Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Matters of Life and Death

I forgot, in that post about lunatics who are afraid that Obama will wear saggy trousers to the UN, the whole point I was going to make.

Which is, what is behind the perennial crop of culture warriors who are positive that this time, we really are on the verge of societal collapse if The Right of Spring, or cubism, or Elvis, or Soulja Boy enjoy mainstream popularity? Doesn't the long, varied history of at-the-time controversial pop cultural artifacts that did not, in retrospect, trigger the collapse of society, give these people pause? Well, we can see that it plainly does not,1 but why not?

The fear of new forms of pop culture is transparently rooted in the fear of mortality: when society ratifies the cultural significance of something I just do not understand, my demise must surely be at hand, and I have little alternative but to rage, rage against the dying of the light jazz FM station.

There is a thread in common with apocalyptic worldviews, in the elevation of the importance of one's own personal lifespan to universal importance (from a dispassionate rational point of view, one would hardly expect the "end" to even come in the form of an event that would fit into a human lifespan, rather than, say, a thousands-year-long decline into lifelessness; let alone that it would occur during one's own personal time on Earth).

But more interesting to me, I think there is a general aspect of this fear of change in all reactionary political views. The glorification of the (recent) past, the paranoia, the knee-jerk traditionalism, the fear of the unknown, even the opposition to taxes (the more tangible and therefore vulnerable of life's two unavoidable certainties) all scream out fear of the grave.

Atrios, among others, frequently complains of the media establishment's unwillingness to let go of the 60's, and this interpretation gives us the means to understand why he will have plenty to complain about as time moves on. To abandon the battles of one's youth is to admit that that youth has passed and consequently to resign oneself to death.

Anyway, look for my new monograph, "Hating on Lil' Wayne and the Human Condition," CUNY Press, 2009.

1 With some exceptions. I believe Ayn Rand's adherents will still rail against the evils of impressionism, for example, and I did one time stumble across a hate group website that traced the decline of the white race to the commercial success of The White Album.

1 comment:

DU said...

Very insightful analysis of why the raging begins. But what fails to falsify the societal collapse hypothesis?

I think it's because it's a self-fulfilling prophecy (i.e. it's unfalsifiable). If something you have been railing against becomes the societal norm, hasn't society by definition collapsed? Oh sure, dim vestiges gasp on for now, but my grandkids will surely be eating grubs and squatting in caves soon after I die.