American Culture/Art in the Obama Era

Ironically, my friends and I watched the election results role in last night while watching “The Dark Knight.” I say ironic because, in general, the movie intimates on the idea of exploring anarchy and chaos as it comes into conflict with “human” values of right and wrong, as the Joker pushes for destruction with no impetus besides meeting the goal of disrupting rational social order, and Batman, however, wishes to “protect” people using a hierarchical code of honor. The citizens of Gotham represent the symbol of both the tenability and praxis of the prospect of “goodness,” and Batman’s code is a trope standing for the glue holding the whole mess together. After all, Batman cannot knowingly kill someone, nor can he leave his protectorate in the lurch, so-to-speak. Getting back to the election, the most ironic part is how the last administration defined retaining order for American society using a code, as Batman does, that is unwavering and subjectively noble. The past administration hopes to create unity within American society by forcing order, and the new administration wishes that the people themselves rise and create unity. I like the organic mechanics the latter method espouses towards, and I wonder how this spontaneous rise of the people will allow for a greater and more effective outpouring of art in the coming four years. But I also wonder how those from the outside looking in will perceive America and the art American’s produce now that a new executive administration is at the helm.

Some European commentators have noted that the American novel (without clearly elucidating when this has been occurring) is “conservative and hidebound” (The adjectival redundancies make me chuckle at the appraisal.). Yet, as a semi-professional reader of American novels, specifically those written between the years of 1841 and 2008, I would say that Europeans simply do not wish to read American literature. American literature, both furthered and shadowed by American politics, would seem to be a sticky pill to swallow for those outside of the fear, er sphere, of Bushism. Yes. I am saying that American art seems stolid and trite to those from the outside who superficially gaze at American belief systems of the last 8, or even 20-odd years. Reagan and even Nixon have done much to persuade outsiders to see America as a fear-impelled imperialist nation.

But American literature is alive and kicking to this day. In the article I link to above the author mentions Thomas Pynchon. Yes, Pynchon wrote some of his most powerful, and experimentally effective novels during the height of the Nixon years (Gravity’s Rainbow), and Regan’s destructivist conservative reign (Vineland). Cormac McCarthy, although he won the America-centric Pulitzer, wrote “the Road,” a novel about the (possibly) nuclear destruction of earth–along with its moral and religious mores–which shows how human beings react to and operate within a “society-less” society; why hasn’t “The Road” had more effect overseas? My point in mentioning these works is to explain that nation perception is dependent on politics. The rhetoric and perceived culture emanating from a country is sufficient to stand for the whole of the country, especially when considering the pull media has on perception. Yes, it’s just like back in high school; looks are everything.

Thanks to our new administration, close-mindedness might just be on the decline. The forward thinking Obama will put more money into the arts, but even more importantly, and unlike his predecessor, he will dialog with those outside of the purely American domain to help America operate more effectively and productively on a world-wide scale. The administration of the last eight years forced the rules and values of evangelical “rationalism” (I can’t believe I just put those two words together in a sentence) and imperializing divinity, but the administration of the future four years will open up the channels of thought and progression, assumably leading to the lessening of anti-Americanism and the world citizen’s rising embrace and heightened appreciation for American art.

I must now return to the Joker. In the end he cannot fully overturn Gotham’s tenuous hold on order, but he still causes everyone to stop and think, and in the process forces a sea change that mostly effects Batman himself. Batman must become a villain, a dark night, to continue operating effectively in the post-Joker Gotham. Is it so shocking that Batman must become “bad” to keep doing “good?” Likewise, Americans, as well as those looking in on America, are ready for a sea change that overturns stolid and accepted notions of order; good and bad are simply points of view. Americans must have a chance to re-member themselves from the trauma of Bush’s eight year reign in a way that recomposes¬†and solidifies their faith in themselves, and this faith will radiate outwards. People have no reason to fear the Joker’s, or anyone’s, rationally relentless menace.

This entry was posted in Commentary, Essay, Fear, Film, Literature, Politics, Pop Culture Issues, Religion.

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