End of Modernism—Part One

Introduction Part One

Recently, I was going through some old school books and I came across an essay I had done for a class. As I re-read it, it occurred to me that my current thesis that I have been working on for the past couple of years was an extension of this paper. In fact, it seemed to me that this was one of my first sparks of defining the state of American moral declension. This realization brought a certain melancholy, in which, I felt that the American spirit of restoration was on the rise and the luster from the beacon of liberty would be restored. Unfortunately, I have been chastened by recent events in the news, torture, or redefinition thereof, domestic spying, or its redefinition thereof, Evangelicals advocating the assassination of a political figure, Katrina and Rita, and the implications of our readiness as a nation to handle catastrophic events. Moreover, the political discourse within the confines of the US borders sickens me. The mood of fin de siecle has remained beyond the crossing of the turn of the century and rooted itself into the self-esteem of the American public. What is strange, however, is that I concede its necessity and its chagrin as way of moving forward. In so being that, in order to traverse the crises of civil liberties, much pain must be born, in which the evolvement of humanity can be eventuated toward the light of justice and freedom; and, so it goes the challenge, and expectations in living just another day in paradise.

Introduction Part Two

The 20th century ended poorly. The ethical and moral values of Americans were effaced by our own pride and egoism. Several examples of politicians, corporate executives and civil leaders displayed, at the least, poor judgement. This effacement of morality not only deconstructed the foundational values of Americans, but also aided in the acceleration of Post-Modern angst.

This acceleration enabled Post-Modernism to burrow deep within the core values of America allowing for the explosion of corruption. The resulting corruption allowed for the ethical implosion of fundamental values to end the century in moral turmoil[1] (Baudrillard).

Therefore, Post Modernism is being defined as the ethical, moral, metaphysical, and technological estrangement from everyday community life – some term it as cynicism. This cynicism may be the result of the technological vices, which separate “us,” the individual, from the social interaction of other human beings. This in turn creates isolation of the spirit, as well as desensitization of not only one’s own humanity – but of one’s community.

For instance, in the early part of the 20th century, America was transforming itself from a rural intensive agriculture society to an urban intensive society. This transition, however, was not the end of intensive agriculture (a form of economic modernism) – but its final phase of it, refining its in motion to the assembly of epochal changes involving time. From the human perspective of reality, time is linear, simultaneous, and relative, as well occupying space and time in thought[2]. Thus, Post Modernism is the culmination of several single moments in realities all at once. Moreover, these moments are deciphered (viewed) from their individual realms at any one moment as well as at any one point along the time spectrum and can be non-linear. Meaning the technology of the moment is relative to that particular moment whether it is transmitted through a medium of: a cell telephone, a book, a television, a computer, a movie, or an Internet connection. Furthermore, this technology does not necessarily mean mechanical or electrical in a traditional sense, but can be something beyond the physical – but in the realm of the metaphysical as well.

In other words, the nature of Post Modernism although rooted in technology along with its ability to gather and disseminate vast amount of information is to aid humanity in the next possible evolutionary step of the universal consciousness. Therefore, humanity’s next step is the tapping of the unknown through the intuitive thereby expanding within intuitive spoken universe; thus, post modernism, on one level, can be the reclamation of the social and communal core base values, so that the individual is not preoccupied with relevancy of time. Since time, in the framework of post modernism, can exist at any one point within space-time, forward, backwards, and the now, the present, time’s perceived single focus restricts the participant’s perception.
However, when the 20th century ended, American were confused on how to view their reality whether through the post-modern eyes of popular culture or the reality of traditional cultural values; thereby, leaving America and the outside world in a quagmire of self-discovery.

Neither the world nor Americans understood its role, whether the influence of America as the sole super power was to police the world or to allow the world crumble off the shorelines in certain destruction. Americanism from the worldview was contradictory, foreign and detached, because as the world saw it, Americans are too ethnocentric. Yet as the ultimate beacon of democracy and freedom, the US flag – the red, white, and blue conveys loyalty, purity and honor. America is seen, however, as a wild, undisciplined, violent toddler that needs to find its center (or a good spanking). As consequence of being treated as a toddler in world affairs, Americans feel detached from the world and to itself, and this feeling began nearly hundred years ago.

A Tall Tale Revisited

At the turn of the 20th century, America began, as stated earlier, to transform itself from an agricultural to an urban economy; thus, beginning the migration of family farm to urban city life. Cityscapes, roadways, and the beginnings of suburban sprawl began to take hold and America was looking for an identity of its own after the civil war. The Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, had rooted its way in the foundational core of the American spirit: reason, spirituality, and individualism had become embedded from the relative popular culture of the previous century. For instance, the expansion of the America had ingrained a new spirit of individualism, a manifest destiny, sort to speak, which brought a code of values that are often portrayed in the movie medium – the western. One cinematic production called A Tall Tale – The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill[3] conveyed this idealism; it had such legendary characters as Paul Bunyan, John Henry, and Pecos Bill (a.k.a. Wild Bill Hitchcock). It was a coming of age story where a young man named Daniel Hackett no longer could shun away the realities of the world, and had to take on the responsibilities of everyday life–the family farm.

The movie is imbedded with symbolism; it starts out in a1905 American town called Paradise Valley where a young boy of 12 is confronted by his mother. He responds to her, that he has seen as horse-less carriage. She shakes her head in response that she thought it was something like that, he being lost in a world of “fancy” and tells him that his father is waiting for him to do his chores. Like most young American men, his father and he butt heads about responsibility and understanding the “code of the west,” which1 is; respect the land; defend the land; and, never spit in front of women and children. These values represent a time that is fluidic, simpler, and more “honorable” than the new modern world to come. His father tries to impart to his son, Daniel, that these core values are the ones he wishes to instill within him.

Moreover, he wishes that his boy would not be so wound up about the Brave New World yet to come. It will be here fast enough as it is. Eventually, he over hears his mother and father arguing, and her wish that his father not be so set in his “traditions.” She, of course, capitulates as he sets out for the town meeting with his gun in one hand, and the family farm deed in his pocket. He is going to tell the black hats that he will never sell his farm. The boy circumspectly follows his father. He watches as his father defiantly tells off the bad guys and storms out of the meeting hall. The young boy and his father serendipitously run into each other on the way back home; his father, in dramatic fashion, tells his son to take the deed and protect it at all cost and run, just before the bad guys catch up to his father and shoot him.

Although this plot is obvious, the symbolism of defiance, individualism and independence resonates throughout the movie. The resistances to change, to remain with the tried and “true” traditions, have always been successful and are the underlying message of the movie. What is interesting about the movie is that it was made in 1995, far into the Post Modern era, wanting to recapture some sort of lost core cultural value. The movie being made at end of the century is significant because the screenwriters has chosen to depict period of ethical certainty within his mind. It is not a coincidence that the screenwriters place the story just after the turn of the century. It was a time, at least in the writers’ point of view, that America understood the principles of honor and hard work. In retrospect, the 1995 America seemed quite detached from this perspective. In fact, one might say Americans sense of right and wrong was adrift in popular culture minutia. The feel good story reminds the viewer that this need not be so, despite the advances being done in the new era of technology. So, when Daniel and his father go fishing near the beginning of the movie, and his father reminds of him of the code – that one’s action determines whether one is honorable or not – not words, this is a signal to the audience that this is a lesson about present day life – pay attention!

Daniel’s father is not killed, but seriously injured, after seeing his father laid up in coma, the young boys run off to the boat that he and his father were fishing in earlier. He falls asleep in it and this is where Daniel’s adventures begin. Patrick Swayze is Pecos Bill who helps the young Daniel Hackett to traverse the course of manhood after rescuing him from a couple of varmints who are trying to rob and kill the boy. He, Pecos Bill, shoots off their trigger finger, because he does not kill on Sunday. In a comedic moment, one of the varmints says it is not Sunday – but Wednesday – one can almost see the gleam in Pecos’ eyes as he cleverly shoots the ruffians away with gunplay. This showing of restraint conveys to us, the audience, and to young Daniel, that just because one has the power to kill it is not necessary to kill.

Prior to Daniel’s almost mugging, the boat which had cried and slept in, while drifting down river into a dried up creek bed, signals the transitions within the story. He wakes up, lost, confused, and scared in wonder. He tries to assess how he got where he is, but also what to do next. In comparison America, seems to fall into similar moments of displacement only wanting to do the right thing. So, when Pecos Bill asks the where he is headed, he responds back to Paradise Valley because he has to save his family farm. Pecos Bill decides to join young Daniel, because that is what hero’s do.

Respect the Land

Along the way home, Daniel and Pecos Bill come across Paul Bunyan; he and his blue ox are lost in dissolution because they feel antiquated, and America has seemingly lost its respect for the land. The modern world it seems is stripping away the land and devouring it. Young Daniel reminds Paul Bunyan of what he represents to people and the code: to respect the land. The message to the audience is obvious. Conservation is not just environmental, but economical as well. The brazen disregard of the land, and of the people, will lead to the downfall of the modernist. For instance, when the stock market crashed in 1929, some 24 years later after movie is depicted, or the dust bowl farms of the 30’s and 40’s; or, in the present Post Modern era with DOT-COM’S crashes of the 1990’s it shows the modernist ineptness. The failure to have respect for nature is the modernist, and post-modernist Persian flaw and no amount of money will restore it. Therefore, the movie’s representation of the modernist is that the corruption of a core value of pragmatism is a sign of America’s decline.

Machine Versus Man

This corruption of a core value is further proof that technology is a hindrance to the development of one’s humanity. The disassembling of humanity is further proven out when their final member – John Henry, joins the group. They come across him just as he about to battle a machine: the challenge is to out work the machine driving a steel pin through a boulder. However, there is a two-fold lesson here: first – as long as you do your best, there is no need to feel shame or guilt. Second, and more poignantly, the modern era is coming and unlike a human, a machine is not reliant on another human. John Henry loses to the machine, because he relied on another human – Daniel – who failed to see the importance of the battle at the time. The lost to the machine is a reflection of a time to come, where the production of the country’s economy will be transformed. John Henry’s failure to defend the land from the machines comes as a haunting signal that there will be a time when mechanization will override the land and humanity.

A Spittin’ Texan

One of the myths about coming of age is that one must submit to the pressure of the group. Although it may be certainly true, how one handles the influences of others, it also certainly true, how one handles the image of oneself by others. Daniel learns this lesson in a bar room fight, when Pecos Bill is upset by another cowboy after a carefree moment with the other legends and himself. The rowdy cowboy “calls him out” after Daniel inadvertently spits on the man’s boots. Pecos defends the boy and in the process, the man insults him, however, in the spirit of defending his land, himself, and his home state, Pecos Bill succumbs to violence. Simply, I don’t like what you are saying about me, my home, and my image thereof – so I am going to pound you until you think otherwise. This way of reacting is nothing more than ethnic cleansing in its base form. So, Pecos Bill and the other man brawl in the bar until it eventually broken by the sheriff, who, happens to be a woman – Calamity Jane. Now, the movie has introduced a new element of individualism by showing that a woman is just a capable as a man. This is not traditional, but it is certainly modern, as American moved to homestead, women had to be as independent as men in order to survive the harshness of the Wild West for their families. This conspicuous moment of modernism spotlights the new world of feminism to come.

Calamity Jane throws all of them – John Henry, Pecos Bill, and Paul Bunyan – in jail except Daniel. This leaves open the opportunity for Daniel to prove the lessons he has learned. When unjustly accused, it is righteous to break the law, so Daniel breaks the legendary figures out – and rescues them. Thus, Daniel in the process puts feminism its place. The dramatic rescue of the troops ensues, only to have the bad guy cause the interruption in their effortless escape. They end up running for a barge, which will take them to the never-ending desert.

Commentary on Modern Life

The desert represents one more obstacle before Daniel can save his family’s farm. He will have to rely on the resources that he has gathered along the way. However, before the men and Daniel go into the desert, they camp underneath the stars. It is at this point in the movie that the culmination of events has led to Daniel describing the Brave New World. He tells them that one-day, electricity will light up tall buildings as large as mountains, and city lights will blot out the night sky to aid the people to see in the dark. Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry look at him in horror, saying they cannot image such a place where humanity is disconnected from the land. At first, Daniel tries to convince them that the new modern world will be a wonderful place. However, as the men begin to talk about their feeling about the land, women, and their father’s, Daniel begins to understand his importance in the modern world. (Personal side note – Men talking about their feelings is definitely not modern in the cultural since, but relative in the Post -Modern world–ugh). The final challenge, for Daniel, is to cross the desert, and to comprehend how much he loves his father.

Conclusion

In a Post-Modern world, Daniel’s coming of age is no longer an expected rite of passage. However, what would be expected is his comprehension of the language and perception of time. Therefore, in the modern and Post-Modern worlds, Daniel would have to adopt, adapt, and accept his enculturation as well as his assimilation into them. His ability to play by the rules are quintessentially important to a society as it to live within the time of a society, because this will demonstrate Daniel’s coming to terms with his maturation from childhood. Nevertheless, the movie – A Tall Tale – The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill is predictable melodrama, because the screenwriters’ attempts to turn the hands of time back through the usage of nostalgia. In a fashion, the movie screenwriters are saying when the saturation of the mass media and popular culture was not so prevalent; America was better off, because it was young and innocent. Life was perceived slower and simpler.

Ultimately, the screenwriter fails this circumspect preaching because the ending of the movie is wrapped up in typical Hollywood fashion, into a harried ending. Daniel not only saves the family farm, but also rallies the people of the town, and the legends to stand up to the modern day corporate raiders – the black hats – the bad guys. Thus, he is able to “push” back the elements of modernization and keep Paradise Valley safe for the moment or at least until the people are no longer strafed with the emotion of fin de siecle, end of the century, sickness. Looking back, the common theme throughout the movie is that of time: Daniel’s coming of age, the obsolescence of American legends, and the approaching new era of modernization. The transformation from rural farm community to urban intensive society gave time the control of America’s reality to come, both in fiction and “real world”; thus, creating the Post-Modern angst that is sometimes felt through nostalgia.

Cited Work

See the link for the movie at: http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1808733697/info>.

See Albert Einstein influences on time can be found in “Einstein’s Clock, Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time” by Peter Galison.

Acknowledgement— my class notes were used in preparation of this essay, my thank Dr. J. David for his class: Anthropology of Popular Culture.

[1] Jean Baudrillard discourses on Post-Modernism are by way of reviews from an on-line source which can be found at http://carbon.cudenver.edu/~mryder/itc_data/postmodern.html#baudrillard>>, as of February 4, 2006.

[2] See Albert Einstein’s influences on time can be found in “Einstein’s Clock, Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time” by Peter Galison.

[3] A Tall Tale – The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill. Starring Patrick Swayze, Oliver Platt, Scott Glenn, Nick Stahl; Produced by Caravan Picture; Producer Joe Roth; Directed by Jeremiah Chechik; Written by Robert Rodat, and Steven Bloom; and, Distributed by Walt Disney.

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