Worldviews and contemporary entertainment (“Girls” and “Left Behind”)

8 Oct

From Ross Douthat (on the show “Girls”):

Like most television shows about young urbanites making their way in the world, “Girls” is a depiction of a culture whose controlling philosophy is what the late Robert Bellah called “expressive individualism” — the view that the key to the good life lies almost exclusively in self-discovery, self-actualization, the cultivation of the unique and holy You.

This is a perspective with religious and political corollaries: It implies a God-as-life-coach theology, the kind that pulses through Oprah Winfrey’s current revival tour, and a politics in which the state is effectively a therapeutic agent, protecting the questing self from shocks and deprivation.

And to be a cultural conservative today means, above all, regarding expressive individualism as an idea desperately in need of correction and critique.

Often the roots of this kind of conservatism are religious, since biblical faith takes a rather dimmer view of human nature’s inner workings, a rather darker view of the unfettered self. But the conservative argument is also a practical one: We don’t think expressive individualism actually makes people very happy.

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Left Behind and other apocalyptic films: push back against the obsession with the present age.  From Brett McCracken:

“In A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor talks about the gradual emergence in modernity of a sense of “secular” time as opposed to sacred or “higher” time. In ordinary, secular time, one thing happens after another on a single plane of progression. But before the modern era, “higher times” offered an “organizing field” that gathered, grouped, and imbued ordinary time with meaning. When we lose a sense of the “higher times,” writes Taylor, we are cut off from our past and out of touch with our future: “We get lost in our little parcel of time.”

The dangers of getting “lost in our little parcel of time” are also noted by media critic Douglas Rushkoff in his book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. Rushkoff argues that 21st-century society is oriented around the present moment. “Narrativity and goals are surrendered to a skewed notion of the real and the immediate; the tweet; the status update,” writes Rushkoff. “What we are doing at any given moment becomes all-important.”

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