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Thursday, August 11, 2005

The United States: A Nation Karamazov

For those of you who haven't read "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I highly recommend that you do so. Though the term "karamazovism" typically refers to the negative aspects displayed by the father and two of the brothers, my meaning also includes strong hints, if not focus, on Alesha, the youngest, a saintly lad who recognizes the fact that he also is seriously repressing some of the more negative aspects of his family's nature, and you see hints in the book that he's leaning towards completely abandoning the gentler aspects of his nature. In a more generic sense, I refer to a tendency to gravitate towards extremes. Hell, for that, maybe the term "bipolar" would be more accurate. And perhaps the first paragraph of this post has been, despite my intent, the intellectual equivalent of a rich person saying, "Look at my nice Bentley."

But anyway, on with the show. As the above (probably bloated) paragraph states, we Americans are a nation driven by extremes. A generation or so ago, Twiggy was the ideal, an anorexic, skeletal figure who, frankly, had a figure that makes me want to vomit. As a result of her, Jack LaLane, and a variety of other reasons, we had kids and adults who eventually took physical fitness to the extreme. What came after that? Due to increases in technology and other complex causes, a boom in childhood and adult obesity to the extent that both are true epidemics, as are the attendant diseases. I'm sure we can all remember a time when Type II diabetes was still called "adult-onset diabetes," as that was the time of onset in all but a minuscule proportion of sufferers; yet it's becoming common in increasingly younger children.

On a rant with which you may or may not be familiar, as I don't know how many visitors I had at the time, we once had a society where teachers were expected to have the authority in the classrooms, and if a child behaved poorly, we punished them, sent them to bed without dinner or spanked them. Though there were unconscionable abuses, such were rare and brought about generations of responsible, well-adjusted children. If a kid fucked up, they knew it PDQ, and corrective action was taken. But now, much like the Salem Witch Trials, it appears that the children are running the show when they are the least capable of doing so. In essence, our society has become one where the inmates run the asylum.

In my nearly 30 years, we've gone from The Big Three networks plus CNN, to a veritable hodgepodge of media sources, both professional and wildly unprofessional, each with varying levels and types of bias. When I was young, at least we knew what standards our society had, and it was the rebellion against those standards that gave the previous generations an identity uniquely its own. No one can mistake the culture of the 1980s with that of the '70s, '60s, or '50s. This trend carried over into the first half of the 1990s, with the music and culture of our society being significantly different from what came before. But look at us today. PettyRage has ranted about this recently, and I feel the need to add my tuppence. Turn on the radio if you dare. Country stations sound like early rock only without the vitality. Rap is now covering the same ground it did 10 years ago, with only the faces and names changing. And rock, my deer, sweet, beloved, dead, rock. Were I more of a dramatic bent, I would wear sackcloth and ashes and wail about the loss of my beloved Absalom... No, wait, that's the Old Testament. Anyway, I would be very upset. Turn on the radio, or the Fuse network, or one of the MTV or VH1 channels, or any of a host of other music television stations, and you'll find the "best" sounds like it should've come out in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, and the worst is some complete sellout Madonna wannabe with a tendency towards Japanese affectations. Gwen Stefani, this means YOU. Hot Hot Heat sounds like the Beatles before their rebellion and, frankly, without the talent. My Chemical Romance and a variety of other interchangeable, disposable groups all sound alike to the degree that they even reference each other in their songs. Even Coheed and Cambria, who I like simply for the fact that they're a different voice in that mind-destroying void that is modern pop music, sound like melodic rock from the early 80s.

Where are the true heirs to The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Talking Heads, and The Beatles? Where are the new voices bravely blazing new trails for others to follow? Or is this merely a taste of what is to come, breathing though hardly living proof that, when there's nothing against which to rebel, rebellion becomes utterly pointless and impossible? It seems to me that modern culture is merely the two-headed children borne of years of creative and intellectual incest, and we should all be ashamed for not being better and not demanding better of our society and those whose words and guitar riffs we allow into our homes.

While these are all disparate problems, I believe they are united by a common source: a lack of balance. Chaos needs order to define and balance it. Freedom needs responsibility to define and balance it. Either without the other is meaningless at best, and unlivable at worst. So I advocate this balance, freely and wholeheartedly. I advocate more activities, more unifying figures who, regardless of your stance on such people's views, at least unify our nation by their very presence, by giving us all at least some common ground. In short, we are in unimaginably desperate need of another Walter Cronkite, and sadly, he's too old and feeble to reprise his role as the voice of a nation. That is tragic, because he has no more heirs to his mantle, and we as a nation are far poorer for the lack. And that's the way it is, as I see it, August 11, 2005.

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