I wrote this in March 2005 for some magazine, though I don’t even know if it was published. More of my usual rhetoric, and an interesting little omen…
Romance has been dying slowly since its heyday in the late 18th century. Art has so quickly been forgotten and observation falls by the way side. What can possibly be left for a society that fails to appreciate the world in which it lives? This is where we find ourselves now, in a barren emotional climate.
In 2001, the United States of America was shaken awake, kicked out of bed for sleeping in late. The dirty, hungry and hard city of New York was jostled out of its daze by two explosions from the sky. A population that lives for money and success was forced into a brief faze of brotherly love; of appreciation for the fragility of life. But this sentimentality would get washed into the Hudson by acid rain, swept from New Yorker’s memories like countless hangovers of the past. They remember how painful it was, but honestly, its better and easier to just get on with it.
It takes disaster to awaken our senses, mass death to appreciate how simple life is. World War II reminded us of the value of family and of the fragility of love: the Earth was forced to abandon any security and to hold on to whoever was there to help, to whatever they could carry in their arms. War reveals how easily human vulnerability and kindness can be taken advantage of.
Since then, our hearts have been hardened by resent, progress and competitiveness. We must rebuild our familial empires and honour those who died for our freedom, but at what expense? We have so materialised our society that we’ve alienated ourselves from each other, posted invisible barriers around our hearts, left territorial pissings around our souls. We know more about hate than we do of love.
Modern institutions – namely government and education – have done nothing to help. Politicians are frustrated to see tax dollars going to the arts, and teachers are so overworked that the idea of offering any sensitivity in the classroom is annoying. If kids are lucky, they get a field trip to the museum: a chance to peer into the carcass of Romance, but not touch it. Then back to the classroom for a cold, heartless discussion of what they think they may have seen. Then an essay assignment that counts towards final grades. So kids, there’s no pressure…art is enrichment, remember?
But how can it possibly be? How can any child think outside the cold rules grown-ups have unwittingly set? It’s all we can expect out of children borne from complacency, from strict MOR parameters. Grupsters aside, the majority of parents don’t enjoy reading, take no pleasure in writing, can’t see the point of self-evaluation, hate thinking critically and never want to talk to their spouses – let alone get up to change the TV channel. “I work hard, make money for food and clothes, what else can I do? When I get home I just want to drink beer. What’s wrong with that?” Nothing, really, when you embody what’s become of the American Dream.
Our fundamental problem: the cheapening of the great American Dream. Why do we seek success as our approval from others? Why must we “fit in?” Look at our world: we rely on drugs to keep us happy, to make us sleep, to help us forget, to get us to pay attention, to deal with others; we turn to religion to think for us, be moral on our behalf; we crawl to CNN for guidance and to tell us what our opinions are; and material wealth has become that which defines our identities. We are monsters who cannot stand to even live in our own skins anymore.
The psychological and spiritual mutation must end, but this will happen by no easy means. We are faced with a slow transition, with each of us, with our hearts, at the center of the solution.
We can look forward to a renaissance in music, at least. Modern music and art is getting more adventurous, more daring, all the while remaining true to the artist’s heart. Anyone can write a song or paint a painting, but most can only create meaningless art. We must take heed to art that makes us feel, that reminds us of who we are and that reconnects our souls. It’s a Soft Revolution led by bands like Doves, Arcade Fire, Stars and The Dears (cheeky!), just to name a few. If we start by remembering our hearts, then society will follow our lead.