Cookie Dough Nation (first attempt)

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Cor 11

Nick and I talked about culture tonight. I was still thinking about the conversation about Chuck Klosterman I’d had with threepunchstuff and we were on a similar topic: what the hell happened to culture in the last 20 years, and why are we assholes for not liking it?

I don’t like:

  • Junk pop culture
  • “Retro” nostalgia for previous junk pop culture
  • New junk pop culture made by pasting together previous junk pop culture
  • Ironic references to junk pop culture made in order to at once enjoy crap and pretend you’re superior to it
  • The last 20 years of culture being in spasm remaking versions of itself, so that junk pop culture is now all slightly worse versions of earlier junk pop culture
  • The glorification of junk pop culture as the new high art

I do like:

  • High culture: Mozart, Zen gardens, Dante, Egyptian sculpture, gamelan.
  • Disruptive modernist high culture: Marcel Duchamp, Jorge Luis Borges, Erik Satie, Virginia Woolf, Alfred Jarry.
  • Disruptive pop culture: Bebop, Punk, New Wave film, DIY publishing, psychedelia, culture jamming, hip hop, graphic novels.

I am frustrated by a cultural environment in which many people do not want to grow up. The rallying cry of “we won’t eat our vegetables!” is awfully sad. Partly because grown-ups eat their vegetables as a matter of course, but mostly because vegetables taste good if you take the trouble to try them. The Klostermans of this world hate any well-made thing, anything that demands full attention for more than a minute, anything that isn’t sweet on the tongue, anything unfamiliar or challenging.

It’s fine to drink chocolate milk sometimes, or put a Star Wars figurine on your desk, or listen to the horrible record you bought when you were 10. As your life’s entire culture it lacks.

Last night I saw a woman of about 40 purchase cookie dough at the supermarket, eat about half of it in line, and then as we both left get into a bright yellow Tonka truck and drive away listening to A Flock of Seagulls on her car stereo. Chuck Klosterman, the post-modern irony crew, and her friends all think that’s cool. I think she could do better and enjoy life more.

Note: I may continue to bore on this topic or even just rewrite this thing a few more times, because I’m not quite there. Sorry in advance.

16 thoughts on “Cookie Dough Nation (first attempt)

  1. The topic calls for deeper exploration because of the times we’re in. What I’m troubled about is that the value of “well-made things,” and the merits of bothering to make things well, are being called into question to a greater extent than any other time I can recall. The general anti-elitist drift of mainstream culture is hardening into open hostility. And it’s not coming just from the usual quarters, but from people like the Klostermans who know full well that they know better. And it’s also not just isolated to pop culture, but all endeavors requiring effort and imagination. The basic American character is being redefined downward. Craftsmanship used to be one of our traditional virtues. Nowadays if you build and try to sell a machine that lasts longer (but costs slightly more), or give a speech with full subject-verb agreement, you’re not just dismissed as an egghead, you’re suspected of being French.

    1. Irony is the bridge between idealism and collaboration.
      The war on French culture was a war on artists, homosexuals, and intellectuals. Like European or Russian anti-semitic campaigns it was carried out in barely concealed code.
      Generals and secret policemen hate intellectuals. High culture is an obvious target for neofascists, and in the U.S. we always have a ready supply of Babbitts to rouse. It’s not quite “shoot everyone with glasses” yet; it’s been sufficient so far to discredit scientists and academics.
      The thrust of American business for the last 30 years has been towards cheaper and nastier things sold to more and more people with higher and higher profit margins. The failure of craft you mention is symptomatic of the way we make money here.
      Science is now “junk science”; literature is for old women and sissies; art is an immoral plot carried out by suspect elites; and even good food is suspiciously Continental, even Gallic. We’re on the verge.
      Klosterman would make an excellent Minister for Youth Culture in a post-modern fascist state. It really doesn’t matter if they’re kicking people’s kidneys out at the police station if I have my XBox and my Crunch Gators, does it?

  2. I’m not a big fan of social hierarchies, but I do enjoy structure of idea, like the Roget’s Thesaurus, which showed not only relation of ideas, but almost a mystical order to the universe. Which leads me to believe that it’s the post-modernists hatred of Aristotle (not undeserving) that is throwing out category and mashing everything into unrecognizable lumps of shit. And while juxtapostion and surprise are great, the spice of life maybe, all of this recombinatory mayhem is beyond the limits of enthusiasm. What’s missing is a little platonic splendor. Doesn’t have to be the three-eyed god of Grxxderoak.
    On the other hand, a good friend of mine is a post-modern fiend. And I happen to be a fan of his out of high school loyalty.

    1. Aristotle… yes. Hierarchies are a big problem, but a big pail of goo is troublesome too. Babies flying out of bathwater everywhere.
      As in almost all such cases of a trend gone wild, individual postmodern pastiche artists, nostalgians, and kid kulture freaks have done great stuff. As a movement it makes me ill, though.

  3. You have no idea how sad I am that I missed you and Nick having this discussion.
    I was thinking about this yesterday and how you can tell which of the kids owen goes to school with will turn out like the cookie dough bandit.
    I wonder if it’s genetics or parenting?

    1. Maybe it’s a wee bit nature and a whole lot nurture. That’s what it seems like to me.
      And once again, Conrad, I have not much to add to this. But you nailed it.

  4. hi, i’ve had you listed as a friend for a while and i don’t know if you noticed or not. anyway i think it was a good decision cuz i really enjoy reading your entries. i had to stop and think for a second (“hey what’s gamelan again”) and then i remembered it’s that indonesian xylophonelike instrument.

  5. I suspect that more sophisticated culture requires a certain amount of training to appreciate, and we no longer use Universities for that kind of education, but rather use them as giant vocational training institutes. The emphasis on making money leaves little room for complex pleasures. I guess I think people are not growing up because they are at once being failed by the changed ideals for adulthood reflected in the modern education and the ease with which basic instinctual gratification can be had if you focus on the carrot instead of the scenery. This is sufficient and so completely sufficient that many are not even tempted to spend the effort to discover more.
    I note that this tendency also produces solipsists, which is another childhood hangover, and solipsism breeds a contempt of all others to the extent that it makes sense to just kill them if they bug you and deride others for suggesting a more civilized and human approach to building a society while surviving its diseases.

  6. Is it an issue of culture or one of identity?
    In any given day we’re innundated with the pressure to be individual and unique, but let’s face it, most of us on the exterior are pretty boring and within the two standard deviations of any normal curve. It doesn’t surprise me then that people mish-mash all sorts of poorly thought out pop culture relics in order to manufacture some bizarre franken-retro style. And due to the ecclectic nature, it has to be inherently cool, otherwise why would anyone attempt it? It’s the only way to be unique. Retro has been done to death, so there’s little left than mashing it all together.
    Couple that with our creep towards hedonistic instant gratification and you’re left with your housewife with the half eaten bar of cookie dough, running her lipo’d butt to the tonka truck of a jeep only she thinks is hip.

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