THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
06th August, 2020 0
This opinion piece appeared in Volume #17, Issue #332 of The REVIEW back on August 23rd, 1995. Written by musician, author, and my dear friend Stewart Francke twenty-five years ago, Stewart was born and raised in Saginaw and at the time this was written he was already living down in Detroit, making waves at the Detroit Metro Times for his thoughtful literary skills, in addition to making new wave noise with his musical combo The Point, who performed regularly at J.B. Meinberg’s.
Although Stewart’s voice was sadly silenced last year from a debilitating medical setback, this musing on what the meaning of the 1990s was all about, written during that decade’s midway point, rings hauntingly true today. In many ways, the ‘90s were a precursor to the systemic distraction of the 21st millennium, which makes the line between fact & fabrication even more difficult to ascertain.
While people look inward upon themselves, as opposed to outwards toward their fellow-man, when generations are conditioned by purposeful confusion designed to make us collectively lose a valid reference point, the line between fact and fantasy can get pretty blurry.
- Robert E. Martin, Editor & Publisher
OPINION • Halfway through the ‘Not Me’ Decade
by Stewart Francke
This decade’s midpoint came and went with surprisingly little analysis. Yet I’m still trying to figure out what this age means, or, less cryptically, what means something in this age.
The ‘90s have been a time of great distraction. From what and by what are the questions; the only answers I can come up with are these: We are distracted from our essence, or essential humanness, by the power of television - its nothingness, its banality. I wonder if we’re bored, irritated and angry because we’re continually distracted, or if we seek distraction from boredom, irritation and anger.
If the ‘70s were the ‘Me Decade’ and the ‘8o’s were the ‘Greed Years’, the ‘90s are undoubtedly the ‘Age of Unaccountability’. We lie in a culture of amorphous predators (some, due to the psychological ploy of ‘remembered abuse’, are truly ghosts) and endless victims. It’s an age in which a person can blend institutional, familial, societal, sexist, racial and judicial transgressions into the Mother of all Blame: they then become a new form of societal participant - the Super Victim.
The shrug of the shoulders is ubiquitous. O.J. Didn’t do it; his lawyers are only exercising fundamental rights to a fair trial. The cps who beat Rodney King were acquitted; he says he really did nothing wrong, anyway. Hugh Grant gets a standing ovation on late-night TV for both his featherweight talent and his ability to get a blow job in a car. Kurt Cobain never needed to cover up a crime. The defacto leader of postmodern alienation, Cobain was so embarrassed by his success, found his accomplished dream so hollow, that he ended his life. The quickly became a hero, not so much for his beautiful and compelling music, but more for the fact that he died for the chance to stand for nothing. Cobain was gloriously unaccountable. In perfect ‘90s style he defiantly shifted both the blame and responsibility for his own spiritual whereabouts.
What is essential, or what is essentially human, is quickly dissolving in the ‘90s. The media, the modern usurper of the government’s power, has no clue as to what we truly think and feel. In this period of extreme transition - as we move from a society based on production to one based on the analysis of information - we see one Orwellian bit of truth after another. ’57 channels and nothing on’ is a more colloquial way of illuminating Orwell’s theory of the uninterrupted ‘restatement of the obvious.” Does anything describe a newscast better?
The lack of accountability deals evenly with class, gender, race and vocation. The professional tribe of which I’m a member, the media, is full of showmen and pretenders - a preening network anchor will advocate a progressive line on a subject (AIDS is Peter Jenning’s pet issue, for instance) he knew little about 12 hours earlier.
The information age is, so far, depressing. All this information is useless: it misinforms, disinforms or simply pollutes our lives. Will the reiteration of news help us fix a car or write a song or make a sale or love more intensely or slow the march of time? Detroit broadcaster Bill Bond’s slogan - he doesn’t just give you the news, he makes it - is provincial proof of the fact that the most skilled media figures are pointedly not objective, but actually attempting to define a local or national agenda.
Do intelligent and vibrant people pay attention to all of this tabloid stink? When it comes to popular culture in the ‘90s, restating the obvious is the way its done. Recycled ideas, from ‘The Flintstones’ to ‘An Affair to Remember’ to ‘Woodstock II’ to all those horrible tribute albums, are what we call our ‘own’.
What truly binds us? What of the most fragile vestige of democratic life, the community? Is it gone, reduced to little more than the trumpeting of individual rights? Is TV our community? And is this electronic consensus truly participating in the life of a country? Don’t ask me, I only work here. I’m not accountable.
Yet even with all that, this remains the only time to live. I’m certain that somewhere in this country, maybe everywhere, people who are still awake naturally equate desire with responsibility. The American Dream remains - it’s simply to govern one’s self. The premise is and will remain autonomy. The cost of autonomy is in the offering - knowing what it’s worth is crucial to its cost. What is virtue without temptation? What is faith without doubt?
Exacerbating this age of unaccountability is the condition of perfection. The perception of a single grave error will finish you. But real life is a mass of errors; clarity only comes from a personal process of revision, the correction of your own mistakes.
This condition of perfection stems from those that shout the loudest. It’s an inferiority complex of nationalistic origins - if the premise is autonomy, why do we remain vulnerable to the likes ideologues and holders of ‘better’ values? Probably for the same reasons we need more rapidity in our entertainment and larger doses of drugs & alcohol.
Our primary soul - the soul of our youth, or our real self - is often killed or ignored as we age. If we ask ourselves the hard questions, if we truly question our motives, we’ll undoubtedly find that soul is first concerned with all things fundamental, enduring and essential.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)