AFTERBURNER: First, The Grotesque

This one got away from us a little bit, as it was actually released on August 30. It’s about Miley Cyrus, which we’re all tired of talking about. But we wanted to catch up with it anyway, because it discusses the larger picture – and the point it makes endures well beyond the Miley Cyrus disaster…

You can scoff at Whittle’s reference to the depravity of German pop culture in the pre-Nazi era, but history will show very consistently that cultural decline precedes political decline on a quite consistent pattern.

Rome’s decline and fall came about not completely due to a culture which glorified sex and violence at the expense of family and work, but a reading of Roman historians and philosophers of the latter days of the empire shows that they were absolutely aware of the direction their society was moving in.

And Roman decline followed in similar circumstances to that of the Greeks.

The Byzantine Empire, which had been the center of world culture for centuries, degraded into corruption and depravity before being militarily extinguished in a long series of expeditions by Muslim forces.

The Spanish Empire was founded largely on Catholicism and the religious zeal of missionaries, but the avarice and brutality of the Spanish ultimately broke their empire – particularly after the avarice of the Spanish king Philip II, who sought to forcibly depose the English King Elizabeth I in order to bring the British throne under his family thumb, led to military disaster.

The pre-World War I Bell Epoque in France saw the development of a far more sexualized popular culture than ever before in civilized history, with the invention of burlesque as a popular art form and the rise of the “Bohemian” lifestyle as a cultural alternative. During that time government corruption became endemic in France at alarming levels and French society took a marked turn away from the church – something which was a repeat of that country’s history 100 years earlier, when a popular revolution against an incompetent king led to a bloodbath, persecution of the Christian clergy and ultimately a military dictator who embarked on wars of conquest which were ultimately devastating.

And France has never recovered from World War I, the military adventure brought about by the arrogance and unseriousness of the age.

And then Germany in the 1930’s, which Whittle references in his Miley Cyrus Afterburner piece.

The depravity of German culture wasn’t so much the overt sexuality we see today. It was more of a full-throated rejection in a philosophical sense of traditional morality and faith. It was the embrace of nihilism, the rejection of any real meaning to life and the popularization of boredom and aimlessness as a state of being among the youth. In the midst of such a vacuum, and Whittle’s reference to Kurt Weill is a good one; his musical works stand as a tribute to emptiness, and if you’ve ever had to sit through The Seven Deadly Sins Of The Petty Bourgeoisie you’ll understand, as Whittle notes, how the Nazis could come to power in the midst of a culture which would produce a Kurt Weill (who not only wasn’t a Nazi, ironically, but who had to emigrate from Germany when Hitler came to power).

Compare those historical cultural declines to today’s America, which might be in the midst of a deeper cultural decline of any society since ancient Rome, and it’s without question an item of concern. Our problems are political and economic, for certain, but fundamentally they derive from the culture we’re marinating in.

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