Nobody fucks with the Jesus. - Jesus
Jesus! - Mel Brooks
If you're from my generation, you have probably spent far too much time absorbing the messages from countless movies, television shows, novels, comic books, and games. You probably share my belief that these messages are relevant. Didn't your parents warn you they would rot your brain?
Hollywood, TV, books, newspapers, the Internet - this vast, buzzing conglomeration of ceaseless messaging exists only to reinforce stereotypes and spread lies. Culture warriors battle for territories of your mental world in a bid to channel your thoughts and behaviors to suit their nefarious schemes. While you're distracted, your doom is being prepared. It's a Renaissance of the Arts!
But it wasn't always this way: long ago, when your parents were young, the world was a much more boring place to live. There were only three channels on the TV, movies were really lame, there were hardly any magazines (none with naked chicks), and nobody except a few bigshots owned a computer. It was a ticky-tacky nightmare!
So they decided to have a Revolution in Consciousness, which led to all kinds of crazy new ideas, and angry shouting at the stupid old people, who decided to run off and play golf, surrendering the country they saved from the Nazis to a bunch of freaks. A mad dash ensued to explore every limit of the possible and the acceptable, and to challenge existing authority and the legitimacy of existing ideals. New ideals were born and new missions declared, such as saving the Earth from evil white men, or selling as much fast food as humanly possible.
Now everyone and their dog has a computer, and can use the web to tell the whole world what they think. Now there are hundreds of channels on the boob tube, more music and movie releases than you can shake a stick at, and a magazine catering to every conceivable interest or niche. As if the ever-increasing complexity of real life were not mind-boggling enough, there is no end to make-believe universes to explore in games, books and video entertainment.
This post-modern pandemonium is a result of the hyperactive creativity of untold millions of superempowered individuals. Their messaging explores the meanings of life and offers moral visions for others to internalize. You see, the revolution they had made the old visions seem lame, so visionaries were needed to make up new ones. Great thinkers arose and proceeded to craft epic tales promulgating fresh new values.
A good example is the Star Wars movies, which teach that hip rebels with fuzzy alien friends are way cooler than efficient, shiny, uniformed Imperial space forces. More recently, The Hunger Games movies inform us that the 99 Percenters won't stand for being trapped in a gritty, depression-era looking police state.
The quintessential cultural artifact of the post-Revolutionary era is the The Simpsons. This show emerged as a paragon of anti-establishment satire, making fun of every institution: government, religion, schools, the media - nothing was sacred. Well, nothing except for maybe the point of view of the series' lonely protagonist, Lisa Simpson.
Poor Lisa, the mistress of political correctness, trapped inside a nightmare caricature of everything that is wrong with Middle America. She is an environmentalist, a Buddhist, a vegetarian, and enjoys the fine arts and academic achievement. In contrast, her loutish father Homer has Republican sympathies, is stupid like typical yellow men, eats junk food, drinks beer, and has no high culture at all, preferring demolition derbies and chili festivals to museums or the ballet. Their conflicts reflect a Culture War between two different zones.
The Simpsons has been mopping up after the successful assault on mainstream American culture which began in the 1960s. It has also inspired imitators, such as the always outrageous South Park, with its sarcastic debunkings of pc myths. These shows, perhaps, reflect emergent cultural perspectives.
The end result of all this creative ferment has been a morass of deconstructed meanings, banal tropes and tangled cross-references which we call our popular culture. Ideas have been worked over so many times by now that nothing is original any more - everything is either a reboot or a mash-up of another era's artifacts, and fodder for meme generation. Anything remotely unusual or interesting becomes a viral sensation, obsessed over for a day and then quickly forgotten. Even the twenty-four hour news cycle is folded into the mush, with events processed and classified in the comments section before the bodies have even been counted.
If it seems like the culture is stale and unoriginal, it is because it is not the right era for fresh, new insights
into the inner life. The cultural calendar was reset in the 1960s, and won't be reset again any time soon. Instead, the
Revolution has moved to the
In 1951, Alan Watts published The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was a message for the poor people trapped in the dull comfort of their age. He explained to them that their lives were devoid of meaning because they weren't thinking right. They needed to face insecurity, empty their minds, be open to new truths, and heed the wisdom of nature. Watts was setting the stage for the great Awakening in Consciousness which was to come in the next decade.
|When...you realize that you live in, that indeed you are this moment now, and no other, that apart from this there is no past and no future, you must relax and taste to the full, whether it be pleasure or pain... The whole problem of justifying nature, of trying to make life mean something in terms of its future, disappears utterly. Obviously, it all exists for this moment. - The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts, 1951, Pantheon Books, p. 115-116|
With these words, Watts was offering advice fit for a Zen student.
Fast forward to the year 1992, when Christopher Lasch wrote about the minds of schoolgirls in an analysis of the work of Carol Gilligan. He complained about their small-minded goals in life and about their language, with its incessant use of the word "like" ("I was like, 'I don't care,' you know.")
|These girls lack any sense of an impersonal order that exists independently of their wishes and anxieties. Not only the substance but also the manner of their speech testify to the emptiness and unreality of a life that consists only of "relationships." The compulsive "like" conveys disbelief in the objective reality of their surroundings. - Women and the Common Life, Christopher Lasch, 1997, W.W.Norton & Company, p. 135|
Lasch felt that the girls' basic problem was in the disorder of their environment.
|The girls...suffer from the effects of generational segregation, the deflation of ideals, the loss of an impersonal order. - Women and the Common Life, Christopher Lasch, 1997, W.W.Norton & Company, p. 133|
Lasch could have thanked Alan Watts for this state of affairs. Be careful what you ask for.
The post-60s age of cultural craziness and moral relativism was blamed for the decline of America, and many saw the need for change. People complained about the feminization of society and wondered where the heroes had gone. They forgot about another time when a feminine age gave way to a masculine age - the Napoleonic Wars. The deceit and decadence of the foofy ancien regime was replaced by lots and lots of manly battlefield carnage. Be careful what you ask for.
I hope you enjoyed my rant on The State of Pop Culture Today. Perhaps nothing will ever seem the same. For more mind-blowing insights, check out my book and DVD reviews, or my favorite pop culture artifacts.
Quotes are from the movies The Big Lebowski and History of the World: Part I.
This page copyright Steve Barrera 2001-2014