Trolling the Cultural Trashcan

I have several points in this post, and most of them are about the same subject, which is the movement of time, specifically to our perception of it, and to nostalgia. You see, I worry a lot that our culture is bored of itself, and that we have nothing to be excited for anymore. I don’t mean to come across as  an emo creepster who is angry at everything. I’m not, but I think we can do better as a culture and should be on guard for the dissolution we’re wreaking on ourselves.

Consider some examples. Amateur sociologist that I am, I’ve watched a lot of youtube videos of songs from older bands, Boston, Zeppelin, the Cars, etc. On almost every song there is some reference to hating Justin Bieber or rap (check for yourself). Then there is someone saying something like “hey, just listen to the music and relax” and then there are usually a hundred comments after that telling this calm, level-headed person to fuck off and to kill themselves, etc. etc. This is distressing to me, because it indicates an undercurrent of not just nostalgia, which has its place, but angry, aggressive, insecure nostalgia, which does seem to me to be a very dangerous substance to be  pouring into the cultural pool.

I mean first, it’s a little ridiculous to even compare a 16 year old pop sensation to some of the movers and shakers of music tradition. Or actually, these bands I referenced weren’t really all that artistically high minded either. They were popular sure, and they were good, true. But in their age, they were successful and well-known. Anyway, the point of all this is that people, in a big way, are living in the past.

You see it everywhere. Around the Christmas season, reminders of the good ole’ days (you see the good ole days showing up all the time really) are nauseatingly present. Old Christmas movies re-released that no child wants but 70 year old people think it would be nice for them to have. Talk about family when we all the family unit is undergoing a massive shift in its function and cohesion in this country (nursing homes r’ us?)

Friedrich Nietzsche hypothesized that all cultures move toward nihilism: the destructive of their creative and artistic energy until life becomes a cold routine, devoid of verve and danger. His analysis is wrong in many ways, one of those ways being that, unlike what he thought, we are not moving toward some apocalyptic end point to all culture. A final resting place for creativity. Instead, we are going through what I think is a slowing point and a hump that must be gotten over. Compare things to the turn of the century (1900s). Optimism was in the air. Technology and capitalism were thought to be the solutions to all things. Not saying this was right. It wasn’t. WWI happened and shattered Enlightenment fantasies about unlimited progress. But there were, in teh 1870’s and 80’s and 90’s, robber barons, tycoons, and magnates all filled with the spirit of optimism. People were looking AHEAD. Now, as the 20th century closes, we are looking back, down at the ground, into ourselves.

TV started to obsess over reality, because except for “the wire” and “lost” we’ve lost the ability to create meaningful worlds of our own. It’s like all our collective imaginary world are being slowly destroyed until all we have left is this world: ourselves and our miserable little status updates and daily boredom. We’re trying to generate excitement out of boredom, and that scares me. When will look forward again, toward new cultural productions and new experiences?

This brings me to another deep point though, about Holidays. When was the last time a Holiday was created? Probably the closest thing in the U.S. is independence day created by an outpouring of liberal achievement about 200 some years ago. The most powerful holiday in the western world is more than 1000 years old. Where are our reason to celebrate?

What I think it’s important to notice is the power and energy needed to create a holiday that is celebrated so passionately for so long (even for me who’s not very christian at all). I see friends and take time off from work and on and on. I celebrate Christmas a secular solution to a coordination problem: how to get all my friends to have off work at the same time.

What this suggests to me is that culture is essentially lazy. We prefer to subsist on the traditions given to us, and we should stand in awe of how powerful they are. Will any holidays come from our world? It seems not. It seems that interests and beliefs are so fragmented that there will never be another day that unifies so many people so powerfully. Again, we’re running on the fumes of more energetic times, and as we turn to the holidays to invigorate ourselves with 1000 year old traditions, watch reality TV, check our facebook, we have to wonder, how dangerous is nostalgia and when will we create something again?

Nietzsche thought we needed to create the Overman, and such a creation would be celebrated for thousands of years to come. The creativity of the specimen would catapult us out of boredom and into a new level of self-actualization. I don’t think we need something so dramatic (or so utopian, or so..a lot of things).


4 Responses to “Trolling the Cultural Trashcan”

  1. 1 Anna Souchuk
    November 18, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Jordan, I see your blog posts on Facebook from time to time and was compelled to comment on this one. Two things to think about:

    1) What role does fear (specifically fear of change) play in nostalgia?

    2) Even though the turn of the (last century) was in some cases marked by optimism here in the States, that wasn’t the case everywhere (Vienna during the turn of the century, for example, a place bursting with intellectual energy, was also fraught with anxieties and nervousness).

    Happy Holidays! (*snicker*)

    — Anna

    • 2 questionbeggar
      November 18, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      Haha, Anna! Thanks for the comments Professor. I look at your very up-to-date stream of FB postings from time to time as well. Some nice finds in there.

      I think the relationship between fear and nostalgia is not nearly as simple as I’ve presented it, though nostalgia is becoming more pathological in U.S. culture recently. At other times, I think nostalgia is a healthy expression of what Kant thought was a condition on experience: that we must imagine ourselves as existing in time. In those moments, nostalgia connects our current self to a past self and many times I think gives us the happiness to keep living our life on the path we’ve chosen.

      As to the point about Austria and Europe, I have nothing to say other than that I miss details when I paint with a broad brush, and the anxiety of Freud’s Vienna is a good example of a culture that might be missing normal levels of optimism. What I think is so interesting is that it’s usually pretty easy to think about a decade or a time period as having an animating spirit. After WWI, Europe and the U.S. were both crippled by self-doubt and pessimism (same thing after Nixon left office). Other times, people are more excited for the future (Berlin Wall, post soviet union, the 90s). Unfortunately, some periods of intense optimism are accompanied by brutal revolution or repression.

      Anyway, I think the culture today is pretty negative and as I said, bored with itself.

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