Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Whimsical World of Pop Culture and Yuppie Nihilism

Sunday, I checked out the premier of HBO’s “Bored to Death,” and I was. But it did occur to me that we are seeing the emergence of a new genre that is joining those traditional television staples the western and the sitcom. I call this new genre is Yuppie Nihilism. It began with “Seinfeld” and is continuing with “Curb your Enthusiasm.”

In the series, Jason Schwarzman plays a bored writer whose girlfriend leaves him because he drinks too much and smokes pot. Incapable of despair, he becomes a self-styled, if unlicensed private detective.

Schwarzman is playing a type, the Yuppie. So, what's a Yuppie? Mort Sahl once said, “A Yuppie is someone who believes it's courageous to eat in a restaurant that hasn't been reviewed yet.”

Yuppies are more than that. They are the bored children of prosperity raised in a virtual world of screens and malls where freedom is reduced to choosing what logo you want to wear on your ass.

Technically, they are not nihilists. A nihilist has the sense not to believe in anything. Yuppies at least believe in the virtual. However, since the virtual is an empty void, they qualify. This belief in the virtual is why traumas like real-life relationships with their hidden thorns and ambiguities are so difficult for them. If it doesn’t play like a TV commercial, they have trouble handling it.

They are chronic avatars of pop culture, which must be distinguished from popular culture. Popular culture is organic and is bottom up. It is the product of a people’s struggles and tragedies and finds expression in their unique music. Pop culture is a top-down corporate creation that has been carefully packaged and sanitized as a bland “Bread and Circuses” designed to numb the masses. To claim that pop culture gives us insight into a people’s psyche is like believing that a turd floating on the ocean’s surface tells us all we need to know about its depths.

Back in the 50s, when psychoanalysis was all the rage and a grey conformity was de rigueur, artistic creativity was treated as a neurosis. Artists were unfortunate souls who simply couldn’t adjust to the good life. The cure for this neurosis was to conform. The “suffering artists” became a cliché reinforced by a few artists who actually led self-destructive lives. It was an idea that died in the maelstrom of the sixties.

But this doesn’t stop Schwarzman from doing his damndest to resurrect the stereotype. His character has published one novel and is too indecisive to start on a second. He is so mired in his arrested childhood that he is like the steel ball in a pinball machine, bounced from bumper to bumper. In the process he shows as much life as the ball.

One wonders what will happen to our bored children now that their economic bubble is popping, and they can no longer afford their logos and gadgets. Will they finally grow up, or will they start listening to Rush and Glen and discover that the only meaning they can discover in life is the white rage of the petulant child whose parents have turned off the T.V.?


david m said...

Your essay on arrested childhood is timely. Yesterday in west central Florida some officers (from three different orgs.) of the law were searching a house for drugs. They discovered a large screen TV with a video bowling game loaded. After the search they decided it was time for game-boy. Little did they know that a servalence camera was running. To say the least they looked like a bunch of five year olds jumping up and down when one of them threw a strike.If this type of childish unprofessional behavior is widespread in law-enforcement today how are they going to act in crisis.

Case Wagenvoord said...

It's all virtual.

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