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June 26, 2009

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bill

I'd like to be able to say otherwise, but Lester Bangs said it WAY better.

LondonLee

He was wrong about Elvis though, ask Chuck D.

John M

Was there ever a time in our country's history when we were more unified than the period of 1976 through 1984?

Wait, yeah, I think so.

Brian

It reminds me a bit of what Morrissey said about having a hit in 1985 compared to 1965. [sorry, no time to find the source.] Always falling away.

Tim Lucas

It's one of my favorite Bangs quotes. Kudos for linking the two. Nailed it!

Bruce Reid

Bangs was a far greater, deeper cultural critic than Derbyshire, but it's a bit of sleight-of-hand to work solipsism into the argument. When admiration leaps over the line to fannish adoration it's propelled by the shockwave of recognition, of someone speaking in your voice (American) but with better words than you could muster. Just because not every pretentiously angry young man had their asses kicked by Lou Reed as thoroughly as Bangs or I did doesn't mean I still wasn't outside of myself, submitting to something larger than I could ever imagine, while screaming along to "The Blue Mask".

There has never been a genuinely unanimous aesthetic opinion, and only willful nostalgia can lead you to think otherwise, that housewives weeping over Valentino or schoolboys in a daze after hearing about James Dean weren't matched by equal millions shrugging or sneering good riddance or trying to remember where they'd heard the name. I'd even argue, pace Bangs, the true solipsist is one who can't fathom anyone reacting to the passing of an anointed celebrity icon with polite but sincere indifference.

I was more ripped up by the passing of J. G. Ballard than this week's triple-play (and regret the "comes-in-threes" cliché has allowed Sky Saxon to be overshadowed) but it's not because I'm self-absorbed, and I don't think it symbolizes any kind of watershed moment in our history. I'll be a wreck when Jerry Lewis dies (or Lou, for that matter), but I never think that on that day I'll be alone in my sadness.

Ed Howard

Of all the celebrities to die this week, Sky Saxon is the only one who means anything to me personally -- the first two Seeds albums are classic garage rock, with so many great songs. I'm listening to "Up In Her Room" now and it's just an epic of sexual longing.

And I for one do not mourn the supposed greater "unity" of the past, if it ever even existed in the first place. If we truly are more "fragmented" in our appreciation of culture now (something I'm not sure I believe when I see how many people are flocking to the new Transformers movie) then that would be something to celebrate, not decry.

larry aydlette

Boy, it makes you wonder what Lester would have thought about movie or music blogs.

MovieMan0283

I wil take the middle ground here: we are undoubtedly more fragmented than we once more, but we were never completely unified.

And of course, it depends what viewpoint you take: though media options have increased, the whole world is connected to the same media now, which was certainly not the case a century or even half-century ago. Globally, we're more unified than ever.

But I do know what Derbyshire and Bangs are on about, and despite their amusingly jumbled chronology, I tend to agree with them.

Ed, I strongly disagree that fragmentation would be something to celebrate in the culture. I loathe the idea of everyone in their own little cubbyhole, ignoring each other, listening to their own private universe on their headphones and mini-screen.

I celebrate increased options and individuality (how could I not, as a blogger?) but this should not also mean the death of more broadly-shared common experiences. Does the long tail come only at the cost of the high end? I don't see why I should and I sincerely hope it doesn't.

But then, I despise postmodernism and all it represents - the loss of canonical values, the fragmentation of society, the ignorance of the past (because it doesn't matter, nothing matters you know...). I think modernism had it right - knowledge of and appreciation of the cultural past alongside acknowledgement of disorienting new speed, a loss of faith only possible because one had faith in the first place. Everything since has seemed to be a dodge and a cheat, which is perhaps why culture has sunk and sunk and sunk to the level it's at now.

I think it can come back, but it believe it will take some sort of orientation, rather than anything-goes relativism. And no, lest some of you get concerned I am not speaking of "moral values" per se, but rather cultural values. Nor am I saying people should be "forced" into a certain way of thinking or appreciating (as if that was even possible); just that if those of us who do care about connections and history and values put that forward in our work, perhaps a gradual change can come about.

On another note, Obama seems to be evidence that unity - if not of purpose, than at least of attention - is still possible. No, not for "every single person" but certainly for a majority. Funnily enough, I awaited some kind of cultural unity throughout this increasingly fragmented (and, following 9/11 and the Iraq War consequence- and awareness-avoiding decade - which yes, I include myself in) but I really didn't think it would arrive in the political sphere - that most contentious and apathy-inducing of fields!

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