On cultural decline in the 21st century

The popularity of super hero movies, comic book adaptations and colouring books for adults are all indicators that my generation is suicidally self-infantilizing. Many of us like to blame baby boomers (i.e. our parents) for everything: they inherited a world where things seemed to be getting better, where there was a consensus that society should care for and educate people, that problems could be solved; and then they privatised everything, introduced tuition fees, started acting like government should be run as a business.

But our generations – X (I insist, in my case), and Y seem to be doing as badly or even worse than the boomers. I mean at least people born in the 40s and 50s knew how to make decent movies. What do we get nowadays? Captain fucking America, X-Men, franchise reboots ad infinitum. Transformers. Vampires. Onesies. Adult colouring books. Are we really so illiterate and self-infantilizing? Is this just the result of us all doing completely meaningless and pointless jobs, rendering us guilt-ridden morons, unchallenged, unvalued, hopelessly conscious of the pointlessness of our labours but entirely lacking in a culture that helps us make sense of things. I sometimes think that Camus was a prophet. Much of his work, though he felt like he was describing his own time, actually applies to the post-modern era, where not even ideology exists as an outlet for our frustration.

And before you say it, no, I don’t think I’m putting culture from decades gone by on a pedestal. I know that there was an awful lot of trash around in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The difference is that there was also some counter-balancing great culture produced in those decades. Nowadays I struggle to find a reason to go to the cinema more often than when the Coen brothers have a movie out. Why would I? To watch Guardians of the Galaxy, an incredibly self-referential franchise-by-numbers 1 1/2 hour trailer (which, incidentally is regarded as being the very best of its genre)?*

If the so-called values of western society are under threat, it’s not from external forces. It’s the result of a marketization of society and culture, and a lemming-like self-infantilization which started out as bland nostalgia and has morphed into total cultural illiteracy. Where Alan Moore, with his verbose and fatuous interviews, and his trite and dull ‘graphic novels’, is regarded as being an eloquent cultural leader.

Maybe I’m just tired in the run up to the holidays. Maybe the colouring books are just a step too far for me to accept. Maybe I’m the illiterate one, unable to learn to relax and enjoy a world where Game of Thrones is considered as anything other than unwatchable pap churned out by an entertainment machine which aims to turn us all into pathetic adult-babies. Maybe the internet is to blame. It doesn’t really matter because it’s clearly too late anyway.

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[*In fairness, I have recently seen a few movies which I enjoyed. Inherent Vice and Nightcrawler in particular where great fun]

4 thoughts on “On cultural decline in the 21st century

    1. I’ve got a suit! I don’t have a vote! Or a boat!

      Don’t worry: some time exploring the northern Catalan littoral, with total disconnection from screens, will remedy this malaise. Also, Travels With My Aunt, which I’m really looking forward to.

  1. I agree the plethora of trash shoveled at the public in the form of cinema could easily fill an Olympic-sized pool with vomit. The solution may lie in leaning toward Eastern or European selected movies. Recently saw ‘The Best Offer’ with Geoffery Rush and directed by Tornatore. Brilliantly understated, but then… anything can be faked. Give it a watch. There is always theater to immerse oneself in – the immediacy of another world?

  2. Every era has had its share of people crying, ‘everything is shit now isn’t it?’

    And yet… and yet its hard not to feel that Western culture has been in terminal decline for some time, having peeked maybe a hundred years ago or more.

    I think everyone, on some level, whether consciously or not, knows this to be true. We console ourselves with shallow materialism when the writing is on the wall.

    Take pop music as an example. That went through its last evolutionary phase with acid house getting on for a quarter century ago now. I’m sorry, but most contemporary pop music, across the spectrum from so called ‘alternative’ to mainstream, leaves me pretty cold now. We’re all just picking over the decaying remnants of former glories.

    Have you read Houellebecq’s ‘Submission’ yet? This whole area is really his great theme of course. And he manages to make it funny.

    I agree with you about being Gen X. I think we’re right on the edge of it. I think that the main qualification for being in Y, is coming of age after the explosion of digital media, photography etc. And even more profoundly, the beginning of social media. This is something I’m quite happy about, having just missed all that, being able to remember a time before.

    Getting old I suppose – if this rant is anything to go by.

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