Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pop (Culture) Has Eaten Itself

A look at the 2011 top 20 grossing films in the US should send bolts of terror down the spine of any Hollywood mogul.

The number one film was a Harry Potter sequel, the last in the series. Number two was a Transformers sequel everyone agreed signaled the death knell of the franchise. Twilight, another franchise that's ending, was number three.

Going down the list you have a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel (based on a theme park ride), the fifth Fast and Furious film, a Mission: Impossible sequel (a franchise from the 1960s), a Sherlock Holmes film (created over a century ago) a Planet of the Apes reboot, three movies based on Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics from the early 60s, a couple comedies, a drama, a Smurfs film (another ancient franchise), some kiddie flicks (including Puss in Boots, based on an old fairy tale) and God help us all- an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.

Given that nearly all of these films could have been made almost fifty years ago, it's more than safe to assume there is an absolute drought of creativity in Tinseltown, which is merely a microcosm of the drought in creativity in the larger culture. A look at what's been released so far in 2012 is even more depressing, a list of mostly forgettable castoffs with only two films having broken that crucial $100m mark.

We keep hearing how massively huge and awesome Geek culture is, but the numbers don't bear it out. Sure, nearly all of these movies have some tangential connection to Geek culture but more importantly they appeal to chronological children, and taking your kids to the movies is one of the few (marginally) affordable sources of entertainment available to families these days.

Hollywood tried marketing a film solely for the mythical Geek market, and spent a fortune on production and promotion doing so.

The film was called Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a cute little romp based on a popular series of graphic novels. They pulled out all the stops on this one, spending upwards of $85,000,000 on production and who knows how much on promotion (you couldn't turn on SyFy or Cartoon Network in 2010 without being hammered by ads for the film).

Let's be conservative and say they spent thirty million dollars on promotion- that's an investment of $115M on a film that grossed $48M worldwide ($30M US, $18M int'l) and did a paltry $15M on DVD. Given that the exhibitors and the retailers get half and there are always random legal fees to worry about, this film needed to hit the $250M mark to break even (being conservative, again) and barely grossed a quarter of that. Ouch.

Then there's this:
"John Carter" is now officially a flop of galactic proportions.
The Walt Disney Co. said Monday that it expects to book a loss of $200 million on the movie in the quarter through March. That ranks it among Hollywood's all-time biggest money-losers.

Directed by Pixar's Andrew Stanton, the 3-D effects-laden movie about a Civil War veteran transplanted to Mars was already headed to the "Red Ink Planet," according to Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Creutz. Yet he expected a write-down of about half that size.
I haven't seen the film yet (I want to), but several people on the Secret Sun Facebook group have and really liked it. Critical opinion doesn't mean jack anymore since sites like Rotten Tomatoes include movie bloggers that literally have no readers in their aggregate scores, but Harry Knowles seemed to love the film and other critics did as well.

My theory on the backlash to this film has less to do with the quality of what's on the screen and what it represents; a pre-postmodern America of the pulps and the frontier, an America of possibility that's lost to us now. John Carter, Warlord of Mars is definitely not a postmodern superhero, and can't be revised to postmodernity the way Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes was.

John Carter, Warlord of Mars is also an unwelcome reminder of an America in which mystically-minded creators like Edgar Rice Burroughs actually created-- you know, had actual frickin' ideas.

An America where movies weren't built around god-damned board games:
Battleship director Peter Berg has a rather amusing way of acknowledging the skepticism about a movie based on a Hasbro board game: ”It didn’t lend itself to the most logical interpretation for a film.” But at the panel for Battleship at WonderCon in Anaheim, Calif., Berg seemed determined to convince the crowd that there is in fact a strong movie tucked inside a game that consists of calling out coordinates to try to sink your buddy’s ships. Joined by costars Brooklyn Decker and Alexander Skarsgård, Berg pointed out that when you do end up hitting one of those plastic ships, you and your friend are “trying to kill each other as mercilessly as possible,” and that indeed does make for a compelling story.
Or of constant rebootings of tired, dated franchises:
Michael Bay Responds to Outrage Over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Plot Changes

“Fans need to take a breath, and chill. They have not read the script…Our team is working closely with one of the original creators of Ninja Turtles to help expand and give a more complex back story. Relax, we are including everything that made you become fans in the first place. We are just building a richer world. When you see this movie, kids are going to believe, one day, that these turtles actually do exist when [we] are done with this movie.”

Then there's TV, the great hope for auteurs and science fiction and fantasy fans.
With the success of Lost (and the critical success of Battlestar Galactica) networks trotted out a parade of series meant to recapture that lightning in a bottle-- Flash Forward, Invasion, The Event-- but most of them failed. The most recent attempt- ABC's The River, seems destined to follow suit.

Nerds will lecture you until the cows come home as to how Fringe is superior in every way to The X-Files, but Fringe is limping to its death at a time (its fourth season) when The X-Files was romping, and garners ratings (just above a dismal one-share) only a fraction of TXF at it's lowest, final-season ebb.

Fox seems reluctant to announce its cancellation because its already catastrophic ratings would collapse to Dollhouse levels, but when your showrunner is talking doing a "fifth season" as a comic book, you know which way the wind is blowing:
Though the producers have previously said they hope to wrap up as much as possible in the fourth season finale if the network pulls the plug, producer Jeff Pinkner says the writers would also put out a one-off comic book to wrap up the rest of the lingering storylines.

"It would be really elaborate, and we would go to town on it and make sure that everything you needed to understand about the show would be in that and pay off that way," he said. "That's our backup plan."
SyFy-- which is to science fiction what MTV is to music today-- recently put the kibosh on a new Battlestar Galactica series, after unceremoniously slaying BSG prequel Caprica. Ringer-- starring geek goddess Sarah Michelle Gellar-- is limping to cancellation, and most of the geek-friendly CW lineup (Vampire Diaries, Nikita) struggles to hit a one-share. Fox killed Spielberg's Terra Nova (though Netflix is talking about picking it and The River up, at much lower fees, surely) and JJ Abrams' Alcatraz and a Napoleon Dynamite cartoon are not the sure-things they should have been.

We'll leave aside the dismal spectacle of pop music because it's been so terrible for so long that I really have to wonder about people who can still be bothered to get upset about it. What I'm hearing on Top 40 radio sounds like an endless late 80s tape-loop, so much so that I'm almost expecting Exposé, T'Pau and Taylor Dayne to be reanimated any minute now.

It does seem that the sickening Nicki Minaj and Madonna spectacles earlier this year aside, quasi-occultism in pop seems to be on the way out, and none too soon. The only thing worse than actually seeing it all was the ridiculous hysteria it engendered.

Comics-- which should be a beehive of pure, unbridled creative madness-- are puttering along, catering largely to an audience of middle-age men (superhero comics) and a much smaller audience of hipster creator/readers (indie comics).

The big headline on industry site ICV2 was that February's sales were up over Feb. 2011, an impressive feat until you see how frickin' flat-out disastrous 2011 figures were. DC's recent reboot rules the Top 10, but that's simply a 90s vintage makeover of a late 50s makeover of early 40s superheroes. An endless nostalgia loop.

Having been involved in fandom since the mid 70s, I can say that I've never seen the ideal of true creativity have a lower cache in comics than it does today.

Sure, all these wacked Kirby concepts we look at here took a good 20 years or so for the rest of fandom to warm up to, but even then you had your mystic madmen like Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, your Robert Crumb's and your Richard Corben's and your Doug Moench's, your hippie phreaks spiking the funnybook punchbowl with four-color blotter.

In the 80s and 90s you had your British Invasion which gave us mystic madmen Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis. I doubt any of these guys would get their feet in the door the way things are going. The readers simply wouldn't tolerate it.

With Borders gone, graphic novels aren't as welcome in the more conservative environs of stores like Barnes and Noble. A look at what's selling at B& doesn't fill my heart with hope- most of the graphic novels in their top 1000 are Walking Dead volumes, whose success is surely fired by the overwhelming success of the AMC series. But Walking Dead is not a series that most people associate with comics, it's just a George Romero knockoff.

Well-crafted, but I mean, come on. Pay the guy royalties already.

And no matter how hard the sociologists apologize, the zombie meme is a warning sign. It's a symptom of surrender, of collapse. I wonder if zombie stories-- or something like them-- were popular in late-period Rome.

What all of this is symptomatic of is the process of Disenchantment. This, in the end, is a conscious process. And for all of the brave talk about science, rationalism and reason, Disenchantment is an auto-destructive process for societies. History teaches us nothing else.

I'm hearing how successful the Skeptics and Atheists have been in recruiting geeks to their cause, and so the concomitant withering of creativity in Geek culture in the past ten years makes perfect sense: the repetition and remakes, the superficiality, the so-called "hard science" which exists only on paper and probably always will, the imposition of identity politics which repel most readers outside of the incessantly fractious in-groups.

Because true creativity is neither rational nor scientific, as Alan Moore will tell you and as our immersions into Kirby's weird worlds have proven.

Even though Lovecraft and Roddenberry gave lip service to science and rationality, it seems mostly politically motivated (Lovecraft's aristocratic loathing of the superstitious masses he saw in Red Hook and Roddenberry's Hollywood-liberal loathing of his Southern Baptist roots) or perhaps even a kind of protective totem, a lifeline to pull them back in from deep, chthonic realms both men traveled to in their imaginations.

True rationalists write forgettable hard sci-fi crap that no one reads anymore; authors like Asimov, Niven, Bova, Clarke. Guys whose brave predictions of our future have yet to come to pass and probably never will.

So, to approach creativity with the rational mind is profoundly irrational.

Of course I've been here before, most recently looking at Fringe's implosion. Given the quasi-rationalist mindset currently in vogue in Geekdom (which is driven by its need to be seen as intellectually superior without doing any actual science), it's no surprise that Fringe was used as a hammer to bash the mystical X-Files. But the problem is that weird science is usually purely theoretical science, and as such is hard to build gripping drama around:
Simply put, I don't believe any of the science in Fringe. Having followed the press releases of the theoretical science special interests (including DARPA) for the past three decades I've seen a lot of stuff that exists on paper and nowhere else and probably always will. In its admittedly righteous struggle against religious fascism, Science has oversold itself to credulous journalists, and in many ways Silicon Valley has done the same.

What's more, the omnipresence of Massive Dynamics and its subsidiaries tells the truth about science and technology-- it's the almost exclusive province of the rich and powerful.

And as such it offers very little to the rest of us, aside from more surveillance, more disease blowback, more tech-driven redundancy and internet-enabled unfair competition.
And I've talked about how MythBusters and the Skeptic (sic) movement (the JREF is the big player in this game, co-founded by the recently convicted Dayvi Pena, aka Jose Alvarez aka "Carlos"- watch this space for more on that story and any news pertaining to related criminal and civil action against Pena, Randi and the JREF) is creating a kind of pissy, reactive reductionism in fans that is directly antithetical to the attitudes of the creators of their favorite franchises.

Licking government boots is the ultimate Skepdick sacrament

It's all a kind of armoring, a retreat to the cold comforts of reduction for its own sake. It's a profound form of cowardice, and as time goes on, and this armoring fails to deal with the psychological dysfunction that used to be channeled into creativity, we'll see a lot of meltdowns in public, like the jerk on Mythbusters, Penn Jillette, the Amazing Atheist and much much more.

But the damage will be done to the culture first- the bed will be shat in:
I can't help but notice how bitter and angry so many of our skeptic friends are, and how all that rage addiction ends up carving ruts into their faces. Since I'm such a fan of myth-building I couldn't help but notice how often that walrus-looking chap on MythBusters looks like he's about to stroke-out from stoking his raging rage-on.

I also can't help but notice how the virtual armor so many people wear online seems to be oxidizing into a virtual iron maiden, with all of the "EPIC FAIL" snotiness and the post-irony we see.

I also can't help but notice how all of this reduction-worship is playing havoc on geek culture, which is stuck in an endless rut of remakes, revamps and reboots. A lot of this is down to the elephantitis (or Elephantiasis for the smarty pants set) plaguing the media monopolies, but a lot of is simply down to the atrophying of the mental muscles that enable the suspension of disbelief.
Ironically, given the mania for "science", or the fetishization of a Humanist religious ideal people refer to as "science" (true science can be as visionary and mystic as art, as Newton, Tesla and Crick taught us), the absolute parade of sludge that we're seeing in pop culture is the direct result of the imposition of scientistic principles on the creative process.

You want science? Look at what's playing on your radio or at your local multiplex. There's your "science," rationalists- in our pop culture. Own it. You made it. Take a bow.

Your average blockbuster movie is created by committees who consult sales charts and graphs and scientifically-designed test surveys, which they use to endlessly bombard the creatives with revisions. Most big-budget production exists in a totally digital environment, with actors reduced to puppets hitting marks in sterile green-screen rooms under the thumbs of dictatorial technocrat directors.

All of it is is test-marketed according to scientistic principles in front of sample audiences who are required to fill out excruciating, scientifically-designed questionnaires, which are then fed back into the system for the requisite changes. Even the production of most comedies and dramas are as spontaneous as the construction of a lawn mower.

That no one loves most of this stuff is a given. Hardly anyone remembers most of these films after a few months. Sure, there are exceptions, but in most cases- Harry Potter, the better superhero movies, Twilight-- the creative DNA has been imported from literary sources, and based in the vision of a single (irrational) creator.

What you're hearing on the radio might as well be created by guys in lab coats- it's almost completely electronic. Even the vocals are becoming increasingly robotic with the use of Auto-Tune. "Artists" are interchangeable, aside from a handful of superstars or genuine talents whose voices can't be simulated by technology. Yet.

So come on, science nerds; you own the Top 40. It was made for you. Hell, it's all made by you- by people who view the world as a dumb, mindless machine meant to be screwed to death, the same way you do. The same way you really do, when you're not trying to impress some pink-haired feminist with some environmentalist patter you heard that the ladies like.

Much keener minds than my own have wrestled with all of this, particularly Max Weber:
The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the 'disenchantment of the world.' Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental, nor is it accidental that today only within the smallest and intimate circles, in personal human situations, in pianissimo, that something is pulsating that corresponds to the prophetic pneuma, which in former times swept through the great communities like a firebrand, welding them together.

If one tries intellectually to construe new religions without a new and genuine prophecy, then, in an inner sense, something similar will result, but with still worse effects. And academic prophecy, finally, will create only fanatical sects but never a genuine community.

"The Disenchantment of Modern Life" by Max Weber
Although "Science" is waved about like a religion today, science is simply a tool. It's an elaborate system of measurement. And there are sciences that exist that are valid even if not recognized by pedantic pedagogues like James Randi.

Spot the difference

What we are actually seeing is the emergence of an atheist religion. It's nothing new and it's not a religion with a great track record for self-replication. What the Randi's and the Schirmer's and the Dawkins' won't tell you is that atheism and skepticism were all the rage during the decline period of Ancient Rome, and schools of thought like the Cynics and the Stoics offered a similar philosophy as well.

If you want to scare the shit out of yourself, read up on Ancient Rome, particularly the late Imperial period. It will be like looking in a mirror. Everything this country is going through today, they went through. This is one of the reasons that I argue that History is cyclical and not linear.

But the comfortable cosmopolitans of the Roman Empire were not stupid; I'd say most were smarter than the average American. You even had slaves with high degrees of education. And they too embraced reason and atheism as the hallmarks of a modern cilivized Roman.

They became obsessed with fitness and business and pleasure. And birthrates plummeted far below replacement rate among these fine, educated souls. Not so among the superstitious masses. Their religious leaders used demographics as a weapon and realized that they would one day overwhelm their refined rivals by force of sheer numbers. And, of course, they did.

Atheists and freethinkers ended up being burned at the stake for the next thousand years or so after Rome became a totalitarian theocracy and science, art, technology and medicine utterly collapsed until the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when the old gods of Europe awoke from their slumber once again.

For all of the brave talk about the inevitable march to an atheist, rationalist future the numbers again fail to bear all of that out. Read this bit of number-crunching, from an atheist blog:
Atheist Decline in Recent Past and Near Future

In the last few decades atheists have been a rapidly declining percentage of world population. They are now 2.5% of world population. Agnostics and those who are indifferent to religion are also a somewhat more slowly declining percentage of the world's population, they are now 11.5%.

There are two factors. First, the end of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and the loss of faith in communism elsewhere, particularly China. Atheists and non-religious people are overwhelmingly concentrated in communist countries. About two thirds of the world's atheist population is in China.

Second, religious people have far higher birth rates.
For the future the low birth rates among the more radical atheists and anti-religious people, and the agnostic and religiously indifferent will tend to lower their percentage in the population. There also maybe a vast decrease in the atheist and non-religious population as communism continues to lose its grip in China.
So if you believe in science and reason than you have to acknowledge the fact that this reductionist, atheist mindset has been a death-knell for cultures, going back thousands of years now.

The science has been done, people. Atheism is the religion of the graveyard. And now the same patterns are repeating themselves, as predicted. The canary in the coalmine is our pop culture, the last thing that Americans did better than anyone else.

While the Religious Right was taking over local governments and school boards,
the shills at Skeptical Inquirer were screaming about Loch Ness and astrology

Why someone wants to subscribe to what is ultimately the religion of the cubicle, no matter how cheap an ego fix it gives you, I have no idea. All of the skeptics and atheists talk tough now when the Religious Right are in relative decline, but spent their time worrying about palm readers and flying saucers when the Moral Majority were taking over tens of thousands of school boards, township committees, state legislatures and all of the rest.

In other words, they're just a bunch of cowards and shills. Or in some cases, something much, much worse. More on all that in the next Secret War Against the New Age post.

There is another way- an excluded middle between self-annihilating scientism and mindless fundamentalism. Between formless urbanism and airless tribalism. The problem is that you have to work at it, you have to struggle. You have to overcome the perfectly human need for self-worship and operating within limited comfort zones.

And if you're like me and believe-- no, live-- the concept of the microcosm and macrocosm, then you realize the same principles apply to everything you do, and that everything is a creative act.

So, in other words, our pop culture sucks because our culture sucks. And it sucks because we're focused on the wrong things, and we mistake self-aggrandizement for self-actualization. We've been sold a bill of goods, only the goods were routed to China and now we're stuck with the bill. We're all trapped on the same ride, the only difference is that some of us realize it.

I work very hard to keep this blog focused on its original mandate. This post may be a bit of root canal, and a lot of it might have been said before, but I'll keep saying it until I feel like enough people are listening. There are a lot of hopeful signs, and a lot of people are waking up.

But there is a tendency among some in the excluded middle to throw up one's hands and take the easy way out and fall in line with either side of the dichotomy. I see that as nothing short of treason, if not suicide.

Those people will never accept you, no matter how many of your old friends you turn against, or how many of your old beliefs you disavow. They'll always laugh at you behind your back. They'll always see you as stained, defective, stupid, no matter how far you bend over for them.

Keep fighting, because it's the weirdos and the outcasts who have made things happen, who have moved things forward. Sure, the System loves to appropriate countercultures and subcultures, and now they're doing it with the Geeks. But they do at their own peril. True creativity can't abide by all of that, ultimately it will stop negotiating. And the Golden Goose will be cooked. And we're seeing just how catastrophic that can be, as creativity withers away in the cultural conversation.

But the means to create viable art and culture have never been more available and the means to distribute it have never been more democratized. The question is the will to create it, and yes, to appreciate it.

Breaking through the endless static of 2012 will be the challenge. Having something meaningful and compelling to say and the talent to say it in an interesting way will be the way to meet that challenge.


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  2. I just started a book you might find interesting: 'As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary PreHistory of Virtual Reality' by Michael Saler. He was interviewed about it on the 2/16 episode of Erik Davis' Expanded Mind podcast. He examines modern disenchantment and what he calls the "ironic imagination" and "animistic reason" in Secondary World fiction.

  3. Thanks for this post. It helped claify some themes I am dealing with in my own creative process/project. Haven't thought of Weber in ages. . Re-enchantment, indeed.

  4. Viva the Excluded Middle Rerevolution!

  5. I can save ya'll some time that i will never get back

    other than the XFiles/Fringe human amber cocoon, The River season finale was the worst I've seen in years

    Alcatraz is a tedious excruciating dull mess even with Mk-Ultra and The Knights of The Golden Circle

  6. This post reminds me of a vital bit from C.S. Lewis' "That Hideous Strength" where a man is describing his ideal vision of Earth being as sterile, stark, and dead as the Moon surface. I didn't like that book so much, but that sequence really took my breath away. It has stood in my mind as a true illustration of the materialist endgame. On the other end of the spectrum, have you taken notice of the shared occult power imagery running in Jay Z and Kanye's circles that all seem to lead to Rick Rubin's castle?

  7. yeah, do you really feel?

  8. "What all of this is symptomatic of is the process of Disenchantment"

    exactly the opposite -- it's the product of enchantment

    u.s. culture is enervated and sucks anubis dick b/c it lacks authentic masculinity, which is everywhere mashed, if not outright criminalized

    films suck, pop music with its endless arrogant, talentless divas suck, american idol sucks, there better talent at the local open mic

    post-feminist, post-p.c. america is a failure, culturally, ethically, economically, and spiritually, a diktat of mediocrities promoting mediocrities, makes the last years of the u.s.s.r. look line the Renaissance

    this is what y'all demanded, this is what you got, no doubt your wives are happy tho, ptooey

  9. Karl Popper, in his Logic of Scientific Discovery, separated what he called the context of discovery from the context of justification - meaning that how scientists arrive at discoveries is a secondary and subjective issue, and the question of formal proof is essential. Big mistake.

    The Renaissance philosopher-magicians (I'm thinking particularly of Ficino) considered the imagination the quintessentially human faculty, bridging the gap between the (senseless) world of sensory inputs and the immutable reality perceived by the rational/noetic faculty.

    A culture like ours totally devalues imagination, while giving a nod to its poor cousin fantasy. We're not going anywhere this way. And I agree, the current prevalence of the zombie (and vampire?) memes signal an implosion of sorts.

  10. Brilliant post, I think you’ve pretty much nailed the current cultural milieu. Between the hammer and anvil of fundamentalism and political correctness, our cultural vitality is being crushed. I strongly agree with ray’s comments; like the Soviet Union, an emasculated, P.C. America is unlikely to produce much culture of value. Most great creativity is the product of raw masculine energy, untamed and unfettered by the wretched dictates of the levellers. People like Crowley, Lovecraft and Parsons would be non-entities today because of their radically incorrect and offensive sensibilities.

    So perhaps you need to look to the non-fundamentalist far right for the most cogent critiques of this wretched modern culture, because what I see wherever I look is a mediocre liberal sensibility stifling the creative energy of Western man, and until this yoke is overthrown, I wouldn’t expect anything to improve on the cultural front. Western man must rediscover the primal energies upon which all great cultures are founded, or we will soon go the way of Rome.

  11. Disenchantment indeed. We have had our creativity ground under the wheels of progress and technology. Patrick Harpur so eloquently talked about this obliquely when he appeared on my show. He talked about the trickster quality of the daemonic forces and his belief that they have now masqueraded themselves in the sciences via the quantum world, with uncertainty, and "spooky action at a distance". It also is an assault on the imagination. What little we have today is the written word and there is a terrible trend, reinforced by folks that want to be the arbiters of all things, thus discouraging reading for ones self, to not read but take their information distilled and flavored like a super-sized Latte Grande. What future do we slouch toward? As I remarked in an earlier comment on the FB page we are moving toward the Borg world of the future. Not necessarily a "merging" of man and machine like Kurzweil would have or even a singularity but more akin to the fate of man in the Dune Mythos, where "thinking machines" did everything while man devolved into a decadent decay. Maybe we can have a Butlerian Jyhad but that is unlikely and even if possible at least a long way off.

  12. skateboard C will make your face fall off

    Skateboard C - Chris Knowles

  13. Great rant Christopher!

    I think the process of disenchantment has been going on at least since Western culture began its slow suicide in WWI. The artists are the canaries in the coal mine, and it's obvious from what's happened to art that true vision has long been lost. It's now a joke, and all culture has by now, been reduced to a punchline

    Now the rest of the paradigm, scientific, religious, and social pillars are tottering, ready to fall. The disenchantment will end with a new revelation and that hasn't happened yet, despite the plethora of false and would-be Messiahs.

    The next one, will like previous ones, come from above in some unguessable form, and it will confound the rich and powerful.

    It's a long wait until the dawn; I hope it'll be worth it. Keep watching!


  14. Hey Chris,
    Thanks for this post. I really appreciate this blog. This blog is a singularity. As for this post, your conclusion really helped inspire me today. I was feeling crestfallen until I read this, and once I did, I felt much better.
    I too feel that I am an outcast. I live in Atlanta and I certainly feel the tug of war between urban PC denizens of the city with their smug (yet bankrupt) position of intellectual superiority and the fundamentalist, tunnel-visioned country dwellers (where I grew up) who cling to their misunderstood religion. All parties desperately avoiding the obvious and not so obvious evidence that exists in everyday socio/cultural observation and academic information that is so easily accessible now. None of which recognize, know, or care about my heroes: Yockley, Hesse, Campbell, Jung, Tolkien, Gene Wolfe, and so may others. In turn, they scoff and fail to acknowledge the significance and importance of: the occult/esoteric, historical/political/religious conspiracy, symbolism/semiotics/allegory, the nature of AAT/companions, and how it all ties together. As a result, I often feel as if I am an island unto myself. This blog is a reminder that I am not alone. Again, thank you so much.


  15. Ray and Sean are right. Dave Sim (author of Cerebus) shed light on this back in the 90s with Reads ( and later in Tangents ( He's also an excellent case study of what can happen when one criticizes feminism publicly and without backpedaling.

    Also consider "She Who Measures" ( It's not just a portrait of consumer society but also a theory of what drives it. Women want consumerism and the pussy holds the power. Fred Durst: "I did it for the nookie!" The men sell out and accept consumerism and a simulated masculinity represented by their strap-ons. One authentic man with a real wang looks for a mate and after unanimous rejection ("she who measures") he's driven to madness and suicide.

    For a long time a few voices have cried in the pop culture wilderness about the importance of masculinity. Martial art films played this role until they became action-comedies. Fight Club shouted this directly but only portrayed a dead end. The zeitgeist seems to have exhausted the possibilities of masculine images. V for Vendetta raised possibilities and showed how to become strong and fearless. And it's impossible to imagine a movie more masculine than The 300. I suspect that these two films were something of a "last call" to decide to be strong, masculine and there's quite a trial in our near future. Chris said he thinks the death of the hyperfeminine diva Whitney Houston marked a turning point and I believe the pendulum will swing along this duality.

    For those who mocked The 300 I suggest revisiting it. Zizek rebutted accusations of fascism in "The True Hollywood Left" ( Also compare the protagonist and antagonist with those in say, Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon". They're essentially the same characters except Leonidas leads an army and Xerxes seems possessed by the vices he uses to lure his men. I view this film as a spiritual epic about Krishna vs. the demon Kali.

    One more link that has nothing to do with the gender duality but seems appropriate to today's discussion of cultural decay:

  16. Great post, Chris. This lines up with a lot of what I've been thinking about and arguing for lately. Most people I know my age fall into the atheistic, pseudo-skeptical paradigm because they don't have the skills required for critical thinking on all fronts. It's incredibly empty and allows One True Reality (an unprovable thing) to transform the mercurial observer into a passive receptor of external commands rather than a creator of individual observations. True skepticism seems to be the biggest taboo in our culture these days and this only serves to maintain a power structure that exists entirely in the unwillingness of the people to think for themselves.

    Joao C - Excellent comment. Agreed.

  17. Hey Chris,

    Another awesome, awesome post. You say exactly what needs to be said. This whole idea of disenchantment that you discuss, in line with atheism and fetishised reductionism - the religion of the graveyard - it is a highly perceptive series of arguments, in my opinion.

    Everything you're discussing is indeed taking place, and with far more ferocity than an individual perspective might be able to fully appreciate. I think you've driven right to the heart of all this. It seems to me that what you're discussing is connected to the loss of Intimacy, not just between one another, but as a kind of valuable cultural exchange.

    It seems to me that you cannot have lucidity or acuity or enchantment without a nuanced appreciation of Intimacy. Because Intimacy is about context, experience, empathy and RELATEDNESS. All of which are needed to kick the higher-thinking functions of the mind into full gear. This turning away from an enchanted view of the world, and hiding behind a grotesque version of 'science', is indeed cowardly.

    Because it negates the self; it essentially disembowels the centre of human experience and meaning-production. All artists understand that mysticism is an artistic shorthand, and all mystics understand that art is a mystic shorthand, and always the twain shall meet. This is (or was) self-evident to most people. The fact that art and people needed to go beyond what simply appeared to be there. From Known to mysterious, from Text to Context.

    But now, Intimacy is avoided like a virus and Brutality stands in her stead. What other impostor would take her place if people view the world as a mindless machine that exists only for the purpose of being raped to death? I mean, it's in our pornography, it's in our music, our movies, it's seeping into everything. And these disemboweled Walking Dead, who embrace the signs of cultural-psychological collapse, they either get pissy and vitriolic when true creativity rears its head, or they attempt to ridicule and mock and snigger it out of existence. What else is left for people who have no place for nuance, subtlety, context or intimacy?

    I use the word Intimacy here in this context because of its association to sexuality, and it's my suspicion that sexuality and creativity go hand in hand. Thus, sexuality and culture (or lack thereof) are similarly connected. I'm not gonna get too deep into my thoughts here regarding this connection, in case I fail to convey them appropriately.

    But for the visionaries and outsiders and guardians of acuity sexuality is wrapped up in all of the things discussed in your post, Chris. We don't know how to make love anymore. We don't even know how to rut like animals anymore, even though we desperately want to. What we do have is distortion and insecurity. Humanity seems to want danger without the magic, but danger without the magic is simply the myriad faces of degradation. Atheism, disenchantment and the cold chill of the grave all fall under this rubric.

    Kudos to you, Chis, for hanging onto your perceptiveness and valour. You have my deepest thanks for that.


  18. Great post. Glad to hear you will be continuing the Secret War Against the New Age. Also, talking about the quality of movies, have you seen the previews for the new Three Stooges movie.

  19. P.S.

    When I mention sexuality as being deeply connected to creativity, I don't mean to imply a simply 'masculine' energy in the most obvious sense of the term. It's my belief that feminine energy can be just as full-on and aggressively tactile as masculine energy is imagined to be. And by the same token I believe that masculinity can be as soft and tender and beguiling as our perceptions of femininity. This is exactly what i mean when I discuss Intimacy in my earlier comment. A nuanced appreciation of psyche, symbol, culture and EACH OTHER. We are so much more than the boxes the elites want to put us in. And we could do so much better than using our creativity to build these disenchanting, creativity-killing boxes for ourselves too.

  20. Excellent comments on this, & stunningly poignant post Chris.

    I have been in this thought vein for many weeks now, contemplating the zombie/vampire/parasite disenchantment of the weakened mind and body.

    Listen , little Man! by Wilhelm Reich is the touchstone you have reached philosophically in this post.

    I have discovered in my own irrational, adventurous ways that cleaning up the body and mind is the only way to go when it comes to being closer to the creative force. Reductionism in our culture of "hard science" has led us into a trap that assumes we are chemically in the right mode of health whether or not we care for the self-regulating process.

    It seems like the post-industrial convergence of food conveniences & corporatist chemical monopolies has aimed right at our physical vehicles via psychic tyranny, and vice versa- in order to stop the emotional process from unfolding.

    Stuffing the body with additional garbage to quell the pain of trapped poisons, both physical and mental/emotional "acid wastes" is the disenchantment/degradation process needed before people discover how to live in stronger integrity again.

    En mass, it does look like it might be a difficult revolution to undertake, the casualties are everywhere you look. Let us all be cognisant and aware of of the higher consciousness regardless of the sea of garbage. Most of us know better, anyhow- we just need to remind one another- and ourselves.

  21. Yes, your point is well taken. But we've been here before. And more recently than Late Imperialist Rome. Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" and Sartre's "On Being and Nothingness" were, for all intent and purpose, intellectual suicide. Which is why we now have commentators instead of professional philosophers nowadays (present company excluded). I still choose to believe, though, that creativity will win out. One just has to create to satisfy one's self or, at least, to keep from sinking into a maddening boredom from which there is no escape. Just don't expect to get paid for it any time soon.

  22. Nicely done, Chris. Thanks.

    Interesting that this post would garner strawsock-puppetry and concern trolling. Q.E.D. as it were.

  23. Hey Chris - impassioned and thorough post. But (you know me, always with the counterpoint), have you considered that the atrophying of culture is not only inevitable, but can be seen as a positive sign? Culture is like a collective dream, crystallizing over time. If it's similar to a chrysalis (matrix/womb) in which consciousness can come to term - then the final stages of that term would entail exactly the sort of rigor mortis you're describing. This would reveal culture as what it is, a means to an end, and an expression not of Eros but of the death instinct - ie, a symptom of man's fight against/flight from death, rather than a joyous expression of life force.

    Have you ever read Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death? Amazing book. Brown writes about how culture is the collective product of repression, negation, and sublimation, like an external matrix which has been created and maintained by infantile agendas and drives to recover the lost object (mother). It is empty of substance because it is a fantasy-generated reality: an image of the past, superimposed on the present.

    “.. by a fortunate irony, as a result of the attempt to cure which is part of the neurosis, the sublimating ego in its flight from death acquires an ever increasing capacity to die by increasingly mortifying the body. The transformation of life into death-in-life, which is the achievement of higher civilization, prepares mankind to accept death.”

  24. Chris

    If I had the ear of the Pulitzer folks, this one post would be the one I would nominate.


  25. Hey Chris,
    I think think this all amounts to the overwhelming human desire to evolve into something greater – if we are to evolve, we first need to want. IMO all this disenchantment is really a sign of a rejection of the status quo in order to embrace an entirely new way of being.

  26. "There is another way- an excluded middle between self-annihilating scientism and mindless fundamentalism. Between formless urbanism and airless tribalism."

    Couldn't say that any better. This is a great aim for anybody struggling on this planet. And couldn't come at a better and so synchronistic moment for me as well.

    On a side note, what you're talking about here isn't about history spiralling? Wasn't Giambattista Vico talking about the very same things, trying to progress from illuminists and their purely rational egos? Maybe I've only forgot what I've read about him and my recollections aren't so accurate.

    Thanks for your article Chris.

  27. This post reminds me of a vital bit from C.S. Lewis' "That Hideous Strength" where a man is describing his ideal vision of Earth being as sterile, stark, and dead as the Moon surface. I didn't like that book so much, but that sequence really took my breath away. It has stood in my mind as a true illustration of the materialist endgame.
    At the same time, do you really think any material atheists want to see the world devoid of life?

    For a similar viewpoint from literature take a look at the conversation between Dr Manhattan and Laurie [Silk Spectre] on Mars in WATCHMEN:

    Laurie - John, please, you have to stop this. Everyone will die.

    Dr. Manhattan - And the universe will not even notice! In my opinion, the existence of life is a highly over-rated phenomenon. Just look around you. Mars gets along perfectly well without so much as a micro-organism. Here it's a constantly changing topographical map, flowing and shifting around the globe in ripples ten thousand years wide. So tell me how would all of this be greatly improved by an oil pipeline? By a shopping mall?

    Laurie - So it's too much to ask for a miracle?

    Dr. Manhattan - Miracles by their definition are meaningless. Only what can happen does happen.

    Now, if you stop there, you could say that it sums up the basic materialist and atheistic viewpoint. At the time, of course, the writer Alan Moore was very much a materialist and an atheist but with a humanist touch to his work. If you read on, you find this end to the characters' discussion:

    Laurie - My life is just... one big joke.

    Dr. Manhattan - I don't think your life is a joke.

    Laurie - Yeah, well, I'm sorry if I don't trust your sense of humor.

    Dr. Manhattan - Will you smile if I admit I was wrong?

    Laurie - About what?

    Dr. Manhattan - Miracles. Events with astronomical odds of occurring like ... oxygen turning into gold? I've longed to witness such an event. And yet I neglect that in human coupling. Millions upon millions of cells compete to create life, for generation after generation until --finally-- your mother loves a man... a man she has every reason to hate. And out of that contradiction, against unfathomable odds, it's you. Only... you... that emerged... to this still so specific a form from all that chaos. It's like turning air into gold. A miracle.
    And so... I was wrong.

    Personally, I don't believe there is an excluded middle way between scientism and fundamentalism or urbanism or tribalism. All those, at least in this context, are representative of an exclusive approach to human existence. There can be no integration allowed with any external concept and as a result they are not simply dead ends, they are murderous ends -- an honestly, I'm not such a catastrophist to think that the majority of the world belongs to any of those camps or identifications.

    To look back at the Fall of Rome, certainly you can see correlations -- at the same time, you can see vast contrasts. In some ways, you could say that Rome has been rising and falling all the way to today's civilization.

    In the end though, the vast and tumultuous events of history are childishly simple contraptions compared to even one individual life living through those events.

  28. On your TV section, you failed to mention that geek-adored show Walking Dead has been a massive critical and financial success.

  29. On your TV section, you failed to mention that geek-adored show Walking Dead has been a massive critical and financial success.

    I did? Gee, could have fooled me.

    "A look at what's selling at B& doesn't fill my heart with hope- most of the graphic novels in their top 1000 are Walking Dead volumes, whose success is surely fired by the overwhelming success of the AMC series. But Walking Dead is not a series that most people associate with comics, it's just a George Romero knockoff."

  30. Exhibit 8,207,661-T:

  31. Chris,

    I almost completely agree with your post. As a musician, as a film fan, as a 10:13 fan. Only one thing strikes me a little bit: Let's not be cruel to Clarke and Asimov. Much of the stuff is dated, but they were very important genre-wise speaking. And there are hints that late great Arthur C. was not really an atheism fanatic - 2001, Nine Billion Names of God ---- those are not hardcore-sci-fi works by my means. But who am I, of course : )

    Keep up the great work!!!

  32. DC's recent reboot rules the Top 10, but that's simply a 90s vintage makeover of a late 50s makeover of early 40s superheroes. An endless nostalgia loop.

    This reminds me of the passage in Frank Zappa's autobiography, in which he noted that revival/nostalgia waves were typically expressed in 20-year cycles, but that the loops were getting shorter and shorter. He predicted a time where the loops would become so short that we would be in an endless cycle of instant nostalgia.

    This was said back in the early 90s. Are we there yet? Perhaps this is why everything new seems to have been done before - new and old are become one and the same.

  33. "it's more than safe to assume there is an absolute drought of creativity in Tinseltown, which is merely a microcosm of the drought in creativity in the larger culture."

    The real story:

    Culture isn't dead, but it is suppressed. the rich and their offspring (nepotism rules the creative fields--the "elite" are truly the new royalty and their children control culture) are incapable of creation (too self-absorbed and fragile to truly SEEK THYSELF), so they must steal from the past and others far more creative than themselves.

    Possibly, true creativity must be born of hardship and isolation--things which the rich never know. don't tell me about the self-made rich: they're rare and rarely in creative fields.

    i've seen more creativity in my suburban ghetto (yes, ghetto--most of my neighbors sell crack--my bike, my only transportation, was stolen this morning) than in the nearby "Art School", which i attended until i became disgusted and dropped out. (Also because I lost my job and couldn't take out more loans).

    The real artists wait tables because daddy couldn't buy them agents. the rich kids come to parties in the ghetto, see something real, try to replicate it and become commercially successful (at least one well-known band used to come to our house to watch underground bands play--now they sell doritos).

    You may be thinking "but you have the internet, so you must be better off than your neighbors"--i have 3 roommates and we eat beans and rice every night. If only we really could eat the rich.

  34. We are entering the Dark Ages. the 80s is on a loop because it was the last peak--the 90's were the beginning of the downfall, maybe even starting with grunge...maybe the 80s goths predicted it.

    There is no hope in the west (not for lack of talent, but for lack of avenues for that talent): the new world belongs to the "developing nations", although as their economic influence rises, they'll simply repeat the capitalistic cycle until their cultures are also used up and become repetitive.

    a friend of mine went to Africa (Ethiopia) to help build a library. the villagers listen to Celine Dion.

    blame the fluoride, blame the internet, blame the anti-depressants and lack of psychedelics, blame the love of money (someone said something about that being "evil"), blame Monsanto, what-have-you...but mostly blame the modern culture infection itself: why do we all wish for apocalypse? because we yearn for RENEWAL. maybe the death-wish started with the creation of the bomb.

    Dream of survivors...dream of return to nature...dream of Dream-time...

  35. Hi Chris, thank you for your thought provoking blog. what you say makes sense but ppl like yourself are creating new culture. Your understanding is quick maybe too much for you to enjoy what ppl like you can and do bring to our table. Yeah the elites reproduce and then the next line tells Me what to like. I'm just a normal middle class service worker and I prefer this blog. Maybe kephas is correct and we are losing our culture, but this is just our personality not our essence.To KnoBodi come out of the ghetto and live with the rest of us, we are boring yet safe. Chris I've known you a long time, write a novel and you can change us all. You have the .gift. No critical critique, just imagination. Thanks for your depth. It was always one of your best traits.

  36. This is an excellent post and echoes some of my own sentiments. What a nice little piece of synchronicity that I found it!

    I have for some time been wondering if the society we are living in is over-relying on and over-valuing science and technology to an extent that it has may have deleterious consequences for pop culture, entertainment, art. With a few exceptions, my appreciation of music ends somewhere around the late 80s/early 90s. My particular favourites are 60s and 70s pop, but I like to think my tastes are quite diverse. I like a bit of rock and soft rock, easy listening (love the Carpenters), some country pop (I like John Denver), I'm fond of soul, Motown and 70s disco.

    One of the things I've noticed when I switch on Radio 1 (the station in the UK which plays the current hits) - which isn't something I often do - is how devoid of emotion most of the songs sound. There seems to be no feeling. A lot of it seems to be mechanical noise.

    I don't begrudge people enjoying this music, if they're entertained by it and it gives them pleasure, I think that's a good thing. But it's not for me, and it seems a far cry from someone like John Denver, or the Carpenters, who sang with raw emotion. Just listen to some of the Carpenters most sad/depressing songs, or Denver songs such as 'Sunshine on My Shoulders' or 'Flying for Me', the song he wrote for the Challenger astronauts.

    I'm not saying music always *has* to be sung with emotion to be good or enjoyable. The 70s disco music that I love so much was not meant to be deep or meaningful or emotional, it was supposed to be just fun, funky music to which people could dance. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But most of the song still had decent tunes, decent melodies in my opinion. And today, there seems to be a lack of songs sung from the soul. It seems to me that it was more common, three or four decades ago, to sing from yourself.

    I'm not sure if I'd agree that the more spiritual the artist, the better (or more enjoyable?) the art. For me, sometimes that's the case, sometimes it's not. The examples you gave of David Bowie and Elton John - for myself, I'd personally prefer to listen to Elton John, even though I do like a few David Bowie songs (my favourite being 'Young Americans'.)

    But I do agree that spirituality *can* influence one's art for the better. The Bee Gees are one of my favourite groups and I find some of their music to be very spiritual in certain ways. 'Too Much Heaven' is one such. Another is 'Spirits Having Flown.'


  37. Hey, your ideas are really nicely put. I appreciate that you are able to flirt with the idea that things are not as they seem in the world while also remaining grounded by actually analyzing culture, AND doing that outside of scientism and geekdom. You are voicing a lot of things that I haven't quite figured out how to say. An interesting mix of sensible and aware, you are. I shall be reading more.

  38. Oh come on. You're actually blaming atheists for the demise of culture, while touting the abilities of atheists like HP Lovecraft?


    Find another dead horse to flog. You look stupid for making this ridiculous claim, considering that what little good creativity there has been for at least the last century has come from atheist and skeptic artists. A very short list, of popular or influential atheist writers in the sci-fi/fantasy community alone:

    Douglas Adams
    JG Ballard
    Iain Banks
    John Wood Campbell
    Angela Carter
    Thomas Disch
    Harlan Ellison
    Harry Harrison
    Ursula K Leguin
    Stanislaw Lem
    China Mieville
    Terry Pratchett
    Philip Pullman
    Bruce Sterling
    Kurt Vonnegut
    HG Wells

    You're not seriously going to call all of those writers uncreative and hyper-technical, are you?

  39. You are, simply put, a magniloquent idiot.....

  40. G'head, delete it twerp.........

    1. Dirk Diggler: thank you so much for commenting. If you hadn't I wouldn't have gotten the email alert about it and I might have forgotten about this article, which is a good one. Truly a synchronous event. I can say with some confidence that you are definitely doing your part to bring about my higher self right now - and yours as well, I'm sure. Thanks.