Looking forward to the decade which may or may not be called the Teens

June 8th, 2010

Fireweed plant near Mt. St. Helens four years after the volcano's eruption. (Photo via USGS/Lyn Topinka)

This is part of a series on ideas for today. I’ve already published an introduction.

The last decade, the one we are just emerging from, was the least culturally productive in America since the Fifties. In fact, I’d say the last decade was worse than the Fifties, which at least introduced new ideas that would come to fruition in the Sixties. Unlike that period, instead of being stiflingly conformist and Puritan most of the time (or I should say in public), we shared too much of ourselves. We became shameless for attention, and whithered as the Internet gave us too much exposure to every gross, banal thing on the planet. I’m not saying that we were too permissive; rather the permissiveness diluted our ability to limit our options and excel in narrowly-defined ways.

We have a new decade ahead of us and a new chance to forge ahead. We don’t necessarily need to invent anything new, but we should pursue the best of everything. More people are alive right now than any other point in human history. That is a massive opportunity, one we’ve only just begun to exploit – there are more smart and creative people alive now than ever.

But what do the makers of culture have to show for the last ten years? How much music made recently will still be listened to, played, and admired twenty or thirty years from now? I think little to none. Same goes for literature. We did make some great movies and television shows, but we can do so much better.

Before you rattle off a list of your favorite musicians, underrated authors, and other artists – or you invoke the “Great art isn’t usually discovered until long after it’s made”, I want you to understand that oftentimes long before that ‘great art’ is appreciated, there are a few other artists who see its value and are inspired to make derivative works. Enough of those can create a movement. And anyone who watches cultural currents closely should be able to notice a trend in the same way one can see fashion trends (actually art and fashion trends usually move in the same direction). If anything, I’ve seen more of a clearing of the board in the last several years, as if every creative person is unconsciously preparing for a series of new styles and trends. Take popular music – that area is ripe for experimentation and new sounds.

That clearing of the board doesn’t need to go on any further. Now is the time to plant new ideas. It is time to fuck shit up, throw out the rule book, drop out, and other overused clichés. Even if it seems like everyone is making up their own rules and doing their own thing, we’re all slaves to our environment, upbringing, and language in such a way that the way we ‘break the rules’ is the same way as everyone else. Instead, look to the real innovators, that tiny fraction of society that honestly doesn’t give a whit what anyone else thinks and does their own thing, but with integrity. I’m talking about the Jimi Hendrixes, the Allen Ginsbergs, the Philip K. Dicks – the ones who initially appear to come from another planet, but whose works later turn out to be exactly what we needed and love.

So what can we do?

Let’s make a style of popular music to replace rock, R&B, and hip-hop.

Let’s revive the written narrative and make it relevant to our lives today. That may mean a concentration on short stories, or some brand new form.

Let’s forge a new path in philosophy, even if it may be an admission that the teachings of The Buddha are precisely what we need.

Let’s take over the cheap rent of abandoned neighborhoods in cities across the country and start some old fashioned culture engines. If you care enough about art you’ll move.

Let’s make an subculture that has its own norms for personal relationships, fashion, even slang. Preferably one that everyone ridicules at first.

We can even join several of these enclaves together online.

Let’s sto praising mediocrity. Let’s ignore memes and start movements, people copying and modifying rules for creating art instead of copying punchlines. Let’s not use our stars and hearts and likes to give credit to unimportant things and save our praise for the truly great.

Let’s patronize people who have a good chance of creating great art. We all need to eat.

Let’s get some new clichés.

Let’s spread the word about the things we like, and keep our promotion limited to creativity and greatness and not the effort.

Let’s do all of these things and more but with integrity. It’s easy to be a dilettante when consciously changing the world.

We have a collective memory of past trends and movements that may make it hard to try something new. So let’s forget the past: raid the things past creatives succeeded with and make something new. If the pioneers of rock copied and then exceeded the blues performers of the past then we can do the same. See the paradox? We cannot for a moment forget what our ancestors have done, but we shouldn’t let the paths they followed guide us.

Okay. Go forth and make something exciting and new.

Or you can argue with me first in the comments.

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