“Everything to be imagined is an image of truth” —William Blake
For Americans, the aughts began with the fearful Y2K and ended on Christmas Day 2009 with a terrorist attack, thankfully failed, on board a plane from Amsterdam to Detroit. Call these ‘macro-fears’ and include everything that is going on in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, North Korea, Yemen, Somali and the newest exotic locale which a primarily xenophobic American cultural consciousness has no “ap” for.
Undoubtedly personal fears – fears closer to home—trump global fears, at least for all the victims of ‘outplacement’ (job loss), home foreclosure, all manner of bankruptcy, loss of health care, and cracked nest eggs. Call these these ‘micro-fears’. Perhaps it’s a class thing: the Haves and Have Mores have the macro-fears and the rest of us have the micro-fears.
However, what I observe in what I call my canaries in the coal mine – the ‘entertainments’ of popular culture – lead me to believe that we are all fearful on a deeper ontological level, a primordial genetic level, perhaps a shared archetypal level, that no amount of Twitter and Prozac, Friending and Unfriending, Outplacement and Outsourcing, Bail Outs and Stimulus, Surges and Drones, Mii and Wii, Nunchuck and Netois can displace or subdue.
I can offer neither justification nor defense of my treating the American mass psyche as a deranged patient and pop culture as an outpouring, a free-association of that cultural psyche. I can, however offer this: At this moment we live wholeheartedly in the story of individually designed reality and a self-chosen, self-willed autonomous psyche. The illusions of individualism and personal choice have reached the extraordinary level wherein we now believe we can simply choose what we want and the whole universe will support that choice. Such illusions are pathological.
At this moment the notion of an ‘American cultural imaginary’, a ‘mass cultural psyche’, seems so five seconds ago. I am also aware that the expression “so five seconds ago” is belated. It is difficult in our NOW obsession not to be belated and belatedness is as shunned a malady as leprosy once was ‘back in the day’.
Unfortunately, Nowness has a built-in elusiveness while belatedness cannot be evaded. Nowness is only implicitly and defensively revealed as in the phrase: “That was back in the day, right?” “Back in the day” here covers everything that happened before you opened your Facebook account. This disassociation from the past along with a fear of revealing one’s belatedness by any recognition of the past—as well as a turn to a totally personal design of destiny – are for me, as a starter here, glaring symptoms of a psychopathology.
Our illusions do not announce themselves as illusions but always as fascinations, desires, fears, obsessions, hatreds. Every illusion comes packaged with reasons. Every illusion becomes a need.
Enlightening secrets, charismatic presences, the tattooed brands of individuality, virtual warfare and pornified lives, the prosthetics of technology, private argot and Brave New world mantras, pharmacological living and dying – the imagination creates but also reaches to find these expressions of the cultural psyche.
Here is some ‘back in the day’ talk which drowns in its own belatedness: A culture both fearful of its own end, terrorized by its own fall from grace (it’s own ‘exceptionalism’), engaged since Vietnam in a defensive death-dealing in order to preserve its own way of life, has death on its mind continuously.
A ‘way of life’ must oddly and perversely become a ‘way of death’. Death is the cultural métier. It pervades the dominating economics wherein the most savvy work freely and competitively toward a ‘creative destruction’ which creates profits for few and destroys the habitats and lives of many. The illusion that by killing others – surgically and without injury to ourselves – we secure our own safety, has its beginnings in the primordial mud of creativity in the service of survival.
The American Dream whittled down to the Nightmare of Money, of filthy lucre, the coin of Death and the Devil, of a ‘theatre of war’ as a new market to be opened, new profits to shareholders to be grown, now more surely drives the illusion than our instincts to survive. The creativity of Eros has given way to the destructiveness of Thanatos. The creation of profit has nurtured a death wish that turns back on us, even as it surges outward and away from the safe zone, the Green Zone, of our own hearts and minds.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article