The Culture War: Report From the Trenches by W. Wade Stooksberry II

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

“For the world is broken, sundered, busted down the middle, self ripped from self and man pasted back together as mythical monster, half angel, half beast, but no man...Some day a man will walk into my office as a ghost or beast or ghost-beast and walk out as a man, which is to say sovereign wanderer, lordly exile, worker and waiter and watcher.” ― Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins

As someone who is involved in the Culture War from the production end — albeit in a very modest way as a lowly grunt soldier — I thought I’d share my observations and ruminations, at the instigation of Dr. Faria, prompted by the sharing with him of a music video that I was involved with making over thirty years ago.

The DovesIn my youth, I became preoccupied with the desire to hop aboard the “Rock and Roll Rollercoaster”, and ride it to some distant, dark, and veiled land of undefined enchantment and fulfillment and contentment. A notion that, it seems, is “common as sparrows”; as verified by the legions of Facebook “friend” suggestions I receive — a seemingly endless (and largely interchangeable) multitude of tattooed and pierced instrument-wielding aspirants, resembling Confederate POWs or “Game of Thrones” characters, and unified in “lockstep non-conformity”.  I have often had cause to wonder: Who is in the audience anymore?  It seems like most everyone is on the stage…

The causes, as well as the character, of this turn of events are numerous and long-standing, and far beyond the scope of a brief reminiscence such as this. They are the substance of the ceaseless flow of mass communication and pop culture, provided high pressure by the pumps of technology and pervasive secularism. And I am but one tiny molecule in the stream.

I’m confident the factors that gave impetus to the making of the video that I’m linking here are shared, to varying degrees, by the vast majority of those with ambitions in the field of Pop/Rock music (including the sub-genres of Hip Hop and Country, as diverse as they are) — whether those ambitions meet with success or not; and as well as by many with no such ambitions.

Enough has been written in the last century or so about the emptiness and alienation of modern and post-modern life to fill entire libraries.  The more prescient observers identify an indelible connection between those qualities, and the “God-shaped hole” present in every human being; its existence denied by the secular-materialism that comprises our cultural atmosphere, resulting in generations who are by and large unaware they possess one. Walker Percy, for example, wrote of “Angelism-Beastiality”, the sundered nature of modern man, riven from the concrete, abstracted, unable to enter the “ordinary world of things”, “haunt(ing) the human condition like the Flying Dutchman”; while alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) devouring the “world of the flesh” in gluttonous orgy; a pathological carnality expressed in every sort of florid behavior, sexuality, and violence. All of which resonates with C. S. Lewis’ “Men Without Chests” (“The Abolition of Man”): the modern condition of being fragmented into “head” (intellect, thought) and “belly” (appetite, emotion), without the integrating and discerning element of “heart”, which is the seat of judgment between the two. 

Add to these elements the The Doveselectrically amplified guitar, and transistor radio, and the result is a post-war baby boom that is drawn like flies to the authentic expression of alienation, and of the carnal passions often seen as the only antidote for it, exhibited in the Rhythm and Blues that informed Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, et.al., and which they in turn brought to a mass audience. And when combined with the poetic cerebralness of a Dylan, or the animal magnetism of a Brando, provided a template that informed the adolescent yearnings of those beset by doubts as to their place in the new consumerist modern society; as well as doubts about that society, itself.

The bow on the entire package was, of course, The Beatles. Their transcendence of societal conformity seemed effortless; cheekily tweaking their elders in the media, informing and transforming the culture with a musicality as natural, compelling, synergistic, and entertaining as the prowess evidenced by any championship team in athletics. And, amassing vast reservoirs of wealth and fame while doing so. Along with their counterparts, The Rolling Stones — the darker “yang” to the Fabs’ sunny “ying”; together forming the “Plato versus Aristotle” dichotomy that all subsequent popular musicians would arguably be either the emulators or the antithesis of — they became the embodiment of the “really realness” previously manifested by cinema stars and matinee idols. That larger-than-life sense that infused the observer in Peoria or Anniston or Poughkeepsie, whose existence seemed dull and prosaic and two-dimensional by comparison.  Particularly if you were an insecure teenager (and what teenager isn’t?) nurturing, unaware, that “God-shaped hole”; these freshly minted (for the New Age) mass-market demigods seemed to hold the key for plugging it up. And the Pop and Rock musicians surpassed even the glamorous movie idols, with the element of creativity and free expression added to their allure, enabling them to inhabit their Mt. Olympus of celebrity with self-indulgence and impunity, while embracing every form of decadence. In the midst of a youth culture coming of age alongside the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, it is easy to see, in retrospect, the accuracy of John Lennon’s notorious “The Beatles are bigger than Jesus” statement, made during the same year that Time magazine pronounced “God is Dead”. They, and the rest of pop culture, were big enough to plug The Dovesa hole that the Elites maintained was wholly imaginary, and preached that message from the university and media pulpits. But the recipients of those sermons were less interested in their content than they were in the free and easy manner of their transcendent pop idols, and the ephemeral high of the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” lifestyle — ephemeral high, followed in almost every case by a crashing low. But the “high” was the image emphasized: confident savants, expressing an increasingly esoteric gnosis in music that grew in complexity, becoming “progressive”, in concert with the generally held but fanciful belief that matter naturally followed the same path to greater complexity; i.e., microbes to men. And the lemming-hearted hordes followed the herd in numbers that kept the cash registers ringing (in the days before they chirped and beeped), to the mantra of "I want to be like them." 

Fast forward twenty years or so. 

The 1960s counter-culture has become, within a little more than a decade, the mainstream culture. And has already ossified into market research AOR (“Album Oriented Rock”) — itself turning to the self-referential forms of “Oldies” and “Classic Rock” formats — while movie screens across the country portray the cheap “freedoms” associated with the cultural revolution, in terms of pervasive vulgar themes and language, mixed with graphic sex and violence. The mid-century rebellion against the status quo and the “Organization Man” has become the corporate campaign of MTV: managed and manipulative cynicism its stock in trade; irony its native language.

It was out of this milieu that a casualty of the culture war — yours truly — concocted the video that is the impetus for this essay. The story of its making’s personal details are available at the link, for anyone who might be interested. I cite as the reason for its reissue to YouTube that it “captures a moment in the history of Macon, GA, USA — from its repurposed antebellum mansions, to its (former) industrial heart, to the public housing of Tindall Heights, to downtown and the Rookery (the tavern where I spent an inordinate amount of my time in those days, and the ones that followed; as well as a considerable amount of my odd-job wages).”

In My Town still from Video
From that perspective, it has acquired a certain historical character in the intervening 32 years.  In regard to Macon, yes — a sleepy southern city with an extraordinary musical heritage, that in the mid-1980s was still adjusting from its recent Jim Crow past to the digital, pan-cultural future that was awaiting us all. But much more, of course, in regard to myself. At nearly age 58, reflecting on one’s creative efforts from their mid-twenties may be considered a bit premature. It is instructive, nevertheless — personally, if in no other sense. What I see in the video is a young man — me — who is confused by the cultural clatter referred to above; but possessed of a strong, though un-honed, seeking after the truth of this existence and reality that we all inhabit. And masking that confusion (or attempting to), while expressing that seeking after truth (or attempting to), by blasting both through the medium of loud amplification of guitars and bass (the latter provided by a lovely lass named Trena, who is now my wife of 25 years) and beating tom-toms. The whole exercise in following of an impulse which, as mentioned at the start of this piece, is as common as sparrows.

But then, so is the desire to drive fast on an open highway. And the two are not unrelated: Both are an affirmation, a way of confirming “I am here”, a firing of the senses. To strum — “hit” might be a better word — a power chord on a highly amplified electric guitar is to fill an area with one’s sonic presence. It is as self-affirming as firing a high-powered rifle at a target, and in similar ways. The satisfaction, in both cases, stemming from the transmission of projectiles at high velocity (sound waves, bullets), and how close one comes to bullseye. 

The search for that satisfaction has not left me in all the intervening years; nor has the yearnings expressed in the video’s song — nameless at that time, but now with the name of a Person, attached to them. From the blog entry, linked at the video:

“It should go without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — that I no longer think or feel the way I did when the song was written. But the yearnings expressed in it have never gone away. Trena has been reading Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” — it’s on my “never got around to it list” — which, not coincidental with my decision to make this video public (“there are no coincidences in God’s Kingdom”), describes Christian’s trek along “the upward path”. 

Those yearnings have found their fulfillment in the Person of Jesus Christ — a triadic process that is synchronous with salvation itself: ‘I am fulfilled; I am being fulfilled; I will be fulfilled’.”

That process is in direct opposition to the direction our increasingly pagan culture has taken since the video was made. An apt emblem of that direction occurs at its opening: The old Rescue Mission, at the bottom of Poplar Street, with it’s “JESUS CARES” sign on top, boldly declaring His sovereignty in 6-foot high letters (interestingly, and in keeping with the transitional times, changed in 1985 from the even more bold “Jesus SAVES”), and long since removed.

Culture WarBut that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus DOES care, and He DOES save. He did then, and He does now. He informs, He transforms, He redeems, He redirects and changes lives. That is a process that is not completed in space and time, but in eternity. Intriguingly, that transformation may work backwards as well as forward in time: Imbuing our individual pasts with the color and aroma of His presence, and allowing us to see His guidance along a path from unbelief, questioning, and skepticism, to sanctified faith. In keeping with the reflective character of this piece, I leave you with the following quote in that regard. The scene is Heaven; a character based on George MacDonald, a seminal influence on C. S. Lewis, is offering his explanation of the phenomenon:

“Son," he said, "ye cannot in your present state understand eternity...That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say 'Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences': little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why...the Blessed will say 'We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven': and the Lost, 'We were always in Hell.' And both will speak truly." — C. S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce”

“Blood Southern Streets (In My Town)” — The Alkleins (Video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3avKBeXa6U

W. Wade Stooksberry II and his wife, Trena, currently form the musical duo The DOVES. Please enjoy their music and videos at their website: http://www.thedovesamerica.com.

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Comments on this post

The Doves new hit!

Hi Dr. Faria,
I thought you might enjoy our comment on the vagaries of social media, "Facebook Famous." Hope all is well with you – Wade

Press Release: Announcing the release of The DOVES latest single and video, “Facebook Famous”:

“The DOVES (whose song “Confession” has been unanimously selected for inclusion on the “Macon Music v. III” CD) provide a gently sardonic take on social media with the Nashville-flavored ‘Facebook Famous’...”…

“ The more connected we become, the more the space is
And where the groups all become one, that’s where our face is
It won’t be long until I don’t know what a “place” is
I’ll be a streaming virtual reality —
That’s facebook famous!”
---
All the best,
Wade & Trena
The DOVES
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Excellent song. Congratulations to you both!--- MAF