I’ve not updated this blog for about a month because aside from the Beijing updates (which I will get back to) I’ve been wanting the next one to be serious and clever. In thinking like that I put too much pressure on it effectively killing my output and stalling any further posts.
So instead of doing a pretentious post about my work in progress theory of linguistic entropy or the difference between the language structures in social media apps and their social impact I am doing to write something which has been brewing for a while now.
I’m going to talk about nihilism in modern art and why I am sick of it.
When I was younger I stumbled upon the video game Fallout, a self-proclaimed ‘postapocalyptic RPG’. It was probably my first encounter with the idea of survivalism, a ‘what would you do?’ if faced with a near hopeless scenario. It was fresh and reflective of the cold war era fears of mutually assured destruction.
That was 20 years ago. I have now spent most of my adult life absorbing western media that talks about societal collapse and regression to animalistic behaviours for reasons of survival. I think that a kind of nihilism has entered the collective unconscious caused by being disinfranchised by politics and religion, the rise of post-modernism.
The positive of this is it strips us back to basic questions of who we are, why we do what we do, to dismantle the old structures to potentially start anew. The problem is nobody is starting anew. Let me give you the examples of what I mean.
Game of Thrones. The Walking Dead. The Last of Us. The Road. 28 Days Later. Children of Men. Cloverfield. Actually pretty much anything with zombies in. I Am Legend. The Matrix.
I could keep going. Whether it be nuclear war, zombies, vampires, machines or otherwise our fascination of the postapocalyptic world speaks to our fears about our darker nature and propensity to self-destruct. The problem is not a lot of these fictions are actually trying to work towards explaining how we can build a better world, more interested in our ability to endure the horrors of this scenario for cheap emotional manipulation.
The Walking Dead just killed off a major character in a manipulative manner, introducing another cartoon villain. Game of Thrones had the Mountain, followed by Ramsay Bolton (who committed homicide, infanticide, rape etc. basically a who is who of moral crimes until it became absurd).
The Matrix trilogy concluded with the machines still in charge and the sun still blackened meaning life would never recover. The Last of Us ended with a lie and no notion of hopeful resolution. Very few of these do little more than hammer home a very bleak moral outlook.
One of the most important and horrible books I ever read was Straw Dogs by John Gray. This encapsulated modern moral meaninglessness by giving example after example of how given a chance humanity will resort to self-preservation and selfishness, that we are simply animals guided by basic impulses and any moral system that stated otherwise was delusional.
It was a crystallisation of the vision these tv shows, books and games now continually push down our throat. With no decent riposte to post-modernism, existentialism and scientism, when nobody can make a convincing argument that consciousness even exists let alone morality everything loses meaning. And when everything loses meaning our very lives cease to matter passed self-justification and short-term gain.
I am so impossibly fucking sick of hearing that argument. I am angry that nobody is even trying to build something new, to suggest an alternative and at least take a shot at utopia. Everyone is so afraid of it being wrong, so afraid of the difficulty of attempting it that they are just showing us endless rape, torture and death, drilling home the now incredibly laboured point that nihilism is horrible.
Yes, it is, and it is up to us in each of our lives to find meaning and value, to have faith in other people’s kindness and potential, to trust social cohesion and unity. I believe these shows that continually build a small version of this before killing a major character to manipulate us into emotional trauma are more than bad writing; they are actively keeping our collective mental health down.
Because a decade ago I went through depression, anxiety and self-loathing. I know the feelings that they are preying upon, the stripping of all value from your life, the inability to find a reason or purpose which imbues life with meaning once more. And having understood how hard it is to maintain faith, how important it is, I grow more angry each time another piece of art pops up which serves only to remind us that yes, when people lose faith they can do horrible shit.
It’s now all too obvious and a hallmark of the last generation of art. On the plus side I legitimately think the next major artistic movement will have to be hopeful, upbeat and utopic. I’d love to be able to contribute to that and spend my spare time trying, desperately trying to find that glimmer of hope against this tide of nihilism.
But whilst we keep forcing ourselves to repeat dystopic visions, because we’re so jaded this is the only way we feel emotional attachment, I believe we keep ourselves circling the drain, unable to see the value of our own lives and what we might make of them if we stopped the irony and cynicism for just one minute. To take a breath and dare to imagine what we could build together if we did maintain faith in ourselves, in each other.
So fuck the Walking Dead. Fuck Game of Thrones. Fuck The Road and The Matrix and The Last of Us. Fuck any writer, designer or creator who continues to head down this easy and manipulative road because they are too afraid of attempting a positive vision.
Destruction is necessary to wash away the old structures that might be stagnating new growth, I get it. The challenge is to recognise when the job is done, when religion is dead, when morality is meaningless, when consciousness an illusion. The challenge is to have the courage to stop, turn around and imagine what comes next.
Anything less than that is too easy, pointless endless tiring nihilism. And personally I’ve had enough.