The Occupy Movement as Neo-Dadaism

Kandinsky once said, "there is no must in art because art is free," and it is exactly art's lack of cost that so terrifies establishment thought in capitalist societies.

Kandinsky once said, "there is no must in art because art is free," and it is exactly art's lack of cost that so terrifies establishment thought in capitalist societies. The idea of an object without financial worth being worth something is simply too much to bear for those who have little more than profit and loss skittering about their neck-tied or power-suited brains.

One can apply this same kind of thinking to the Occupy Wall Street movement, currently having its constituents' Constitutional rights violated at a public space near you. In watching coverage of the more prominent Occupy events around the country (my local Occupy movement consisted of about forty people marching down the street holding banners and meeting no resistance and even receiving a few encouraging toots from car horns), the singular aspect that seemed to bother the full spectrum of pundits was a lack of a list of demands--that Occupy refused, in a way, to fully identify itself.

The media's collective consternation in regard to Occupy's refusal was ironic, as it is Occupy's lack of a set ideological framework that is their identity, allowing the movement to add to its three-dimensional, pro-democracy collage at will. And since I look upon the surplus of American television journalists with a great pity--sometimes I am convinced that I can see their sense of integrity and journalistic self-worth drain from their eyes like the Podlings' essence being drained in The Dark Crystal--I offer a comparison for the cable channel lock-steppers: if you want to understand the Occupy Movement more fully, look back roughly one hundred years, toward Zurich and Cabaret Voltaire, as the Occupy Movement is Neo-Dadaism at its finest.

The similarities between Dada and Occupy are many. Both are anti-war. Both are anti-bourgeois. Both seek to address the apathy and meaninglessness of their respective time periods. The avant-gardist Hans Richter said of Dada that it "was not art, it was anti-art." Hugo Ball, who in 1916 authored the Dada Manifesto, said of that movement that "it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in." Embedded in the responses of nervous city officials and the foot soldiers of certain, vulpine cable news outlets to Occupy's rise was the question, what do they want so we can make them go away?

Both parties, in essence, sought a marketing report, some blind focus groups, the application of management theory--exactly the sort of things and, by extension, the sort of thinking, that Occupy was and is against. One could make the case, then, that in the same way that Dada is anti-art, the Occupy movement, a sociopolitical group, is anti-social politics, or at least against the established semantics of social politics as we know them. And therein lies the key similarity between Occupy and Dada: both are a means, not an end. They seek nothing but change, but difference, and even if that difference were to arrive, it might need to be changed, too, if this New Different were to occlude or preclude or otherwise fail to include the ever-fluid, ever-shifting needs of true democracy and free expression.

To employ a finance-based analogy, the establishment loathes Dada and Occupy because there's no transaction to complete, as neither movement is trying to buy something. To employ a military-based analogy, the establishment fears both these groups because they employ guerilla tactics that phalanxes loyal to the establishment have problems countering.

But before I get all eyebrows-drawn-down with analysis, let's remember, too, that Dada--like Occupy, I would contend--is about emotion and excitement, two humanist traits that multinational conglomerates can't stand, unless it involves pepper-spray armed crowds standing outside big-box stores at 4AM the day after Thanksgiving. Occupy, like Dada, affords the masses contribution without qualifying that contribution through pre-established modes. It is performance art at the same time that it is political protest. It is a sound poem spoken through a megaphone. Most of humanity will never construct a piece of art that matters for even a nanosecond to larger society. The Occupy Movement is that notion's exception, as it affords anyone who cares to be a part of it the opportunity to add to Occupy's countercultural collage, a work that is most certainly the greatest piece of outsider art that the 21st Century has yet to offer.

Of course, once majority thought accepts anything as representative of good and fine art (most often, this occurs only after the artist is dead), a price and cost are attached to said objet. In the case of the Occupy Movement, I expect that book publishers and film studios the world 'round will be cashing in as soon as possible, eager to have the efforts of public revolt echo as private profit. This is, perhaps, unavoidable; there is no doubt that collage--popularized by Dada--became the dominant art form of the 20th Century, even if its assimilation largely omitted Dadaist sociopolitical thought.

It may not be long before marketing departments of global fast food chains offer us Occupy Cheeseburger advertising campaigns. But such campaigns will not be works of art as they can be understood, and as Tristan Tzara, the ad hoc patriarch of Dada once said, "Any work of art that can be understood is the product of journalism." Implied in this is the idea that anything that is fully comprehensible is indeed not art at all. Call them pretentious or dangerous or annoyingly baffling, but both Dada and Occupy are very much art. And so to conclude--and in solidarity--I am a flying radish that lives under your ear: bawoooga, yun-toong, yung-toong.


What's Hot