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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/4/10

Hanging A Hammock Between Death And The Abyss: A Götterdämmerung Of Kitsch

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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:

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Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at Facebook:

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