By Saswat Pattanayak
“Fashion determines, in each case, the acceptable limit of empathy.” – Walter Benjamin.
Benjamin belonged to the interwar period that witnessed rise of fascism, actively aided by European intellectuals who were hostile to the masses. The bourgeois was disdainful of the “mass society”, and the ways in which new electronic media were displaying potentials for mass liberations. Its high-brow standards were being threatened by the low-brow tastes of American consumer capitalism. Its exclusive access to the sophisticated art forms was being undermined by the new medium of photography. “Socialist realism” was connecting the masses to what was historically being denied to them in the name of “art”. Writers and intellectuals were becoming the “engineers of the soul” in communist societies that thwarted elitism.