First of all, sorry for scaring everybody yesterday. I’m still vertiginous, and the Missoula health care system is still unwilling to care for my health on shorter notice than it takes to quit a job at Taco Bell, but I have not given up on life. One reason I will not just sicken and die is that I live in a tower of iron will. Remember the six months in 2007 when I broke my hand, dislocated my shoulder and tore my transverse abdominus? This is not as bad as that, although I’m pretty sure music was better then. It’s hard to remember, because drugs were better, too. Today is Friday, and I suspect that everything was easier in the past, but I can’t prove it. Won’t you compare epochs with me?
First, the good news: people don’t romanticize the Confederacy because they’re virulent racists; they romanticize the Confederacy because inaccurate textbooks have made them dumb. Their virulent racism is just a coincidence. Anachronistically bearded sociology professor James W. Loewen argues that all the talk about states’ rights as the motivation for the Civil War is whitewash. The only documents from the secession years that mention states’ rights do so disdainfully, re: northern states’ refusal to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.1 Meanwhile, they pretty much all mention slavery and/or white supremacy. For example, here’s Texas in its declaration of causes:
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
Way to parallel the Declaration of Independence in a grim parody of its spirit, dicks. But let us not tar all the South with same brush, nor feather them all with the same, um, duck. Lots of people from the south are thoughtful and kind—for example, my friend Stacy Elaine Dacheux, who wrote this lyrical consideration of how we live as artists and romantics now. In addition to being maybe the nicest person in the world, Stacy notes certain ideas our generation considered central to one’s life in art mean little to young people now:
Lately, I’ve been feeling terribly old, out of touch, and resistant. So, I got drunk and watched an episode of Frontline called “Generation Like.” Halfway through the episode, a man asks teenagers in the year 2014 about the term “selling out”—a phrase central to my understanding of society in 1994—and no one knows what it means. They say it’s something that happens in a store. Surely, some teenagers know about “selling out” in a vintage way. They can Google it and watch videos. But, I’m pretty sure they don’t care—not in the visceral way we did—and if they do, it’s more about fashion than living with the guilt of it all. I’m sure they’re happy not to have the guilt. I’m happy they don’t have the guilt.
Of course, when popular success is no longer antithetical to artistic success, popular obscurity is no longer a substitute for artistic achievement. There’s commerce, which covers pretty much all human expression from Avengers 2 to your cousin’s Instagram, and there’s art, which is what people see in museums. The content of the second category does not matter. Over at Commentary, Michael J. Lewis argues convincingly that:
The fine arts and the performing arts have indeed ceased to matter in Western culture, other than in honorific or pecuniary terms, and they no longer shape in meaningful ways our image of ourselves or define our collective values. This collapse in the prestige and consequence of art is the central cultural phenomenon of our day.
It’s kind of a bummer. But who’s to say that the ballets of the Renaissance don’t have their analog in the movies of today, and not the ballets? Given our massive output of movies, television, and internet videos, it’s hard to argue that the arts have somehow become irrelevant to American culture. When Lewis says “art,” he means the fine arts, which are certainly not the cultural essence of the 21st-century West. But perhaps his complaint is not that the arts have become irrelevant, but that the relevant forms within the arts have changed. Vines rule and novels drool, you guys. I’m sure that won’t make us dumber.
At least one subcategory of the arts has maintained its cultural primacy: independent films from the 1990s. Perhaps people who are not my exact age will disagree with me on this one, but that’s because they have no taste. I’m still holding out to marry Parker Posey. Granted, I’m concerned to learn that she is not getting a lot of film roles and has concocted an alarming number of moneymaking schemes, but she still lives on Fifth Avenue, so she must be getting by:
In 2008, she moved to lower Fifth Avenue and has remained a staple of the downtown arty scene, where her social circle includes performance artists and fellow free spirits. Though she is a frequent red carpet figure at New York film premieres, she is just as likely to be found at punky performance spaces like Joe’s Pub or Dixon Place.
I’ll give you Dixon Place because I remain loyal to Ellie Covan, but Joe’s Pub is not “punky.” It is the annex of the Public Theatre, for Pete’s sake. Joe’s Pub is to performance art as Parker Posey is to movies: edgy and important 20 years ago, but I still want to be inside it. Never forget Kicking and Screaming: