December 5, 2013

GERSON: Eulogy for the Opinion Column

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By RUDY GERSON

[Insert introduction with a hook ‘n a thesis]

The written word is dead. Presently useless, writing no longer has a critical force. Writing, rather than inspiring, immobilizes in its very inception. Today, the written word relegates its content to mere cultural artifact by its very form, only turned over in the classroom, never taken to the streets.

[Insert evidence for the historical changes that have created present conditions]

But, this hasn’t always been the case. There was a time, a glorious, romantic and beautiful time when words inspired people to believe in alternatives to the present situation. With the power to galvanize action and oppose the status quo, books were read for more than mere entertainment or intellectual development. Philosophies and theories that governed the world at the time weren’t perceived as irreversible, but as only the temporary opinion of some, not all.

[Insert case example]

In 19th century Europe, owning a copy of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto could get a kid kicked out of his or her home. What book could you own today that would get you kicked out of your house? Scratch that, can you really “own” anything that would be cause for alarm? Perhaps al-Qaeda’s online magazine, Inspire, would do the trick, but I don’t know who’s reading virulent propaganda on how-to terrorism while still living at home.

[Insert evidence for today’s uniqueness]

No, today is a bit different. The written word has been killed by modernity’s new communication technology. The Cloud has opened its skies to infinite opinions, drenching books and the written word in a torrential downpour, soaking the pages and wiping away any of their potential authority. The raison d’être of art has always been to envision an alternative to the limitations of the present. And I’m not just talking about the overtly political books of the Situationist International and their anti-capitalist brand of leftism. Fiction, too, is dead.

[Insert case example]

Take Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom for example. A novel that provides a socio-political critique of America’s idolization with the national symbol from which the book’s title is derived. Franzen topples contemporary conceptions of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with critical force. If any book should stir discomfort and give readers the pause needed to critically react to society, it’s this book. Yet, Freedom has gotten an Obama stamp of approval and a spot on Oprah’s Book Club, the pinnacle of commercial success and a practical guarantor for a work to dominate any Top 10 Purchased List. How is it that a truly threatening and critical work receives the approval of the system that the work itself is critiquing? That the established institutions endorse such work only typifies the hollowness of its form.

[Expand on the case example to explain a broader phenomenon]

Critical work would and should give authorities pause because of the reaction in the populace. But the populace is in a state of inactivity, in which writing inspires no practical threat to the status quo (because its form is dead). Rather, we invert our gaze and look to the sheer quantity of today’s writing as the perfect indication of a healthy and thriving democracy, instead of the qualitative variation that makes one idea sensibly better than another. Writing that does not inspire action, only indicates the death of democracy. Writing once furthered the democratic ideal, but now, the actual action necessary to reclaim the democratic process is shut down.  And today, physical action is the only way to achieve monumental political shifts.

[Insert commentary on counter-argument]

This is not to say politically-inspiring writing doesn’t exist. Quite the opposite — complaints and dissent are, in fact, endless. We hold the infinite freedom to realize our thoughts and energy in the Cloud — the tumbling, tweeting, online networks of our unregulated millennial blogospheres. But we are caged in paralysis from this form of expression. That energy that was once spent having conversations in the public domain, that effort once needed to physically vocalize ideas, those thoughts that required another to realize, now need nothing more than a screen and an internet connection to discharge.

[Conclude the argument]

We are conditioned to an endless inundation of information that paralyzes us. So, we are stuck, stuck in a time of antiquated expression, on the verge of a monumental shift. Perhaps video and and mixed media are the next great equalizer. I doubt it. No political change will come from the Internet.

[Insert solution]

We need direct action, collective action, public action. “On what?” you may ask. The better question may be “Why?” We don’t know until we try it.

[Insert contradiction]

But, that still begs the even better question, “Why the hell am I even writing this?”

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