Friday, 18 May 2012

Escalating the Culture Wars


I've been somewhat casually following the truly sad story of Trayvon Martin, a teen who was shot to death in Central Florida a couple of months ago. Depending upon whom you ask, he was either killed by a racist vigilante or a fed-up homeowner who was mad as hell and not going to take it any more.

Subsequent to the killing and initial lack of action by the local police in Sanford, Florida, the story has become muddled, as politicians, newspapers, and of course, the occasional dim-wit celebrity interposes himself in the case, further moving us from a rational look at what exactly happened.

As I wrote in this post back in March, I believe that the root of the problem is the facility with which guns may be obtained.  I stand by this view.  Cutting away the non-sense about whether Martin is 6-4, looked menacing in his "hoodie" sweatshirt, is being falsely portrayed in the media as either an angelic, 12 year old or a pot-smoking ganster with gold teeth, the issue here is that a man (George Zimmerman) was able, despite more than one run-in with the law, to obtain a concealed carry permit, took it upon himself to cruise his neighbourhood, disregarded the orders of local law enforcement to stop pursuing Martin, provoked an altercation - needlessly as I see it - and ended up killing a 16 year old boy in, ostensibly, self-defence.

The fight did not need to happen.  The shooting did not need to happen.  Neither, I think, should have happened.

The thing I am thinking about today, as this continues to bubble, is a comment made elsewhere about how violent our culture has become; have we reached a tipping point, and if so, why?  A friend remarked that perhaps it's due to the numbness we feel with the omnipresent wars.  She observes that even Halloween, a children's holiday, is now festooned with graphic, dismembered body parts on the lawn.

I don't know if I blame the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I do tend to share her view that our culture seems to be getting more coarse.  More nihilistic.  The cartoon violence of a fake body strewn across an October landscape bothers me a lot less than the puffed-up, faux machismo that masquerades as "manhood" today.  The whole culture has moved into a direction where the "ideal" is a callous, steroid-fuelled, confrontational jerk who cannot put a complete sentence together.

It's I suppose an extreme example, but for those old enough to have played with Star Wars dolls, er, "action figures" from the 1970s and 1980s, compare the Mattel Han Solo or Luke Skywalker figurine from the original set, to what each looks like now.

Better still, compare the movie "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," where the gunning down of the bad guy is treated as a somewhat ambiguous "good," with the recent hit "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," where  the heroine exists in the sea of a violent revenge fantasy.

I find it instructive that post-feminist entertainment - a reflection of our culture - has taken the idea of a "strong woman" (perhaps Sally Field from "Places in the Heart") as one who faces real challenges with grit and determination, and replace her with "Salt."  My wife will laugh when I use the word "tough guy chick," but I think it's in part true (and I think, dangerous) to instill the idea that a strong woman is one who totes a gun around and either bludgeons, karates, or shoots/blows up her enemies.

In a nut-shell, we've become so hyper-masculinised that even a woman is supposed to kick ass and take names.

THIS is not progress.

In fact, to me it seems the opposite - a thousand years ago, we picked mates in ways similar to the way apes and monkeys did - based almost exclusively on brute force.  Over time, we came to value other qualities - reliability, intelligence, imputed faithfulness.  We seem to be regressing back to the old days.

An interesting take by evolutionary biologists was written recently around the HBO show "Girls."  The rather long-ish piece takes a look at the implications of the new mating dance, both for men and for women.  If you follow the arguments of, say, Richard Dawkins, the future is not going to require sunglasses, I think.

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