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

View Donald Gallinger's Official Website Blog at:


Johnny J. said...

Wow. That was quite a bit to digest.

One can't be all-too surprised with the World in the state it's in. I'm sure your feelings are shared by many, unfortunately. And as the greater populations begin to adopt or fall prey to this deadly incohesive distance, so too will the hope of a greater tomorrow fall to the witches.

Nonetheless, I for one observe the happenings of today, ingest it, passively search for connections and relativity, and dream a dream of tomorrow... A tomorrow of great leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, artistic wonders and most important of all: a tomorrow of respect, love, compassion, admiration, diligent integrity, and outwardly concern that encompasses all members of our village--Earth; a tomorrow whose generation gaps are simply technological because our culture has already evolved to a level worthy of humanity.

Does this tomorrow sound like a reality? I suppose not for most, even me sometimes. Though this tomorrow may remain just a dream forever for me, I hope not just a dream forever.

Even though I think your meaning was that of change, I must ask: Since you opened a paragraph with upheaval (which I interpret as having a negative impact on society) then mention skyrocketing prices, an ongoing list of things I interpret as negatives, and include the democratic nomination of Barack Obama and China becoming a Super-Power in between those sentences, are you in-fact stating that they too are negative?


Dave said...

I suspect your disconnect may, at least in part, be due to what I think of as the Balkanization of American culture. It seems to me that we are fragmenting into smaller and smaller non-cooperating, non-communicating groups: Skin colors, ethnicities, religions, political parties, ideologies, even musical tastes. There seems to be less of an overarching "American culture" than when I was younger. Maybe there never was, but it seemed to me that there was. Do people now, especially young people, feel part of something larger and unifiying, even in the almost silly "I'd like to teach the world to sing" Coke commercial sense? It may be, then, that you're disconnected because your culture has fragmented and is, itself, disconnected.

Jay said...

Dave- I think you've hit the nail on the head, as they say.

Our once great Nation is evolving just as you said, which isn't a bad thing at all (in my point of view). In fact I think it's an absolutely wonderful thing! It's diversity at its best, because it IS spanning race and ethnic identification. (Though not mentioning the groups that are non-productive, non-contributory, and often a financial or moral liability to society.) The problem with it currently is the "non-cooperating" and "non-communication" that you pointed out.

Why are these groups so closed off? I think it's because most people don't allow themselves the time, employ the acceptance, and/or put forth the respect necessary to understand cultures and sub-cultures present in contemporary life.

In the early days, assimilation was they way for all. Those who didn't conform were labeled or categorized. There were only a handful of mainstream "cultures" that were acceptable and that became demographic targets for the big players to pursue or cater to.

Now, as the global population grows and inter-mingles, we see so much that is nouveaux, and we see it everywhere. Young ad agencies are in touch with this global culture flux, and strategically focus on them which not only promotes consumer spending within these "cultures" but advertises characteristics displayed within these "cultures." As this awareness increases, so does the rate of assimilation within that particular "culture."

Those in the know, know because they observed with an open mind, took the time to understand why they do the things they do, and how they came to identify with a culture. Many people see or hear things that don't fit into categories in their mind and immediately dispel them instead of allowing them to float through their gray matter until they team up with relative ideas that eventually form a category.

And Dave- I do think that more and more young people are feeling as though they are a part of "something larger or more unifying" due almost entirely to the Internet--not Al Gore.

Anonymous said...

It's impressive, the relevance this has years later. I was one student of yours who should have asked more and listened closer, the opportunity to immerse oneself in such wise and clever advice; a missed one. -Willy W