Monday, November 23, 2015

Myths Aren't Forever

Hey kids! Want some militarization of space?

Have you seen the Harold Ramis remake of Bedazzled? It's not a museum piece by any means but a very clever comedy with a charm of its own. It helps that the Devil is played by Elizabeth Hurley in all her splendor and glory. She's a witty and talented comic actor, a gift I think a lot of people have overlooked in favor of her more, uh,  immediate attributes.

The remake doesn't bother to retrace the steps of the classic original but instead casts Brendan Fraser (there's that name again) as a uber-awkward IT nerd pining after a pretty but unremarkable coworker. He meets Hurley who then takes him to her nightclub which upon his first entry is a roiling Bacchanal filled with the beautiful people, all having the time of their lives. 

Only later do we see they are the Damned and the party can never stop, that they are condemned to go through the motions on the dancefloor for Eternity.

I remember feeling like I was in a LARP of that scene a couple years ago at the New York Comicon. It was dangerously oversold and every face I saw looked exhausted, miserable, and yet utterly trapped in a pantomime they didn't quite understand. The place was so packed that no one could look at any of the tables. The vendors, who were paying an arm and a leg for their trouble, were crestfallen. 

How oversold was it? It took me a half-hour to walk a single aisle. It was like a scene out of Soylent Green.

Finally, I and several thousand other patrons escaped to Artist's Alley, in an entirely separate wing of the enormous Jacob Javits Center. Of course, in the old days meeting the artists and creators would be the whole point of a convention. But the con industry has metastasized into something entirely different. In many ways it's a giant costume party, much to the chagrin of people trying to earn a living selling at increasingly costly tables.

I went to another con yesterday, in the middle of an enormous industrial park in Central Jersey. It was sparsely attended and perhaps a sign that the market has been oversaturated. New York was just a few weeks ago and Christmas shopping is on the agenda by the end of this week. So perhaps it was an aberration. And geek culture is mainstream culture so it's not like it was 20 years ago when everyone was worried the bottle was finally running dry.

But in a way it has. It's run dry creatively. 

We're talking about a situation where the big story this year is yet another sequel for a film franchise that's nearly 40 years old.

I have no doubt the new Star Wars will do gangbusters at the box office. Tentpole films and football are the last vestiges of a common culture we have left in an increasingly fractured populace, thanks to technological narrowcasting and Globalist social engineering.

But will it have the effect the original had in 1977? Of course not. 

Star Wars was such a blockbuster because it was such a pure distillation and amplification of the most intoxicating tropes in sci-fi and fantasy, in much the same way that Van Halen's first album was a distillation and amplification of the tropes of 60s and 70s hard rock. Both hit so hard because they felt so new, yet fed on streams that had stood the test of time.

It's also worth noting that both emerged out of a California that doesn't exist anymore, a land of social and economic mobility. 

Today California is a feudal state, the most economically unequal state in the union, where a rapidly-expanding underclass and a rapidly-dwindling middle class ruled over by a technocratic elite nursing totalitarian ambitions not seen in almost a century. Their wealth is so immense that their word is law, elections mere formalities.

The Empire, in other words.

One of the things we were discussing at dinner last night is how the Internet has given birth to a culture of attack, and that the unprecedented wave of antagonism George Lucas was subjected to for the prequels is sure to rub off on this new film. 

It's just too much fun for anonymous trolls on the Internet to go on the attack, particularly against a cultural phenomenon that's getting so much attention. The trolls who get the most attention are sure to become news stories themselves, since the media loves nothing better than a backlash narrative.

But that's the least of our problems.

I've pointed out before that most of the popular franchises out there are all 40 years or older. The Walking Dead is the most successful "new" franchise but any horror fan worth their salt knows it's simply Dawn of the Dead writ large. George Romero is its true creator, no matter who's signed their name to it now. So what does this mean for our modern-day bread and circuses?

It's a strange feeling to see the pop culture of my youth have such staying power. But those icons were created by a different class of artists, with a different understanding of the world. 

Star Wars was deeply spiritual, at least in its original incarnation. But it was also a celebration of the old "just war" doctrine, deeply unfashionable among intellectuals in the post-Vietnam era. The Marvel icons were the offspring of men whose heads were filled with ideas, Stan Lee with his sunny humanism, Jack Kirby with his Gnostic obsession with aliens and gods and Steve Ditko with his passionate political idealism clashing wildly with his personal paranoia.

Batman and Superman were the offspring of the pulps, with Batman being a wafer-thin reworking of the mystic vigilante Shadow and Superman based on strongmen like Doc Savage, his creator Jerry Siegel immersed in pop occultism and UFOlogy (Siegel's next major creation after Superman was the occult superhero The Spectre and his last major creation was alien hybrid The Starling, whose origin clearly signalled Siegel had been boning up on abduction literature).

The question is how long can you keep selling these old stories? At some point you need a generational cohort to stand up and create new ideas of their own. I don't think this generation is going to be the one, certainly not if the convulsions ripping through our college campuses are any indication.*

Unfortunately what may be the deciding factor is war. Many of the pulp creators were World War One vets and many of the comic creators served in WW2, as did crucial pop culture figures like Rod Serling (Twilight Zone), Leslie Stevens (Outer Limits, Battlestar Galactica) and Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek). Maybe these stories didn't arise out of them but were forced upon them by history.

Globalism hasn't created a world of sunshine and candy canes, it's created a world of war, social chaos, and population disruptions. China and Russia are just two of the countries tired of US unipolarism and are building up their militaries to do something about it. All it takes is one truly major economic crisis and it's Katie, bar the door.

Myths grow out of times of crisis and upheaval, in one way or another. The current vogue for superheroes is a symptom of the powerlessness felt by a populace under assault by the realities of Globalist social engineering, war-making and economic redundancy. But we still live in the post-conscription era, where war is a distant anxiety for most people.

If war does come it might be a new kind of war, unconventional, asymmetric, civil. The way things are going, it may well come sooner than later. Given the ubiquity of technology it may be impossible for myths to arise immediately as they did during past wars, when the passage of information wasn't so instantaneous. 

But myths do die. They aren't immortal. The next war or wars may in fact sweep away the myths of the 20th Century entirely. 

The wars may send people reaching back to far older myths as civil wars can rekindle the bonfires of identity, sending people back to the myths of ancestors. This has always emerged in times of close conflict, particularly in conflicts seen as struggles against occupying powers.

The time may well come when our descendants look upon our pop culture as little more than postmodern bread and circuses. Our current conceptions of popular culture may be seen as antiquated and redundant, an indulgence of happier days gone by.

*Convulsions that almost seem like a massive agent provocateur program engineered to produce nothing of lasting consequence but a deep right wing backlash. Democrats are just now waking up to how dominant the GOP is at every level of government below the Presidency. Since I lived through the 70s and 90s- when aggressive left wing activism created a major backlash at the polls- I'm not surprised by any of this at all. In fact, I expect these divisions to get much worse. Divide and rule; is there an older game?