As the election churns to its finish, and as pundits and polls try to tell us who the winner will be, it’s useful to remember that, as the saying goes, culture is upstream from politics. Culture has a greater and longer-lasting effect on our lives and our families than whoever wins a single election. The product of our arts, our sports, our religion, our education, culture informs our values, our ways of seeing the world and the people around us.
When we study the past, few will ever remember what laws were passed when, or what votes were cast by whom. Instead, we tend to look at an era’s literature, at the architecture, at the music and paintings and sculpture to understand the people of the past. A quick traipse through western civilization and you’ll find such luminaries as Beethoven, Shakespeare, Moliere, and, uh, Cardi B.
It’s of course bad enough that something as low and base as the rapper’s “W.A.P.” would find popularity. But leave it to the Democrats and Joe Biden to confer legitimacy on the demeaning and classless pop star by giving her an interview with him. What an example to set for the American people.
In another recent interview, with Hollywood trade publication Deadline, the British comic book author Alan Moore, who created the popular graphic novels, “The Watchmen” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” (both of which have been adapted into movies) lamented how pop culture has been overtaken by superhero stories. “I have no interest in superheroes, they were a thing that was invented in the late 1930s for children, and they are perfectly good as children’s entertainment. But if you try to make them for the adult world then I think it becomes kind of grotesque.”
Unfortunately, our culture, especially our pop culture, has been overtaken by these grotesques. But then Moore points to 2016, when the infantilization reflected at the box office, when half of the top twelve movies featured superheroes, and sees a link to the voters of Britain and the U.S. electing that year to leave the EU and electing Donald Trump president, respectively — elections that, according to Moore, reflected the infantilization of the population.
But here I think Moore gets it wrong. The true infantilization of the population is reflected in policies that, for example, keep young adults up to age 26 on their parents’ insurance policies, policies that seek to establish an ever-more paternalistic state too watch over us, make sure we get the right foods, the right medicines, the right rental rates for our apartments.
Our pop culture is dominated by children’s stories and vulgarities. It’s quite a change from the days of Shakespeare and Mozart. Or even Hemingway and Ellington. It should come as no surprise our politics are in the shape they are in. The waters flowing through need filtering.