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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 07/07/2003
Volume 2, #84
I have had a remarkable experience recently. My father came from a large family. So did my mother. I have about forty first cousins. Up to puberty, we were close and saw each other often. The family was tight knit and each supported the others. Then, suddenly, we were all off in different directions, spread mostly through the US with a few in Canada.
I hadn't seen most of my cousins in over forty years. The ties remained and were felt dimly despite the separation so that when a few enterprising family members turned to the Internet for a genealogical search, most of which was conducted by the now fiftyish offspring of my long vanished cousins, suddenly we were a family again.
I have been swamped by renewed contacts, reawakened memories, streams of powerful emotion as I re-encountered my cousins and the life stories that extended for some as long as almost ten decades of rich and sometimes harrowing experience. I have had a profoundly emotional two weeks, exchanging thoughts, accomplishments, failures, and complex personal stories across the Web. But in the midst of it all, I have been struck by something else--something of broader import and much more disturbing.
A generation or two later and I can't help but notice how that huge family of mine has branched into smaller and smaller units of one, two and sometimes no children at all.
The same is true for my wife's family. She was one of twelve children. But those twelve have produced less than a quarter of the children of the generation preceding.
Last week, incidentally, in the New York Times, there was an interesting article presaging the decline of the European Union of which so much had been expected. Why? Not enough children. And with bans on too much immigration, most European nations find themselves with rapidly aging populations, forcing the governments to start cutting back on pension funds. After all, to support an aging and retiring population, you need plenty of young people. But there aren't nearly enough. Already, there are strikes against pension decreases in major European cities. In the US and Canada where immigration from Latin America and the east makes up much of the decline, there are already profound cultural changes. Spanish is well established as an unofficial second language in the US. But there is still some decline in the average age--not enough to be as worrisome as in Europe. And because this whole problem touches on such complex questions as the meaning of work and the true human significance of that thing we call "a job"--hated by most of us--it lands us in different territory which I intend to examine at a later date. But for now, it is already having other effects that readers of this column should be aware of.
First off--fewer children will have an enormous effect on the books we read, the comics we buy and the movies we see. The appeal will gradually move away from youthful to more mature emotions and ideas.
What new more mature interests will replace the old? Consider that once, mortality itself was invested in children. With that possibility fading, the tendency will be to deal with questions of mortality--which is, after all, THE question--by seeking answers elsewhere. In new religions, new age ideas, new metaphysics and consequently, new types of story ideas.
If anyone has ever tried to consider the real reason why comics is fading, it lies right here. The stories need more depth and maturity. No more the simple idea of the superhero. Not without spoofing that outdated image with comic versions. Bizarro, for example, marks the real transition point. More sophisticated forms will come--are already coming. Look around and note the way literature itself is changing. At the same time, the new science which so increases productivity that children are no longer as necessary to production as they once were, tends automatically to break down old religious ideas. Erasing the rigidity of such notions as "increase and multiply", as well as stringent rules of behavior meant to preserve the family necessary to maintain the "increase."
As a result, right before our eyes, sexual meanings are changing. Go back, consult the Index and read my early column on the plasticity of the x and y chromosomes, once thought to be the real basis of sexual distinction. Canada is now permitting same sex marriages. But that's only a way of saying that there are literally dozens of sexual types and combinations, as I pointed out two years ago in this same space.
But now, back to literature--it too is already changing, becoming more focused on elements of the psyche and self beyond mortality. Religion itself has gradually been growing less didactic. Don't mistake the flareups of neo-con didacticism for anything more than the dying convulsions of an old way. The drift is toward something we understand as "inwardness, " on elements of the self and psyche beyond mortality. That is already becoming the leading literary mode.
Scientific extension of the life span, cryogenic techniques, for example, are losing ground, because they do not solve the problem. In fact, longevity only increases it, since we have longer maturities and therefore more leisure to contemplate the meaning of "self". So extra time compels us to give longer and more thoughtful consideration to our mortality. It certainly doesn't eliminate it. For now then, I come back to several of my recent columns on transcendence. The answers lie somewhere in here, and will in various modes define the ways in which our culture will learn to confront the problem of mortality.
So--I've laid it out for you. Look around for yourselves and see how right I am. Then consider it carefully yourselves. Come to the Round Table and let's discuss it. These may well become the most important and the most interesting discussions in any comics venue that we've had for a long time.
And no private emails. Let's lay it all out together.
<< 06/30/2003 | 07/07/2003 | 07/14/2003 >>
Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.
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