09 December 2013

Are today's radical trangressives just conservative moralists in drag?

"The open secret of violating a taboo with language that—through its richness, wit or rage—acknowledges the taboo, is that it represents a kind of moralizing.."

This quote comes from a thought provoking article by Lee Seigel from "The Wall Street Journal" online. I'm assuming for current purposes that this observation has more than a grain of truth in it, though some might feel there's no such secret, open or otherwise, implicit in the conscious public violation of a taboo.

But if it is so, could it therefore be that the current tsunami of willfully conspicuous sexually and culturally "transgressive" posturing in the online, broadcast and print media, that so many in that media say others complain about, is in fact an outbreak of a yearning for conservative morality?

 Now that's an interpretation that frankly hadn't occurred to me 'til now. Could it be that Miley Cyrus's ostentatious twerking and provocative gyrating is not a scream for the freedom to be more licentious, but is in reality Miley Cyrus crying out for more observance of the rules of decorum and for more sanctity to be given to expressions of personal intimacy?

The author of the article, Lee Siegel (who I now seem to make a habit of quoting), even goes on to suggest:
"From Miley Cyrus's brilliant, purposeful, repeated travesties of her wholesome image—"This is what culture is really about now," she seems to be saying—to songs by Eminem, Lady Gaga, Kanye West and others that express disgust with their own celebrity and wealth, pop culture itself seems to yearn for a time when obscenity and graphic sexual images were morally potent rather than merely titillating and profitable."

Has transgressivness in popular culture now become so pervasively common that it has truly "jumped the shark"? It seems pretty clear that the decline in quality in popular culture is now irredeemably beyond recovery. A more interesting question appears to be whether this apparently "purposeful" self recognition of the emptiness of "transgressiveness" amongst the current crop of populist icons is the harbinger of some new "radical" recognition of the merit of modesty or the sanctity of authentic personal virtue. But it seems more likely that, as usual, I, like every moralising old fart in history, have miscalculated the time within which our culture moves. I seem to recall that there were even ancient Roman and Athenian scribes, amongst others, who mused aloud in a similar vein.

I suspect it could take some eons before we humans sate our collective appetites for unrestrained vulgarity. For a start we'd probably nearly all have to be old farts for that to be even possible (but hey that makes it actually possible too, since, as I understand it, our population is aging fast). Perhaps then we might begin to see some new version of individual righteousness given widespread community credence, with its sacredness acknowledged and treated with sanctity. Yeah, as if that's going to happen any time soon.

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