The Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom

The race to the degenerate bottom is not steady. On the contrary, it always accelerates; for, it is an arms race.

You can see this with any medium that depends for its survival on the attention of many minds: advertising, entertainment, journalism. All outlets of such media compete with each other for attention. The one that is the most extraordinary wins the competition. So the competition is to discover which outlet is the most abnormal, thus attractive of notice. Whatever was the most abnormal during the last round must be surpassed in the current round in order to gain notice: the most abnormal recent instance resets the bound of normality.

It is possible to be extraordinarily beautiful or good, to be sure. Virtuous cycles, too, can accelerate. And they are wonderful to behold. Therein lies the aesthetic appeal of sport, and of artistic performance.

But to be extraordinarily good is much more difficult than to be extraordinarily depraved or defective. So a race toward abnormality is almost always a race to the bottom.

This all came to me as I rode out to O’Hare Airport from central Chicago a few weeks ago, and noticed the shocking depravity and ugliness of the roadside billboards vis-à-vis the normality of the surrounding suburban neighbourhoods wherein they stood.

Because it normalizes abnormality, and accustoms the eye thereto, the depravity of the media depraves the normality of the polis. So the Overton Window moves inexorably leftward.

Mass culture is inherently sinister.

11 thoughts on “The Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom

  1. Pingback: The Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom | @the_arv

  2. Pingback: The Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom | Reaction Times

  3. The ever increasing ugliness of built structure and of art is the malaise of our time. Never in history have such arts plunged to such a nadir through deliberate action.

  4. My friends, the “Two Richards,” and I like to take road-trips to restaurants that have good reputations. Usually we travel to the small places west of Oswego along the lake shore. (There is a particularly good eatery, Captain Jack’s, in Sodus Point.) Occasionally we descend to Syracuse which is directly south of Oswego. A few years ago, my wife and I ate at a Vietnamese restaurant on Kirkpatrick Street. It was lively, the service was efficient and friendly, and the food was of high quality. Last month, I suggested to the “Two Richards” that the Vietnamese place might make a good destination. The experience was not a pleasant one. The neighborhood had become run-down, with trash on the sidewalks and frowzy looking houses, formerly single-family homes, which had been cut up internally to make cheap rentals. Because the restaurant’s parking spaces were all taken, I had to leave the car on the street a block away, and I had misgivings about it. Inside, it became immediately apparent that the business had decayed. The premises were unkempt; we stood waiting for attention, with the impression that no one had any interest in us. The food was distinctly not what I remembered. We were glad to leave.

    The drive home took us through an even worse section of town, with pawn-shops, strip bars, and tall abandoned brick buildings — very sinister. I asked myself, “Why does Syracuse permit itself to sink into degradation?” There is no will, apparently, to salvage or redeem. In other words, people regard their condition as normal and inalterable, just as you say.

  5. The providers are in an arms race to the bottom, but the consumers are also addicted to the degeneracy and must constantly up the dosage to get their fix. One reason I stopped drinking was that I’d reached the point where neat whiskey was the only thing that would do the trick, and that only at imprudent dosages. I gather that many sexual perversions work in the same way. If you lead a sheltered life, and are all of a sudden plunged into postmodern bordello culture, you will at once appreciate what it means for a people to grow degeneracy-tolerant. Not tolerant in the fuzzy different-strokes-for-different-folks style, but tolerant in the alcohol-tolerant style. I am always a little shocked when I visit a house where the television is on. It’s like returning after a long absence to a neighborhood bar, and finding it has been overrun by prostitutes and drug pushers. The old drunks who never left the bar don’t really notice that things have changed.

  6. Kristor: I’ve had similar thoughts about works of intellectual endeavor. Sometimes it seems the more ridiculous a theory is the more attention it gets. Our attention is drawn to novelty and the striking and for the last 200 years or so, “originality.” Better to be right than original, Every time I read that someone is guilty of uttering “platitudes” then I know by what criteria they are being judged. The accuser is not claiming the assessed is wrong, just insipid; yet the tastelessness is coming from the accuser.

    • Richard — A favorite cinematic moment of mine comes from the Whit Stillman film Damsels in Distress. The character Lily, a transfer student who has been adopted (more or less) by a trio of coeds who are askew to the reigning campus culture, tells the character Violet, the leader of the clique, that she tends to speak in cliches and platitudes. Violet’s response is that since cliches and platitudes are generally true they are also generally valuable and that a good higher education would consist in filling one’s mind with as many cliches and platitudes as possible!

  7. Pingback: Spiral Dynamics | Winston Scrooge

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.