Day 104: Cormac McCarthy and A Nation of Peter Pans

There is a very American fear I used to have. It’s embarrassingly selfish and naive to admit, but I always had the creeping suspicion that I would miss my generational moment. Decade by decade, there seem to be cultural hubs in America, where the groundswell of the next cultural wave begins, to roll out across the country, until another starts to build somewhere else.

I never really knew how famous authors, directors, and public intellectuals seemed to be present in these moments. What happened to those who spent the late fifties in Portland instead of New York? Or the sixties in St. Louis instead of San Francisco?

Perhaps it’s a symptom of getting older, but I don’t really have that fear anymore. I was re-reading “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy last night (written off by a lot of fans as “movie fodder”, which I think is a shame because it is actually very experimental compared to his work both before and after).

In it the protagonist, Sheriff Bell, has small first person passages scattered throughout the book, reflecting on the state of the world he lives in. One quote in particular has stuck with me, and I’ve started to believe it’s connected to that old fear:

“Young people anymore they seem to have a hard time growin up. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just that you don’t grow up any faster than you have to.” (pg. 159)

I think this is especially applicable with my generation, “the millennials.” It’s hard to interact with any of them and not feel like we live in a nation of Peter Pans. As if a stubborn refusal to grow up will somehow keep looming, ice-age sized economic problems at bay. Part of the difficulty in any kind of massive movement based on these problems is that the young of the falling middle class are still able to leech off of those who have profited from it in the past. Young men and women can still lean on ever weakening family bonds for financial support.

And it’s okay right now. It seems like there is a lot of individual freedom- people can make money streaming video games, or blogging from vans, or go to grad school. But a decade from now, the national anxiety will really reach a fever pitch.

There will be a large movement, and I think it will spring from the millennial generation, when it finally sets in that things will not get better. When opportunities for job security turn out not to exist. When healthcare becomes an issue as we age. When the generation after us comes into the workforce, and we realize that there is no upward mobility anymore. The little projects and Netflix shows and cultural wars we busy ourselves will, with harsh suddenty, not matter.

I’ve started to believe that our reaction to that fact will be our lasting legacy- our cultural movement. It isn’t that we don’t have a place at the table: it’s that we are lead into a room where others are wildly hacking at the table so they can get a piece, and even as we get our hands on an axe or hammer, the top is gone, the legs are long pulled away, and all thats left are screws and dust and the echoes of labored breathing, cursing us for fools for being late to the party.

-Jack Delaney

Day 98: No Country for Old City

Obsolescence of the City
It has to be said on of the strangest turns of the digital revolution is the revival of the American metropolis. In an age where physical location means less than any other period in human existence almost all opportunities are being concentrated in fewer locations. In an age where more options are available, more people eat making the same choices. Think of San Francisco. People pay the highest rent but are bused out of the city to their employer’s offices. Then at night, they bus back to their trendy luxury condo that matches all the others built recently across the world and consume the current global fads that score on social media by people who may or may not be near SF. How is that any different than living in a McMansion in the burbs and going to the office park?
Where is the disruption? Many gentrifiers will point to the homeless man on their stoop say his name and the cliffnotes of his life call him neighbor maybe give him a mug of coffee and a smoke before saying they want to live among the people by which they mean the poor who would be happy to afford a McMansion if they could. The truth is tech could save the rural life from the attack by industrialism. If a band can make millions from a track recorded at different times and all the members on separate continents then so can a company. If skyscrapers were needed to house the mountains of paper and the people that pushed them then what is needed after the mountains have been shredded. If our overlords can function with their money all offshore then why must we clock in to the same building.
I will admit we have a major infrastructure crisis in America. Beyond crappy roads, bridges, and dams there is an aged telecommunications network (that includes broadband even if the FCC disagrees). As I discussed previously, broadband access isn’t universal. It could be. The telephone wires and broadcast waves, we all take for granted wasn’t built by companies seeking profit but by Americans for other Americans through the New Deal. It can be done again.

 

Cities are inefficient as population centers in a wired world. Look at the response time for safety officials in LA vs rural CA and compare distances traveled and taxes paid. It isn’t pretty. If government is best decentralized then so is the population. Each community can function as it wills rather than war with political machines churning out party bench candidates for higher offices. Plenty of services can be outsourced with Sandy Springs as a strong example. Culturally digital media delivery has removed most barriers. In the past, a print was 10k a pop and an empty theater disastrous but those days are behind. No longer is a physical film print or even theater needed to share smaller and foreign movies . No longer do you need a store to buy an album or a book. You may cry wait there is still the live music experience and that is true but like with film where previously one assumed there was a full audience once population hit a certain number now we can see where the most streams or album buys are from. The band can actually find and perform for all their fans without assumption. You can show there is a fan base. But food you may say. If you can tell the difference between a cronut and a knockoff congrats you are an asshole. Food is trendier than any other entertainment these days. I saw three poke shops in a row on my commute this morning. Most restaurants fail. City or rural, why not have rotating chefs and menus, a touring residency. Of course, local cuisine favorites and landmarks will continue to be permanent and a chef could stay but on a wider level why not recognize the transient nature of taste and support tastebud adventures without anyone losing a shirt.
I don’t claim that de-urbanization will solve everything but I do think it would lead to a future rather than this remake of the 20th century we are currently playing out.
-E.C. Fiori