"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, December 2, 2019

Food, Fashion, And Identity In America - The Art Of Influencing And Belonging, But To What End?

What to make of glitz, glamour, image, show and the culture of identity?  We are far from the moral, ethical, spiritual, and consensual beings envisaged by Jefferson and the founding fathers, the Church, or the philosophers of the Enlightenment – beings with a center, a principled, unvarying and unchangeable center of personal gravity; but some flighty race of shoppers.  We shop for Charmes Chambertin ‘96; truffles, sea grass, and persimmon coulis; cuisine architecture, pairings, presentation, and décor of the best restaurants, and adopt the cultural signifiers of travel, experience, and good judgment. Nothing of real value.

Image result for images thomas jefferson

We are frequent theatre-goers, lifetime subscribers to the Kennedy Center, the Met, and MOMA.  We are as bella figura - the Italian art of presentation, looking good, and good taste – as we as Americans can manage; proud of our carriage, sophistication, and comportment.  We are dismissive of television, movies, and popular music, persuaded that there is such a thing as high culture but unable to avoid the low. 

Image result for Kennedy Center opera hall

This, of course, is but one slice of the social spectrum; but there are many more – the hip, tonsured, shades-of-gay, cool LA crowd, a step up and beyond the old Hollywood moguls who are now influencers of the new high tech, digital, interactive social community networks.  No Michelin stars, Dior, La Traviata, and lawn tennis for them; but as positive and sun-drenched as any who came before.  It’s just that they prefer high-end burgers with a taste of kitsch, lots of donuts and curly things. 

To say nothing of the Walmart, Family Dollar and Target crowd – the vast, aspiring, market-driven middle who, despite what anyone else thinks, has their own sense of stylish belonging.  The best Bass rods and reels, the newest Ford F-250 truck, enviable gear, and enough money to go around.

There’s the ski crowd, the outdoor crowd, the environmentalists, the global warming naysayers, and the social justice warriors.  The anti-abortion, pro-gun, fundamentalists; the covered dish church Saturday supper crowd; the fiercely regional, anti-government, raw, untutored, haters of the Washington elite.  The black activists, the white Black Lives Matter wannabees.  Country music, hillbilly, rockabilly, blues, jazz, house, Top 40, and alternative rock.  And a thousand more groups, societies, and communities of every possible interest, faith, and persuasion.

None of the early Christian theologians, nor Martin Luther, Kant, Voltaire, Russell, and Kierkegaard; nor an Alexandria Library full of artists, writers, dramatists, and poets; nor Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams could possibly have imagined today's America.  The most savvy political philosophers of the 18th century might have seen how individualism, the industrial revolution, and a culture of rights would transform the old, European, traditional, hidebound Europe into something as rich and superior; but most would be in awe.  Not so much at the mundane – for, despite the almost unbelievable advances in technology, medicine, and pure science, life seen within these parameters is indeed mundane – but at the lack of the principled foundations that all had envisaged.  Christianity was a religions of Jesus Christ, the remission of sins, salvation, Trinity, and transubstantiation, but it was also a religion of faith, rectitude, secular principle and religious authority.  There was no division between Church and State in the the 2nd and 3rd centuries, only the best of all possible worlds where the secular was subsumed within the holy.  No longer.

Image result for images voltaire

The institutional growth of the Church and its geopolitical influence, ambitions, and interventions loosened this unity.  Morality and ethics became secular issues, and render to God and to Caesar took on a whole new interpretation.  The Church was to guide, to educate, and to illustrate; but it no longer was indistinguishable from social life.

The philosophers of the 17h, 18th, and 19th centuries considered this morality and added a particular intellectual dimension – the nature of good and evil, perception and reality, past and present.  However distant they might have been from Church teachings, they nevertheless were focused on the nature of being.

All of which leads to the present state of affairs – a society which has seemingly become unmoored from either the teachings of the early Church, the lessons of moral, political, and existential philosophers, or the admonishments of the prophets of the Enlightenment both in England and in America.  Any society which is so focused on identity – belonging, like-minded camaraderie and companionship, and community reinforcement of fragile, doubtful, but personally ‘meaningful’ beliefs – cannot have much faith in foundations; cannot see the point in academic, archaic notions of human society which have little or no relevance to a hyper-active, hyper-changing world where nothing is permanent, where no one set of principles can possibly apply to all cases, and where religion has only the offer of solace in misery, dying, and death.

Harvey Wellstone was a happy man, an influencer in his tony-but-edgy Hollywood world.  He was at the top of his game, seen everywhere in his signature outfit of short hair, over-sized horn rims, eclectic mix of retro fashion and ultra-modern chic, adding his bit of creativity to gaming, streaming, and online communities.  He was young enough to be able to avoid the confusion and mess of Kant, Nietzsche, and Eusebius; but well-educated enough to know that he could go academic if he chose; but he always thought better of it.  Life was grand as is, and there would be plenty of time later.

Image result for images LA upscale fast food

Harvey was the perfect 21st century Hollywoodian American – he never cooked but always went out.  Why would one pore over recipes, deconstruct the heavily travaillé and recherche French cuisine of reductions, sauces, and historical tradition? Why bother with cooking in the kitchen when Thai, Laotian, Tibetan, Malian, and Caribbean food was available on every street corner.  Going out was done with a purpose, an exposure, and a fulfillment that putting together raw, organic ingredients never could.

The point was that all of Harvey’s choices were logical and predictable.  He had no sense of or dutiful obligation to anything solid.  There was as little sense to cooking as there was to going back to The Federalist Papers.  Life was to be led in the here and now; within the visible, the immediate, and the out-front imagery, taste, and texture of food, dress, music, and popular culture.

Although Harvey is perhaps the best example of the post-millennial upscale, woke, dank millennial culture; he is not alone.  On the East Coast influencing is political, and belonging has less to do with dress, style, and attitude than commitment.  Commitment to causes and to progress.  Those who fight against global warming, capitalist exploitation, the oppression of minorities, the glass ceiling, gay rights, and the comprehensive making of a truly progressive world all have homes – seminars, conferences, chat rooms, social media groups, brick-and-mortar places for gathering, discussion and greeting. While most believers insist that the outcome of their efforts is what drives them; it is not.  Given the perpetual, cyclical  nature of history, the permanence of human nature, and the inability of any society to become more compassionate, congenial, and loving, it cannot be results which matter.  It can only be belonging.

Image result for images environmental armageddon

And the vast middle? Although there hopes and aspirations may not be as attuned either to high pop Hollywood culture or serious East Coast elite angst, it is no difference in aspiration or belief that meaning comes from identity.  We are all the same – image-driven, influencer wannabees, desired, admired, and sought after.

It is too late for America to return to Jefferson, Hamilton, Kant, Augustine, or Clement of Alexandria.  Once we have untied our moorings and set sail alone, there is no going back.  The waters are come what may, and we will take any port in a storm.  We will pay dues to any harbormaster, sailing club, or organization, as long as they will have us.  Some like Harvey will never have to pay dues – people will pay him dues.  Just as he wants to belong and influence, belonging to his club will afford the same camaraderie and influential purpose.  A pyramid scheme that pays off for everyone as long as you don’t get caught at death’s door without a clue.  Then you might well wonder why you wasted so much of your time; but of course it will be too late.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.