A Culture in Ruins
Lady Gaga reportedly spent $25 million on pop art to jazz up her new and apparently underwhelming album. In contrast, Miley Cyrus’ sexual twerking at the MTV Music Video Awards earned her more millions by exposing her rather unimpressive anatomy. Both make the once vulgar Madonna seem like June Cleaver, but at least raise an existential question: how much lower can we go?
Meanwhile, hip-hop artist Kanye West is promoting his own new music video. He seems to be having sex with his girlfriend Kim Kardashian while riding a motorcycle. If you did not know that Kanye West was the singer of the background music, by the quality of the lyrics and beat, you might think that a fourth grader was spewing rhymed obscenities, in the fashion that Gaga and Cyrus make up with obscenity, both spoken and visual, what they lack in musical, dance, and artistic talent.
In the two-second attention spans of our app culture, a bare nipple, a potty-mouth obscenity, or a multimillionaire’s flippant reference to a “ho” earns followers and thus big money in a way that even once cutting-edge Elvis Presley’s melodies or an against-the-grain Van Gogh impressionistic painting or a T.S. Eliot poem could never quite seem so shockingly profitable.
Professors know that bored students do their Facebooking rather than listen to lectures. Commuters fear that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving. Pedestrians are hit by other strollers whose heads are glued to iPhones. No one believes that such fixations arise from watching the History Channel, googling the Renaissance, or reading the Economist. No matter -- in our therapeutic culture, in theory millions of students could do all those things, so the next new fad for our broke universities and trillion-dollar indebted college students is to provide them all with free iPads. Only the absence of an iPad robs us of future Edisons and Einsteins.
The radically egalitarian ethos demands always the descent to the lowest common denominators of taste. A world without requisites is the fairest. To capture the most attention of the masses requires a Cyrus, Gaga, or West. Once classical canons of artistic, literary, or musical expression were torn down, and once those classically trained rebels who ripped them apart have passed on, we are left with the ruins of trying to shock what is perhaps beyond being shocked. What more could Miley Cyrus do -- wear two foam fingers? Could Mr. West mount his girlfriend, and sing and dance while riding backwards?
Starting from Zero
In other words, once you have rebelled against hexameters, quarter notes, or realistic representation, and after you have rebelled against that rebellion with crucifixes in urine, obscenity-laced rap, and peek-a-boo nudity on stage, what are you left with? The 20th-century rebels who knew what they did not like have been replaced by the anti-rebels who don’t know that there was ever something against which to rebel. Again, we are left with the 21st-century of Lady Gaga giving birth to a blue sphere, Miley Cyrus probing body orifices with a foam oversized finger, and Kanye West humping on a motorcycle while reciting obscene nursery-rhyme ditties.
In a society where endorsing fairness and equality equates with success, no supposedly arbitrary canons can exclude much of anything. Who are you to say that song A is bad, or movie B is good, given your own class, race, and gender privileges that result in excluding someone or something? The less dialogue and the more explosions and nudity earn supposedly more ticket-buyers, at least until a new generation wishes to build something from the ashes.
There can be no truth in our culture, given that it discriminates and proves hurtful to too many. The greatest sin in America is not to lie, but to embrace a hierarchy of any sort at all.
I think Barack Obama once promised Americans that we would never lose our doctors or preexisting health plans when his Obamacare was enacted. But I am not sure anymore. He has explained that he never said that, and retroactively added that he had long warned us that our plans were in danger if they did not comply with his new guidelines. Maybe I’d forgotten that. Even if the president of the United States is lying about his lie, what difference does it make? Those who cite the lie, not the untruth teller, are those who seek to impose discriminatory standards.
I also gather that Obamacare has so far not worked too well, because Republicans and the privileged sabotaged it. Or perhaps it is working well and soon we will see proof of that claim with an 80% successful sign-up rate. After all, buy a book on Amazon or a ticket on Travelocity and you must be pleased if you can get through in four out of five tries. In our present culture, language creates reality, and those who object are veritable enemies of the people.
Our culture also seems shocked that you cannot mandate more healthcare for more people at less cost. It is outraged that those who use it rarely would not voluntarily rush to pay more for what others will use a lot. That there are still innate laws of physics and human nature seems somehow unfair or at least someone's fault. More unemployment insurance, EBT cards, disability coverage, and free phones appear magically because they should do so. Those who say they do not, or do not wish them to appear magically, apparently therefore ensure that they don't.
I thought our culture had become less paranoid about matter of race. But the opposite in fact is true. Oprah Winfrey is a multibillionaire, and yet she announces that those whom she thinks are racist must soon die for what she thinks is endemic racism to end. But who would adjudicate who is and who is not racist? Oprah -- who believes it is racist to criticize Barak Obama? Maybe critics of the president can wear yellow badges and be monitored and catalogued as we die, as proper metrics of the country’s trajectory to a racially tolerant society? But who will police the police -- what if Oprah herself could be the racist who sees and judges people on the basis of how they look or most closely approximate her own appearance?
Dispatches from the Memory Hole
The country elected and reelected Barack Obama. That means nothing. As the president suffers the same second-term meltdowns as all his predecessors -- but not quite the visceral hatred that led to Clinton’s impeachment and the near dehumanization of Bush -- we are told that racism explains why a president one day has a 60% approval rating and later barely achieves 40%. The IRS, Benghazi, NSA, AP, and ACA scandals, and the embarrassments over Syria, Egypt and Libya apparently mean nothing. Ponder that: In our present culture, to the degree you support Obama you are exempt from the charge of racism; to the degree you begin to question him, you earn suspicion.
Meanwhile, we hear whispers that in our big cities a new fad spreads of young African-American teen males boxing unsuspecting people in the head (the “knockout” game). Even a congresswoman was decked. There is gossip that Jews in New York are especially targeted. I say gossip because usually the racial profiles of both the victims and suspected perpetrators are felt to be better hushed. Racism in our culture is not evident in selecting targets to brain bash on the basis of their race, but in suggesting that the evidence so far suggests that it happens.
In our relativistic culture, the common bond between incurring vast national debt, federal programs that are failing, lies from top officials, and a host of other scandals is simply who benefits and who is bothered. Obamacare became a scandal only when 51% of the people feared that they would be put out in a way they were not by a politicized IRS that collects someone else’s taxes, or a NSA that spies on someone else, or an AP journalist whose name no one knows, or a jailed video maker about whom no one cares. But Obamacare affects the people and so the panicked men of the people must make the necessary adjustments through euphemisms and falsities to the point that no one can remember what was promised in 2009, much less what was even once said.
I saw the candidate Obama say in 2008 that a president cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce. And I saw him in 2013 do just that. But then did I really see that -- and if I did why would I mention that I did? What suspicious urge would drive me to note a discrepancy? What thought crime am I guilty of?
Why would a culture that canonizes a Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, or Lady Gaga have the discrimination to determine whether their chief executive tells the truth or lies? Obamacare is a great program in a way that West, Cyrus, and Gaga are great artists, in a way that more iPads will mean more geniuses.
(Artwork created using multiple elements from Shutterstock.com.)