Rise of the Nation State, subcultures, Goth, and David Bowie

This is the second post in a trilogy of posts. The first in this series can be found here over at Priestly Goth Blog.  The third post will post in Ecclesial Longings here.

Recently I saw the Man Who Cried.  It is a melancholy movie to say the least.  Though what captured my imagination in the movie was its depiction of Jewish and Gypsy culture in the midst of the rise of  the Soviet Union and Fascism.  In the movie the similarity, difference ,and otherness of these two “outsider” cultures and those who made up those cultures was striking.   These cultures were within but were outside the sway of grand unifying gestures of Empire, Nation, and State.   From within the stories of  The Man Who Cried we find that part of the distrust and fear and animosity of  those caught up in the unifying gestures of Europe was in part an issue of loyalty.   Jew and Gypsy had an other loyalty, they were participants in things to which they did not or would not give their loyalty.   At least from within the narrative structure of  The Man Who Cried, Fascist, Communist, and British Empire in differing ways could not tolerate difference and otherness that would not give itself over to devotion to the State and mass culture.

While there was always pressure to conform and tolerance of the other in European and Medieval worlds was iffy at best, but even so, before the rise of the Nation State the multiple, the other, and difference were more the name of the game than other wise.  Granted the rise of the Nation State was a long process and occurred earlier for some than others.  For instance in the Nation States in which fascism arose were the two latest Nation States to emerge in Europe.  Both Italy and German were at best loosely confederated and allied independent territories, and as often as not in conflict and antagonism.  There was no “Germany” before Otto Von Bismark.  One perhaps could still argue that even Italy today is barely a unified entity, but I that might be an unfair characterization.

I wonder about those elements of culture that don’t seek a grand unifying gesture.    The small scenes, local artists, small specific groups with their own character creating life and beauty in particular space and time.   Admittedly in our context the lure of celebrity and renown for those in these scenes is great.  We may resist the empire and totalitarian narratives of taste and culture but we also long for global renown without the loss of the authenticity and integrity of  the underground. We fear and are what we fear.  We are afraid of “Americans” and are in “America” and we are “American” –

This Bowie video lives within the tension of  a fear based in reality and paranoia.    The song itself  is less clear.    But put together there is a fear of the violence of coercion, and totalizing global narrative.  At the end of the video what is feared is the combination of  power, violence coercion and religion.  Yet, in the end it is reduced to a strange masquerade parody of itself, yet on some level more ominous than  being gunned down by Americans.   The difference between what we fear and what we should actually fear is uncovered

Goth and the various music and urban (as I have come to call them, though they aren’t limited to cities) subcultures, have this fear and animosity towards the mainstream, the globalizing, the imperial.   This animosity and tension at times, and perhaps often, keep us from seeing  both the value of  goth as small obscure culture with its own values that need no abject other.  And our fear that the globalizing powers of the mainstream keep us from seeing the macabre masquerade, that is a threat only in its being seen even by the subcultures as more powerful by virtue of its claims.

For me the goth scene and clubs have been a place to revel in an eclectic aesthetic that is other , but not in hard and fast contrast, but through being a playfully freakish scene.  For me It is this playful eclecticism focused through lenses of the melancholy and a comfort with death (at times disturbingly so) that is the goth rejection of the mainstream not any overt opposition to an other.  Granted this is what I take from it and not something one finds universally among Goths or the goth scene.

Also the goth scene is not the only scene I participate in.  In my own self there is a diversity, a contradiction and tension of loyalties and narratives and values.  But there seems to be more life in the small diverse “tribes” than in the grand singular culture.

The Church and my christian faith perhaps provide an umbrella for all of these but not in the same way as the  American or the grand unifying Globalizing powers that want to celebrate diversity as a means for achieving an homogenization.  I am  not sure how to articulate the difference.  However, it may be about life.  Human unifying schemes tend towards death while allowing for coexisting independent “cultures” and diversity with no grand scheme tends toward life.  In the least this is one way to look at it.  It is to some degree what I found in The Man Who Cried.  Yet this life appears only in being unafraid of the other even the other of the grand imperial, unifying gestures.  That fear gives undue power to these schemes, and thus introduces the power of death.