Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mr. Natural in 2008: Change I Can Believe In

It seems the University of Pennsylvania's Institute of Contemporary Art is having a showing of R. Crumb's artwork (Digging 'Underground'; In a Temple of High Art, the Lowbrow Work Of R. Crumb Certainly Rises to the Occasion), and the Washington Post has done a good deed by telling its readers about it the week before the Presidential elections.

I'm sure all of R. Crumb's artistry is just as transgressive and avant garde and whatnot as the WAPO article say it is, but the part of it I always liked best was Mr. Natural, his critique of phony gurus and their needy followers. Crumb created the cartoon character of Mr. Natural for an 'underground' San Francisco newspaper in 1967, and it also ran as a series in the Village Voice during the mid-1970s. Mr. Natural, the self-proclaimed "only knower of the cosmic secrets alive today," was a rather ill-tempered mystic of hazy origins who had renounced the material world and went about the San Francisco Bay area dispensing his wisdom to '60s burnouts in return for their admiration and - even better - cash. The demand for perfect masters was so high in the '60s that even suspect sages could thrive, and Mr. Natural was the perfect comment on that situation.

It was quite timely to be reminded of Mr. Natural just eight days before the nation will, in all likelihood, elect a messianic cult figure President. Any politician who wants his campaign to be "the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams," and who speaks of remaking the world "as it should be," and who says he feels "a righteous wind at our backs," has departed the realm of politics and is way, way, over into mystic territory.

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