Monday 5 December 2011

The pervasive demonic perspective


It is striking that nearly all (but not all) of the mass media output - and also what passes for serious narrative High Art in recent literature, drama, the movies, TV - is written from a demonic perspective.


Indeed, this could be taken as a brief definition of 'modernity' in the media - that phenomenon which got a grip in the first decades of the twentieth century, and which finished-off the centuries long traditions of visual arts, classical music and poetry.


I have always been aware of this demonic perspective, and always disliked it - but for many years I pushed-down this dislike and forced myself to swallow large doses of demonic modernism and media, because this was supposed to be 'the truth' about the human condition; and because most of the 'best' work in recent art and prestige media was in this style, had this content.


In demonic art, the standard by which the characters are judged is worldly: status, power, and pleasure. The successful characters are all evil manipulators, selfish, cruel, insensitive.

Sometimes the whole narrative is peopled by evil characters trying to exploit one another; some succeeding, while others fail and are crushed.

Sometimes there are 'good' characters whose virtue is kindness - these are depicted as weak and self-deluded individuals. They are 'hosts' from whom the evil characters feed.

We feel sorry for these 'goodies', perhaps we despise them, perhaps they disgust us - certainly we do not envy them.

The 'good' characters are the people who cannot see reality, who refuse to see reality; they are those who are preyed-upon.

Thus the demonic perspective: the world as predators and prey.


The message?

You are either an envied predator or one of the mass of despised prey. 

Therefore, be a successful predator and glory in your success; and if you can't then despair.


The sub-text - we are all prey, ultimately.

Even if you succeed as a predator, glorious in your exploitation of others for your own gratification, you will become prey in your turn, become weak and pitiful prey -  and so despair.

The ideal of success is to die at the height of your predatory success, unconscious of the future, when most envied and most loathed - therefore, if you have achieved predator-hood then despair - make sure you die soon, before you too become prey.


The sub-sub text - life is only about predators and prey, but ultimately it makes no difference because life is short, vile, and everybody dies.

So despair.


This is the demonic perspective in which modern Man swims, which underpins media news and soap operas, prize winning novels and award winning movies, which fills the theatres and the galleries.

Is the demonic perspective honest? Is it the product of years of seeking the truth, of exhausting all possible avenues of enquiry?

Of course not! It is merely a miasma breathed-in during adolescence; it is a pose, a lifestyle.

It is the end of seeking the truth, not the product of truth-seeking. 


Yet the demonic perspective rules the public arena, it is what we are taught and what we consume: it is our catechism: it is pervasive, encouraged - and alternatives to the demonic perspective are low status, dumb, wicked, forbidden, punished...


So this is the nature of evil triumphant, merely this; a permanent culture consisting of life seen through the eyes of a demon; a demon for whom only the basest, most selfish motives are real, for whom everything is explicable in terms of eating or being eaten, for whom the ultimate reality is eternal suffering alleviated only by sadistic torturing of other demons.

And this milieu induced not by argument or demonstration, but by reiterated depiction: by millions and billions of instances of the demonic perspective, iterated day by day, minute by minute, apparently each confirming and confirmed by the innumerable others, all drilling us in the ultimate lie that this is the truth: seek no further: suck it up and despair.



Gyan said...

The thieves code is similar --You die today, I tomorrow.

(Gulag Archipelago)

Brett Stevens said...

The demonic perspective in all human endeavors seems to be the same concept: reality is bad, so your personal feelings should take precedence over reality.

It is also the root of liberalism.

Baduin said...

"And it would be a poor and superficial reader of Tolkien who failed to acknowledge that in amongst all the overwrought prose, the nauseous paeans to class-bound rural England, and the endless bloody elven singing that infests The Lord of the Rings, you can sometimes discern the traces of a bleak underlying human landscape which is completely at odds with the epic fantasy narrative for which the book is better known. (...)

The orcs are disenchanted, poorly informed and constantly stressed by the uncertainties that lack of information brings. They suspect that the war might be going badly for their side, and that their commanders, far from being infallible, seem to be making some serious errors of judgment. They worry that if their side loses, they can expect scant mercy from their victorious enemies. They mutter their misgivings sotto voce because they know that there are informers in the ranks and a culture of enforcement through terror bearing down from above. They also seem possessed of a rough good humour and some significant loyalty to the soldiers they command. And they’re not enjoying the war any more than Frodo or Samwise; they want it to be over just as much as anybody else.

For me, this is some of the finest, most engaging work in The Lord of the Rings. It feels – perhaps a strange attribute for a fantasy novel – real. Suddenly, I’m interested in these orcs. Gorbag is transformed by that one laconic line about the city, from slavering brutish evil-doer to world-weary (almost noir-ish) hard-bitten survivor. The simplistic archetypes of Evil are stripped away and what lies beneath is – for better or brutal worse – all too human. This is the real meat of the narrative, this is the telling detail (as Bradbury’s character Faber from Fahrenheit 451 would have it), no Good, no Evil, just the messy human realities of a Great War as seen from ground level.

Tolkien, The Two Towers

"Frodo broke off a portion of a wafer and handed it to him on its leaf-wrapping. Gollum sniffed at the leaf and his face changed: a spasm of disgust came over it, and a hint of his old malice. 'Sméagol smells it!' he said. 'Leaves out of the elf-country, gah! They stinks. He climbed in those trees, and he couldn't wash the smell off his hands, my nice hands.' Dropping the leaf, he took a corner of the lembas and nibbled it. He spat, and a fit of coughing shook him.

'Ach! No!' he spluttered. 'You try to choke poor Sméagol. Dust and ashes, he can't eat that. He must starve. But Sméagol doesn't mind. Nice hobbits! Sméagol has promised. He will starve. He can't eat hobbits' food. He will starve. Poor thin Sméagol!'

Bruce Charlton said...

@Baduin - that is one of the most sophomoric essays on Tolkien I have ever encountered.

Baduin said...

The essay doesn't say much about Tolkien, it is true - but it says a lot about postmodernity. I think it corroborates your thesis quite well.

The situation is devolving rather swiftly. Richard Morgan, a published author, is quite openly saying that the only characters in "Lord of the Rings" he can understand are the Orcs. The rest does not exist for him at all. (He also managed not to notice that Tolkien quite explicitly shows that for Orcs, there exists nothing but Orcs; Elves are for them also Orcs, except hateful and terrible).

Luke 16:26-31
[26] And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither. [27] And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, [28] That he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments. [29] And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. [30] But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance.
[31] And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.

Anonymous said...

It is striking that nearly all (but not all) of the mass media output - and also what passes for serious narrative High Art in recent literature, drama, the movies, TV - is written from a demonic perspective.

That is why I refuse to watch Hollywood products.

I still watch some Japanese anime. Phi Brain is quite suitable for Christian audiences.