National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science No. 89: We Are Best Defined By Our Creative Work, Part 2

Few can disagree that modern American popular culture has drifted toward increased demands for and obsession with youth, physique and instant gratification. This trend owes to the tectonic shift underlying the rise of the Madison Avenue-based marketing industry that has moved American self-perception from producer to consumer.

Our culture now tells us we, as a democratic nation, are composed not so much of citizens who share in the responsibility for the best interests of our population as a whole, but of consumers. We’re no longer knowledge-hungry, discerning, inventive people who build and fix things, but we’re inhaling, insatiable repositories of earthly delights.

This shift was facilitated by the introduction of credit cards on a wide scale in the 1960s. People were told they could have whatever they wanted, like big-eyed kids in a candy store. This shifted the population from goal-directed resource marshaling to debt-strangling accumulation of toys and “conveniences.”

Now, from student loans to mortgages and credit card debt, millions have become bound by “debt slavery.” Fresh out of college and to the grave, lives (like nations) are dictated by the imperative to pay debts to the banks, pressured to cast aside dreams and ambitions of creative work in favor of whatever menial job is available.

Under “debt slavery,” mediocrity is the order of the day, and explains why the U.S. is falling behind other nations in science, education and invention.

Our gay tribe is caught in this bind, but often with far worse consequences because many among us lack the same kind of social networks to see us through tough times.

While the lure of hedonistic pleasures permeates all of society, the social bonds of family and friends are more likely to mitigate such impacts on the destiny of a wayward soul. But in gay culture, there is a contrary tendency of fair-weather “friends” to encourage a descent down that path without regard for the consequences.

In the wider culture, as youth and looks fade, families – including spouses, children and in-laws – provide enduring comfort and meaning in the transition from hedonistic pleasure-seeking.

But in gay culture, such alternative options often aren’t there. Too many gay people become depressed by the prospect of age and a loss of looks even before such conditions are present.

Rather than cultivating one’s capacity to engineer a meaningful life, the passive consumer of earthly delights bemoans his or her fate as a crumbling, fading violet, pumping even more iron in the gym to fend off the inevitable, seeking even more impersonal trysts to prove at least a temporary worth in the world of hedonism for its own sake, and sinking into despair over an inability to maintain a supposedly desirable figure.

All the while, those so obsessed hate what they are unable to prevent from becoming, themselves, by lashing out at those already there, denigrating all those they perceive less attractive than themselves.

It isn’t just young gays who commit suicide for being tormented by bullies. It’s older gays, too, of all ages, tormented by the sense of emptiness and uselessness in a candy store where only the prettiest cookies have value.

“Who says ‘It Gets Better?,'” one astute gay friend observed rhetorically. For gays, unless there are lots of financial security and social bonds, it too often doesn’t, or not for long, anyway.

Valuing sex and sexual partners as acts and objects of consumption, as encouraged in our whole culture, makes matters worse for gays. There is an emotional short-circuit associated with repeated, habitual impersonal sex that leaves lasting scars. It can become very difficult, nearly impossible, to simply drop impersonal sex and pick up a meaningful relationship (that isn’t “open”).

It is a special tragedy for so many gay people to fall into such depersonalized patterns, because if anything, we are created as people-centered creatures, inclined more than most to lift up those who are in need by the strength of loving empathy and empower them.

The worst fate for a gay person – the one that takes him or her the farthest from the root of a gay soul – is to become jaded, to become indifferent and cruel.

It is a product of our wider culture, for sure, but there is little in our gay culture to insulate us from it, or to cure us from it.

The 1960s so-called “counterculture” and the mores of post-modernism, as preached by Michel Foucault and others, promoted a form of radical consumerism, including the consumption of people as mere sex objects, in the name of the sexual revolution and rejection of authority.

As such, sexual acts of the post-modern rebel were touted more as acts of defiance against power than anything like love or romance. Regrettably, gay culture fell victim to this madness 40 years ago and has yet to cast it off.

If anything, gays should be leading the nation’s way back to being a productive, creative, caring people.

To be continued.