Entry # 1
What is it we’re all searching for in our stories? Why are we spending our time and money on The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Walking Dead, Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey? What makes them so popular? If art is meant to be a reflection of our times, what is it that our artists are reflecting? What are the people looking for in their entertainment? I think, in a way, we are all reaching into the dark and praying for a hand to grab us and lead us into a new era of mystery. Looking around, I see a society faced with accepting its mistakes, torn by its definition of morality and honor, torn by its decision between integrity and success. Wouldn’t that make sense in the wake of this new millennia? After all this new technology and influx of information made readily available at a thumb’s touch, shouldn’t there be a period of adjustment? A period of redefining ourselves in light of all we’ve come to accomplish and destroy? I think if you look at the stories we are telling ourselves, you’ll see a wide array of attempts at this definition.
An apparent irony of our cultural situation is that we used to “know” more about our universe than we do now; at least we thought we did. Today, we know certain truths, like the laws of gravity and light speed, but try understanding the finer details of physics and you’ll start to depart from tangible concepts to the average layman. For the longest time, classical civilizations were convinced of their answers for the workings of the universe. From the humblest of tribes to the greatest of cultures of antiquity, all through the use of metaphor founded the roots upon which their societies were built. Despite the unfortunate greater social hierarchies at play, life had defined order and purpose. Everything was defined either through dogma or myth.
Oddly enough, for every actual answer we have found, more questions have appeared. Modern man is challenged for his beliefs and the answers of our universe have gone into the realm of theory. Of complex symbols and formulas that only some of our people can predict. The true great prophets of today, our great oracles of wisdom, are scientists and mathematicians and experimentalists. Myth and religion once served as the foundation of truth for our existence in this universe, explaining away any question ultimately beyond the understanding of the time, but I think it’s fair to say, at the very least, their current formats are failing. How lucky we are to get a rare glimpse of understanding of our greater universe. But what do we do with it? How does modern man handle the responsibility of an existence with infinite potential? Do we fall into cynicism and apathy? Anger and violence? Do we really abandon the heart of our culture? Collapse when we’ve finally outgrown one of the key functions that’s propped up civilized society?
I think too many of us feel that “specialness” in life to deny this experience of any and all meaning. I also think too many of us understand that we are too bound by our limited sensory perceptions and 3-dimensional existence to say we concretely understand the universe in its totality with any sort of confidence. Until we do, I think we are always going to need story and myth to reconcile ourselves with our existence and social situation. But we are at the beginning of an era. An era of information and technology and communication. For the first time, people of every kind, all around the globe, are talking to each other. They are watching videos of each other’s lives and reading blogs. Injustice is being caught on cellphones, prejudices are being challenged, and the stingy guardians of wealth and progress can’t hide behind the ignorance of the masses anymore. For these reasons, I think we can see and understand what seems to be a cultural spinning of the wheels; an endless wave of reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels(as Jack Black recently sang about at the Oscars). Of sexy glittery teens and fantasies come to the big screen, of chiseled men and blood and fire and monsters and all the controversy you can eat. We are searching for ourselves. We are hiding from ourselves.
Appropriately, I think the true artist takes their rightful place with this issue. We subconsciously gravitate towards the tales that best service us, despite what some would prefer. I think this explains things like the Avengers. A huge money making machine for sure, but about modern gladiators fighting to preserve humanity in new times, against alien (or ‘new’) races, cultures, IDEAS, ways of life. The power and loyalty isn’t given to the state, it’s given to the empowered individual. But the message here isn’t clear and generally, I feel we are still searching for these mainstream stories to lead us into our next stage. They have yet to be concretely defined. Interstellar, I think, being the best modern example of film’s step towards (as Joseph Campbell would say)“new mythologies,” does an excellent job of bringing into view our current understanding of the universe, in a complex but traditional story structure, and forming a new tale by which we can envisage humanity in a different light. We can project our dreams and myths into the future and challenge them. It’s automatic that the artist tries to reflect the times of his lifespan, but is that really the total sum of what we do? Are we that cheap? I think Christopher Nolan along with his brother Jonathan, the writer, are due credit for embarking on a mission to bring enlightened and educated stories to mass audiences. To dare translate the word from our scientists, to the modern audience.
Stories like the Walking Dead are popular in today’s world. They suggest a very old idea of a purging. Of owning up to and literally facing the corpses we’ve left along the way and redefining ourselves in a new age. This idea of progression is obviously on the forefront of our subconscious and social struggle is ripe with potential for the artist. I think this is why we are seeing certain themes being popularized, written and rewritten again. But there is place for inspiration elsewhere. There is other material and there are always new and innovative ways of storytelling. Human inspiration has proven nothing but consistently unpredictable.
Is it possible that inspiration is simply spontaneous? The universe itself (check out Lawrence Krauss or Briane Greene or Neil DeGrasse Tyson), may have come from spontaneity, at least so far as we understand it. So why not inspiration itself? Is it entirely man made and reflective of his times, something random, or a sign of something more? Are we receptors like Bob Dylan, who claims to have pulled his music simply from that “well spring of creativity?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKkZcgrec) Are we like the shamans on a drum journey, or the Tibetan monks deep in meditation? Or are we like Ben Franklin or Tom Edison or Isaac Newton who all, from their own souls, from the human mind, produced tangible reality. Is it a bit of both?
I endeavor, here, to share some conclusions of my private research with hopes of feedback, to form pieces that may lay the foundation for later writings and works, and to explore these ideas faced with life in New York City as a young artist. A single blog cannot cover the endless perspectives and opinions of all the voices out there, but this voyager seeks to explore as many as possible, each one at a time. I’ll sign off to you with my favorite quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson; how he begins his Essays, First Series:
There is no great and no small
To the soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh, all things are
And it cometh everywhere.
Jeremy Madia is an actor, filmmaker, writer, and musician living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He is a Board Member of Seven Stories Theatre Company. Follow his blog, “A Voyager in Brooklyn” at https://voyagerinbrooklyn.wordpress.com/