Which, I suppose, was part of the plan.
Mention the term to your average shmoe and you’ll get a blank stare. And that’s a shame, since your average shmoe is awash in it; is, in fact, drowning in it. Quite actually drowning.
Most people seem to while away their days sitting in a bathtub full of pop culture execrate. I’m not being too judgmental here, because I once did the same. Maybe not to the extremes as most other people, but I must admit that I had my own love affair with vacuous music, literature, art, and what passes as theater in the form of television and movies. (But no midget versions of the Great White Way down here in the small towns of the southern USA.)
However, I stopped watching our pop culture delivering a false message of immortality some time back. Now, I look for what the more religious among us call signs and portents. In their cases they’re searching for indications that the anti-Christ is coming, that Armageddon is looming, that the Bible-defined end is nigh. Frankly, I can dig their attitude, even if my own curiosity for the end times comes from more technical locations and emanating out of sociological sources and not prophetic texts featuring Moses and his progeny.
I see humanity’s termination coming in other ways. There is the inexorable march of extinction as our fellow travelers on this spinning globe vanish into the black hole we have dug for them, thinking that by filling it with all of those sacred creatures we are somehow hiding the fact that we have, in all actuality, carved out our own final resting place. We’re just tossing our animal buddies in the tomb preceding us so that we won’t go alone, as if we’re some kind of multi-headed pharaoh. Every few days the news is there. Some other wonderful animal that has tread the planet for millions of years is no more. Maybe it’s a precious species of rhinoceros. Or a type of gazelle. Or maybe some long-skulled gavial, or a blind dolphin that used to ply the muddy depths of a silt-laden river eating a shrinking population of fish.
Those who walk about with their cloak of hubris don’t see it. Feh. Some stupid critters went out of style. Who cares?Humans will go on without that fucking rhino as if it had never existed. Or so they think. They’re so wrong. They don’t know how wrong they are, but that doesn’t prevent them from being so very, very wrong.
I don’t mention the web of life to these people. There it goes, another strand missing, the weight of Homo sapiens hanging onto the weakening filaments that bind what remains cohesively. I can see the anchors straining away, trying to hold up our collected mass of almost eight billion naked asses extruding shit as we eat every goddamned thing we can grab.
Hell, we even consume the crust of the planet, gouging it out, pouring it into the seas, despoiling the aquifers that we need for fresh freaking water.
Hubris. Frack that bitch. Get that oil. Draw out those metric gigatons of natural gas.
Sociologically, we are a horrid mess. I have watched as even the edges of our popular culture have withered and curled and become desiccated waste that is about to go up in flames. And no one cares because that very culture is throwaway and was intended as such and has already been tossed aside for the next big thing. The beauties of older days are forgotten and been rejected for the latest and greatest pussy du jour.
I recall times when bookstores were a given. If you lived in a town of even modest size there was a bookstore where you could go and shop. Yes, it was likely to be packed with insipid romance novels and silly potboilers and goofy fantasies. But there were always good books mixed in with the escapist fare where one could find them. And in the smaller towns you had libraries. Even in the tiny burgs where I sometimes lived I could go to a library and while away the day searching through books of geology and history, fiction and fact.
But now bookstores are fading. Even the vast factory chains that were supported by investors pouring billions of dollars into those brick and mortar walls are going away, company by company, chain by chain, location by location. Poof. Mr. Hubris grins stupidly. The stellar constant stares into the knowing void while we yammer away, thinking ourselves as persistent as being. Alas, nope.
If you’d told me when I was a kid wandering around the shelves of my parents’ bookstores that there would be a time when finding even a used bookstore would be difficult, I’d have laughed at you. Are you loony? You should be bouncing around a cartoon cel with Daffy Duck!
A few days ago I saw that Mad Magazine is effectively ceasing publication. Once the most successful magazine on the planet, it was closing up shop. Yes, it always was a crass, crude, working class kind of silly pop culture. Why should I mourn its passing? I suppose I could spend tens of thousands of words educating you as to why it bothers me, but then I’d be as guilty of hubris as those who never saw that coming. So I’ll boil it down for you:
It was, to a couple or three generations of US citizens a constant. It was always there, on the newsstands. Alfred E. Neuman staring out at you with that misshapen ginger face. Mad Magazine for all of its crude sensibilities had spawned an occasional blip of brilliance. Harvey Kurtzman created it. Wally Wood gloried in it. Don Martin swam through the pages. William Gaines profited from that glorious thing like crazy.
It was everywhere and permeated US society without really advertising itself. It was self-evident and mildly subversive. It may not have spawned revolution, but it presaged its coming. In a nutshell, it taught kids and overgrown adolescents that grownups and society lie to us constantly. And in that simple lesson it thrived and was–as I said–everywhere.
Well, until now. Now, it is gone.
Bill Gaines probably saw it coming when he emptied all of those mint condition back issue EC comics from his storage bins. When he sold off every page of original art that he’d ever published. (Yeah, he kept all of that art, that forward thinking capitalist bastard!) I think he saw it coming when he foisted off the magazine upon a corporate behemoth and shuffled his own fat ass into retirement, chuckling gloriously all the way to the bank, maybe not thinking too much of Harvey Kurtzman as he fled this mortal coil.
What does Mad Magazine have to do with mass extinction and the coming end of Homo sapiens? Frankly, I’m not sure myself, except that one got me to thinking about the other. And of that musty, ancient idea that those instigators of western thought came to term as hubris.
A world without Mad Magazine? A society that doesn’t even know who Alfred E. Neuman is? You must be daft!
Our own existence is pop culture. Homo sapiens is just Earth’s latest fad. We’re the trilobite frozen in shale, the dinosaur locked in stone, the rotting mammoth carcass being vomited out of the melting permafrost.
Someday–and it will be soon–we’ll follow Mad Magazine and that rare type of rhino down into the sucking black hole where existence ends. We won’t terraform Mars and flee to that dead, toxic ball of frozen rock. We’re not going to build starships and travel the galaxy. To paraphrase a certain pop-culture villain, the Universe expects us to die, Mr. Bond; and that’s an expectation that will be fulfilled.
Hubris, or not, we’re goin’ down.
Don’t say we weren’t warned.