Tweet of the Day: The music muse?
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Yeats wrote the words just after the end of WW1. Poppies filled the fields of Flanders. A sign of life (and relief) from the blood soaked battlefields of the Great War. Yet they seem to fit the present too well by far.
Uprisings in the Middle East.
Wars and rumors of wars.
Economic instability across the western world.
Protests rocking the streets of major cities.
Indecisive leaders more worried about the top earners bottom lines than the welfare of the common man who put them in office.
In short, a world as confusing and eye gauging as the images invoked by Yeats. A sense that whatever the center was it is falling apart. Whatever we thought was true is a lie and that everything is turning worse by the moment while we collectively sing a lullaby to human civilization.
And like Yeats, modern art reflects our times with a mixture of unease, despair and inevitability. Now the easiest comparison would be to Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic stories such as The Road or The Hunger Games. And Yeats work certainly fits in into that tradition. But there is more to it than that.
Take the current fad around zombies. Now, many have call this, non-ironically, the Zombie Apocalypse phenomenon/genre, but I deffer to the video gaming world title of Survival Horror, because while many such stories have the world succumbing to the zombie hordes, that is not an essential ingredient of the genre. Instead most of these stories focus on an individual/small group usually found in a rural or suburban environment trying to escape from the zombies. What makes this genre especially attractive is that with a flip of a switch the social bonds snap. Parents turn on their children, children on their elders, neighbors seek to devour their friends. No one can be trusted and only those who embrace game theory-as-survival-strategy approach will make it through alive, if they are lucky. Thus the zombie genre plays on our fears that society is nothing but a thin veneer that covers our deepest, most horrendous impulses and once stripped of that cover we will inevitably succumb to our baser instincts.
Another popular genre is Urban Fantasy, especially the darker versions of the field. A world within a world, full of nasty denizens who pray on the unwary. Read: Conspiracy Theory. Although not always, a prevalent idea behind these stories is that “The Devil Made Me Do It!” so to speak. The real culprits of all that is evil in human history are not men, for men can not be that savage, but true creatures of darkness, be they dark fey, demonic predators or suave manipulative vampires. Yes, humans can be atrocious to one another but true evil needs something more, something beyond the keen of mortal men. It also plays to our fear that we don’t really know everything, that the world is full of deceptions that build up to the Big Lie.
Then you have the old Invasion genre. Its roots come from turn of the century Great Britain. Although England sat at the very center of the most powerful empire of its time, a sense that it could not last pervade the imagination. Thus the idea of a continental upstart, such as the newly unified Germany, could crash against Dover and sweep everything before it. War of the Worlds came from that very tradition but it swapped pointy helmeted Germans with giant Martian tripods. Today we have movies like Battle L.A. that follow the sci-fi angle but millions of players are right now battling Russians on their PCs and consoles as they invade Europe and the U.S. East Coast (CoD: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 among others). This comes from a sense of military vulnerability, a sense that for all the billions spent in defense, it may not be enough or at least it may not be sustainable for long. And once the cracks appear on the dike wall, it is only a matter of time before the barbarians come.
Thus our collective anxieties feed into our individual subconscious and from there stories reflecting the mix of the two emerge into the wider world, starting the cycle all over again.