[This content recycled from my now mothballed website, www.excitablemedia.com.]
May Day has finally come and gone, and if you missed it, Scout's Honor you missed the one and only small moment of the calendar (the whole year) where socialist ralles (Viva Fidel!) display themselves undisparaged in the national press. And so it seems like an ideal time to discuss the dire state of international socialism as manifest in these upper reaches of the Midwest, where reds of every stripe have had to stoop to ever more subtle forms of indoctrination. I think you'll find that the latest and greatest example of subtle Marx-related propaganada comes from a surprise ambassador: none other than Minnesota's former Governor, former Navy Seal, and offical member of the Pro Wrestling HOF . . . Jesse "The Body" or "The Mind" [choose one] Ventura.
If you couldn't quite grasp the logical underpinnings of Governor Ventura's distinguished tenure . . . if (somehow) the legislative decisions and bombastic outbursts of the stalwart proletarian followed a political path that eluded even your keen analytic mind . . . well that's because Mr. Ventura had a cleverly disguised socialist agenda, a fact revealed (at last) by the life-size painting now hanging in the basement of the Minnesota State Capitol, right next to the main legislative conference room, directly underneath the world's second largest all-marble dome (after St. Peter's in Rome).
Whatever flash of brilliance inspired former State Leader Ventura's use of Soviet-era Realism for his offical Official Gubernatorial Portrait (OGP) is second only to the curatorial vision which allowed the painting to inhabit the rather staid hallways of the Minnesota State Capitol portrait gallery. Flying in the face of local political conventionality, Ventura's strong embrace of Soviet-era socialist depiction, an aesthetic tradition long oppressed by the art-historical bourgoisie, is noteworthy. And all causes aside, art historians across the globe agree: once again the Mind/Body Phenomenon is up to no good.
A layman's introduction to Soviet Socialist Realism (SSR)
Once Josef Stalin obtained a firm hold on each and every rein of the Bolshevik state-apparatus, he turned his attention to the fine art of propaganda. Needless to say artists are testy, and it took him a while to gain power over the various Bohemian communities that throve in the post-Revolutionary Soviet Union. Once he had gulaged a few squeaky wheels, however, Stalin intiated a remarkable run of artistic propaganda breaks-through. Poster production, for example, was eventually directed by the Central Committee's Department of Agitation and Mass Campaigns, and they helped create some of the finest revolutionary poster art the world had ever seen. (They called it poster-modernism.) Similar movements revolutionized the filmmaking and music industries, and we can now thank Soviet state control for the likes of Sergei Eisenstein and Dimitri Shostakovich.
The real breakthrough though came in the field of painting, particularly the stable of artists who created the school now known as Soviet Socialist Realism. Content-wise, the major SSR works importantly anticipated American pop sensibilities, mythologizing a "language of the everyday" decades before Warhol. The ageless content belied a more old-fashioned formal technique, which remained grounded in a realism that contrasted starkly with its contemporaneous, porcine Capitalist visual art movements.
The commission for the OGP went to a life-long friend of Ventura's, an "artistic" comrade from his early wrestling career. While not commonly known, Ventura had showed marked Marxist tendencies early in his youth, and though scholars are divided along typical ideological lines, some notable academics speculate that Ventura based his early wrestling work on the principles outlined in Theodor Adorno's famous essay, "Proletariat Piledrivers, Bourgouisie Bodyslams."
What is clear is that Mr. Ventura's first wrestling persona, a figure named "Steel Head," wore a monochromatic red jumpsuit. Steel Head, along with his tag-team partner, "Supreme Leader," were a common sight in local and regional circuits, and we can only speculate about whether they were fighting for "International Working Class Solidarity" or for more prosaic concepts like "money." The duo fit neatly into the Sylvester-Stallone-in-Rocky III-fueled era, and its unbending desire for sacrifial martyrdom. Quickly, Ventura and his shadowy partner became the big bad-guy fish in their small wrestling pond, and were known to ogling lewdly old women in the audience, take candy from babies, &c. They provided regular fodder for more jingostic tag-teams such as "The Armed Forces" and "AWKYA" (trans. America Will Kick Your Ass).
[Here we see Ventura's sublimated homosexual desire, channeled and subservient to the demands of the state as reflected in his meathook resting firmly on the statuary of the famed French sensualist, Auguste Rodin. Ventura (trans. fearless leader) restrains the naked desire of the people, supported as always by the infrastructure of the state apparatus behind him.]
Biographcal details seem to disappear around the same time that Ventura broke up with his first partner, and abandoned Steel Head for the more conventional "Jesse The Body." It was around this same time that he tried his hand at acting, appearing in such films as Running Man and Abraxas: Defender of the Universe, both fine examples of mid-1980s science fiction.
Sadly I'm reminded of that old French saying that roughly translates: "If you're not a socialist when you're young, you have no heart. If you're not a capitalist when you're old, you have no head," but geriatric Socialists looking for a silver lining in the cloudy surrender to market forces that is Ventura's life story, can find it today in the SSR stylings of his gubernatorial portrait.
I ain't got time to bleed the capitalist oppressor
The work itself was painted by Stephen Cepello, a friend of Ventura's from the early days, a man long noted for his delvings into modern socalist realistic technique, if such a thing can even be said to exist. Note how the artist has emphazied Ventura's bald head and steely gaze, directly mirroring the stern authoritative look from the famous SSR portrait of Lenin speaking to an assembled Mayday mass. Note further the cigar clutched in Ventura's weighty paw, not only a surrogate for his reknowned potency but also a nod to Castro, whom Ventura greatly admired. (Jesse would often dress like Fidel, apeing his mannerisms, travelling by SUV, clutching his ubiquitious Cuban stogie.)
[The restructured capitol building is a stand in for Das Kapital, Marx's masterful critique of industrial society. The artist reconfigures the three-part symmetry of Cass Gilbert's original design into a homogeneous landmark that parallels the formal structure of the Marx & Engels tome.]
The iconography of the remainder of the portriat is a testament to latency revealed, and so mirrors the ancient Russian tradition of icon creation, its symbolism almost as heavy-handed as Ventura's political bravado. Behind the Governor's bald noggin' lurk temptestual skies, calling to mind Ventura's Independence Party's turbulent (unending) struggle to overthrow the oppressive ruling classes. Likewise, the open field on the river bluff reminds the specatator of the simple farm-fresh foundations that underlie the Midwestern proletariat.
What effect Ventura's bold artistic stroke has on political socialism locally is still unknown. Ventura himself has moved on, taking up residency in the People's Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is actively passing along the techniques of political agitation to the next generation at Harvard University. He's said to be a "cult figure" on campus, with a cadre of devoted followers. All I can say is that if I lived anywhere near Boston, I'd be stockpiling non-pershibles.