Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reductio ad Zeitgeist


Zeitgeist (German pronunciation: [ˈtsaɪtɡaɪst] ( listen)) (from German Zeit- time and Geist- spirit) is "the spirit of the times" and/or "the spirit of the age." Zeitgeist is the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and/or political climate within a nation or even specific groups, along with the general ambience, morals, and sociocultural direction or mood of an era (similar to the English word mainstream or trend).

The spirit of the 90s may be summed up in two pieces of pop culture: Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Fight Club.  Listen to that song and watch that movie and you can pretty much understand the entire decade in terms of fashion, attitude, prevailing mores, etc.

Now that the Noughties are just about over, it’s time to take stock, to think them through, and then reduce their rich and varied contributions to our American cultural heritage down to a song and a movie.

Song of the Decade

Geez, this song is responsible for about fifteen million mortal musical sins.  Seriously, the She Wants Chemical Fallout at the Disco to Mars brain trust has obliterated the musical palate of an entire generation trying to make just one song half as good as Mr. Brightside.  It’s all here, kids.  The self-absorbed, tortured, love-sick 28 yr. old adolescent bears all on top of throwback 80’s synth and a dance beat.  Catchy, cold, brooding: like Duran Duran and Peter Schilling grow up listening to Nirvana and Sunny Day Real Estate.  What really channels the Noughties, though, is the feeling, that, despite the deep emotional scars, Mr. Flowers will have no confrontation, no catharsis, no nothing.  It’s as if the last lyric of the song, “I never…” really ought to be extended to, “I never do a goshdarn thing to fix any of my problems!  Bartender?  Another Michelob Ultra, please; I have a feeling I’ll be here for a while.”

Great.  On to…

Movie of the Decade

And, in the movie department, thanks, Wes Anderson, not only for making #3 on my all-time favorite movie list, but also for getting Noughties alienation and family just right.  In Tenenbaums, the dysfunction so endlessly decried in 90s alt. rock has become a virtue.  Familial loyalty has become salvific, and, it is worth mentioning, “family” has been extended beyond in-laws to include friends, enemies, and even the guy who’s screwing your wife (who is sometimes all three at once).  And, in a prophetic coup de grace, Luke Wilson’s attempted suicide scene pre-figures not only the suicide attempt of his brother Owen, but also the successful suicide of Elliot Smith, whose song “Needle in the Hay” is playing in the background.  It’s like the 90s went on a cocaine binge, got lost in the middle of the city at 4:42 AM, and fell all over themselves.

You may leave your dissent (or your effusion, as is probably more likely) in the comments.