Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 27, 2016
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As a student of Collapse Dynamics, I'm always looking for signs of collapse in various areas in our civilization. I was drawn to the topic first by the collapse of the Investment Banks Bear Stearns & Lehman Brothers back in the financial crisis of 2007-2009, which is really still ongoing but reached a crescendo during this period. It will eventually be followed by an even BIGGER crescendo, but for the moment it just plods onward with various smaller changes in tempo and volume.
There are many other areas beyond just the financial ones that reflect ongoing collapse, Climate Calamities and Wild & Wacky Weather being other examples of Collapse Catastrophes we have to examine on virtually a daily basis these days. Then all the Geopolitical manifestations of collapse, from the non-stop wars in MENA to the ever escalating Refugee crisis of displaced Homo Saps, either because of the wars or climate change, or both in synergy. There are so many manifestations of collapse these days it's almost impossible to keep track, and there is a tendency in many people to internalize this as "normal". "There will be Wars and Rumours of Wars" always as a Fundy friend of mine often says, and of course Floods and Tornadoes and other weather related disasters go back to time immemorial. So you can't point to one flood in Texas and say "See, this is EVIDENCE of Collapse!". By itself, it's not evidence since there have always been floods. There also always have been companies going out of bizness, store closings and booms & busts in various industries, so if you point to any one of these things to bolster the argument collapse is underway, the Denier of Collapse will simply point out such things have always occurred in the past.
This is a general failing of all anecdotal examples, just about EVERYTHING always occurs at some frequency, from wars to tornadoes to corporate bakruptcies to mass murders. Holding up any one of these things as an example of Collapse in Action merely invites the criticism of "Wars and Rumours of Wars". To demonstrate anything of this sort "scientifically" you need STATS! You need to show that such events are occurring more frequently and/or are greater in intensity than they were before. That is of course a very hard thing to do, since in most areas of collapse appropriate statistics are not collected by anything approaching a credible level by any credible agency at all.
Who believes the stats pitched out by the BLS (Bureau of Lies & Statistics) these days? You have to be brain dead to buy those stats. What about GDP figures pitched out by Da Fed or the People's Bank of China? Do you buy that shit? Do you buy the financial reports from the TBTF banks on the state of their balance sheets and non-performing loans? Even with stats, you can't evaluate the truth of anything too well most of the time, because stats themselves can be manipulated in innumerable ways to show whatever you want them to show. If you believe that Near Term Human Extinction is imminent, you Cherry Pick data to show that, as Guy McPherson does on Nature Bats Last all the time. If you want to manipulate your energy company's stock price, you over estimate recoverable reserves and then revise the estimates later.
So finding metrics upon which to establish collapse is underway is pretty hard to do. More and more people can "sense" it these days, thus the popularity of Prepper websites and Zombie movies. Sensing it and demonstrating it though are two very different issues.
I do have a new metric though to observe cultural collapse, and it is in the film industry. AKA Movies or Cinema, depending on the crowd you happen to be hobknobbing with. If you are at the Cannes Film Festival, despite the name of the festival everyone calls it "cinema". If you are chatting at the bar, it's "Did you see this movie?".
This collapse has been building over time, first with the decreasing revenues overall for the film industry, and then pretty observable with the low ratings and stupid controversies surrounding the latest in the Academy Awards extravaganza, where sadly for the Black Community no People of Color got nominated for anything significant. Beyond this though and IMHO more significant is just the complete lack of interest in the current crop of actors and celebrities paraded out for this Dog & Pony Show for the masses. There was a time back in the early years of Television when the Academy Awards were a HUGE ratings engine, mainly in the years when Bob Hope was the Master of Cermonies, and then after him Johnny Carson. There have been a parade of different MCs since, from Billy Crystal to Chris Rock, but you could see the deterioration underway after the Carson years.
The actors getting awards now also have diminished significantly in quality. Leonardo DiCaprio is OK, but he is no Marlon Brando or Jack Nicholson. The films themselves while they may get decent Box Office sales from an increasing population size generally suffer from a lack of originality, other than new and more eye popping CGI graphics.
What really hit me in the last week on the Entertainment Newz front on my Google Newz Headlines was the newz that 2 of my favorite pop culture film/TV shows were being dusted off for yet another go round, Indiana Jones is coming back and so is Xena, Warrior Princess. Arnold is talking about another Terminator movie too. I started thinking about how the film and television industry is just loaded up these days with Sequels and Remakes of old material.
There are now 22, count 'em 22 James Bond 007 films.There are 12 Star Trek films & 6 Star Wars movies. The list of Robin Hood remakes and adaptations is endless. The first one appears to be a silent film circa 1908. Mel Brook's Men in Tights is still the best though. lol.
Essentially, all the good themes have been explored already, and what the film industry does is dig up popular themese from the past, populate the story line with the latest generation of actors and spruce it up with new CGI technology to present the same narratives to a new generation of Movie Goers or DVD buyers.
Of course there have been remakes going back to the silent era, and many films are remakes of plays or adaptations of novels, so themselves were not original material, but now it is the quantity of remakes and sequels that has become overwhelming.
I personally don't go to the movies anymore, nor do I own a TV. Going back at least a decade or so, both had begun to bore me. I was a TV addict growing up, watching probably an average of 5 hours a day in my peak TV watching years. Those were the days when they re-ran old movies and old TV shows, and it almost didn't matter what time of day it was, I could find something to watch on one of about 7 channels that were available over VHF frequencies in NY Shity. There were another 2-3 channels that came in OK over UHF as well, but they didn't usually have anything worth watching on them.
Today, when I am in a hotel room somewhere on the few occassions I venture from home, I can flip on the big screen TV in the hotel room with 100 channels, and not a damn thingis worth watching. Not to mention the fact that whatever is on is jam packed with commercials unless it's a pay service.
So it's really no wonder that the Academy Awards get low ratings, nobody really gives a rat's ass who wins the little statue. The only thing people care about with respect to celebrities these days is what kind of scandal they get immersed in, drug rehabs, divorces, sex change operations or whatever. I didn't watch the Academy Awards this year of course, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts the speeches were boring and the jokes were flat.
A while back I wrote an article where I pegged the year which IMHO was "Peak Movies", which was 1968. This was a year for quite a few other peaks, like Peak Assassinations and Peak Riots too. Older folks than me often put the date of Peak Movies earlier, and younger folks put the Peak Movies later than this date, so it is somewhat subjective.
Ugo Bardi though put up a graph a while back which traced "Peak Rock Music" as defined by Rolling Stone's "Top 500" vs. US Oil Production, and the charts are astonishingly similar.
Here again, you seem to see the cultural peak of Amerikan Empire coming around 1965 or so, with local Peak Oil production shortly following that around 1971, and by my estimation Movies hitting the middle ground right between in 1968.
Correlation is not Causation of course, at least not necessarily, however it is remarkable how both cultural aspects of the society and available energy in the society seem to match up. In speculating on why this is so I have three working hypotheses:
1- On the upswing of available energy, all things seem possible, which gets the creative juices flowing in the artistic members of the society
2- New technologies developing inspire artists to create in new ways.
3- Both artists and aficionados of art have more free time and money to appreciate artwork of various types. They gravitate to the latest types of artwork available in their culture for the most part.
In the Music Industry, the New Technology to develop was Amplified Music and the Electric Guitar which first hit the scene in 1931, but really took off in the early 1950s with the mass produced Fender Stratocaster. This of course is also when "Rock & Roll" really took off as well as the dominant music style of the late industrial era, now in its declining years.
Invented in 1931, the amplified electric guitar was adopted by jazz guitarists, who sought to be able to be heard in large big band ensembles. Early proponents of the electric guitar on record included Les Paul, Lonnie Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, T-Bone Walker, and Charlie Christian. During the 1950s and 1960s, the electric guitar became the most important instrument in pop music. It has evolved into an instrument that is capable of a multitude of sounds and styles. It served as a major component in the development of electric blues, rock and roll, rock music, and many other genres of music.
In films after their initial invention by Thomas Edison, the first major technological improvement was the addition of sound in "Talkies". This preceeded the invention of the Electric Guitar by a few years, coming in the lat 1920s. The first major motion picture to feature soun was "The Jazz Singer" with Al Jolson released in 1927, just 4 years before the electric guitar
Film technology continued to develop, and got a real kick start in the 1940s with the development of films that would record in native color. There were color films made going back into the silent era, but they had to be hand colored. Probably the first major motion picture to feature color was the Wizard of Oz in 1939, and the contrast between the stark B&W panorama of Kansas and the Color of Oz really brought home the visual impact to audiences of the era.
Through the 1940s and well into the 1950s though, color in films was more or less a 50-50 proposition, and even in the 1960s many filmakers elected to use B&W either for their own artistic aesthetic or due to budgetary constraints. Color Film remained much more expensive than B&W film well into the 1960s and the beginning of the "Kodachrome" era.
Film technology continued to improve using miniatures and animation techniques through the 1960s, which were applied mainly in the Sci-Fi genre like "2001: A Space Odyssey" in films and the television series "Star Trek".
These enhancements contributed enormously to the popularity of this type of film, and to the meme of perpetual progress as well. Sci-Fi and fantasy films of all sorts began to take over, and on a cultural level this is where the art became divorced from the reality.
The reality in fact was that after making the expeditions to the Moon in the 60s, the NASA Space Program basically hit a wall, the big wheel in the sky Spce Station never materialized, only a few RV sized modules labelled the "Intenational Space Station" dropped into low Earth orbit mostly carried up there by Ruskie Rockets.
It is at this point the cultural memes and artistic representations began to become repetitive, basically milking every last ounce out of the ideas while in reality the surrounding culture was deteriorating, and the art became just facsimile of art done before, rehashed for the next generation of Homo Sap. It is degenerate art, and the generation growing up viewing it knows that, at least on a subconscious level.
To maintain the DREAM, decades were spent evolving ever increasing debt in pursuit of this dream, and it continues onward today in the ckepersona of folks like Elon Musk with his "Power Wall" batteries, EV Carz and Private Space Rocketry program. Where does the money come from for a Rocket Program? It makes no money and they crash expensive hardware all the time, along with killing the occassional test pilot. Obviously, the money comes from debt, and Elon Musk's great gift is to be able to get the folks ho issue debt out to issue out BILLIONS of it so he can pursue these dream projects. Richard Branson does the same thing. The shit never makes any money, it's not "productive", but it sells the dream and more debt is issued to pursue that dream.
The future if we are to have one lies in LETTING GO of these dreams and leaving behind the sick & deteriorating culture of consumption that surrounds those dreams, but this is something that few individuals in this society wish to do, and none of our political "leaders" wish to do at all. The Donald's sound bites talk about "Making Amerika Great Again", as if we could go back to those halcyon days of the 1950s when Harriet had a nice hot dinner waiting for Ozzie when he came home from work and the Beaver played baseball in the sandlot with his friends. We CAN'T go back to those days, no matter how much The Donald or Jim Kunstler would wish it to be so.
You variously hear the cliches that "Art Imitates Life" or that "Life Imitates Art". In reality, Life and Art are one in the same thing, and our deteriorating culture runs in tandem with our deteriorating civilization, one just reflects the other. To know that collapse is real and apparent, all one needs to do is walk around a Mall that still has some stores open and look at theChinese manufactured junk they are selling. All one has to do is go to the movies to see "Superman vs Batman" for another regurgitation of a tired myth. All one has to do is flip on the TV for a rehash of "Xena: Warrior Princess".
I won't be watching the new edition of Xena, nor will I go to see the new Terminator film Arnold says he is going to make. I won't have the dreams of my youth destroyed watching derivative television series with new actors or film sequels with aging ones. They are artifacts of the past, nice in the memory but just a reflection of a bygone era that will never come again. I have let it go, and I kiss it goodbye.