Vladimir Franz: System’s ultimate purpose is to create a slightly dissatisfied consuming robot (an interview for the YouthTime magazine)
In the Czech Republic he is known primarily as an artist - a composer, a painter, an ocassional writer, a poet and a playwright, who has won many awards and received well-deserved recognition for his contributions to culture. Since 1991 he has taught at the Theater Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts and lately also at its Film Faculty; he also works as an advisor to the Minister of Culture. In 2012, during the presidential election in the Czech Republic, the whole world got to know him when major global television channels put his tattooed face, piercing, and white smile on viewers’ TV screens. But was it the real Vladimir Franz?
When we wrote an email to the central figure of this article to request an interview, we couldn’t think of a better conversation partner for the main topic of this issue. He has extensive knowledge of art, history, philosophy, politics and creativeness. He also works with young people and, most certainly, has his own point of view regarding public opinion. We met up with Vladimir Franz at a snug coffee house in Prague and were confident right from the start that our choice of an interviewee was a wise one.
Let’s begin at the beginning: in your opinion, who is Vladimir Franz?
Vladimir Franz is a composer, a painter, and a university professor. Apart from other qualifications, I received a law degree when I was a young man. I compose classical music, do some liberal creativity, in other words, I write symphonies, operas, oratorios, cantatas, and madrigals. Besides, I’m engaged in crafts and the arts, as well as the creation of music for movies, television, and Czech radio. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra has played my compositions; and theaters in Brno, Ostrava, and Zline, as well as the National Theater, have performed my plays. I’ve heard my musical works played in Slovakia, Poland, and other countries. As an artist, I’ve organized a number of independent exhibitions in the Czech Republic and Europe, in Berlin, New York and many more venues...I also have been awarded various public commissions. I try to generalize all my activities, that’s why I’m teaching at the university, at the Academy of Performing Arts, as well as doing some musical dramaturgy. Basically, I am engaged in everything that is related to the cohesiveness of music, action, and word. Besides, I take a profound interest in nature, human beings, and, certainly, different events that occur in society. This means that I’m not living in a vacuum and, therefore, when two years ago I had the opportunity to run for President of the Czech Republic, I took it.
The presidential campaign, probably, frayed your nerves, or did it serve as some kind of inspiration?
Needless to say, it was extremely exhausting. Especially since we hadn’t made any preparations and didn’t have significant funds to spend on the campaign. There was no global strategy. It is rather difficult to carry out a campaign without proper funding and still win around 350 000 votes. I don’t make anything of support from outside the Czech Republic – if I counted in my supporters in Mexico, Brazil and China, then I would have definitely gotten 50 million votes. (laugh) My campaigning gave me a chance to visit the recent international summit in Mexico, where I got a chance to talk with the executive heads of various states. It was a compelling meeting. Basically, this is my answer to the question about my ability to represent the Czech Republic, and I think that I did a good job.
What do you think about public opinion? How significant is the influence of public opinion on people?
This election campaign gave me such a breadth of experience that some polling results make me laugh. It is a kind of custom-built virtual reality, which is based on the principle of sampling “12 people out of a thousand”. However, concerning blacksmiths, they can’t know for sure whether those people actually prefer confectioners. I have learned from my experience how ridiculous it can get. This is similar to the work of political analysts, after all nowadays every other individual considers himself a political expert. They are trying to make everyone believe that this is an extremely complicated science, but in fact they can spend a half year ruminating about some inference, which a normal person can make in a couple of hours. Only people of this sort can delve into the data, and after six months they get frustrated because the actual events do not comply with their graphs. Those experts should have focused their minds on personal matters, instead of only using data sheets from the specific books. The fact that theory precedes practice is the major fundamental problem of our Euro-American civilization. Obviously, we have the National Statistics Service in our country, but I stick to the opinion that every individual has to find confirmation of his beliefs on his own. As for public opinion or public sentiments, I’ve also encountered it on many occasions. In this regard, the presidential campaign was very useful to me. That’s why my trust rate for television and newspapers is no higher than 5-7%. Their information is of some interest to me, but I have to complement it from other sources, from different angles. A person has to create his own opinion in reliance on normal ways of thinking.
Can you give us an example of “brainwashing”? For example, what event provoked your greatest amusement?
For instance, just recently I saw Czech Television report that the opponents of pro-Russian separatists in the Eastern Ukraine had filled up the Donbass Arena (the football stadium in Donetsk). At the same time they broadcast images from the stadium, the capacity of which is 55 thousand people, and there were merely 200 people at the protest event. The crowd looked like a drop in the bucket. I don’t know how they see any sense in this, are they really stupid enough to show such things?
What about the presidential campaign? Have you, or your adversaries, engaged in some kind of manipulation?
Yes, they have. At that time a gentleman, whose name was Jan Fischer, emerged (one of the candidates for the presidency – editor’s note) and everyone started talking about what an outstanding person he was, but nobody knew why exactly. In fact, he was a classic caricature of a weak politician, associated with the biggest corrupt officials, lobbyists and various “backstage” players. This is a shining example of how it’s not supposed to be, but people were constantly singing his praises and preaching about how superior and amazing he was. Fortunately, he showed himself in all his glory and afterwards quickly vanished. It happened due to the mass psychosis of the crowd. This is exactly what happened to Karel Schwarzenberg, who was not taken seriously prior to that time – he was the exact definition of a laughing stock. Then someone invested dozens of million crowns in him, and for 14 days all media resources were brainwashing the public until, all of a sudden, everybody began discussing him, without even knowing why. He is the man who changed political parties four times, a very fortunate member of the local political “inner circle”. He is not the person who was presented to us by the media.
Let’s wander from politics. You’ve probably heard the questions we are about to ask a million times: what is the public’s opinion of your image, do you consider yourself a fighter for individuality?
I am not sure about the latter, but all my life I’ve been a loner. I’m not trying to make it into some sort of business or program – that’s just how it goes. As for this (tattoos) I’ve got them for my own pleasure and it is nobody’s business but mine. Interestingly, when you visit some other civilized countries, people there really pay no regard to such things. Here, in the Czech Republic, people were concerned about this matter; they wondered how I could represent them as President. But not a single person thought about whether I would want to be a representative, as a possible President, of such biased people. Since in most cases, the topic of the conversation was not Brad Pitt, but rather a guy who had escaped from Forman’s movie The Fireman’s Ball. Everyone should, above all things, revise their own self-conception.
What inspired you to get tattoos?
I was into tattoos since childhood, and perhaps in my past life I was like this.
How old were you, when you got your first tattoo?
I don’t know, maybe 18 years old. Although at that time one couldn’t get it done as freely as nowadays
You have such an extended biography, a huge list of hobbies and specialties. How do you manage to do all this?
Well, thank God, I’m not doing it all in one sitting. You cannot do the first thing, the second and the third simultaneously. In the wintertime, when it is dark and there is no reason to go out or drive somewhere, I am usually composing music. In summer, when the weather is fine, it is just the other way around - I would feel sorrowful, if I had to stay at home, writing something in my music study. At that time of the year I give preference to painting. So, it’s basically fifty-fifty: I spend six months doing one thing and the other six months – something different. I think that Michelangelo wasn’t creating sculptures at the same time as he was painting the Sistine Madonna. Even Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t painting some picture, while inventing the helicopter. Certainly, it is possible to be engaged in several professional activities at the same time, this is not a big deal. It is just a way of someone’s thinking. That’s why I’m doing things one after another. A person has to learn all the time, otherwise, he will forget everything he knew.
What are you planning to do now, in the winter, when it’s dark and cold outside?
I wrote a symphonic poem called Moravia for the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, and created an oratorio, Presidential Elections, which became an expression of all my experiences in the aforementioned period of my life. It is written in the grotesque style.
What do you do to get inspired? Do you travel or...?
I think that in order to get inspired one has to be filled with oxygen. Therefore, I usually take a walk in the woods...and I walk hour upon hour. Besides, plenty of useful thoughts come to my mind when I’m driving my car. For instance, while waiting for the traffic-control barrier to go up and so on...This is good too!
You are spending a lot of time working with young people. What is your opinion regarding modern youth, who are the representatives of the new millennium?
I think that people are always the same, they do not change. The things that are constantly changing are means and instruments. In ancient times young people were no different from modern ones, the only distinction is that the former had wooden clubs and killed mammoths and the latter have microwaves and computers. I guess that nowadays the computers are bringing a totally new dimension to our lives. They are an instrument, one of the means, but in no way are they an ultimate goal. It is an issue for me because it readjusts the comprehension of the world. Different divisions of knowledge are no longer perceived as short messages. I reckon that it is bad because it diminishes the hierarchy of information for the sake of information. Kittens were born and the fact that 5 million people have died is absolutely of no concern to people! It means that the so-called realization of continuity, interconnectedness pales into insignificance. This implies that everything is connected, nothing happens by accident. A person can find virtually everything on the Internet, and people are turning the thinking process down. They should rely more on themselves and not on instruments. If I have a car it doesn’t mean I can’t go on foot.
Who and what should serve as the basis for solving this problem: the school, the parents or the university?
Without a doubt, it is the parents’ concern. Children should run, swim, climb trees, build hideaways...Instead of this they are “shut up in the basement” and play video games. Although it is called playing, they don’t do anything for themselves – it is energy that has no means of accumulation but is being taken away from them. It is the prime cause. Modern school just represents a weird concept of schooling. Education is underestimated, that’s why people who work in this field are not being paid well, that’s why no one wants to work diligently. This is also a huge problem. People are constantly looking for some indulgence; it is a kind of “democracy”. Presently, there is a variety of disorders and allergies...In the past, if such things were handled in the same way as nowadays, a peasant wouldn’t even have gone into the fields, because he’d have so many allergies that he couldn’t have made it there. Certainly, it is not true, although, the criteria of educational process are being set in a slightly odd way. There should be a certain level of democracy and humanism, but it is an institution, where a person has to learn something and start turning it to useful account. Democracy is like an orchestra, where each individual cannot play whatever he wants. For example, there can be no democracy in art whatsoever. Such is the primary phase, when education is conducted in the form of a game, and a person will learn something, he has to put the acquired knowledge to use, know “what, how and why”. I think that a high school has the biggest influence on a person; it is where he discovers a lot of things, such as poetry, new terms and the world. Universities cannot provide you with such an experience. A student just goes to classes and communicates with other people, but he is no longer discovering the world.
What can you say to young people who are still looking for their place in the world?
That is a great question! Back in the day, a person could become a factory worker, a peasant, an intellectual but presently there are, truly, a million opportunities, a million professions which a person can scarcely imagine. What’s important is that this doesn’t imply the search for an adrenaline buzz, despite the universal assurance that it is. For example, someone will take a trip to watch the sunrise on Tahiti. Nevertheless, if he is not giving it attention in Prague or Pocernice (one of Prague´s quarter, formerly a small town), a trip to Tahiti will be pointless because he won’t notice it even there. But if a person perceives and takes notice of such things, he will definitely find something. The modern reality is doing everything possible to ensure the creation of a manageable machine for a matrix. Such a machine would not be able to think, it will be possible to eliminate any of its ability to focus on something, thereby releasing it from independent thinking. This machine is going to rely solely on regulations, and that is a mistake.
Is it a system that pushes us this way? Or are there people who want us to become stupid?
It’s not people, it is a thoroughly devised system, the ultimate purpose of which is to create a slightly dissatisfied consuming robot.
YouthTime Magazine, únor-březen 2015