The sky was clear and calm. The nervous energy of a workday was dissolving into a stream of red lights as the cars filled the roads out of Saint Paul. It was time for the city to evacuate to the ancestral homelands in the northwoods of Minnesota for another Thanksgiving. We packed the car hurriedly and joined the stream with every reason to expect a good 4 1/2 hour drive north to Bemidji. There was no snow, no ice – but we didn’t expect there would be a couple of chainsaws.
First came God’s paradise, Eden, which mankind was kicked out of for not following instructions. After that came floods, slavery, fratricide, and a whole lotta smiting. The three great “Religions of the Book” – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – differ as to when and where it happened, but all agree that at some point God became weary of it all. Those who managed to get through it and somehow achieve Righteousness are given the charter to a Promised Land. To a surprising number of faiths that Promised Land is right here in the USofA, and the delivery of the righteous to a land of great wealth is what Thanksgiving is all about.
“The Twentieth Century is over! We don’t have to be Modern anymore!” That’s how architecture and design critic James Howard Kunstler described his joy at the passing of time a few years ago. Modernism was dead and we all lived in a Post-Modernist word – whatever that means. So what kind of era do we live in, and why do we describe it in terms of not being the era before?
The backward-looking nature of the term “Post-Modernism” limits its usefulness. Isn’t there a more forward-looking term? I think the answer lies deep within the question itself, referring back to the need for any kind of handle at all. That’s why I’ve taken to calling our time the Fractal Era.
Saint Paul Police Chief Harrington told the story as the featured speaker for the Fort Road Federation Annual Meeting. Two police officers went to a house where a concerned neighbors called about a woman at the front door shouting something in Hmong. Not knowing what was up, they proceeded carefully as she kept shouting the same thing, earnestly, over and over. The were nearly to the door when another officer drove up, one who heard the call and knew that his Hmong heritage could be useful in that neighborhood. He knew what was going on at once. “She’s yelling ‘gun’!” he called to the officers, who immediately took cover. The man with the weapon inside later killed himself, but quick action saved the lives of two cops that day.
We live in a time when just about every national institution is experiencing difficulties or is right out failing. There are many reasons why this is happening, but much of it boils down to two basic forces: dramatic over-reaching and the influence of the Internet. I’ll leave the hubris of our financial sector to Shakespeare, since he made a living out of depicting it well, but the Internet is the opportunity and challenge of our time. There’s little doubt it will redefine what “media” is, and along with that the bits and pieces of a culture which are delivered by a medium.
You’re at a game, crammed into the seats like everyone else. It could be any of the big sports, but you can predict it especially easily when it’s hockey. At the first break in the action the wailing guitars crank up in a way that bring the image of a hand rolling the knob over hard. You sing along, or rather shout along, to the only word that goes along with it – “Hey!” Yes, it’s Rock & Roll (Part 2) by Gary Glitter, but neither you nor nearly anyone knows that. What you do know is that this is one of those songs that is part of a good time at the game, all as part of the price of admission.
Literature is important to a culture. Before something becomes literature, however, it has to be published. That means it’s subject to all the constraints of the publishing industry, which is… (wait for it) an industry. It has to make money. Fine arts rarely make money, at least in the short term, meaning that the industry always has something else to focus on. That’s been accentuated lately by a general decline in publishing profitability. This is not a good time for literature.