Thursday, August 19, 2010

The State That We Are In, Pt. 1: An Age of Folly

In the 18th century architectural follies were a popular component of European park design. These structures served no purpose except to delight the eye. They were often fanciful in design, replete with exotic ornamentation, but essentially ignored the primary purpose of architecture. One couldn't inhabit them or use them as shelters for a picnic or any other activity.

The idea of architectural follies came to mind when I was reading about an internet application that could form a playlist of songs about various points on a map based on a route selected by the user. It struck me as kind of neat and clever, but what does it have to do with anything? Sure, one could form a playlist for a road trip using the application and listen to songs that mention places along the way as you pass through them. So what? It's ultimately an impersonal exercise while you serve as a vector in the exercise. I'd rather choose my own songs for the journey.

We seem to be consumed by such follies these days, from the inane, such as video games, to the nefarious, such as the Ground Zero mosque controversy, that divert us from more substantial matters. Folly also dominates popular art forms. I can't stand to go to movies now, because film-makers aren't even trying to create something substantial; they're trying to create a successful folly. The same can be said about popular music. What are these artists trying to communicate? Nothing, really. Is there a recent film you watched that made you re-think your life or aspects of this world? Is there a recent album that stirred your soul?

Of course, I'm generalizing and ignoring the exceptions. There are substantial, worthwhile things being produced today. The problem is they're getting harder to find as more junk and clever inconsequential creations are made available to us. Sturgeon's Law should be updated to state 98% of anything is crap. And I'm not condemning follies. They can provide amusement. Let's just not begin to think we can live in them.

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