Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 6: Thirty Years of DC's New Titans - A Tribute

NTT #1 (Nov. 1980)

Thirty years ago this month, the preview for a great new comics title, The New Teen Titans, came out in DC Comics Presents #26.  For fans like me, who picked up that issue at a plain old newsstand (I can still smell the cigarette smoke, chocolate and bubblegum in the store, which has long since closed), that preview and the issues that followed immediately stood out as something special.

I grew into adolescence reading this title as the 80s unfolded.  I read a lot of titles I'm sure my contemporaries would recognize: Atari Force, Alpha Flight, Amethyst, Legion of Superheroes, The Uncanny X-Men, The New Mutants, and later Elfquest, Love and Rockets, Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Sandman, as well as several others - including mini-series like Sword of the Atom, Cloak and Dagger and Hawk and Dove, and ground-breaking graphic novels and limited series like The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Killing Joke, V for Vendetta, Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Watchmen.  But among all these great books, at its best, The New Teen Titans stood out, head and shoulders above the rest.  Maybe it's because the NTT captured the early-to-mid 1980s as seen from a youthful point of view so perfectly (the title had well passed its peak by the time the character Danny Chase was introduced in 1987).  The lineup of core NTT members is here.

Along with Claremont's revamped X-men from this period, the New Teen Titans are Generation X's superheroes.  There was something in the NTT title of a latchkey generation that felt (and still feels) forgotten, overlooked, misunderstood or dismissed by their elders.  At first Gen Xers, like their parents, were seduced by the glamour of 80s' high life.  But they were also the first witnesses of the private cost of that life within families.  Xers were compelled to survive in Brave New social settings and develop new values to cope in Postmodern and Post-Postmodern circumstances, while riding the economic booms and busts generated by their predecessors.  That's what The New Teen Titans was all about - and it was especially about building a family in a world where families had broken down.  Later Titans titles have picked up the same themes.  The Titans are a pop culture mirror held up to reveal the trials of a generation that has repeatedly absorbed the often unseen costs of Boomer-driven social change.  And for skeptics out there who don't read comic books and think they're just for kids - that's why this title is relevant. 

Every character fit a superficial Gen X stereotyped label endowed upon the cohort by the Boomers - but every character showed hidden depths that belied those labels. This is a big part of the Gen X experience - Xers were constantly being defined by Boomers, yet always knew in their hearts that they were something else. And so - Dick Grayson (the sell-out), Wally West (the Alex P. Keaton conservative), Donna Troy (the perfectionist), Gar Logan (the slacker), Victor Stone (the tech guy), Raven (the New Age wicca girl), Koriand'r (the anti-feminist sex bomb).

Beneath these Xer stereotypes, every superhero on this team was an anthropomorphized version of a specific archetype - an incarnation of a particular heroic value.  For years, Boomers have accused Xers of being cynical, ungrateful and nihilistic.  A close reading of this pulp fictional corner of pop culture can tell you at a glance how profoundly wrong they are.  Generation X's values are, however, very difficult for Boomers to perceive, let alone understand.  The bonds between the Titans represented how their heroic values played out as Xers struggled for years with a prolonged, misunderstood, cohort-wide introspection on behalf of their entire society. They also had to take on the legacies of their predecessors without compromising their own identities and convictions.

This is a tribute to the Titans as pop fiction icons that shows different ways that these superheroes reflected the Gen X experience.  That's before we even look to the obvious accomplishments of DC's creators: Marv Wolfman, George Perez, Romeo Tanghal, John Costanza, Adrienne Roy, Len Wein and their immediate successors - including Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Eduardo Barreto and Phil Jiminez.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 5: Remaking 1984

Cover, Terminator: 1984 #1 (2010). Dark Horse Comics.

I've noticed a lot of buzz in different corners of pop culture these days that refer to the year 1984 and the early-to-mid 80s in general.  From Glee, to movie remakes, to music covers, to pulp fiction, nostalgia for the period is everywhere. The latest example: Dark Horse Comics is doing a new version of James Cameron's TerminatorUSA Today has an 8-page preview here (hat tip: It's a Dan's World and Newsarama). Why are we preoccupied with this lost time from 25 years ago? Why are there so many reworkings of American pop culture from this period now taking place?  The 1980s were important for two generations: the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.  The Boomers were in their thirties and forties, not yet in positions of power, while their predecessors were busy running things.  So the Boomers turned their considerable energies and attentions to reshaping popular culture, creating a look, feel and mood that we have remembered ever since.  The entire decade seemed daubed with glitz. Xers, then in their teens, were equally swept away by conspiciuous consumption and golden nostalgia, flip-flopping with serious issues like the Cold War and Chernobyl.  Although Gen X identifies strongly with the 1980s (you need only say 'John Hughes' to room full of Xers to understand this), it was not truly their decade.  And therein lies the problem.  I think we're seeing all these remakes because thirty- and forty-something Generation Xers are trying - with varying degrees of success - to revisit that important period and make it their own.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 4: I'm Still Here

OK, once in awhile something pops up that really says 'new Millennium.'  I think Casey Affleck's new mocudrama/performance art film, I'm Still Here, falls into that categoryThe New York Times is reporting that Gen Xers Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix have pulled off the first major reality-fiction bait-and-switch in pop culture of the Teens decade.  As I mentioned in yesterday's post about Reality Horror, part of the problem with criss-crossing the lines between reality and fiction is the audience's increasingly cynical refusal to suspend disbelief.  How do you make a film real enough that the audience believes it's real, only to discover it's not?

It turns out that Phoenix lived for almost two whole years in the spotlight as an addled basketcase celebrity - in a real-fake take-off of all the real addled basketcase celebrities!  And even when those in the know claimed it was a hoax, no one believed them. Needless to say, the Boomer press hates the film, and they are remarkably literal-minded about it.  The critics don't see the huge, patented Gen X irony at work, even when they get the press release explaining it carefully.  Wow.  Phoenix's appearance on David Letterman in 2009 as a half-mad, bearded drugged-up lunatic was what Affleck is calling "a terrific performance, it’s the performance of his career.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 3: Reality Horror and the Horror of Reality

Fake Missing Sign, featuring the actors in the movie, The Blair Witch Project. Image: BlairWitch.com.

No sparkling vampires, please. Picking up on the themes from the Urbex piece yesterday, the online journal Ol3Media of Cinema, Television and Media Studies, based at University Roma Tre is calling for papers (here) on the new genre of Reality Horror.  From the call for papers: "From the unpredictable success of The Blair Witch Project to Paranormal Activity, horror has seen the emergence of a new genre: the reality horror or live recording horror. Beyond the possible labels this trend has been the one great novelty of expression of horror cinema, next to the Eastern wave of the early years of the new millennium.  Some movie suggestions: The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Diary of the Dead, Rec, Rec2, Cloverfield, Series 7: The Contenders, Otogiriso."  It was fake history - a false claim to reality in horror - that made Blair Witch, a movie with a notoriously small budget of around $25,000, walk away with a gross profit of $248,639,099.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 2: Urban Exploration

English Urban Explorer, Phill Davison.

Urban Exploration (Urbex), stretches back about twenty years in its current form. With the aid of photo-sharing sites like Flickr, a whole generation of intrepid Urban Explorers are uncovering corners of history in our cities and sharing them with us. They enter sealed properties, abandoned locations, forgotten dwellings, shut up institutions, and closed industrial sites; they photograph neglected infrastructure and crumbling transportation networks.

In Britain, this is a movement that recalls amateur exploration of municipal development in the nineteenth century, which became the founding inspiration for many important charitable organizations, such as the Fabians and the Salvation Army. Today’s explorers are not driven explicitly by politics and religion, as their nineteenth century forebears were. Some Urban Explorers are interested primarily in the aesthetics of abandoned places, others show civic devotion to their own municipalities. Still, their work provides a key to new sensibilities. They reject the ‘throwaway’ mentality of rampant urbanization. They are witnesses of recent urban developments that are undocumented in the archives – and largely unexamined by the universities. Of course, urban decay is a trend that, for the most part, civil and institutional authorities are not keen to share. Urbex covers the ‘secret history’ of our cities over the past few decades and show the end results of recent municipal policy-making. The decline of old institutions, schools, railways, barracks, asylums and many other public buildings and structures is a trend that few people grasp as a general phenomenon. Yet Urbex is a growing pastime in many developed countries precisely because that decline is a general problem.

When Urbex images appear in Survival Horror videogames and movies such as Silent Hill, younger gamers likely don’t realize that they are looking at images taken from reality, not fantasy. Their games transmit a grim, largely unacknowledged problem in many cities.

Today, I’m privileged to interview Urban Explorer Phill Davison, who hails from Leeds and who has devoted his considerable talents as a photographer to capturing the concealed areas of that city and abandoned parts of Northern England. Phill has already enjoyed press coverage by the BBC; in the Yorkshire Evening Post (see the story online here) and at the blog The Post Hole.

Phill has over 1,800 photos posted on his website at Flickr here; his My Space page is here, with his main explorations listed here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Want Another Plate of Shrimp? Etymological Signposts to the Collective Unconscious

Hotel (2010). © By Majora28 (homepage here). Reproduced with kind permission.

Occasionally, the MSM sites put out funny little reports that some bizarre new word has made it into the dictionary as part of their offbeat commentaries on how the impact of the Tech Revolution is changing our language and thus, affecting the way we communicate organically as well as mechanically. Usually these hot new words are cribbed from the user-generated Urban Dictionary or Netspeak.  For example, Time recently reported here that 'Zombie Bank' and 'BFF' made it into the most recent edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary. Of course, the OED and its variants are renowned as much for their historical etymologies as they are for scooping up the latest words from the wash of pop culture that not everyone even considers words yet.  One portmanteau that I am starting to see, and wishing I wasn't, is 'underdig,' a dismal combination of 'to dig something' in a 60s' sense (as in, to 'really understand something') and 'to understand.'  Aside from these newcomers, what I've found equally interesting is the resurgence of certain standard words which suddenly, thanks to technology, I hear everyone saying.  I'd say this dynamic of particular words becoming popular is a sign of how the collective unconscious works.