Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Should What's Left Of The American Dream Be Seen As Supernatural, or Super Unnatural?

Is anything really about anything any more? Or is it all just engrossing distraction? Or does some of it, taken as a whole, end up giving you the feeling that more is present than was ever intended in the first place.

Consider the show Supernatural. A lot has already been said about the show (see here for a small sample), I'm sure. I come late to it, as I often do to a lot of various cultural expressions. I don't seem to be able to jump in until it's already been chewed over a great deal, but what can I say. It only jumps out at me when it jumps out at me. There won't be, in any case, a whole lot new here, other than, hopefully, a fresh perspective.

What we have here is a miasma of forms, and attempted forms that are just all over the place. And now that I've worked my way through the first five seasons, all I can do is shake my head at how one series can oscillate so much, and so wildly, between so many extremes: so many excruciating scenes of awkward humor (many of Dean's comebacks for instance), trite satire, the repetitive hand wringing or sanctimonious self righteousness that both brothers go back and forth with, on the one hand, and wonderful self deprecation, the ridicule of cliche, and the oddest moments of touching sacrifice, loss, and meaninglessness on the other.

Obviously, despite whatever faults it may have, it must necessarily have elements that speak to a wide range of us, at one point or another; how could it have lasted for 11 seasons now otherwise? More to the point, however, is how that wild oscillation of extremes mirrors American life now. That it is fiction personified hardly matters because this country, and the world itself it would seem, is more and more, a war of competing fictions, with the few facts that still filter through just enough to pretend that we still have a living reality.

With so much parallel fiction going on though, inside and outside of this one TV show, with both sides of in and out playing with all of the themes of religion, morality, and the larger meanings of life, how could one resist wanting to draw on possible parallels with the characters, and what happens to them, with possible big picture metaphors.

Are Sam and Dean, as supposed descendants of Cain and Abel, an accidental commentary on the two extremes in American today? And by those biblical brothers I don't mean the competition of siblings vying for the attention of a fearsome father, but rather where one is the traditional user of their father's words (and all that were expressed by them) and the other the eternal new user, who wants to overthrow the old. How could it be otherwise when their parents were the beginning combination of the perfect old order, and gaining the forbidden knowledge of other possibilities. Or with God favoring his new creation of humans over the long serving angels.

If you start with that context you can see Sam as the rational, technical extremist, always questioning everything, looking for and expecting change, and Dean the hold fast (whatever the cost) traditionalist, resisting change, but also, perhaps paradoxically, the real emotional extremist (because love, in that sense, is always holding on without being able to let go). And the quest that they are on, despite the yearly focus on one demon, or angel, or deity, and the ultimate bad end any of these might portend at any season's end, is really just a another way of looking at how anyone, or any society, can tear itself apart trying to figure out what constitutes right and wrong any more, just as they, or it, tries to figure out what it means to be human, and the constraints that we ought to place on ourselves now that knowledge has provided us with so much power.

What is one to do with the tension between personal liberty, and concern for the greater good, in the light of questioning whether there could possibly be a plan for us, no matter if a deity is involved or not; especially now as so much power is within the grasp of possibility. Power in so few hands, working unbelievably selfish ends as the rest of the world starves, burns, or are just made to disappear because of their inconvenient clamoring;  the very hands of those who find it so easy now to ignore any notions of divine retribution; just as they ignore the possibility that a divine process, quite apart from any deity, might work a retribution that just naturally flows from choices that pay no attention to that process's need for an ongoing, dynamic balance.

So we thrash about, as Dean and Sam do, hurricanes of destruction, trashing friends, structures and all of the old notions of what makes a monster one minute, and a saint the next. And you end up wondering what will be left to hold anything together, let alone how (especially now that meaning is left to the highest bidder, and/or the most ruthless purveyor, of self serving interpretations).

As individuals, or collectives, we all thrash about with the rest of the world, and all of the many belief systems, clashing ever more precipitously precisely because we are all in each other's faces unavoidably, with proliferating media making it impossible for anyone not to notice, or have their noses rubbed in, not only what one perceives as the other's blasphemy, but where everyone competes for control of what will be the reigning fiction (the episode where the pagan gods try to step in and halt Satan's plan for the end of days is instructive not only for the bias it shows towards Westernized Christianity, but also how that bias boils down to which gods have the greatest belief power base). And in all of the channels of interaction does there run the power of not only knowledge and belief, but of perception itself. Power that seduces ever more imaginatively because imagination has also been seduced; feeding back to power, seeing it only as ways to find a rush in as many questionable things as possible to make you feel good (all the exploitations, whether from runaway sexuality, human blood -- spilled or consumed, vampire or demon blood -- which, if you think about it, might be seen as money, souls, or angelic divinity).

And now we have the magic of words given over to the new magic of synthetic perception and experience. We're promised the command of our fantasies (the new age of wish creators and granters), but the most important illusion in all of this is the fact that there is no one in real control, of much of anything any more. Because even the holders of what are deemed to be the levers of power are fooled by their own talismans, for they simply serve an old mechanistic process that is being given a mind of its own through AI and automation.

Our Country now is both as empty at the core as Dean is, as he confronts the apocalypse of season 5. This is especially telling when Dean confronts Famine (he's the only one upon whom Famine has no effect on -- Season 5, episode 14, time stamp 33:14 to 36:03):
"...Doesn't take much--hardly a push. Oh, America--all-you-can-eat, all the time. Consume, consume. A swarm of locusts in stretch pants. And yet, you're all still starving because hunger doesn't just come from the body, it also comes from the soul."
"Funny, it doesn't seem to come from mine."
"Yes, I noticed that. Have you wondered why that is? How you could even walk in my presence?"
"I like to think its my strength of character."
"I disagree." (whereupon Famin places his hand on Dean's chest -- J.V.) "Yes, I see." (laughing -- J.V) "That's one deep dark nothing you got there Dean. Can't fill it can you. Not with food or drink. Not even with sex."
"Ah, you're so full of crap."
 "Ah, you can smirk and joke, and lie to your brother; lie to yourself, but not to me! I can see inside you Dean. I can see how broken you are. How defeated.. You can't win. You know it but you just keep fighting, just keep going through the motions because inside you are already dead."
 What's interesting here, when Sam then shows up, is how Famine says he's special because he's the one who can never drink too much (in this case power granting demon blood). Because that's the way the devil wanted it. Is that the ultimate fantasy of never finding excess, or that with ever more knowledge appetites can always be engineered to be limitless?

Sam always seems to be the more hopeful of the two, always continuing to love what could be because there's still so much to know and realize. So many new wonders to discover, as he's always the one to try and find new lore to save their bacon. But does that save him from his addiction? It might seem like demon blood on the face of it, but it still boils down to power, for which you can never have enough of; especially when the economics of scarcity are combined with ever increasing competition.

We are a country that started out with the most amazing set of ideals any nation has ever started with, only to end up having a limited success in keeping them alive and meaningful. A predictable outcome as those ideals were fated to be in growing conflict with the ascendancy of "business as usual;" the selling of ourselves on the idea that our pioneering spirit, morphed over to the taming, and exploitation of nature, can grow indefinitely, without also changing how we think of growth, and how we go about finding enough consensus to continue cooperating with each other.

Nature is all about boundaries; about establishing them on the one hand, but also of seeing past them in another. This is so because nature is also all about change (which happens most where borders meet), creating new things from old things, and where even the fundamentals can be relative to scale and the choices of the perceiver.

The problem, it seems to me, is that humanity has always allowed itself to be locked into either the extreme adherence to established boundaries, or the extreme of abolishing them all without keeping sight of the past. The quest that so many epic stories revolve around isn't the attainment of a thing, or some singular goal, it is the commitment to continually find the balance between keeping boundaries, and looking past them. In that sense the quest is life, and life is the quest. In this must there be the eternal search for meaning, for which the mind is paramount, but also the continued connection to connection itself; to the feelings that are paramount to that which cannot be objectified.

No system of social organization can survive any more on either life based mostly on disconnected transactions instead of connecting interactions, or life based on immutable beliefs instead of  ongoing consideration, with both reasoning and faith involved, on what it means to be human, and how that meaning fits into the continuance of thoughtful, loving structure; structure that maintains a wondrous curiosity, with both reasonable doubt, and patient humility; along with tolerance, empathy, responsibility, and honor as important in learning as is history, philosophy, and all of the sciences. We don't do that now and we won't be able to make it so until we remove what is locking us into this growing war of competitive fantasies; fantasies manufacturing magic that won't save anything but that new machine with a mind of its own.

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