We are in a cultural rut. A monotonous repetition penetrates every facet of our lives. While this may seem very cynical, it is a concept that I continually end up returning to in my work. Earlier this week I came across a brilliant article by Kurt Andersen in Vanity Fair entitled “You Say You Want a Devolution?” which explores the depth of this rut. Although he offered no solutions, he raised a number of interesting points summing up the problem stating:
“I feel as if the whole culture is stoned, listening to an LP that’s been skipping for decades, playing the same groove over and over. Nobody has the wit or gumption to stand up and lift the stylus.
Why is this happening? In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out. So as the Web and artificially intelligent smartphones and the rise of China and 9/11 and the winners-take-all American economy and the Great Recession disrupt and transform our lives and hopes and dreams, we are clinging as never before to the familiar in matters of style and culture.
We seem to have trapped ourselves in a vicious cycle—economic progress and innovation stagnated, except in information technology; which leads us to embrace the past and turn the present into a pleasantly eclectic for-profit museum; which deprives the cultures of innovation of the fuel they need to conjure genuinely new ideas and forms; which deters radical change, reinforcing the economic (and political) stagnation. I’ve been a big believer in historical pendulum swings—American sociopolitical cycles that tend to last, according to historians, about 30 years. So maybe we are coming to the end of this cultural era of the Same Old Same Old. As the baby-boomers who brought about this ice age finally shuffle off, maybe America and the rich world are on the verge of a cascade of the wildly new and insanely great. Or maybe, I worry some days, this is the way that Western civilization declines, not with a bang but with a long, nostalgic whimper.”
The more monotonous the present the more the imagination must seize upon the future. The percivity of the present should be replaced by the activity of an imaginary future. However, in this interminable present we find ourself doing the exact opposite. We are looking to the past to seek comfort, and becoming trapped.