Change—terrifying change in society—can happen quickly. It rarely happens as quickly as we imagine.
Margaret Atwood’s 1985 speculative fiction classic The Handmaid’s Tale has just aired its eighth episode of a Hulu television adaptation. Previously turned into a clunky Canadian movie in 1990, this new version is beautifully shot, well-cast, and stars Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss who easily carries the role of a shrewd, frightened and wry woman, concealing fury and a determination to survive the theocracy she finds herself in. Moss plays Offred nee June, the eponymous woman whose narration states she “once had another name–but it’s forbidden.” She’s had a child before. She’s presumably fertile. Her husband was previously married, so their union doesn’t count in this new world, and she has been become birthing chattel.
Today’s Young Voices Podcast features Young Voices Executive Director Casey Given and Advocate Jerrod Laber discussing how popular culture should be celebrated because it is a reflection of individual values and preferences.
Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa is probably my favorite living novelist. His work is heart-wrenching and vivid, a celebration of the power of the individual — an island of true liberalism in the sea of Marxism that makes up modern literary fiction in Latin America.
So, I was disheartened to read his most recent collection of nonfiction, Notes on the Death of Culture. In it, he decries what he sees as a devolution of modern culture from classical forms of art, to a “civilization of the spectacle.” While I make no attempt to normatively evaluate the two stacked against one another, I do think there is a lot to celebrate in this “spectacle,” as he calls it.
Replacing Substance with Entertainment?
Vargas Llosa’s spectacle can basically be defined as modern forms of entertainment and mass media, and the values underlying most people’s consumption of those mediums. Having “a good time, escaping boredom” has become the “universal passion,” has led culture down the path to banality and frivolity, and has given rise to tabloid-style journalism.
The two most important factors in these developments are the post-WWII economic gains experienced by the West and certain Asian economies, and the further democratization of culture, in which literature and the arts are no longer only the domain of the elites. Now, everyone gets a seat at the cultural table which, he contends, has caused a “cheapening and trivializing” effect that has downgraded the content of our cultural consumption, to the extent that “a Verdi opera, the philosophy of Kant, a concert by the Rolling Stones, and a performance by Cirque du Soleil have equal value.”