Culture:- The power by which humans create meaning in their lives encompassing the total sum of ideas, knowledge, values and beliefs that underpin social action.
Collapse:- To fall, break down or fail completely.
When I was younger I used to enjoy reading and watching science fiction. Especially the grim, post apocalyptic genre. But over the last ten years what I thought were apt fictive warnings for the dangers of human hubris have increasingly come to manifest as brute reality.
So much so, that it is hard not to see life right now through an overheating montage of cataclysmic events. Images and videos of systems breaking down proliferate in every available form of media.
Indeed as I write this;
- The arctic is effectively experiencing an unprecedented heatwave.
- Coral reefs, those rainforests of the sea, are on the verge of collapse.
- The oceans are choked with plastic and particles of it are found in every step of the food chain.
- China is effectively running concentration camps for Uyghurs, other minorities and democracy activists, in addition to harvesting their organs for the transplant trade and creating egregiously invasive technological surveillance systems.
- Trump has sent Federal Agents to snatch protestors off the streets in US cities and is currently considering suspending the upcoming presidential election.
- COVID-19 has ripped through the world and response of the political leadership of those nations considered ‘Superpowers’ has been both incompetent and callous.
And so it goes on. Until it feels like we’re living under a barrage of anger and despair. Now due to the current pandemic we have ample time to reflect impotently on these issues. Political corruption and oppression. Social breakdown and general disorder. Climate pollution and mass animal death. Playing out on a loop through our own individualistic lenses of collective desolation, and internalised as rage, fear and guilt. Much like the opening overture of Soylent Green. Except without the benefit of Chuck Braverman’s excellent piano composition. .
So this blog is an attempt to reconcile these latter day horrors. For myself but mainly to pin down what Collapse Culture is and how it is manufactured. I don’t wish it to be a kind of compendium of agony so much as it is a vehicle for my own work here. Which is directed at how we actively attempt to ignore the yawning abyss. Those ways we attempt to keep the capricious capitalist fires still burning in a zero sum future. And in those efforts identify how we retcon the old consumable tropes that slid down so easy all those years, into something deconstructively new. That’s what I mean by collapse culture.
Manufacturing Collapse Culture
At the moment it feels like technology has bloated many cultural conceits, mutating values and perceptions into absurd parodies. To such a degree that it is now acceptable and rewarding to retune your face via software and surgery in order to flex Gucci at Auschwitz. Shock value catches eyes and shifts units. Maybe it always has. But now any attention is good attention as long as a person is getting a lot of it! The algorithms that measure taste, and to an extent dictate it as well, are mathematical monuments. Heavy edifices of code that grind down meaning into siftable samples. Scale is key. Ethical and moral considerations are tertiary considerations. Relegated behind ‘reach’, ‘runtime’ and enterprise. As Stalin may or may not have said “Quantity has a quality all of its own.”
Current pop culture or pop tech doesn’t just eat itself. It makes you eat it and then hoovers up your leavings, like so many chocolate hundreds and thousands, that it then sprinkles all over itself to entice you to take another bite. The process repeats ad infinitum until you lose interest and/or it withers away to be the captive preserve of self appointed enthusiasts, aka fans and nerds.
Whether we do this by seeing our folk heroes afflicted with Alzheimers and bone death. By letting our televisions exhort us to part with time and money in ever more infantile and elaborate ways. Or just by feeding into the fucking beast like your doing right now reading these words. In terms of the time-cultural continuum we are constantly surfing the bleeding edge of how we create meaning. It’s just that right now that that edge is hemorrhaging out because the beast whose belly we’re all trapped is in is dying.