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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Where Is MY "On the Road"

     When a culture stops producing art, it was once said, that is when it truly dies.
     Lose definitions aside, I know that this much is true: I sat in a car--a brand new Ford with all the trimmings, from CD to MP3 to satellite, giving all the options to experience any brand or form of music and audio media--with this eighteen year old boy. The means that we come from vary. He doesn't remember a world without cellphones or Mtv, nor does he remember a time when the M stood for something besides "Mature audiences only."
     With all of these options, he only ever chooses one satellite station: a rap station. Fair enough. He enjoys rap. But this station, like all pop music stations, only has a rotation of about a dozen songs. Still he listens, regardless that he has heard only one song for the past five or seven days.
You know who these two men are.
     As I sit there, I know that American pop culture is a dead animal at the side of the road. It is decaying, artistically stagnate, and needs to desperately move on. Then I look over at this eighteen year old--a wasted investment to the human continuum. He looks like an ad for hip hip culture. His pants cannot hold themselves up; he has to do it for them. He refuses to learn, because he claims that he is already a genius. If it didn't work in the "Hood" then it couldn't possibly work anywhere else in the world. Likewise, if it worked in the "Hood"--verbal abuse, threats, violence, addiction--then it must work everywhere. All of this he believes, despite the disaster that got him here, in my care, by being a gang banger.
Bob Dylan
     What is it that separates us? Opportunity? Maybe. He's had plenty of opportunities since I've met him. But why would he rather be prime evidence of the successes of mass consumerism--a hollow manifesto of fashion.
     It comes to me, as I imagine it came to the Buddha when he found enlightenment: the youth has become--like the culture pervading it--so stagnate, so numb that it can't even see that it needs to move on, to find something new.
     But even if it did, where would American culture go? As far as I

Ayn Rand hard at work


can tell, there is no voice/s to guide it. The 50s had Ginsberg and Kerouac writing the Bibles of the Beat, redefining young American life in the Cold War Era. Dylan and Young (among so many others) at least tried to guide a new movement during Vietnam--Hippies. There was Mandela and Malcolm X; Pete Seeger, John Lennon, and John Updike. 
     The American icons of today don't fight for a movement or commiserate with the working man. They do not respect the poor and working class. They certainly don't write verses about how great our life can be. The worshiped are snooki and jwow. The legends are the Kardashians. Today's hero is not an aspirational do-it yourselfer, like Hemingway or Ayn Rand. They are self absorbed, unworthy yuppies living off of massive corporations' dimes and nickels to perpetuate a lifestyle of excess and artistic bankruptcy, earning nothing in their fame, and gaining everything in wealth.
     Follow them at your peril; they will take you nowhere but down.