November 10, 2008
Trying to pinpoint cultural significance in America is like gathering news from a blog. The product of the endeavor tends to muddle more than educate you. We’re eventually going to look back to a time when culture was compacted and stereotyped more easily by demographics such as readers of VOGUE, Seventeen, GQ, whatever the print. The growth of weekly tabloids like Star and In Touch are easing people into blog reading, as the pop culture informational consumer adapts sinking standards.
Esquire, one of my favorite magazines-for pioneering new journalism with elegance, humor, and rich writing-has always offered stories that fairly emphasize and critique important aspects of American culture. The newest critical column as of July: A Thousand Words about Our Culture by Stephen Marche. Each meditation is dripping with pessimism, and the live-consume-die irony of an angry Nirvana fan.
July’s theme: The skull as a metaphor for America. Marche says: “The skull has evolved from a boderline-sociopathic tough guy symbol to a fashion statement”. It has become diamond-encrusted and converted into a powerful social trend, which does, as he suggests, beg the question how materialistic can we get? Marche, a somewhat tamer Klosterman, often comes across as a literary product of the environment he views destructively. He says: “We stare at the face of death and ask ourselves, can I get it in pink?”
In the August issue, Marche reflects on violence in America, quoting Cormac McCarthy: “obsessed with violence and terrified of sex: that’s practically the definition of American Culture.” If fashion is the creative drug that provides an alternative escape for women, Grand Theft Auto, as Marche suggests, is just that for men. Steven Meisel photographed this bizarre fashion spread that was published in Italian Vogue, which I believe promotes a level of maturity and idea flow no sophisticated American fashion publication offers. The spread objectifies terrorism and offers political commentary and then there are things like South Park and GTA that promote it: hedonistic destruction is expected entertainment, but America couldn’t handle Gisele’s V Magazine Cover with her ass partially exposed.
September: The tabloids, one of my favorite scapegoats for our culture. Marche offers Miley Cyrus as the depth of our social confusion. Self-mutilating female celebrities battle between a projected image and the pressure of pre-mature adulthood. America fights for her to win while feeding off her destruction. “They are in our hearts…we cry for them, we carry their images with us always.” As the child who “suffers the perils of adulthood” is wept for, what is to become of the adult who must foster this culture of ‘cool’?
In the most recent issue, Marche asks: How About a Little Loyalty? It is already apparent that his view on American culture is nothing short of destructive and superficial. In Loyalty he examines characters on T.V., another media vehicle from which we draw our heroes. Apparently, there once was a rule that no crime was unforgivable, so long as it was done out of loyalty for one’s own country or family. The most popular show on T.V., “Mad Men”, has a protagonist that exemplifies the failure of loyalty we see in today’s politics. He also notes our looser concept of fidelity and pop culture’s obsession with betrayal. Traditionally, a president is married to his nation as a man is to his family, but in a culture already obsessed with freedom, that Americans are addicted to watching things fall apart is a bit frightening. Isn’t this why we watch reality shows?
Good liberal media always promotes skepticism. You should never walk away sold, but only inherit a deeper sense of doubt. You read these articles and sit there thinking, I thought I was the only one fearful for this country’s cultural fabrication. The day Esquire publishes an optimistic cultural critique on America, is the day journalism will have been completely overtaken by publicity.