The Decline of Western Civilisation II

(I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while.)

In the past few months, I mangaged to see a documentary by Penelope Spheeris. Apparently, this volume (II) is part of a larger corpus of works. The first film, The Decline of Western Civilsation concerns the punk rock movement around the end of the 1970s while the third part is about a more gritty gutter punks. I’ve yet to see these two. Part II of this film series concerns the glam and heavy metal music scene in Los Angeles, California.

There are some very clear themes in this work. Firstly is the misogny of the musicians and the overt objectification of women. Another feature is this ‘bohemian’ complex had by many of the musicians, of how they are very much striving for a reputation and gain merit by virtue of their musical achievement. However there is a questional nature to their claims; many bands and individuals were interviewed and each represented different phases in their career. There were the old guard of heavy metal; Motorhead’s Lemmy and Ozzy Osbourne (during a time when he was kicked out of Black Sabbath and successful in his own eponymously titled band), represented the more experienced and wisened rock idol. Ozzy and Lemmy were aware of the damage that alcohol and narcotics can do, while they were agnostic at best about the groupies; they were quite clear that there is a tragedy to success.

There were a great number of metal failures in this documentary as well. Many of the bands interviewed were either signed, unsigned or in a position which is surprisingly common: signed to a label, yet poor. This documentary was an exploration of the youth culture of the time. I though this perspective was particularly enlightening. The youths who sustained the heavy metal scene were sometimes also the members of small-time bands. Heavy metal possesses a hierarchy which may be likened to some crass contractarian state of nature. The powerful, and successful bigwigs are those who are idolised and siphoned. Women throw themselves freely to the big stars of the time, while those (males) lower on the food chain fight and struggle to compete for popularity, success, and sexual delight.

Club owners are overtly perverse. The less a girl wears, the more likely they will get in, one of the owners say. A distinct element stated early on in the film is that the heavy metal fan is powerless socially. Normally they are high school dropouts and with little employment prospects. Facing the Reganite conservatism of the time and the PMC; youth culture has no longer become a matter of deviance. Acceptable forms of ‘parental rejection’ are granted as the original baby boomers (the first generation who had a ‘youth culture’) have set the rules for social conformity. It is a partial irony that those original teenagers were the later arbiters of conformity.

There is a secret pathos to the interviews of the characters. We see alcoholic and ultimately doomed heavy metal musicians. Those who strive for success and a deified status akin to the likes of Dio or Ozzy are doomed to fail and are oblivious to said failure. It is, I think, clear to the audience watching the documentary, that this ‘vanguard’ of heavy metal is really a bloated failure. Heavy metal seems not to be a genre and ideology with clear goals or determinate ideas. The reception of this documentary led to an eventual change of attitude towards the late 1980s’. Hard rock and glam metal fell away of popularity, or slowly sidelined as the tassels and building blocks of future pop and AOR rock music towards the 1990s. Challenging guitar-heavy music moved away from NWOBHM heavy metal in a variety of directions. The bloated and popular scene of glam and mainstream heavy metal were divided. Some bands who were always underground, found new forms of expression. The disgust at the self-indulgence and percieved ‘femininity’ of glam metal led to a desire for more ‘authentic’ forms of music. Enter Generation X….

One redeeming feature of the documentary was the appearance of Megadeth at the end. Megadeth, while part of this scene which was largely indulgent, had the seeds of change. Some artists, particularly Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer; stayed true (initially) to their underground routes and formed a unique style of heavy metal in the 80s that reclaimed the authentic aspirations of heavy metal: challenging, gritty, dark, technical, political and relevant. The discourse of the mainstream and bloated indulgence seems always to be not far away in musical scenes. A similar story can be told in the origins of Black and Death Metal; another reactionary movement (in part) to the glam scene.


Lexical faux pas

People use exclamations too much. It is more a signification of the superflous and a tendency of hyperbolising one’s vocabulary than term of exception.

Also included in these character of phrases are: the over use of ‘literally’ or ‘random’ to mean ‘unexpected’


A prospect: philosophical theology

For a long time, a certain tradition had become synomymous or allied to metaphysics; similar to how say logic is related to metaphysics today, philosophical theology was once allied with metaphysics.

(Christian) Theology is sometimes divided into components comprising an overall system. A rationally worked out worldview, if it is to be considered a worldview at all, must encompass accounts of all aspects of the world in which we inhabit. Some people still these days entetain the notion of a systematic theology, although often some of the studies in theology consist in specific components. I’m no expert in theology by a long shot, but so far as I recall about theology; there are the following components that comprise systematic theology:

1. Morality and ethics, Value Theory
2. Metaphysics (or ‘Philosophical theology’)
3. Politics (a notable example of this would be Liberation theology)
4. Reactions to contemporary movements: political and social theory, gender theory, psychoanalysis, race and ethnicity studies
5. Christology (the conception of Jesus – the sole figure in the Christian faith, issues such as ‘was Christ a man or God?’, is God in three parts?)
6. Sotierology (concerning ‘grace’ and salvation)
7. Eschatology (concerning the end of days)
8. Exegesis

There are other aspects which come about but aren’t worth mentioning (like angelogy).

Lately, from the perspective from theology, philosopher-theologians have seen the appeal of analytic philosophy being spliced into their philosophical system. The motivations for this are:

a. Mainstream theology is being hjacked by ‘fringe’ and ‘fashionable’ and short-lived movements. Feminism was a major interest about 2-3 decades ago but since has faded; Black and Asian theology is something which has begun to recieve attention; postmodernism and theology has also been considered. Theology, in a struggle to maintain relevance and establishing some kind of ‘cutting edge’, is failing to establish the kind of clarity and logical rigour had by the likes of Aquinas, or Barth.
b. Theology has been hijacked by continental theology which has led to a confused and needlessly polemical discipline dividing into an intellectual excercise. THere seems to be a serious division between apologetics (by the evangelicals) and theology (by the liberal, intellectual side of Christendom).
c. IT has been demonstrated by the work of people like Alston, Van Inwagen and Swinburne, that the tools of recent philosophy can be employed in the defence and clarification of their notion of God. In other words, theology can be returned to philosophy, rather than living on the outskirts of the humanities and social sciences (continental philosophy for short).

How am I  to consider what kind of agenda philosophical theology would entertain? I am not sure, but I am going to start on the Summa Theologica some time soon.


The day just passed

The day that has just passed has a number of markers about it:

1. It has been the European and Local council elections all around the UK; voting is something both boring yet fundamental in liberal democracies.
2. The news has been overshadowed by talk of the incumbent cabinet ministers. I personally think it is very unfortunate that a whole political party, including tis campaigners and tireless public servants (some of which are actually doing a good job), must be tarred by the expenses row and the poor overall reputation of the cabinet at large, but that is the cost of being part of a party in politics.
3. It has been 20 years since the Tiannenmen Square revolt. The world has become a different place since 1989. Of all the things happening; we are distracted from the more important of issues. Although that said; concentrating on an intermediate issue is partially dealing with a long term one.


Language as homogeneous

It is often derided that slang or ‘invented’ words are not of equal or similar status as ‘proper’ words, or words which have been established in the english language. Sometimes we may see that these vocabularies emerge and form their own languages in the form of pattois systems. The mass media is negative to the proliferation to the english language in the sense that ambiguity is not acknowledged.

Greek names such as Peisistratos have multiple translations that may be acceptable. Even modern phrases and nouns, when media exposure was lax on them, had a whole set of referring terms, rather than a single one. It is sometimes in the interest of politeness to use more accurate terms: ‘coloureds’ is thankfully a long-outdated noun. I also noticed the differing spellings of the english ‘Al-Qaeda’. Often cities can be renamed or our naming customs change. Peking is now Bejing and Bombay is now Mumbai. In terms of food, however, we still refer to ‘bombay mix’ and ‘peking duck’, and it looks like such rituals are unlikely to change. It seems queer to me when I see that it was even until the 1990s that the term ‘moslem’ was still acceptable but now ‘muslim’ is our standard noun. I won’t even start on the term of ‘Mohammedan’ here…

I wonder how far an ‘established’ english is being put forward; especially now as ‘British English’ stands as a distinct form of english from ‘American English’; but even more interesting is the notion of ‘International English’; as English is seemingly the universal second language. Is the mass media as negative to the rules of english as MS word?