Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year, Part the Twenty-Eighth - Reelin' in the Memes


Eric said...

"A century of thinking that machismo and violence would save humanity from extinction and it turns out what we humans actually do are acts of gentleness and repair."

I love the sentiment, but it also reminds me of one of my favorite points or themes in J.R.R. Tolkien: that what proves Aragorn is the rightful king is not his prowess in battle or fancy sword, but his ability to heal--"The hands of a King are the hands of a healer." Which isn't an idea completely unique to JRRT; he pulls it from some strains of Arthurian legend, for example.

And so I have to ask if it was a century of thinking about machismo and violence, or just a generation or some subset of a generation? Or maybe that's not fair and things are complicated, anyway: it seems to me that many came out of the Great War skeptical of violence, and that many came out of WWII, as well; and that many of those who remained enamored with violence were people who sat out the great conflicts of the 20th Century in Hollywood or were enlisted but nevertheless did little more than office work far from the fronts. It seems to me that much of the militarism and machismo we see in the United States is, perhaps, a post-Vietnam backlash to ideas of restraint that were fairly mainstream in the 1950s and ideas of radical pacifism that maybe were never more than a youth culture fringe thing but nevertheless came to dominate public discourse in the late 1960s.

I dunno. Maybe she's right. But it's an excuse to remind everyone that there were always people like Tolkien who hated violence and machismo so much they wrote huge books about wars to underline how much they hated it.

David said...

I think the meme is generally referring to the last few decades of post-apocalyptic Manly Men and their shoot-first-and-yeah-that's-it attitude toward building their cramped version of civilization - the Mad Max knockoffs and libertarian gun fetishists so celebrated in American culture (Tolkien was, of course, British) who dominate our movies and books. Maybe it's not a century of machismo, but it's enough to be a problem.

It's been my experience that it's the wannabes who celebrate violence - soldiers and survivors who have been through it and understand what it means don't do that.

I think the meme is a necessary reminder that actual humans don't respond to crises with that sort of nonsense - we are social creatures and the true mark of humanity is to look out for each other.

Eric said...

We are indeed. I feel like we lost the thread somehow in forgetting that as a society and culture.