‘Notes on the Death of Culture’ by Mario Vargas Llosa

Vargas

Wow… I want to read this book. Here are a few quotes from a review in the Irish Times. My first time at this website though I do have some Irish ancestry… In this book, an  aged Nobel Laureate and thoughtful critic mourns the state of our culture. He is not a Christian preacher, but according to the reviewer, his anger makes him sound like one at times. Is it possible for us to appreciate the speed of decay in our own generation?

He suggests that while we may not be living in the worst of times, we are living in the stupidest….

“It’s not easy, however, to be orderly on such an all-encompassing and sensitive subject as the way we live now. On some aspects, such as the art business, Vargas Llosa practically foams at the mouth. The art world is “rotten to the core”, a world in which artists cynically contrive “cheap stunts”. Stars like Damien Hirst are purveyors of “con-tricks”, and their “boring, farcical and bleak” productions are aided by “half-witted critics”.

“We have abandoned the former minority culture, which was truth-seeking, profound, quiet and subtle, in favour of mainstream or mass entertainment, which has to be accessible – and how brave if foolhardy of anyone these days to cast aspersions on accessibility – as well as sensation-loving and frivolous.

“Value-free, this kind of culture is essentially valueless.

“Vargas Llosa adopts a name for this age of ours coined by the French Marxist theorist Guy Debord. We live in the Society of the Spectacle. A name that recalls the bread and circuses offered to a debased populace in the declining Roman empire. Exploited by the blind forces of rampant consumerism, we are reduced to being spectators of our own lives rather than actors in them.

“Our sensibilities, indeed our very humanity, is blunted by those who traditionally saw their role as the guardians of it.

“The intellectuals, the supine media, the political class have abandoned substance and discrimination and with treacherous enthusiasm adopted the idea of the image as truth. The liberal revolution of the 1960s, especially the events of 1968 in France, and French theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard come in for a lot of invective. They have turned culture into “an obscurantist game for self-regarding academics and intellectuals who have turned their backs on society”.

“Meanwhile the masses exist, docile and passive, in a world of appearances, reduced to no more than the audience in a kind of tawdry theatre where scenes shift from violence to inanity before our bored and brutalised gaze. Rock stars are given more credence than politicians, comedians are the new philosophers. Lifestyle merchants such as cooks and gardeners are revered as writers once were. It’s a sad and hopeless devolution from what we used to have and used to be.”  (emphasis mine)

Source: Book review: ‘Notes on the Death of Culture’ by Mario Vargas Llosa

Gossiping About Ourselves

Face palm

Earlier today my wife and I were speaking about social media. It can be marvelous and miserable. We both dabble in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc to varying degrees. But it is REALLY easy to be carried by the stream of pop culture and join in without thinking. So, we talk about social media. We talk about how it can be both amazing and horrible. We try to learn from our own failures (which are many) and even from the missteps of others.  Sometimes when you see several people (or whole crowds) making the same mistake all at once, it appears as a pattern.  A kind of constellation of immaturity and bad behavior.

It is almost as if the kinds of stupid decisions that people wanted to keep private in the past, have now become a staple on social media.

The constellation we talked about this morning is the tendency of some people to parade their bad decisions on social media.  Sometimes it feels like I am watching someone get another “together forever” tattoo with the name of their new lover, written just beneath the one they ditched last month.  It is almost as if the kinds of stupid decisions that people wanted to keep private in the past, have now become a staple on social media.  The grand spectacle of folly that was once reserved for gossip rags and the Larry Springer show is now available to all of us. And not just as spectators, we can be on stage, or on the cover.  But there is no one to sue for libel, because we wrote it. And, oh yeah,  it’s true..

Many of the things I am now able to learn (forced to endure?) about my Facebook friends would have only been available to me in the past if someone had been trying to destroy their reputation through gossip.  I would really like to mind my own business, but you won’t let me! It’s not that I want people to lie, I just feel really uncomfortable when people gossip about themselves.

I would really like to mind my own business, but you won’t let me!

And sadly much of this adolescent flaunting is presented with a measure of boldness. “This is who I am, IF YOU DON’T LIKE MY BAD DECISIONS, YOU ARE THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM.”   And I do end up with a problem, Facebook only has a “like” button.  I could speak up and be perceived as judgmental (a risk I am willing to take because I love my friends), or stay quiet while you document your own personal episode of Jackass for the world to see.

Regret is a powerful experience, tasted by all at some point. And one of the things that makes regret more damaging is publicity. It is one thing to trip and fall. It is another thing to trip and fall on camera and then to see our private moment of shame become a viral experience. It is one thing to be laughed at by a few friends and strangers, it is much harder to endure the scorn of millions.  And sadly, this level of regret is more potent when there is a permanent record. What will it be like when the posts you wrote last year, the ones that already embarrass you, can be resurrected to go viral again in 2035. And you think political campaigns are nasty now? It has been said that taking information off the internet is like taking pee out of a pool. Impossible.

So here is my advise:

1. Don’t give into the temptation to make a permanent, public record of every mistake and bad decision that you make.  One day you will want people to “forgive and forget.” Don’t make this any harder than it already is.

2. If something might really embarrass you if it ended up on film, then don’t just think twice about posting it on social media, think twice about doing it.  Some embarrassing things are perfectly innocent, and we need to learn to laugh at ourselves. Other embarrassing things can hurt us and other people.  And the only thing worse than driving toward a cliff, is driving toward it confidently with your foot on the acclerator.

3. Don’t be upset when friends and people that love you (especially older ones) have the courage to tell you that you are making bad choices.   There is a strong possibility you will soon agree with them. And you may need their help to clean up the mess.

Photo used courtesy of Hobvias Sudoneighm. Some rights reserved.