June 30, 2010

Camille Paglia on Apollonian vs. Dionysian times

Here is a recent op-ed of hers ostensibly about a drug that would increase a woman's sex drive, but really more about how shriveled up the culture has been for the past 20 years compared to the libidinous era of the '60s through the '80s. The theme is a familiar one here, but she doesn't connect it to the crime rate, which it matches perfectly (including the contrast between the high-crime Jazz Age and safe, priggish 1950s).

Unless you pay attention to the crime rate (as a proxy for the level of violence, which is how people gauge how risky the world is), you won't be able to explain why the past 20 years have been so flaccid:

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife.

Well the average male offered no better visually from the Summer of Love through Studio 54 through arena rock concerts, yet girls were still boy-crazy.

And why has rock music been so bland during the same time period?

But with the huge commercial success of rock, the blues receded as a direct influence on young musicians, who simply imitated the white guitar gods without exploring their roots.

But why did this fading of the blues influence only become dooming during the early 1990s rather than the 1980s or 1970s or the 2000s? And why did blues die out as an influence in black music? That can't be attributed to imitating white guitar gods. Same goes for R&B generally -- it's been as boring as rock has, and the timing is the same. Still, even if her explanations don't work, I'm glad that there is a growing awareness of how unique the '60s - '80s period was, that the initial Gen X caricature of the '80s is officially dead -- Paglia even gives props to Belinda Carlisle -- and that the desperate attempts to make the '90s look cool are quickly unraveling.


  1. How do the crime rate and the trust level relate to each other? From your previous entry I gather that the trust level has been low or has been going down over the last twenty years. From this entry I gather that the crime rate has been low or has been going down over the last twenty years. The eighties show up in your account as a kind of golden era, and if I recall correctly sometimes you explain this (or some aspect of this) as arising out of a high trust level, and other times you explain this (or an aspect) as arising out of a high crime rate.

    My general impression is that you like society when trust is high and dislike society when trust is low; and that you like society when crime is high and dislike society when crime is low. The evaluation is beside my point here - my point is that, if this is the case, then this appears to synchronize high crime with high trust chronologically, and low crime with low trust.

    What puzzles me is that I would have expected trust level and crime rate to have an inverse relationship, not a direct one.

  2. I actually wrote this topic into a post on my data blog, with one graph showing both trust level and homicide rate over time.

    Basically, they do track each other, although the crime rate may lag behind the trust level by a little. Within a given year, the correlation between the homicide rate and trust level (measured by the GSS question "TRUST") is +0.53.

    It does seem counter-intuitive, but think of it this way:

    - When trust is high, people will be more out and about, will welcome strangers into their personal space, etc. The more you trust others, the more vulnerable you are to exploitation, including by criminals.

    - When you perceive the world as more and more dangerous, you feel a greater need to band together with others for protection against the common threat. And to get out of your cocoon and join up with someone who will have your back, you need to trust people more.

  3. As a real-world example of the positive relationship between trust and crime, think of the "buddy cop" movies that were popular during high-crime times but have died off in safe times.

    Another thing I should mention is that I'm only looking at the variation in trust levels that we see within a modern society on the time scale of human generations, not necessarily between the U.S. and a hunter-gatherer group. Or between Europe now vs. the past 40,000 years. I think those larger comparisons would show that more violent societies have lower trust levels.

  4. Given your affection for synth-pop, I didn't think you cared for the blues. Did Flock of Seagulls brag about owning a Leadbelly guitar?

  5. You'll like fun music some day, too, maybe. (Except Flock of Seagulls, who sucks.)

    I don't care much for blues, although blue-influenced rock is OK like The Stooges. Same goes for country: aside from Hank Williams, I don't care for it, but rockabilly and related stuff is good.

  6. Original blues is good too. Does that mojo not work on you? Synths on the other hand are totally gay.

  7. Back on planet Earth, Prince and Dave Gahan were getting laid way more than any blues or country singer, and they didn't score that by being gay. They did it by being fun and not always such a downer.

    Angry and whiny may not be gay, but it's not manly either.

    I mean damn, Prince completely stole the show at the Super Bowl in 2007. Despite being nearly 50 -- and only standing 5'2 -- he still has a macho charisma and a commanding stage presence.

  8. I have also given same topic article for newspaper. Now this is major problems for the women who are taking drugs.

  9. I bet Screamin' Jay Hawkins got laid more.

  10. I had to look up David Gahan*. I don't think I've ever heard a Prince song in full. People say he's actually a good guitarist, so maybe I should check some of his stuff out.

    *Michael Ian Black summed up the message of his band as "It's okay to be gay".

  11. Michael Ian Black is a posterboy of the Gen X hater / loser. He's probably never touched a girl in his life, meanwhile girls are throwing themselves at Dave Gahan (who's gone through three wives).

    Chance that Screamin' Jay Hawkins got laid more than a rock superstar sex symbol = 0.

  12. Michael Ian Black appears to be married with two children. That's 73 less than Screamin Jay Hawkins, at current estimates.


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