Saturday, June 7, 2008

Removed from History—An Individual’s Story

I am repeatedly told by the news media that we are living in times of upheaval. China looks to be the world’s next super power. An African-American has been declared the democratic nominee for President. Prices are skyrocketing, the result of an oil crunch that’s apparently here to stay. The list goes on and on, and if you wanted to examine the list with even a modicum of interest, you would marvel at the drama, danger, and possibilities of our era. As Charles Dickens once said, “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” And, of course, he meant that every age is fraught with similar hopes and limitations.

I wish I cared more about the times in which I live. It’s not that I’m uninvolved. I simply don’t feel the continuity, the sense of cohesiveness about my relationship to society that I once did.

Incredibly (and I use that word after much thought), I felt more connected to society when I was younger. As I grew up during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, I had the sense that forces impacting upon American culture were palpable and real; there was a perception that events, no matter how slight, could be filtered and processed through an evolving cultural norm. Even the most weightless of societal phenomena, such as top forty songs and popular TV shows, resonated with the echo of earlier eras and a suggestion of future styles and interests.

Now, when I read the news, or listen to popular music, or watch television, I feel no particular sense of a larger zeitgeist. It’s just stuff. Sometimes it’s bad stuff and sometimes it’s interesting stuff, but in the end, it just feels like… stuff. I can’t identify the “happenings” in today’s society as guideposts along a cultural road. They just seem to be random events with no connection to anything else. The fact that a lot of rappers seem very fond of two specific words rhyming with “brother sucker” and “witch” does not immediately produce a series of culturally relevant connotations. I can’t make the emotional connections that have led to much of today’s popular entertainment, and I certainly have no idea where those popular diversions may be headed.

I do know that I have lost touch with the pulse of my world—if pulse is the right word for what makes a culture singular to its time and place.

I know there is danger in that sort of numbness.

I wish I could feel where I am in American society. I wish I had a better sense of society’s style and shape and density. But I don’t. My guess is that lots of other people feel that way, too. They just don’t have the words to describe that brand of loss.

Donald Gallinger is the author of The Master Planets

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