Streaming Downward

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.

One thought on “Streaming Downward

  1. I see your point and even agree with it to some extent, but IMO Shakespeare is a bad example. His plays were never meant to be great literature. They were entertainment for the masses, and when you read them with an ear for what the words meant at the time, they’re plenty low, full of crude puns and vulgar double entendres. Many other “great writers” of the past are similar. Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, Austen – they weren’t writing “great literature” either. They were writing to entertain. It was critics who turned them into great literature, because the critics needed to come up with highbrow explanations for why they liked this common, plebeian fodder.

    I think something similar applies in movies. We remember the ones that we liked, and make up hindsight explanations for why we liked them. So superhero films are popular. So what? Is there really that much difference between a modern superhero film and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938)? Robin is a medieval superhero, pure and simple.

    Hollywood has never been all that original, either. Look down any list of top ten films in any genre, and try to find even one that isn’t based at least partly on an already-existing story. It isn’t easy.

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