Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Reputable Man of Influence

I saw the new James Bond movie a couple of weeks ago. It was better than some movies and not as good as some others. It was fun to watch, but I pretty much forgot about it after a day or two. That, however, is not the subject of this week's post.

Not too long ago, I got an email from some guy who said he saw my "James Bond blog entry" and he wanted to know if I was interested in posting a review of the Showtime series Sleeper Cell: American Terror on my blog.

Okay, first of all, recall that in the blog entry he was referring to, all I said about the Bond movie was that I wasn't planning on seeing it, but I might end up seeing it anyway. That hardly makes me a fan of James Bond movies or shows like Sleeper Cell, but the guy might not have actually read the post -- he probably just searched all the blogs for keywords like "James Bond" and "espionage" and "terrorism" and things like that.

As it happens, I'm a Showtime subscriber and I've heard of Sleeper Cell, but I've never actually seen it. It might be the greatest show in the world, but I wouldn't know because I never happened to switch to one of the many Showtime channels I receive when Sleeper Cell happened to be on.

In his email to me, the guy described Sleeper Cell as follows: "The hidden face of terrorism is again revealed, as you go beyond the headlines for an unflinching look at the defining issue of our time."

Okay, well, terrorism is certainly one of the defining issues of our time, but as for actual sleeper cells, I have my doubts, especially since no one has ever been able to find the slightest bit of evidence to show that one ever existed. So Sleeper Cell might be a great show, but it doesn't sound like it has a whole lot to do with the truth. For more information on the real face of terrorism, you might want to take a look at the three-part Adam Curtis documentary The Power of Nightmares. He proposes a few interesting theories, most of which are based on solid incontrovertible facts, but since facts aren't considered terribly important these days, I wouldn't be too surprised if half the people who see his documentary don't believe a word of it.

I'm not going to get into all that, but I will mention one thing he says in the introduction. It's basically that in the past, political leaders used to appeal to the voters by making all sorts of great promises about a better future, whereas today the best they can do is promise to protect us from evil. In other words, rather than looking toward brighter days ahead, they instill a sense of fear in their constituents.

That seems pretty obvious to me. There's very little optimism about the future these days. Everyone's worried about global warming or overpopulation or poisons in our air, water, and food. Or if they don't believe in all that science stuff, maybe they're worried about whether or not they'll have enough money for retirement, or whether some inner city kid will carjack and murder them. It doesn't really matter what people are worried about -- the point is, a lot of people believe that things are only going to get worse.

And they may be right, but I'm not going to get into all that. I just wanted to comment on how this sense of dread about the future is reflected in current trends in architecture and design.

Back when people were optimistic about the future, you could see it in just about all aspects of design. Maybe they went a little overboard with some of their "space-age" designs -- like cars with rocket fins, and "futuristic" radios and clocks that look sort of silly today -- but you had to admire their enthusiasm in the belief of a better world ahead. Look at the best that that era had to offer: simple elegant houses that we now refer to as "mid-century modern," beautiful cars like the Jaguar XKE, and the timeless beauty of Scandinavian Modern furniture. I'm not saying that every modern house was absolutely beautiful or every chair designed in Denmark was perfect in every way -- all I'm saying is that when that era passed, we were all out of ideas. From that point on, we just started copying older designs.

That's why, if you've been in a furniture store recently, or looked at any new tract homes built in the last 20 years, or noticed some of the automobiles rolling off the assembly line these days, you've probably noticed a backwards trend. Most houses built in the last two decades are based on architectural styles from the 18th and 19th centuries. The same is true for most furniture, and sadly, it's becoming true of a lot of automobiles.

I used to think it was a matter of ignorance. I used to think the people who bought Tudor or Victorian or Tuscan style homes and furniture just didn't know any better. I assumed they had no sense of style and were ignorant of the beauty of modern architecture and design. I figured that if they were exposed to it, they would prefer it to the outdated and hideous architecture they were used to.

And then one day it dawned on me that a lot of people actually prefer the older styles. I couldn't understand why, but I figured it was based on some pathological need to pretend they were living in the past.

But I never understood the cause of that pathology, since, as we all know, the past wasn't all that great. That seems obvious enough, but maybe if we built 18th-century-style houses without electricity or indoor plumbing it would make this point a little clearer.

But after I heard the introduction to The Power of Nightmares, I put two and two together. I realized that maybe this pathological need to live in the past isn't caused by a belief that the past was so great. Maybe it's caused by a belief that the future is going to be unspeakably awful.

It all seems pretty obvious, but now that we understand this, how can we use it to create a better future? I wish I knew.

By the way, in his email, the guy who wanted me to review Sleeper Cell told me that I "seem like a reputable influencer" but I think he was exaggerating so he could get on my good side. I don't think I have any influence over other people at all. I wish I did, but I don't. I think I entertain people, and I inform them about things they couldn't care less about, but I don't think anything I've written in this blog has influenced anyone's opinions or decisions.

I also don't think that "influencer" is a real word, but even if it is, I still don't like the way it sounds. The guy could have said, "you seem reputable and influential" or something like that. He'd still be wrong about me, but at least his writing would have sounded a lot better.