The Cultural Self: Stupidity and Wreckage


We are thrown into a culture we have not created. As such, culture is a construct that does not belong to us. It is a projection of beliefs, desires, goals and fears that may not be our own. Thrown into a culture we have not chosen many are caught up in the game of disavowal that says, “I know very well…but.” I know very well that filling my house with more useless gadgets will not improve my life but I still keep buying useless things. I know very well that a new colour on the wall will not transform my inner life but I still keep watching Love it or List It. In the grip of this disavowal, we are caught inn believing fictions. We lie to ourselves. Lacan argues, “culture is the fact that it has a hold on us.” It holds us in the grip of stupidity. Stupidity is not when you do not know how to proceed. Stupidity happens when you do know what to do, but proceed otherwise. For example, you know that you should not speed around the corner but you accelerate with full knowledge that you should not. The proof of your stupidity is the wrecked car and the fact that you are not Vin Diesel driving a pimped out Honda with an oversized muffler.

            Culture is full of such wreckage. What place does ethics have among this wreckage? A good movie that illustrates this fact is The Big Lebowski. The directors show the foolishness of American culture.California is presented as a wasteland where bowlers, nihilists, punk rockers, artists, investigators, porn stars and police wander the urban landscape propped up by useless rituals.

            In questioning culture we ask, what have we inherited? What is given to us? Who am I and how do I find my place in the concrete and glass garden. If all the veneers are stripped away what is left of who we think we are?

            The Big Lebowski shows us that culture begins between the legs. This is where we are generated, aborted, raised, cultivated and collected. This is not to say that culture is only about effing but it is about the effing that tries to escape its own boredom. The ferret dropped into the bathtub while the Dude is relaxing shows that castration has already happened. Culture gives rise to its own flaccidity. The film shows us that things go on as usual even after the apocalypse. We are still held hostage the ransom never arrives. The Dude searches to get back the rug that tied his room together. It is this quest that give his white Russian addiction meaning.

            The opening sequence to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse provides us with a picture of what is at stake. Mickey beckons us to come inside his clubhouse, which rises from the agricultural ground after the magic words are spoken. Culture is all about magic words like Weight Loss, Viagra,Sale, Improvement etc. The clubhouse that resurrects from the depths of the farmer’s field is a wonder of technology. Its rooms are never ending and contain everything that characters need for their daily adventures. No work needs to be done when Disney provides us with everything. Goofy is shown tending to his small garden. His sane efforts are ridiculed. The clubhouse with its technological wonders has abandoned the earth. It is a world where what is, is presented otherwise than it is. Ethics deals with what is. This means, I think that culture and ethics are mutually opposed. Ethics and stupidity cannot co-exist.

            The Cowboy who narrates The Big Lebowski repeats the phrase, “the Dude abides.” The validity of one’s quest depends on where one abides. Walter remains stuck inVietnam and beating up a Corvette cannot remove his pain. Donnie’s ashes are strewn across the hills after having been in a Folgers’s Coffee can. The flamenco bowler declares, “Nobody fucks with Jesus,” forgetting of course, that “the devil” and many tele-evangelists do nothing but.

            In this circus life, where culture reveals itself on a pornographic foundation, what is prepared for us in advance, requires that we rise above nailing ourselves to the same spikes. The culture that inhabits us like a parasite does not teach us how to take root. To take root while there is still exodus and departure would be the paradox here.

            To be genuine is to declare I am not for sale. I am beyond any price. I am without price and therefore cannot be stuck in the muck of pop-culture surfaces. I think Pascal Bruchner is correct. People in the West behave like giant babies with limitless demands. Each has its own special pacifier. Such pacification or numbness never brings sobriety. Culture encourages intoxication in all its Dionysian forms. It does not sell moments of clear insight. It fabricates the catastrophic so that more goods can be sold.  Popular culture advertizes people who are well fed, well fornicated and well financed. The magazine ad never reveals the true state of things; lonely pleasure seekers with huge debt loads. This state of affairs is precisely what popular culture has produced. A current sampling of news headlines shows us what counts. Here are some to ponder: “New Robot warplane can pick its prey”; “Look sexy on the runway, the airport runways with these smart travel bags”; “Drunk man tries to ride a croc after breaking into zoo”; “ A great suit can make you the boss”; “Zoo wants to buy psychic octopus.”

             A sampling of children’s cartoons such as  Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Dora the Explorer, Special Agent Oso  reveal that Hegel’s three step dialectic is alive and well. Children learn that tasks have three components. This triangulation is a mental strangulation. Fed the three-step diet, these children when they enter college are bewildered when asked to read a book, write an essay or analyze a concept. They are experts at sending out two word “tweets” or five word texts messages hobbled together with abbreviations. When Goofy says that he loves hotdogs and baloney sandwiches, he is not setting a good nutritional example. What should we expect from a character to cannot think without the intervention of a mouse. That this mouse has become an American icon speaks volumes. If a problem arises Mickey’s answer is to rely on the technology invented by Professor Van Drake. Herr Professor’s autobahn no longer leads to the concentration camp but the amusement park where we can laugh ourselves into oblivion.

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About Mark Zlomislic

Philosopher. Writer. Artist. My Studio/Gallery Inscape Fine Art is located in Cambridge, Ontario. Viewing by Appointment Only. Please email: zlomislic@hotmail.com.
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