Friday, January 09, 2009

Jante'd - More on Jante Law

Amadeus trailer (1984)

(Jante Law, Part 1)

Artists (painters, writers, film-makers, musicians, ahem, DJs...), the narcissistic and self-centred creatures they are, live in constant fear. That fear is of competition, that a new hero/heroine will come up; being more talented, more creative, more innovative, more outspoken; outsmarting and making obsolete our poor narcissist, who will find out s/he is only a derivative hack feeding off other people's ideas and creating nothing essentially new in the process. Therefore, it will become necessary to eliminate the new contenders, whatever it takes, put them to their real place in the pecking order.

One of the most well-known case histories of this process of the artistic rival's elimination is featured in Milos Forman's 1984 biopic Amadeus, which depicts the intrigues and plots of composer Antonio Salieri to get rid of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose talent Salieri is fiercely envious and afraid of. (It's better not to get into any possible historical inaccuracies here, such as Tom Hulce's take of Mozart as a giggling punk rocker of his time -- the fabulist film-makers just want to tell as juicy story as possible to delight the viewers, not historians.)

Salieri's behaviour here is basically Jante Law in action, though usually its mechanisms are of more devious and invisible nature, much harder to detect. That is because there might not be found only one jealous Salieri to put spokes in the wheels but apparently a whole establishment (of rivalling artists and other cultural gatekeepers of the art world), as if designed to make our poor talent's life hard -- and this is also where conspiracy theories begin.

Is our artist only a paranoid imagining things, or is someone actually plotting to block his/her way, speaking bad things of him/her behind his/her back and generally making things difficult for him/her? Even worse than actual attacks on the artist's work and person or negative criticism might be the "conspiracy of silence", as if s/he was silenced to death by the lack of any feedback whatsoever.

Thus is born another martyr, another artist misunderstood by his/her peers, another victim of persecution syndrome. (Not to speak about other possible discriminating factors, depending on our artist's gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, political views and so on: just open any art mag or culture pages of your morning paper for any desperate outcries and extra evidence.) Our artist was "Jante'd". Of course, there is no real way to know, but "being paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you". (Though personally, more than conspiracy theories, I always put more weight to just incompetence, people's laziness, prejudices and comfort-seeking nature that prevents them looking for any new viewpoints outside their small circles of acquaintances or "good old boys", comfort zones, current trends or "the tried and true".)

Naturally, it's possible our artist, that poor and sensitive spring daisy, may have only him/herself to blame, having just rubbed too many people the wrong way. Being a creative one doesn't always fit together with having a wholesome personality, being a nice, jovial bloke or lass, and many of them/us are -- let's face it -- just irritating twats with overblown egos.

We don't like obnoxious or boastful personalities, because it is as if they pose a threat to our own existence. Any self-hype makes us wary. We don't like forked tongues, slimy showbiz types, obvious fly-by-nights but most of all, we don't like people who blow their own horn too avidly: especially if they are potential rivals.

Or then, maybe our artist actually is talentless, despite his/her delusions to the contrary, so the Jante process of elimination only does a great service to the rest of the world.


Rene Kita said...

One of my guidelines, which I remember every time I start getting pompous about myself, is Max Beerbohm's story Enoch Soames (in the "Seven Men" collection) about a preposterously untalented poet with high aspirations. Great story, too.
My suspicion is that the artistic temperament is in itself a mental defect that renders most of us incapable of happiness - and that the conditions in which almost every artist is forced to live, if he/she wants to get serious about achieving something, are another massive impediment to joy. But then, life isn't there to be enjoyed, right?
To me, the happiest artists always seem to be outsiders who ignore the business, the culture and the company of artists.
And since I myself turn into a massive arsehole and uncontrolled cluster bomb of fear and malice in the vicinity of competitors, I don't have to look far for proof of my theory. :)
As always, I could be wrong, I probably am and it sure would make me happy if I was...

Rene Kita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rene Kita said...

Enoch Soames on