The dilemma of hypermodernity (Part Four)
By Mark Wegierski
An earlier, academic version of this essay has appeared in This World: Religion and Public Life (Culture and Consumption) no. 31 (2000) (New Brunswick, USA and London, UK: Transaction Publishers), pp. 29-45. This is the 16th anniversary of the appearance of the academic version of the essay – which had also appeared in various, different, non-academic iterations in the 1990s, including in Polish translation. The essay had also appeared in three parts on its 15th anniversary, in Quarterly Review (UK).
All-in-all, it is rather like the world portrayed in such ambiguous or somewhat culturally-challenging films as: Paddy Chayefsky's Network (where the desperate prophet-figure, after a brave fight, concludes, "we're all androids now"); Wall Street ("greed is good!!"); Tim Burton's new Batman epics; Ridley Scott's Blade Runner; Verhoeven's RoboCop; Terry Gilliam's Brazil; Robert Longo's Johnny Mnemonic (based on William Gibson's short story); Judge Dredd; or the Max Headroom TV series -- most of which depict the so-called "air-conditioned nightmare" of the "near-future". (Max Headroom was set "twenty minutes into the future".) This "gritty future" -- distinct in some ways from the supersanitized Brave New World environment -- is also explored in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange (filmed by Stanley Kubrick), and in the entire "cyberpunk" subgenre of science-fiction. There already exists -- among other phenomena -- a fairly popular rock music movement often called by that name; as well as other such extremal movements (which amount to being entire styles-of-life), like thrash-metal and gangsta-rap, promoting hyperviolence and hyperdecadence.
These various contemporary artefacts (as well as the burgeoning genre of "the lonely, wounded hero", best typified by Andrew Lloyd Webber's operatic interpretation of The Phantom of the Opera, as well as the Beauty and the Beast TV series) suggest that meaningful resistance to the current system -- whether in strong words or deeds -- must initially come from embattled lonely men and women of heroic stature, championing and joining together with all others who are brutally marginalized by the current power-realities. Many of the truly intelligent and decent people in North America wander about half-dazed and half-broken, not even conscious of what is plaguing them and the society as a whole.
And, if generational rebellion truly is inevitable, let it flow in a natural and socially-meaningful direction: towards a rejection of the whole system of media-oligarchy with all its sterility and machine-like conditioning processes. However, a certain subtlety is also called for. Although rock-music is undeniably one of the primary means for the socialization of youth into contemporary society, it maintains in places strong Romantic and idealistic themes, however distorted they might be. To properly evoke these themes, through careful lyrical and melodic analysis, in a socially meaningful way, would be a quick point of entry into the very centre of current media-generated "youth-culture". Another possibly hopeful music genre is the rising "New Country".
Yet, ultimately, the only worthwhile attitude to contemporary North American culture, which "air-conditions hell and kills the soul" -- for anyone claiming the barest shred of thought, reflection, or decency -- must be cutting, biting, searing, consistent criticism. Surely, there can be no cause more heroic and idealistic than to fight against a corrupt and socially-destructive oligarchy; to discover real meaning and worth in one's own life; and to strive to recreate and then participate fully in a real social, communal, and spiritual life, "heart speaking to heart". This deeply-felt, determined, serious-minded criticism might even be seen as the only genuine art or poetry -- in the highest meaning of those terms -- possible in our age. Arguably, everything else is mannerism, kitsch, commodity, or genre-piece, meaningful only in so far as it echoes the serious critique of "the contemporary order of things".
In the face of a completely manipulated environment, it appears that most of us are left with, as our final defence and ultimate touchstone, only our subterranean underground impulses, our primeval unconscious, which remains virtually inviolate -- if we can even believe in something like it, in this day and age. This disjunction between something that can be felt as our primeval eros, which is virtually the same as when we emerged from the caves, and our radically altered technological world, probably explains why there are so many people today who superficially accept contemporary norms, yet are genuinely unhappy. Ever-deepening unhappiness in the midst of sybaritic luxury, or rather, more often than not, engendered by that purposeless luxury, will remain a part of the human condition in contemporary society until the real genetic manipulation, à la Brave New World, ever actually begins.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.