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A Götterdämmerung of Kitsch

Given the level of cultural absurdity at large, both the commercially tormented landscape and the mass media dominated mindscape of the United States seem a Gogol goof-take.

If a person had traveled forward in time, arriving from even the recent past, of say, twenty-five to thirty-years ago, and looked upon the present day United States — he would have thought he had entered some alternative universe inhabited by deranged grotesques. Resembling a dadist reality television program, a sizable portion of the populace of the US (save our ugly, contemporary, sweatshop-assembled clothing) could pass for George Grosz or Max Beckmann caricatures from Weimar Republic Germany.

In the few public spaces remaining, the time traveler would encounter an over-weight, ill-informed citizenry, staring, compulsively, at hand-held electronic appliances, as if the actual world, on the other side of the small, glowing screen, held no interest for them. He would bear witness to an age when mass media imagery has crowded out and colonized almost every area of life, both public and private, and is peopled with caricatures of willful ignorance and brainless self-regard such as Sarah Palin.

As is the case with individuals, every era is endowed with a distinct character, something near a personality, all its own. If that personality could, over time, gain a sense of self-awareness, our own would blush in embarrassment viewing Palin … Preening, sputtering her word salad palaver, resembling an aging prom queen turned infomercial spokesmodel and speaking as though she acquired the english language from shredded scraps of speeches by Ronald Reagan and random bits of Bazooka Joe bubble gum comix, she is possessed of such an extreme degree of incomprehensible self-regard it seems a form of derangement.

In little danger of gaining self-awareness, Palin both characterizes and is a caricature of the era: obsession with power and celebrity, mindless memes, and the endless, contrived drama and meaningless denouement on display in the short attention span theatre of corporate and social media — all its devices and collective derangement — that are reactionary in the shunning of substance and the determination to remain devoid of the deepening implications of human interaction. Ergo, these traits and characteristics are reflected in Palin and vice versa, then back again, ad infinitum, like distortions in carnival funhouse mirrors.

Does one get the feeling that the more powerless we feel, collectively, about the rising levels of economic exploitation exacted upon us and the accelerating rate of ecocide committed on the planet by corporate oligarchs, the more celebrity “news” and other tropes of empty distraction and denial will froth forth from the idiot imaginings of the pop culture douche-scape?

In our time, the understanding of the intrinsic value of almost every endeavor is reduced to the crackpot realism of its commodified and practical worth. In the popular imagination, manic commercial come-ons dominate the day, in which, images of beauty, as well as the force and foibles of human character, has been hijacked and appropriated for strictly commercial exploitation. Naturally, those who long for beauty in human or divine form turn away in mortification, and, more and more become possessed of compensatory prayers for the destruction of this empire of commercial vacuity. As the mind is ground to spittle in the gears of the corporate wheelhouse, one may begin to dream of, even yearn for, apocalypse — a longing for a Götterdämmerung of kitsch.

For many years now, we have been witness to cultural fantasies(both of the religious and secular variety) of decline, decay, of even the end of civilization itself … that are, perhaps, a collective wish for the taut bindings that modernity places on the psyche to be loosened. The modernist towers must fall; then our insular, nature-denuded mode of mind will be pulled down from its lofty precincts into the élan vital of primal dirt … There, the sterility of the collective, corporatized mind will meet its end, and reborn passion and vital imaginings will bloom like wild flowers in a post-apocalyptic strip mall parking lot … This is what, I suspect, lies beneath our fascination with apocalyptic scenarios. In these contemporary deluge myths, the hyper-commercialized and commodified psyche, befogged by its own convoluted libido, once destroyed, is now free to start life anew.

Concurrently, in the fundamentalist Christian imagination, narratives of consumerism and End Time Mythology interweave and meld, becoming a gospel of instant gratification and imminent destruction … This is a religious cosmology resonating from a junk food paradigm: The Gospels of The Drive Thru Jesus; when The Rapture comes, our corporeal bodies will be cast aside like fast food wrappers.

But be warned, by eating of all that high caloric food, all of you Jesus-hungry Lard Asses of The Lord: If your clothes were to fall from you (as your prophecies claim) as you rise skyward, the sight of all your fat, sagging bodies, floating in air, will resemble anything but the dawning of eternal paradise — instead the event will more likely resemble an endless tape loop of a porno video for fat fetishists shot in a zero gravity chamber.
The narrative of fundamentalist Christianity has become so encumbered with kitsch imagery that its followers hope for the destruction of the planet itself so that they can escape the soul-defying imprisonment of its creepy dogma.

Hence, the modernist conundrum is: how does one retain the depth and resonance of myth, without concretizing it into a pernicious, fundamentalist death cult? Judaism, Christianity, Islam — the myths of the jealous, desert god — present a problem, because they place the answer in heaven i.e., far away in a sterile paradise … The gods of the earth have been cast-out as sinful. Hence, those religions become so obsessed with a fantasy of purity that earth-dwelling and subterranean drives and desires — that were symbolized, for example, by the Greeks as the gods Hermes, Pan, and Hades — appear to Christian believers as Satanic.

In other words, Christians, Jews and Muslims, with their gaze fixed on heaven, view their earthly, human half as demonic. Moreover, by becoming split-off from their human half, followers of monotheistic belief systems are prone to suffer all the ills they attribute to the devil. Satan does have a “wide stance” after all.

This is a view of the world devoid of nuance: it is a cosmology inhabited by angels of light or musky demons of darkness … In the fantasy, there exists no Orpheus to fuse the two worlds in entrancing song … no Hermes to guide the hero into the realm of keening and kvetching shades … no Persephone — her lips lacquered in pomegranate juice — metaphorically ending the stasis of collective human childhood with the implications of all life’s seasons.

In its monotheistic view of the world, these fundamentalist fantasies are comparable to logic-clutching, dry as dust, modernist narratives, because both perspectives are so confining, so stultifying to the heart and mind of an individual, that their adherents grow obsessed with fantasies of the world’s demise as a way of escaping the confining nature of the belief system itself.

Accordingly, we, as a culture, may just get our wish. Beauty and mortification are the language of the soul. If one ignores beauty, then the mind will begin to dwell on beauty’s hidden half: horror. One will see it everywhere. Hamlet laments:

O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.

–Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 2.
William Shakespeare

There is an abiding bleakness present in the hidden half of the hyper-commercialized psyche — a darkness visible; therein, one must gain a willingness to walk through, even pause, for a time in its stark and repellent landscape … In order not to crackup, one must crack-wise … to hang a hammock there, between death and the abyss. Apropos: in polar contrast to the froth, faux urgency, and con artist flattery of mass media imagery, one must be willing to accept the deepening effect of being powerless before the trajectory of history and the proliferation of human folly. Most of the time, there are no solutions, only revealing questions and clear-headed responses. For example:

Upon hearing Larry Summers, Obama’s chief economic advisor, bray, “putting limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error.”

Bill McKibben replied: “Summers is the perfect exemplar of that attitude: an incredibly smart guy whose context is so narrow it ends up making him very dumb indeed.”

In my opinion, what caused Summer’s level of intelligence to plummet at a Niagara Falls’ grade incline can be traced to his unwavering fealty to the tenets of marketplace fundamentalism. The crackpot realist’s notion that nature has no value in and of itself, and is only worth what it can be rendered down to as a commodity. The trees of a rain forest can be pulped to paper cups. A human being is only the content of his resume.

This amounts to dharma for dimwits: A bio defines a human being in the same manner and degree of veracity as a restaurant menu describes the various slabs of meat offered … commodified things that were once living beings.

What Summers’ view of existence refuses to acknowledge is: The unsettling truth that what we inflict upon the world we will eventually inflict upon ourselves. When we internalize a self-destructive notion such as a rain forest is expendable –- only fit for commercial exploitation — then this is the demeaning manner in which we regard fellow human beings. Moreover, it is an absurd and dangerous fantasy to believe our species can have autonomy from nature, and we, for any extended length of time, can have mastery over it.

Federico García Lorca imagined this delusion of psychological separation from and mechanistic dominance over nature and fellow human beings as follows.

The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the
street corner
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the
stars.

–Excerpt from: City That Does Not Sleep

Sadly, from evidence extant, both elite and hoi polloi of our era labor under this deranged perception. I reside on the island of Manhattan and I’m baffled that so many of my fellow New Yorkers (once a feisty, even belligerent breed) don’t seem to care or even notice that they are being gamed. Our billionaire mayor protects his class; we pay for their follies, and they continue to grow richer. The game is so throughly rigged, even when they contrive to immolate the global economy, we get “austerity cuts,” and they get on their Gulfstream jets and fly to Dubai.

As things stand at present, for the corporate class, their actions seem to yield no consequences. All this defies logic as well as gravity … the invisible hand of the marketplace (actually the buckling backs of the middle and laboring classes) can’t hold up their swaying tower of hubris much longer. But when it comes down, stand clear, there are no bystanders when an empire crumbles. Despite Larry Summer’s pronouncements to the contrary.

Since poetic vision has no place in Summer’s view of the world nor offers a solution for its ills, he may never seek counsel in what James Hillman has termed: the thought of the heart and the soul of the world. Hillman’s view of the world offers a shift in perspective that could help restore our sense of beauty and tragedy, and, in doing so, bestow us with respect for our own humanity and a greater reverence for living things.

John Keats called earthly existence and the suffering therein a “vale of soul-making.” In other words, we must descend into the human condition and into our own humanity in order to grow humble enough to learn and adapt to change. For our winged spirits must be forced out of their revelry of self-regard — the intoxication of their sky-shackled swoon of impersonal flight (privileged passengers of corporate jets included) — and be wounded by the conflicts and contretemps of this world and thus become more human.

This development means the end of grandiosity and the beginning of an appreciation of life’s grandeur. Sarah Palin, Larry Summers, Mayor Bloomberg, and all the rest of the divas and supernumeraries contributing to the opera-scale cognitive dissidence of the age, will continue to belt out their crackpot realist arias, but, backstage, The Second Law of Thermodynamics has just begun to clear its throat.

I’ll give the final word to Lorca:

No, I won’t; I attack,
I attack the conspiring
of these empty offices
that will not broadcast the sufferings,
that rub out the plans of the forest,
and I offer myself to be eaten by the packed-up cattle
when their mooing fills the valley
where the Hudson is getting drunk on its oil.

–Federico García Lorca
Excerpt from: New York (Office and Attack)

PHIL ROCKSTROH is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com.

 

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