Garbage in, garbage out

IUS Horizon

We are the VH1 generation.

It seems as though every generation of people has some form of great art to show for posterity. In our country’s days of infancy, we had great orators like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine writing moving, powerful works of political content.
John Trumbull painted captivating scenes of the legendary battles of the Revolutionary War. Of course, these artists’ works were influenced by the struggle they fought through, trying to gain independence.

We are the John Grisham generation.

In the early 1800s, a uniquely American style began to form in the wake of the war of 1812. James Fenimore Cooper wrote “The Last of the Mohicans.” Edgar Allan Poe wrote stories like “The Masque of the Red Death” and crafted brilliant poetry like “The Raven.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Walden.”

All of these works? Absolutely influential to us as Americans.

We are the Hannah Montana generation.

Remember Mark Twain? Perhaps the single most celebrated American author? “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is read in countless high school English classes all over this great nation. He’s not alive any more. He can’t create any more great literature.

Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson aren’t alive now, either. “Leaves of Grass” is a thing of the past. It’s an amazing collection of poetry, but the caliber that Whitman wrote at hasn’t been matched for years.

When most people think about poems these days, they quote Shel Silverstein.

We are the “Survivor” generation.

Greats like Upton Sinclair wrote masterpieces, namely “The Jungle” and “Oil!,” the latter of which influenced modern-day writer/directory Paul Thomas Anderson to direct “There Will Be Blood.”

Edith Wharton wrote “The Age of Innocence.” Georgia O’Keefe merged the real with the abstract to create powerful messages in her revolutionary paintings.

We are the “Scary Movie” generation.

In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “The Great Gatsby,” what is hailed as one of the greatest American works of literature ever. It is frequently cited as a perfect example of the Great American Novel by historians and authors alike.

In that same period, Ernest Hemingway took his experiences as an ambulance driver in World War I and formed them into “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Sun Also Rises.” In that very same period, William Faulkner used the past American conscience of the Deep South to write “The Sound and the Fury.” Orson Welles wrote and directed “Citizen Kane.”

We are the Perez Hilton generation.

Even as recently as the ’70s, artists like Jimi Hendrix and Paul Simon were creating revolutionary music that would influence the people of the future.

The Cold War and the feminist movement influenced artists like The Beach Boys to create albums like “Pet Sounds” and Stanley Kubrick to direct “Dr. Strangelove.”

I guess poring over the collective past of America’s culture is pointless unless it has a meaning, right?

All of the artists I’ve mentioned in this short rant have experienced a common conflict or change in their lives. Hemingway and Fitzgerald lived in the World War I era, Kubrick was influenced by the Cold War and Sinclair was part of western expansion.

What is it about us today?

Do we really live in a time period in this world that the best-selling books are the Harry Potter series?

Those books, quite frankly, are for 8-year-olds.

Is it a purely simple situation of garbage in, garbage out? Do we lack something that has forced us to struggle, to come together as a nation and change?

Sept. 11 was a tragic event that should have influenced us as Americans to take a step back and gain perspective on the world around us, but all it influenced was Toby Keith to yell about putting a boot in someone’s ass, and the money-grubbing dregs of society to crank out “I’m an American” bumper stickers to make a quick buck.

Seven years later, where are we? What have we learned? Can we uphold the legacy of our great nation, or will we fall flat on our collective faces?

As a not-so-proud member of the society that created “Pop-Up Video” and “Girls Gone Wild,” I’m afraid to find out.

By IAN HOOPES
Editor
ihoopes@ius.edu