The Fog of the Culture War

If you think about fog thematically, there are two kinds to consider. There is the thematic fog akin to taking a hit of some really potent weed which makes you feel somewhat “murky” but still pleasant and clear-headed enough to remain very functional and social. Then there is the other kind where you wake up in bed, next to someone you don’t recognize with your head throbbing and a taste like a cat shit in your mouth. 

Care to guess which fog American Culture is currently fumbling through?

Now, a Culture War can mean a couple of different things. It could mean the battle for what defines our culture artistically (fine art, literature, television, film, etc.) or it could mean the more traditional definition of “conflict between traditionalist or conservative values and progressive or liberal values.”

Either way you define it, we’re nursing some kind of terrible hangover with an inescapable taste of feline dung. A hangover that I’d argue has a lot to do with the halcyon days of Generation X, also known as the 90’s. 

Think about it.

Artistically, we were experiencing a revolution. In music, there was Grunge (a loathsome term but descriptive), in television, two shows were created that paved the way for much of today’s high quality scripted programming, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Chris Carter’s The X-Files, Quentin Tarantino exploded as a new American auteur (for better or worse) and David Foster Wallace and J.K. Rowling emerged as literary bellwether’s. 

Politically, we were experiencing a special kind of détente. Slick Willy Clinton was our president, the economy was growing, the Internet was burgeoning, people had decent paying jobs, there was a feeling of optimism and opportunity along with a certain amount of bipartisanship in Washington D.C. (admittedly, the Hatfields and McCoy’s would probably represent bipartisanship in today’s current environment, but even in the 90’s there was more tolerance and acceptance than today).

So what happened? Where did it all go wrong? Why are we, as a Culture, slogging around with the constant taste of cat shit in our mouth?

I’d love to pin it all on 9/11, partisan politics and George W. Bush. Now even though this writing is an oversimplification (this is a blog post, not the f*ckin New Yorker) even that is too simple. Besides, retrospectively pointing fingers is pretty useless. If we were to simply point fingers, we discount our own responsibility for the mess we are currently mired in.

Sure, 9/11, partisan politics and Bush played a role but so did mass media, the Internet and Two and a Half Men: but more tellingly, so did our own free will. Like it or not, through our own intellectually passivity and political inaction (mine included) we allowed this fog to roll in and over us.  

Karl Marx famously said that “Religion is the opiate of the masses” and in 1843, that was probably true. It certainly became more true over the ensuing 150+ years. Now we’ve got religion coupled with even stronger opiates found in “Culture”. If religion is the opium than American Culture has the combined toxicity and addictiveness of heroin, Vicodin, Oxycontin and Fentanyal. In short, we all became junkies.

And to think both religion and Culture are our two biggest exports!

Over the span of the next generation, or so, there will be (I hope) much critical thought given to this current climate of wickedly partisan politics, news (dis)information and infotainment, the political birth of Donald J. Turnip, shitty unscripted programming (f*cking Kardashians, etc.), crappy pop music and superhero movies and the impact all of this has had.

Waking from this fog will take time and I’m not entirely convinced I will see it in my lifetime, but I remain optimistic.

You see, despite too much evidence to the contrary, I still believe in American Culture: politically (there are still good politicians – right and left leaning – who believe in what little remains of our Democracy) and artistically (there are many good artists at work across different mediums, I only wish they’d pay more attention to their voice instead of chasing fame and money).

I still believe in the power of the people over the powers that be (cynics be damned, the numbers are on our side).
I believe in you and I believe in me.

I also believe that it may not be the taste of cultural cat shit but the taste of cultural self-hatred.