Last week I went down to Tripp’s office to work on some stuff for the podcast. I walked in while he was talking to Jordan and Christian from the Homebrewed Culture Cast. They were recording a segment about zombies and the Walking Dead series.
The conversation was great – you will really enjoy that episode when it comes out. Toward the end, Christian asked about why the surge in popularity of zombies and vampires. After Tripp’s market driven answer (which was sweet) I jumped in with a theory that I wanted to elaborate on here.
I quoted Ballard in Kingdom Come
Consumerism rules, but people are bored. They’re out on the edge, waiting for something big and strange to come along. … They want to be frightened. They want to know fear. And maybe they want to go a little mad.
– Ballard, Kingdom Come
When we live in a time when like ours, where the as-is structures are assumed and there is a certain giveness to the system, we view them as final applications. Nation States and capitalism are just two areas where this can be seen (Tripp explains this well in the interview).
In this consumerism as culture humans are defined by their external signs and symbols. These become signifiers that form more than our image, they project our identity. It is in this cul-de-sac and the end of the wide road of consuming that the monotony of round and round sameness becomes soul-numbing. You can see why things on the fringes, that lurk in the dark and just below the surface begins to titillate and become attractive.
We are bored.
Alasdair MacIntyre (who asses the situation so well in After Virtue – even though I disagree with his solution) says this about what the church becomes
nothing but a meeting place for individual wills, each with its own set of attitudes and preferences and who understand that world solely as an arena for the achievement of their own satisfaction, who interpret reality as a series of opportunities for their enjoyment and for whom the last enemy is boredom.
Our fractured and contentious societal situation is inflamed by (at least) three cultural elements: consumerism, globalization, and pluralism. The first is the disposition of individuals within a society, the second impacts the proximity of different communities, and the third affects the posture when approaching a disparate series of relationship for communities.
Consumerism is hyperbolized in an examination of Hipster ‘culture’ by Douglas Haddow entitled “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization”.* Haddow provides a vicious critique when he says:
An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.
It this both the dislocation of generational continuity and the isolation of consumerist aesthetics that are troubling about the brand obsessed and all too self-aware ironic sensibilities that alert one to the incredible disenchantment and disassociation of the youth culture. It is these very same consumerist influences and institutions that give rise to their embodied expression and vague angst that manifests in such irresponsible yet elaborate demonstrations of the Hipster’s intentionally senseless displays.
Ironically, we have more stuff and access to more toys, information, and treats than ever before … but we are soul-numb bored. This is the danger of thinking that what we have is everything in it’s final form. That our representative democracy, that our free-market economy, that our United Nations are the pinnacle and the end of history.
This is why that Zizek quote about living in the end times is so great – that it is easier for most Christians today to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine living in some other economy beside capitalism.
Hipsters and the suburban fascination with zombies and vampires … are trying to tell us something.
* The subtitle of this article says “We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality. “
Mark Douglas Haddow, “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization | Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters”, n.d., http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/79/hipster.html