16 Oct STAR WARS, NATIVE GHOST DANCING, HAPPY MEALS – NONE OF THESE ARE CULTURE
“Gen Z is so stupid not to ‘get’ the original Star Wars movies, which were classics…”
No point resenting younger generation for not being gripped by the precious mainstream films and TV of your youth. These films and movies were shit and superficial in their time. It was simply packaged and marketed into the zeitgeist in a way that you, when young, found compelling. Decades later, there’s no zeitgeist for the film/show, so it must stand on its own two feet. Most don’t. They were shit when they were made and they’re shit now.
Star Wars is a good example. It was shallow, derivative blarney in 1977, despite the fact it thrilled the imagination of a generation of children. Kids may be sincere but they’re no judge of deep cultural value. The paucity of George Lucas’ vision was exposed in the late 1990s prequels, to be replaced by corporate direction and a Disney-Marvel skin for a succession of cash grab movie spectacles in the 2000s and 2010s.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. There is nothing especially wrong with Star Wars. There’s nothing wrong with any of the pop-movie genres, same as there’s nothing wrong with Marvel comics or daytime soap operas or MMORPGs or tabloid media or fast food chains or city-transient sports franchise or any other mass-produced brand name consumerism.
But it’s not true culture. It doesn’t last. It neither encapsulates nor reveals any deeper fundamental truth. Firework displays can be spectacular too. And pretty and communal and comfortable; but, in the same way, they’re not real culture either. In fact the ephemera is part of the allure.
Perhaps a more stark illustration is the so-called cultures of exoticism – foreign ethnicities with their colourful costumes, percussive rituals, cutting off foreskins and clitorises. These aren’t real culture either. The dancing prancing be-feathered tribal performers are the same as fast food fireworks: comfortable titillation of the moment, with zero deeper or transcending substance.
The problem, in our ahistorical trigger-happy contemporary society, comes when these consumer products become lauded as if they’re culturally on par with authentic, original, individual creativity. They’re not. In many ways they’re the antithesis of real culture, since their consumption leaves increasingly little time (and attention) for engaging with – or trying to make – nuanced or complex art.
Pornography has historically been at the leading edge of contemporary cultural zeitgeist and perhaps this remains true to this day.
Try this metaphor:
Consumer culture is like a 30-second wank. Easy, accessible, indulgent, comfortable, effortless. Real culture, on the other hand, is more like the diverse spectrum of non-solo sex. It’s more of an effort to get into. It’s less convenient, sometimes less comfortable, often requires tending a communion of indulgence rather than simply one’s own. But, once in, there’s no comparison. Not only is the experience better in every conceivable way but sometimes it creates new, independent life. What a useful metaphor.