Sing, O Muse, of Young Skywalker

Cultural pessimists like George Steiner claim that nowadays, nobody has a cultural frame of reference anymore. Poets who refer to Achilles cause confusion in modern readers, who are not taught who Achilles was. After all, education these days no longer focuses on learning facts, but instead on developing generic 'learning skills' and the ability to 'search for data'. This trivializes our cultural heritage and impoverishes our society, Steiner claims.

In the TV series 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', the character called Xander in one episode states, 'Maybe they're on their way here. I mean, this place is NORAD, and we are at DefCon One.' This quote will stomp most viewers of Steiner's generation. Self-respecting GenXers, however (well, the male ones, anyway), recognize Xander's reference to the movie 'Wargames'.
And this isn't the only example. 'Buffy', specifically, movie references are rife, even to obscure films like 'El Angel Exterminador' by Luis Buñuel. You could, in fact, write a hefty academic tome about the series' allusions, as well as about those in, say, 'Clerks', 'Pulp Fiction', 'The Simpsons', or Eminem lyrics. Cultural allusion and subtext, then, are apparently alive and well in the so-called 'dumbed-down' generation; the references are just to another culture. What's more, not picking up on these references is considered 'uncool', just like not knowing who Achilles is makes you stupid in Steiner's eyes.

So how would Steiner respond to this? Undoubtedly, he'd note that 'Star Wars' and 'Godzilla' are trivial trash, whereas 'The Odyssey' and Shakespeare's plays are works of art. And he is, of course, right. After all, 'The Odyssey' doesn't feature an invincible hero who meets all sorts of strange creatures, gets into wild adventures, and kills the bad guys in the end. And in its day, it was studied exclusively by scholars and not understood by mere schoolgoing children. Similarly, the works of Shakespeare are devoid of sensationalism or sentimentalism and, at the time, only appreciated by a small intellectual elite.

Posted by cronopio at 11:10 PM, March 09, 2004