The question I find myself asking is,’what can I bring to the conversation?’ The greatest utilisation of your time and effort is to work at changing areas that are typically underrepresented. If we look at Bloody Shovel’s five reactionary raison d’etres the only space I find to be underrepresented is ‘Aesthetic taste has collapsed’. The other four components of reaction are well covered by people far more intelligent than I. And so what I want to try and achieve with Tracking the Decline is to delve into how it is our sources of art and entertainment have declined and are declining further. This will be slow and never-ending. Where are the bastions of hope? How fast does it all slip into the abyss? I have particular insight into books and publishing, but there are similar stories across the board of media.
The economist Robin Hanson makes the astute observation that, ‘Most who think they like the future really just like where their favourite stories took place.’ Specifically this questions the motives of people who fall for their favourite book. But there’s a bit more to it than the one sentence. On a deeper level it means that people will read/hear/see a story (could be fictional or real) about how the future will play out and, if they agree with it on a political level, believe that is exactly how everything will unfold. This manifests in multiple ways. We have the story of Hitler’s rise, and so Trump will be the next Hitler. We read a novel like the Mars Trilogy, and we believe travel to Mars will occur within a generation, maybe two. Whatever narrative we prefer, we believe.
This quirk of human psychology is not restricted to the future. It plays out daily. On an individual level, we have stories about our own lives, where we are going and what our actions mean. There are also stories about how society works and breaking out of the narrative is part of ingesting the red pill. The problem today is that these internal narratives are breaking down. But the soul needs a story, and so it latches on to what it can.
Tracking the decline through aesthetics is necessary. Across the board we see complete fragmentation of the arts, as we see the complete fragmentation of society, the family and the individual. It is all connected. It is the combination of modernist mentality combined with corporate power. What this means for movies, music, books and more is that we are essentially dealing with a decrease in quality combined with an increase in maleficence. Something has been lost.
The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast should be mandatory listening for everyone. He isn’t particularly political but he is stringently against PC culture. In addition, he searches for meaning in film and TV, and repeatedly discusses the notion of decline in film and the ‘rise’ of television (at least in popularity and zeitgeist). Bret knows what a good film should be, and finds the current moment wanting.
The episode featuring Owen Gleiberman is a good locus point of a number of issues. First, Bret begins by discussing a drama created by a ‘journalist’ who took Bret out of context on the topic of the upcoming Batman film. This is a great microcosm of society at large: fake news, internet drama, fanboyism, and a general sense of over-blowing the whole thing (Ben Affleck ended up emailing Bret about the ‘issue’). The rest of the episode is mostly discussing various films and influences, but I want to pick out one particular part that relates back to the notion of storytelling.
Owen at about to 30 minutes mark says, ‘This is a larger thing than movies’ before relating the ‘demystification of movies’ to a concurrent collapse of the religious narrative. He’s also suspect about the obsession of superhero movies. If you wanted a giant red flag that signals the decline of film going, it’s superhero movies. It’s Star Wars. It’s a slew of fanboy fodder. Owen calls it an ‘encyclopedia culture’, which is apt. The movie doesn’t matter. The themes, the art, none of that matters. What matters is the information that viewers can get. This is clearly evident in the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel-ish offshoot movie from the Harry Potter universe. It winks and nods to the other films, and it provides fans with ‘background stories’. It’s nothing more than a money making exercise. The same can be said for the new Star Wars, of course. The internet has provided us with endless information, and so that is what our media has become. Nothing radically new, always a reinvention of the wheel.
It’s when this leaks into real life that it becomes a problem.
We’re All Conspiracy Theorists Now
As with all postmodern thought, everything is political. This includes the aforementioned movie franchises. During the 2016 US election this resulted in a swathe of Harry Potter and Star Wars related political hot takes. See below for a mere handful:
These are real adults using their favourite stories to explain the present and in some cases the future. They are suddenly the Resistance, Dumbledore’s Army, the Avengers. They can only explain life through another narrative, and it just happens to be a very tidy one of good versus evil.
As humans we like to find connections to explain when things go wrong. This leads to conspiracy theories. Whether it’s anti-vaxxers or 9/11 truthers, conspiracy theorists run the entire political gauntlet. We love to tell ourselves lies. However, it is connected to story telling, and you can see an origin of it in the current geek culture. How many articles on io9 are about ‘fan theories’? Today it all bleeds into real life. Everyone is guilty of believing conspiracies, and because it began in something as innocuous as Star Trek or Dr Who, potential bullshit moves into the Overton Window. Modern liberals don’t believe in gender roles, they think there is an evil force called The Patriarchy that rules behind the veil, and science must be decolonised to accommodate the black race. When you stand for nothing, you fall for anything. That is postmodernism, that is geek culture and that is where we now sit, politically, in 2016. And we can blame Star Wars for everything.
We need new stories. And by that I mean we need to reject new stories and return to the books of the past, the films of yesterday and the poetry of a better time. Today, books are trash, films are abominations and poetry is a mess. We can’t rely on simplistic and naive bad guys versus good guys narratives, not when you can read The Iliad. We can’t look for conspiracy theories in everything. We can’t let an informational forest stop us from seeing the aesthetic of individual trees. But the only way to do that is to track the decline and note where we went wrong.