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A dark turn in the pop-culture? (Part One)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted January 13, 2014

This new series of pieces looks at so-called late modern societies – especially America and Canada – that, it could be argued, have become influenced by an excess of dark and disorienting imageries, especially in the various subgenres of the fantastic. 

D&D minatures tournamentAmong the most prominent and absorbing of the various subgenres of the fantastic are fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) such as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). While D&D may have considerably faded in more recent decades from the major place it once occupied in the popular imagination – for example, in the 1980s – it can nevertheless be seen as the original inspiration for myriads of RPG-type products, such as the Massively Multi-Player Online Role-playing Games (MMPORGs), such as World of Warcraft.

It is argued that these fantastic imageries are often used (or have been used in earlier decades) to "capture" the interests of some brighter and more inquisitive younger persons, which might otherwise have found an outlet in real politics and social engagement. It is argued that what often occurs is a "short-circuiting" of the imaginative faculties – that otherwise might have been engaged by various earlier "idealisms" – especially the currently unfashionable "idealisms" of traditional religion and nation.

The series will look especially at fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) (such as D&D), as being among the most highly absorbing imaginative activities. It will also be noted how many of the RPGs have evolved in ever darker directions in the succeeding decades, or have been created with ever darker premises.

Life in late modernity is often so fluid and malleable that it may seem that there is no "hard reality" to ever get hold of. The information traffic many persons are caught in seems to lead to a "postmodern blur." The notion of reality may indeed be tied to the sense of having both a personal and historical past, which is somewhat more "concrete." Insofar as many persons tend to become wrapped up in a never-ending series of fantasies and phantasms, their very sense of reality may become profoundly fractured.

There is a tendency today for the disappearance of non-materialist outlooks (such as those tied to the duties and obligations of traditional religion or nation), in favor of material consumption, and what could be seen as a veritable frenzy of imaginative overloading.

The purpose of this series is to draw certain deeper social and cultural conclusions from the burgeoning presence in late modern society of various types of paper- and electronic-based fictions and entertainments. While today they are not necessarily the largest of mass phenomena, the obsessions of an often highly intelligent sub-segment of the younger population (or what in earlier decades was a younger population) could be seen as symptomatic of many trends and directions of late modern society.

(To be continued.) ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.





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