Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The CIA were a bunch of idiots

2cents emails to point out this stunning Cold War idiocy from the Lads in Langly.  Modern Art was a CIA "weapon":
For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art - including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko - as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince - except that it acted secretly - the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.


Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.
So why is this idiocy (other than the obvious)?  Because it shows that the CIA was playing checkers while the KGB was playing chess:
But it was the Soviet Union, in its day, that was the master of this game. They made dezinformatsiya (disinformation) a central weapon of their war against “the main adversary”, the U.S. They conducted memetic subversion against the U.S. on many levels at a scale that is only now becoming clear as historians burrow through their archives and ex-KGB officers sell their memoirs.

The Soviets had an entire “active measures” department devoted to churning out anti-American dezinformatsiya. A classic example is the rumor that AIDS was the result of research aimed at building a ‘race bomb’ that would selectively kill black people.

On a different level, in the 1930s members of CPUSA (the Communist Party of the USA) got instructions from Moscow to promote non-representational art so that the US’s public spaces would become arid and ugly.

Americans hearing that last one tend to laugh. But the Soviets, following the lead of Marxist theoreticians like Antonio Gramsci, took very seriously the idea that by blighting the U.S.’s intellectual and esthetic life, they could sap Americans’ will to resist Communist ideology and an eventual Communist takeover. The explicit goal was to erode the confidence of America’s ruling class and create an ideological vacuum to be filled by Marxism-Leninism.
Remember, these are the people who thought that the Soviet Union was the third largest economy in the world in 1989, right before the Warsaw Pact collapsed.

So in my book it is entirely plausible that the CIA secretly backed vacuous wastes of wall space like Rothko.  Given what we know about penetration of the Western Intelligence community by the KGB, the only question is whether this program was run by double agents.


Alan said...

I like Rothko and a lot of other American modern art. The Rothko chapel in Houston is a pretty amazing art work.

Just because the CIA may have funded and promoted it doesn't automatically mean it's all bad.

Divemedic said...

When I was in grad school, one of our professors, who was herself a graduate of UC Berkley, gave us a lecture titled: "Stress, disease, and the AIDS pandemic: How Reagan, the Republican Party, and other white males are in a conspiracy to kill gays and discriminate against women." This is not an exaggeration.

It really makes me wonder how many professors at America's colleges were KGB agents.

Anonymous said...

Rothko was a corrupt insider, favored by other corrupt insiders.

The CIA boys were not stupid, they were just funneling public money for the private benefit of well-connected cronies.

Goober said...


"Government agency was stupid, unimaginative, incapable of adapting to conditions in the field, and spent a shit-ton of money on total bullshit that accomplished nothing but funneling taxpayer money to well-connected government cronies.""

More at eleven.

I know you don't fall under this category, Borepatch, but it never ceases to amaze me how often this same narrative plays itself out in this country - over and over and over again - and people still act shocked and surprised by it.

Still. After the many times A DAY we hear about government stupidity, inadaptability, lack of imagination, corruption, and uselessness, people STILL act shocked and pearl-clutchey whenever it happens.

I wrote about this some vis a vis the Chris CHristie "Bridgegate" affair, and it went a little something like this:

"OF COURSE he shut down a bridge to punish a political opponent! What the hell do you think he ran for Governor for? The health benefits?"

juvat said...

The only thing I disagree with in your post is the verb tense in the title. It should be present tense.