Friday, April 23, 2010

Woke Up, Fell Out of the Middle Ages

Woke Up, Fell Out of The Middle Ages (in progress)

So as the European masses began to learn about the larger world, a ferocious industriousness swept through the continent which we collectively refer to as “the renaissance”. There was an explosion in the types of human endeavors that to us today, seem recognizably modern and contemporary: art, science, literature, commerce, music, architecture, mass social upheaval, politics, and theatre.


Friday, April 9, 2010

In the Beginning...

The Roots of Mass Popular Culture

Anthropologists and sociologists generally agree that the roots of mass popular culture reach back into the most distant recesses of human antiquity. Some broadly argue that the first group of humans who organized themselves into a social community that shared core beliefs, rituals, and stylized artifacts, in fact also formed the world’s first primitive mass culture.

Left: Cave Man YouTube
Below: Iron age decorated ice bucket (all we need is the Dom Perrigon)

Therefore by the broadest definition, we are referring to Paleolithic man of 100,000 years ago, or at least to his
Cro-Magnon descendants. The latter lived at the close of this age from 30,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C. in areas around southern France, Spain, Asia, and northern Africa.

Below: The original Standing Stones and Paul McCartney’s 1997 remake

True mass popular culture as we understand it today, requires the means for ideas, ritual myths, customs, and styles that are part of the foundation of the culture, to rapidly spread between social groups, who might otherwise have no meaningful contact with one another.

The first ones to leap out of this starting gate were the

Mesopotamians who dwelt in what is now Iraq. Mesopotamia has been called the “cradle of civilization" because of the development of agriculture, animal herding and domestication, and most importantly, writing. On the human time line, this corresponds to the bronze/iron ages.

Right: 5,000 year old nag note that reads "Honey don't forget to pick up the dry cleaning"

Above: 1 Timothy 6-10: For the love of money is the root of all evil

Near left: The Goddess Ishtar

Far Left: The Royal Standard of Ur

Left to right: Gilgamesh, a Winged Bull, Marduk-nadin-ahhe, and the Great Flood

This great civilization passes a key test of cultural influence insomuch that masny of their religions beliefs and mythology spread to other cultures. Case in point: The Great Flood which made it into the Hebrew Bible in Genesis.

Below right: Babylonian scribe as Paperback Writer

Bits and pieces of the day to day cultures and practices of widely separated peoples did in fact manage to jump time, geography, and language barriers to become accepted components of other people’s cultures. While the propagation of such influences across the globe tended to be ploddingly slow and linear by today’s standards, there are one people who created one of the most seductively enduring and widely spread popular cultures of all time: the grand masters of civilization, the Egyptians.

The Egyptians established an enduring civilization whose influence spread far beyond the boundaries of their realm and into permanent imagination of all who have followed them, even charming us today. Even the Romans (who were quite impressive themselves) were filled with a sense of awe and mystical delight for all things Egyptian.

Archeology has unearthed numerous writings by ordinary citizens of Rome describing their adventures into the Kingdom of Egypt in search of spiritual wisdom. There are huge parallels between the western intelligentsia’s 1960’s fascination with India, and that of the intelligentsia of ancient Rome and their pipe-dreams about the exotica of Egypt. In both cases, there were widely held beliefs in the existence of mysterious enlightened gurus who dwelled in these lands, and who possessed a mysterious secret knowledge that provided answers to the age old mysteries of life. And like westerners, Roman citizens would go on Magical Mystery Tour pilgrimages to Egypt to seek out this knowledge.

Above: John and Yoko circa 1500 BC
Below: Egyptian Rubber Soul LP cover

Above: Pyramid Power


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When in Rome

It's All Greek To Me

Despite all the thus far mentioned historical examples of culture, for mass popular culture to flourish, there must exist both a media in which to express ideas, ritual myths, customs, and styles as well as a means to rapidly spread said ideas between social groups who might otherwise have no contact with one another.

By this measure, the ancient world champions are the Greeks. Their science, architecture, philosophy, concepts of democracy, and artistic works of literature, theatre, and sculpture spread among and beyond the people in their sphere of influence. And contrary to what the contemporary fundamentalist devotees of Christianity and Judaism wish to believe about themselves, the fantastically rich mother lode of supposedly “paegan” Hellenistic mythology and philosophy greatly shaped the customs, practices, and sacred mythology of both religions. Greek influence has passed down through the centuries, touching every aspect of our own lives, our communities, and our spiritual lives in today's world.

Building upon the foundation of culture laid by the Greeks, came the massively long lived ascendancy of Rome. For 1000 years, a homogenized Roman commonality spread through out the entire Mediterranean world, into the Middle East, and Britannia. Loved or hated, Rome's power and cultural influence in the lives of its inhabitants was absolute.

Above: Shadows of Ancient Rome Below: Roman Love Shack

Rome was not only a great enforcer of cultural standardization, it also was, much like the Anglo people of planet earth, a great assimilator of other cultures, borrowing ideas, styles, language, and customs wherever and whenever it was deemed appropriate. And so went Rome for centuries, devolving from republic, to empire, and to dictatorship ruled by an entire series of psychopathic misfits. Most of the rest of the Western world was dragged along for the Roman ride to varying degrees, resisting whenever the opportunity presented itself. That there are parallels one can draw between Roman world and America is obvious, though thankfully, it still remains debatable as to what those parallels might be.

Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity set the Empire onto the transformational fast path. Constantine immediately lifted the persecution of Christians. He eventually went far beyond this act in three important ways: 1) He opening the imperial purse for Church specific projects including the Church of the Holy Church of the Sepulcher in Jerusalem; 2) he issued edicts that helped the Church to thrive and to grow; and 3) he brought the Church clergy into the governance of the imperial realm. Thus the Roman Empire began its transformational journey into both a theocracy, and into the mother church of a major new world religion: Christianity.

One final act of Constantine, which in scope and consequence rivals his conversion to Christianity, was to build a stunning new capital on the site of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, and renaming this remade city as Nova Roma, and upon his death, Constantinople. The effect on the empire, which had already been split empire into east and west halves was enormous. From this point on, two separate religious, cultural, social and artistic cultures began to diverge from one another. The eastern half with a Greek flavor, and the western half Roman. . The roots of our story, and yes, this is all about Get Back to Let It Be…Dissected, lie entirely in the western half.

Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 395 by order of Theodosius. Thus, like mammals emerging from the shadows during the age of Dinosaurs, this religion was set to eclipse and to absorb the Roman state, eventually becoming the state. What ensued was a battle of Christian sects, traditions, ideas and orthodoxies, which was settled both by the cigar chompers in smoke filled conclaves, and by the point of the sword. Thus, the new Christian Pharisees and Sadducees were born.

"Go sacrifice yourself – I don’t subscribe to your religion" (Ringo in Help, 1965)

These are the spiritual descendants of the hateful fundamentalists with whom John Lennon would come into conflict in 1966. Lost on all of these so-called spiritual leaders was the undisputable fact that Jesus hated religion, with its pile of arbitrary man made notions. After all, his real message can be summed up as "Love God, and Love One Another".


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Let's Play Family Feud

He Said He Said
Hell broke out with the Iconoclasm controversy which began in 726 in Byzantium under Leo III (in response to Muslim Taliban-like criticism of icons). This really got the the East/West family feud going, leading to the bitter schism between the Roman and Eastern Orthodox halves (they still refuse to make up today). Western world cultural uniformity, which had been in a steady decline, ended. Popular culture once again became more localized and parochial in nature across what had been organized for 1,000 years into a somewhat homogonous Roman State.
In 1054 AD the Pope and the Patriarch representing the two halves of the church excommunicated each other and went their separate cultural ways. Our story lie with the western half.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
During the 1,000 year long medieval era (A.D. 500-1500), western culture simmered in pots placed on endless numbers of highly localized back burners, stirred by mankind’s second favorite preoccupation: warfare. During this time, the native peoples of the British Isles were subjected to near continuous campaigns of invasion by Scandinavian forces, most notably the Vikings and the Danes. Then, in 1066 the successful invasion of total conquest and of assimilation by the Norman’s led by William, Duke of Normandy, infused and enriched the culture of the British, doubling the size of the English language and flooding the Brits with fresh and vital cultural, artistic, intellectual raw material. The foundation was now laid for Britain to one day rule the world.
Above: A troika of Lennons standing guard against the establishment Idiocracy
Charlemagne is crowned emperor by Pope Leo III

The foundation of medieval era culture was the written word, which existed in the form of manuscripts. Each manuscript was a unique one-of-a-kind object created by a scribe who copied existing works by hand. Lavish illustrations adorned the manuscripts, sometimes depicting a scene from the text, and some purely decorative. The process was understandably labour intensive, and therefore expensive to make, and more importantly, to own. Thus, the use of manuscripts was limited to those with deep pockets: Kings, Nobels, and of course, the Church. The topics addressed included the Bible, related religious dogma, tales of battles, flattering portraits of Kings, and literary works. Hardly the kind of stuff to excite the chattering illiterate masses.

The next major leap in the means for the mass culturalisation of populations was an invention that allowed for the economical replication and distribution of the written word, and by extension the rapid spread of ideas between widely dispersed peoples. We are of course referring to the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450.
The Gutenberg press with its wooden, and later metal movable type outsourced the job of printing that was work formerly done by the scribes. It made the printed word affordable and therefore available to the masses. It also sent the scribes to the unemployment lines. That this invention played a large role in the rise of the age of enlightenment is beyond dispute. Thought began to move about the realm at a quickening pace.