How Ernst’s Great Ignoramus, Formed By Financial Obsession And Nurtured By Mass Culture, Can Look Today, In the 21st Century?

Ernst often used fragments of birdcages in the collages that he produced in the mid-1960s Jose Maria Faerna (Ed.), “Max Ernst”, Harry N. Abrams Publ., p. 56

Max Ernst, “The Great Ignoramus”, 1965

Pre-democratic – proto- or true totalitarian systems kept the mass people (ignoramuses) in, metaphorically speaking, birdcages – so they couldn’t express their genuine opinion about their lives in any other way besides to their spouses – over meagre meals (after some alcohol made holes in their mental shells of fear) or during the night (between blurry episodes of sexual delirium). But Western democracies with pompous solemnity, under the velvety banners of free speech (which supposed to promote democratic justice and equality in the middle of crude money-making) broke the birdcages for ignoramuses and transformed the broken pieces into equipment for athletic exercises and mass aesthetic gusto. It is this important moment in the development of democratic potentials of humankind that Ernst, it seems, is immortalized in his “The Great Ignoramus”. Plain ignoramus became “the great ignoramus” – liberated into free market, free choice sexuality, free choice of your own gender, encouraged and celebrated consumerism, available dope, etc.

In Ernst’s collage you see great ignoramus right in the center, in a process of being liberated – full of curiosity about what democracy will pluralistically provide for him – computers, high-tech guitars, Hollywood blockbusters, high-tech weapons, videogames, cell phones, cheap artificial food, global warming (enveloping human worming) that soon will give great ignoramus chance to walk in shorts whole year even in North and South Poles, and other pleasures. What we have here is the difference between homo-ignoramus and homo-great ignoramus. Homo-ignoramus was a type of a bird, but homo-great ignoramus is the embryo inside the colossal egg of unimaginable super-high-tech future of democracy. The wizardry wisdom here is obvious – better to be the embryo in democracy than a bird in pre-democracy.

Suspended in the brine of hydrogenated blood – consumerism and entertainment – especially created for the growing post-human embryos, the great ignoramus is full of precocious optimistic pride about the future super-high-tech paradise on earth – for the great ignoramuses. He is already full of intuitive, not pre-verbal but post-verbal dreams and questions. And he expects to get answers in a form of super-goods, super-fun, super-food and super-services for future super-prosperity, super-targets for target practice and toys for adults – playing at living.

Over the great ignoramus we see a giant tag for his future code name – he is part of the elite of the future. It is for him and his peers our Founding Fathers spent sleepless nights trying to invent the best political system in the world.

After years of depicting the post-WWI and pre-WWII monstrous barbarians, Ernst, following the historical development of modern societies – shifted to a representation of robotized/dehumanized (and looking much less frightening) innocent monsters of a consumer society, a kind of hybrids between Herbert Wells’ Morlocks and Eloi. This very hybridization of rich and poor, top and bottom, is, it seems, Ernst’s parody on today’s democratic equality.