did: to see whether peoples of ex-Christendom, Americans and Europeans, have really sunk as low as descriptions of the six-minute film suggested
We have. The language of the song, by itself, justifies that judgement. I am stretching standards of decent public discourse simply by naming it. Its lyrics are unprintable. At least they should be — as unprintable as once upon a time public performers singing them would have been unthinkable
To be sure, such language is typical of rap and hip-hop. It is not what makes the video of Apeshit a landmark in the continued downward spiral of ex-Christendom and its culture. It becomes that on account of Beyonce and Jay-Z performing their song before a number of paintings and sculptures in a high temple (arguably the highest) of Western art and culture: the Louvre in Paris.
The Louvre has refused to disclose how much money the couple paid to be allowed to film their video in the museum. The question is immaterial. What matters is that the filming was allowed at all. Officials of the museum and others in the French Ministry of Culture cannot have been ignorant of who Beyonce and Jay-Z were and what they represent, and supposing for a second that they did not ask what exactly the supreme power couple of pop had in mind, they had to have had a fair idea. That makes them complicit in the resulting assault against the very culture of which the Louvre is a leading world repository and guardian, or is supposed to be.
The assault becomes clearest when Beyonce joins a line of other black female dancers to bump and grind in front of David’s painting “The Coronation of Napoleon and Crowning of Empress Josephine” and she sings “I can’t believe we made it.”
What does she mean “made it”? She means that she and her husband have reached heights of celebrity that make it possible for them to sing and dance as they do where they do, but that is not all. As Professor James Small of the University of Maryland explained in a television interview: “It is all about bodies — an orchestrated contrast of writhing and animated black physiques set against frozen white forms of the past.” That is, Beyonce and Jay-Z have supplanted the figures in the Louvre’s paintings, including the Mona Lisa. It is what makes Apeshit performed in the Louvre a barbarian triumph.
If officials of the world’s greatest museum are content to have “white forms” seen as being “of the past” it is because millions of persons who are not black prefer Apeshit to Handel and Vivaldi, Rachmaninoff and Sibelius. Of course there are other indices of their moral decline, most notably demographics. It remains, if all who should, regardless of race, preserve and protect Western culture are too lacking in appreciation of it to do so, any effort to defend the civilization itself — what is left of it — is fated to be futile.