I knew the arrival of one-party rule in Washington, D.C., would change the national zeitgeist.
I didn’t know how far it would change in less than one month.
The White House Junta has moved so swiftly to destroy diversity, women’s rights, civil rights, science, the environment, public education, international relations, journalism, public discourse, and even common human decency.
If they thought they could just plow through their reactionary agenda with no practical opposition, they were as wrong as they are about their policies themselves.
All this is bound to have reverberations throughout society, including entertainment and the other popular arts.
A lot of genres or shticks that had seemed emotionally “empowering,” invigorating or at least benign, may quickly become passé.
There are precedents for this.
When the US entered World War II, many 1930s comedy-film stars found their work getting seen as old hat compared to the more aggressive humor of, say, Abbot and Costello.
Garage-rock music collapsed in mass popularity around 1967; the “soft psychedelic” trend that partly replaced it faded away four years later.
The fashion design industry plans this year’s trends, next year’s counter-trends, and the following year’s counter-counter trends, sometimes simultaneously; much like car companies would plan their new models three or more years in advance.
So with the national (and global) mood taking such a swift, sudden turn, what will be “on the rise” or “approaching demise”?
I’ve got some guesses.
Let’s start with what I call “insult culture,” which, in all its forms, was a major influence on the Presidential campaign and the current White House crew. Its campaign talking points were inspired by three decades of “hate talk” radio (and its cable-TV and Internet imitators).
Insult culture also involves social-media “comment trolls,” (usually anonymous) guys who invoke the idea of “daring political incorrectness” to justify brutal racist/sexist “jokes.” Sometimes, trolls have organized into campaigns such as “Gamergate” (against women in the video-game business) and “Sick Puppies”
(against women and minority writers in science fiction).
In its (relatively) mildest form, insult trolling mistakes inane name-calling for discourse about ideas.
At its worst, it involves trollers making specific death threats against their targets.
Anyone with half a conscience ought to see this peurile kind of power-madness as the dangerous nonsense it is Yet it’s now a guiding principle of several high-ranking government officials and their allies. (Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart.com editor, was one of the few self-identified Gamergate trolls.)
As ever more extreme and unpopular positions and “executive orders” emanate from this gang, expect a growing mass revulsion against its entire aesthetic— including, but not limited to, insult culture and anything that seems similar to it.
Among these other shticks that could fall out of public favor:
• Hyper-aggressiveness. Loud, violent “action” movies. Horror films that invite the audience to emotionally get off on the “kills.” “Edgy” commercials. The crueler corners of “reality TV.” The crueler corners of porn.
• “Disruption,” as defined by techie companies as a beneficial effect of new technologies or business models. Society has been “disrupted” enough already by factory automation, the decimation of the journalism and recorded-music businesses, the slow killing of “brick and mortar” retail, housing hyperinflation, etc. Drone deliveries and driverless vehicles would throw millions more out of work. This month’s events have “disrupted” “disruptive” tech companies themselves (along with plenty of other folk).
• The intersection of opulent material wealth and dreadfully bad taste.
• Gold-plated or gold-painted anything.
• Nihilism, cinycism, and separatism as excuses to
not get involved.
• Everything being about white people.
• Everything being about the “upscale.” Politicians (of any party) who only really care about big campaign contributors.
• The stereotyping and demonizing of assorted capital-O “Others” (depending on which “side” you’re on) and believing yourself to personally win when one of these perceived enemies suffers.
* * *
So, what counter-trends might we see emerging in the national psyche? Perhaps some of these:
• Family values. The real values, not the pious hypocrisy of the greed-and-power gang. Taking care of one another. Hope and charity.
• Real Christianity. Honesty, humility, forgiveness, empathy, compassion. A faith that doesn’t mind if it looks corny to outsiders.
• What some feminists now call “intersectionality”: how different people’s own needs and causes interrelate into the larger meta-cause of a healthier, more prosperous, more equal world for all of us.
And what might some of the cultural works arising from these
• In art: Smaller, less abstract, more personal pieces, not necessarily meant to accessorize a McMansion living room.
• In film/TV: Fewer action heroes annihilating baddies, more personal and ensemble stories of triumph.
• In fiction: More tales of ethnic folks’ struggles, without the perceived need to stick a noble white hero at the center.
• In gaming: Fewer shoot-’em-ups and street-war scenarios, more “world-building” epics.
• In music: Sappy love songs. All-inclusive “spectacle” acts. Open jam sessions. “Joyful” dance music.
As an aging college-radio punk rock DJ, I came of age loving expressions of noise, anger, and rebellion.
I might not personally care for a lot of the art and entertainment that may come in a post-alt-right, reconstructivist future. It might all just bore me to tears.
But it’s a small price to pay, compared to some of the other sacrifices we’ll all have to make in the coming days.
CLARK HUMPHREY is a columnist on Seattle culture. "LOSER: The Real Seattle Music Story" is now available from miscmedia.com and other online sources.