Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Culture in a Moribund State

Has Culture and its Inhabitants Become Zombie-like?

by J. Albert Barr

Despite all the, mostly, celebratory advances in technology, medicine, science and the overall quality of life, our contemporary culture is discernibly and collectively confronting a cul-de-sac, a dead-end. It's perhaps no coincidence that in popular culture today (and for pretty much the last decade, actually) "zombies" have captured our imagination and attention on a scale that far surpasses the initial forays of the, predominately, cinematic subgenre famously established by George A. Romero in the late 60s with his cult classic, "Night of the Living Dead", and his 1978 and 1985 follow-ups, "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead". Aside from a few other note-worthy entries into the annals of "zombie movies", and a slew of low-budget, direct-to-video ones, the true zombie craze didn't erupt until after the millennium, notably with the release of Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" in 2002, which significantly "reanimated" the subgenre in horror flicks. The AMC and Fox cable series, "The Walking Dead", is one of the most watched, critically acclaimed, and discussed television shows currently airing. Katy Hershbereger, of St. Martin's Press, stated in 2009 that "In a world of traditional horror, nothing is more popular right now than zombies...The living dead are here to stay".

It has been said that zombie movies symbolize our collective anxiety about the notion of "the end of the world". We now are all quite familiar with the idea of a "zombie apocalypse"; it has thoroughly entered into the vernacular of pop-culture. A new Brad Pitt movie, "World War Z", adapted from Max Brooks' 2006 novel, is about to open, which depicts such an apocalypse. In the movie's trailer you can plainly see waves upon waves of running zombies piling over one another like a swarm of ants attacking, with pure implacable atavism, any and all normal, "living" humans. The zombies also act like a wildly spreading virus, aptly enough, given the viral vulnerability of cyberspace, let alone our biological environment coupled with terrorist paranoia in the post 9/11 world we've been living in for over a decade. Throw in a continuously precarious economy, and you have a very palpable sense of uncertainty, anxiety, willy-nilly aggression, necessary escapism, soulless hedonism, and a considerable cross-section of depressives populating a discombobulated world unsure of its future en masse, or unsure, mostly unconsciously, if it even wants a future. I, quite frankly, suspect that there were many who were ultimately disappointed, if indirectly, that the whole "Mayan calendar thing" didn't actually manifest into a veritable "end of the world" scenario.

Why is this, you may ask? Because I feel an ever growing sense of people realizing more and more, mostly subliminally, that culture is basically finished, nay dead, in the so-called first-world; that it is, in fact, in a "zombie state", but doesn't know it consciously, of course, as it continues to incessantly maintain the capitalist system, seemingly ad nauseam, for its own empty sake. Oswald Spengler wrote a seismic book titled "The Decline of the West", which was published right after World War 1, that showed an incredible degree of erudition wherein he presented cultures throughout history, such as ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, like an organism. They had a birth, a lifespan, and a decline or death. Spengler used the four seasons, actually, to layout, figuratively, the lifespan of a past culture, and he claimed that our culture, the West, was entering its "winter season", thus its final stage, the process of its inevitable decline and passing. "All things must pass", as George Harrison once sang. Is this an immutable truism? Will the evident fate that befell ancient Egypt and Greece and Rome befall us as well? Can there, in fact, be some kind of, what I would call, a "positive" recrudescence of renewed activity, a cultural revival, or rebirth of sorts, a new Renaissance perhaps, that can be initiated and carried through in order to essentially save our culture, our world?

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