The Age of So WHAT?


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The Age of SO WHAT?

We are living in the age of the great “So What?” Millions of people in North American society would, if they were forthright, admit that these two words could one day form an appropriate epitaph on their grave. The phrase hangs unspoken in the air, in buses, subways trains, restaurants, night clubs, the streets, and cars as they head home at day's end. It hovers in the homes of the wealthy as time creeps on and the glittering toys no longer amuse. It looms over the heads of the poor who live pay-check to pay-check.

Nowhere, however, is it more bitingly relevant than what passes for entertainment today. Beneath the hype and glitz there’s a chasm of yawning emptiness. The bulk of it is “chewing gum for the eye.” Hollywood films, still the main dish, are, with few exceptions, largely frenzy and froth—or both. The more they pretend to deal with serious themes, the more superficial they reveal themselves to be. Even though the critics and reviewers vie to surpass each other in their showering of clichéd superlatives, the fact is that 90 to 95 percent of movies hailed as blockbusters are shallow, manipulative disappointments.

Yes, they are often well-acted. They shimmer with special effects. But when you have seen and heard all this yet one more time, when the final credit roll and the house lights go back on, the question arises: “So what?” Our senses have been assaulted, played with, seduced, but what has there been to feed the soul and mind? Have we had our hearts fired by fresh glimpses of the heights, as well as the depths, of the workings of the human spirit? To what extent have our minds been stretched, our ideals challenged or reinforced, our sense of excellence honed ever sharper than before?

Some will respond with the mindless argument: “I don’t watch TV or go to the movies to be edified or challenged or too deeply moved. I just go to be entertained.” Note here that to be “entertained” means the following: suspending the conceptual faculty during a sensory-overload bombardment. There are several problems with this outlook. The most important one is the hidden assumption that entertainment is a kind of neutral activity totally devoid of values, ideology, or potential to shape the individual. The opposite is true. A work of creativity can only come into being in and with a certain moral or value-laden framework. Otherwise, it would be utterly meaningless and formless—and therefore, utterly worthless as well.

Like it or not, everything we give our attention to (by whatever degree) enters our consciousness and is stored or dealt with in some way. The fact that something is viewed as merely “entertainment” renders it just that much more insidious. If this message or these values cheapen or erode our sense of excellence, if they promote a coarsening of our ideas of man and of existence. This is no argument for censorship, but rather a profound need for art that is life-affirming and overall challenging to the cognitive faculties.

In an article entitled 'Our Cultural Value-Deprivation,' philosopher Ayn Rand writes in connection to the above: “The choice to think or not is volitional. If an individual’s choice is predominantly negative, the result is his self-arrested mental development, a self-made cognitive malnutrition, a stagnant, eroded, impoverished, anxiety-ridden inner life.”

It is, to my mind, no mystery that life appears void of meaning to so many when their leisure hours are spent feeding mind and heart with what is vacuous and rotten. Of course, today’s intellectual erosion is due to the dominant philosophies of despair and existential angst, and so today’s so-called “entertainment” and “art” is a reflection of it. It is a spiritual diet utterly bereft of either vitamins or calories fit for sustaining a purposeful, in-depth existence. It simply has “killed” time, the most precious gift we have. “The brashly aggressive irrationality and anti-rationality of today’s culture,” writes Ayn Rand “leaves an individual in an intellectual desert.”

What’s the alternative?

Well, turn off the TV once in a while and avoid seeing films that insult one’s intelligence or demeans one’s humanity, and leave the shallow novels on the shelf. Refuse to patronize art galleries that confuse art with Tuesday’s garbage night. Refuse to purchase CDs that don’t distinguish music from noise. In a free society, you don’t call for censorship—you hit the producers of today’s trash where it hurts the most: the cash register.

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Victor, this was one of your better posts on SOLO. To be perfectly honest, I find you irritating. However, I believe you are a talented artist with an appreciation for what matters in art. your caricatures are superb. Do you offer any prints for sale?

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Well, I must congratulate you on the unique ability to both insult and flatter me and in the same paragraph—and to do so sincerely. I had to swallow a few insults since joining OL but that’s understandable, as I did dish out my fair share. Of course, I was also greeted rather nicely.

But I didn’t expect to be followed here by a SOLOP member; you are one of THEM, aren’t you? [Now you did it, I’m behaving like a tribalist].

Actually, you’ll be glad to know that I gave up being irritating. So if you decide to stay with OL you will find other interesting posts by me. I plan on giving my best. True, I’m still to see if I have a home here. I hope I won’t find myself in a ridiculous, pompous, chest-thumping funhouse--the joke that is SOLOP. I enjoy painting caricatures, but I can’t tolerate them in real life.

As to your request for a print, which one strikes your interest? For the most part, I’m still to replenish my stock of posters.

Victor

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I didn’t expect to be followed here by a SOLOP member; you are one of THEM, aren’t you?

I am me; that's all.

As to your request for a print, which one strikes your interest?

I like the Bukowski and the Zappa posters.

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Those prints [in poster size] are out of stock. I do have prints--in photo size--and I will be happy to send them off at no charge. If you wish to send me a private message with your address I'll get that off to you.

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People may wonder why my taste in music has left the continent. Victor's post has articulated the reasons.

Sad to say, this is what people want. The majority of people around me listen to second-rate rock, which is in my opinion a step above rap; they watch TV, they go to movies, they play video games. It is the reason I don't fit in with the majority of people around me.

I have tuned out, knowing that my lack of participation won't make a difference. Hollywood and the culture that it nurtures will continue.

There is something else: I plan to write something worth reading.

Good news: I'm not alone.

And may I recommend the recordings of Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno?

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People may wonder why my taste in music has left the continent. Victor's post has articulated the reasons...And may I recommend the recordings of Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno

Wow. I didn't know one had to leave the continent to find the music of Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno. I can find it without hassle here in Toronto. ;)

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