A dark turn in the pop-culture? (Part Sixteen)
By Mark Wegierski
The above survey of these aspects of pop-culture has been partially inspired by William D. Romanowski's, Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life. Three main conclusions can be drawn from this burgeoning tide of society's playing around with darker themes.
First of all, there is the uttermost and thoroughgoing atheism and/or nihilism of many young people today. For such people, the notion of surrounding, powerful dark forces is the basis only of diversionary, jaded entertainments. It should be made clear that they do not actually believe in vampires, demons, and conspiracies -- but are even more remote from believing in God. Yet, those who indulge in these amusements in a longstanding and obsessive fashion, may be opening themselves up to a more concrete embrace of evil.
Secondly, RPG's can flourish only in a mostly history-less milieu, where there are few identifications with the long history of one's nation or people. It is also a milieu of highly pampered comfort. These young people have virtually never felt any real deprivation in their lives, nor confronted sharp existential dilemmas, such as those in a world living under the shadow of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. These young people have rarely faced a real test of character or conviction. Although we are now said by some to be engaged in "World War IV" against Islamist extremism ("World War III" was the Cold War) – which might contribute to an atmosphere of "moral clarity" – millions of Americans and Europeans appear entirely unaffected by any kind of necessities of the struggle. (Among the most popular albums has been Green Day's American Idiot, whose ranting anti-patriotic lyrics and spoken fragments must surely strike most Americans – and especially the American soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan – as an abomination.) The self-absorbed participation in imaginative or pseudo-imaginative exaltation as mere entertainment is possible only in a late modern milieu where a person has usually never had to do real work, real thinking, and real fighting.
The third point is that, in the late modern milieu, RPG's serve a role similar to the "Violent Passion Surrogate" (VPS) described in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The life of these young people is all too comfortable, all too boring, and lacks real meaning. The RPG supplies a kind of VPS, ersatz meaning, and (in some cases) "sense of history" (virtually all RPG's of whatever subgenre have highly elaborate backgrounds). One notices the catchphrase of the Call to Power II computer game from Activision – "History is what you make it."
It may be remembered that the advertising catchphrase of the 1999 hit-movie, The Matrix, which brilliantly portrayed a dark future based on extrapolating both AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (Virtual Reality), was simply that: "Reality is a thing of the past." A number of meanings can be attached to this phrase. For one thing, our own 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 we are all caught in leads to a "postmodern blur." For another, the notion of reality may be tied to the sense of both a personal and historical past, of having a sense of ongoing continuity in our daily living. Insofar as one becomes wrapped up in a never-ending series of fantasies and phantasms, one's sense of reality may become profoundly fractured.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.