America loves ostentation. It is deeply embedded in the value of individualism. As we value individuality and distinctiveness, every person must carefully cultivate a certain amount of display of unique features. This value of individuality and need to quantify this data via display is deeply embedded in everything we do, from our job hiring process to our love of the hero, to our psychological mimetic fiction to our cultural sayings and historical memory. America is a different sort of civilization than has ever come before, and we are young, and we are still figuring ourselves out. Perhaps America is the perpetual teenager, or early 20-something. Our social norms change rapidly. Our population demographics shift rapidly across time. We have yet to completely acknowledge as a country that we’ve ever really lost a major war (we might all be aware that Vietnam was not a success, but I argue in our cultural consciousness it is not a loss in the same way that European countries have long understood as a lost war).
Hipsters are just a rebellion in the definition of ostentation from pop culture ostentation, sports ostentation, college life ostentation, political ostentation and the weirdly enmeshed intellectual/anti-intellectual ostentation. I like their values more than I like any other groups, but it is still an example of American polish obfuscating materialism.
As many before and after have realized and written about, this frequently gets in our way. For example, the hero figure. The Martian, still making its theatre run, is a lovely example of this.
The entire world throws billions of dollars of equipment and human brain power at the task of pulling one man off Mars before he dies.
I’m told to ‘accept this as a convention of the story-telling,’ a mere ‘dramatic effect.’ However, I think this speaks to the heart of the issue of American nationalistic pride today.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for propagandizing NASA.
However, it is literally insane to accept the current permutation of that Yankee can-do know how that creates the foundation for this movie and novel.
Sure, cultural symbols and people as cultural symbols are important, but to swallow whole cloth the risking of so much investment of time and money and resource when our political environment is what it is is to be too accepting of the cognitive dissonance that is American behavior today. We cling to fantastical visions of ourselves in movies and in reality, and the doing so will only worsen the negative consequences that arise from such fantasizing.
I don’t want to believe it, but popular SF sure does serve the deadening narrative of the status quo rather than awaken us to proper respect for the Earth and our fellow man.
Can we please move past the hero worship? Can we think productively in terms of group character and group identity rather than excess reverence for someone ‘unique’?