Friday, June 12, 2009

Culture wars and conflict

I'm working today on an outline for a book about post-modernism. It's a curious subject, one that I was thinking about quite a bit when I was writing Sexual Authenticity, because there are a lot of places where the gay community and the post-modern culture overlap. The most obvious, of course, is Foucault's homosexuality, but there is also a strong link between modern/post-modern art and homosexuality in general.
In any case, that's not what I wanted to say. There was a point, where I was working on the book, and I was wandering around in conflict about the state of the culture. I had written several times over that I didn't think that the "culture wars" mentality was especially helpful in most ways -- it's fine if by "culture war" you mean "spiritual warfare that takes place within the context of the society at large, and which is really just a reflection of the interior war against powers and principalities that takes place within the soul of the individual." If your idea of "fighting the culture war" is "becoming a Saint," then that's a good thing. But usually it means running around and trying to "win back" the culture by rolling back the clock to 1950, or standing around and waving signs at gay pride parades, or fighting battles against the right of Krispy Kreme doughnuts to use the word "choice" (in a completely non-abortion related way) in some of their advertising.
So I was thinking about the culture, and the culture wars, and I was sitting in a cafe down the street, and leafing through a copy of Toronto Life. There was a story there about a group of young people who were waging a campaign to "reclaim public space." They weren't going to do anything particularly anarchic -- just go down to Yongue St., dance to some relatively lame music, and wave glow-in-the-dark batons around in the air in order to proclaim that community is still alive in Toronto. The word "pomo" appeared in the text, to describe the sort of play-becomes-rebellion mentality that prompted this activity.
My reaction was, perhaps, not the typical right-wing conservative response. I didn't think, "young radicals making trouble," or "what a bunch of lame posers." For a moment I caught a glimmer of something that underlies the entire appeal of post-modernity: it is the reaction of my generation to the fact that we live in a really quite spectacularly insane and dysfunctional environment. It is a reaction against the "Culture of Death" -- a culture so concerned with efficiency that it actually becomes an act of social rebellion to wave around light rods in the street, or sing songs while you wash your windows, or go out "guerilla gardening" (for those who don't know, this means descending on a piece of ugly public space during the middle of the night, armed with spades and flowers, and planting things without going through the proper channels and getting city permission.) It is not the post-modernists who are crazy; it's the people who think you would have to be crazy to do anything in down-town Toronto except shuffle mindlessly down the street and mumble into your cell-phone.


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