Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Breaking The Status Cow

LIZZIE: I definitely think you’re ‘most poised’ material.

MIRANDA: I don’t feel like ‘most’ anything.

GORDO: That’s what Kate wants you to think. That way you never even try. That’s her way of maintaining the status quo.

LIZZIE: Status quo?

GORDO: It means that Kate wants to keep things the way they are.

MIRANDA: Why didn’t you just say that?

GORDO: I did.

LIZZIE: Well, I say no more quo. If someone completely normal dressed in an outrageously hip outfit, well, then they’d get the vote.

GORDO: So do it.


GORDO: All you have to do is be better dressed than Kate or Claire for one day.

MIRANDA: And win ‘best dressed.’ You can break the status cow!


MIRANDA: Whatever.

“Best Dressed for Much Less”

I posted about Lizzie McGuire once before: Politics, Philosophy And Hilary Duff. The show’s been off the air for something like five years, but I thought about it recently because of something that happened last Saturday: I discovered a new “kid show” that has quickly become my current favorite show on television.

Saturday night I was killing time waiting for Svengoolie to come on with a classic old monster movie, John Agar’s “Tarantula.” As I flipped around from channel to channel, I saw some kid comedy where two high school girls were doing an internet show. I stuck around for a bit and I saw a scene where the only adult in the show—one of the girls’ older brother—was yelling at a young boy for making a mess and the young boy picked up a big plastic mallet and whacked the guy in the crotch. He screamed, grabbed his crotch and collapsed. I don’t even remember the last time I laughed so hard at a TV show. I was hooked.

The show turned out to be “iCarly” on Nickelodeon. I’ve seen half a dozen episodes since Saturday. It’s not as funny as the good episodes of Lizzie McGuire, but it is still my pick for the best show currently on television. It’s great stuff. I’ll be posting more about iCarly sometime in the future.

But for today I want to get back to this status quo business.

I’ve always remembered that particular episode of Lizzie McGuire because the theme—the status quo as a tool of oppression—is very unusual in pop culture. It’s very unusual, I suspect, because pop culture most often serves as a tool of oppression itself forever pounding home the message that the status quo is something like god never to rebelled against.

The archetypal superhero story begins with a presentation of a peaceful status quo where everyone is happy, working away and being a good citizen. Then some supervillain hatches a wild scheme to radically mess with the status quo in such a way that will bring great satisfaction to the supervillain. But a superhero jumps in and frustrates the supervillain, derails his scheme and saves the status quo. So the story ends with ‘average’ people again happy and working away and being good citizens.

In fact, Lizzie McGuire itself often did shows glorifying the status quo. In one episode Lizzie became a very successful fashion model. This must be a popular dream among young girls and Lizzie was very happy when she became successful and famous. But then Lizzie’s friends began treating her odd—as if they were afraid of her and dependent on her at the same time. So, rather than have her friends acting oddly Lizzie gave up her modeling contract and abandoned her life of success and fame. What the hell?

We live in a consumerist culture and although it’s very tempting to think that “consumerism” is only about business—about a social climate where people are free to buy and sell and be happy about it—it is worth remembering that consumerism is very pervasive and contains seeds of weird philosophies that germinate within the ethics, politics and aesthetics of a culture. (Probably within epistemology and metaphysics as understood by people living within the consumerist culture as well, but I haven’t given those two a lot of thought yet.)

Of all the oddities consumerism generates, worship of the status quo, I think is my pick for the weirdest.

Because change—fundamental change—is one of the most constant experiences everyone shares. Day changes radically to night. Seasons change radically from heat and sun to ice and snow. Youth changes to age.

In fact, through most of human history, the fountainheads of philosophy—the three major monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity and Islam—have taught that radical change is part of existence itself. Creation was transcendentally good. Then became Cursed. And soon [?] will be extinguished in holy fire and replaced with a new heavenly kingdom. And even the Cursed world we live in is subject to the agenda of God where floods and other catastrophes move along God’s plan for Redemption in ways the human mind can’t even conceive of.

Even secular Man has recognized that the notion of ‘dynamic stability’ is only one particular state within a complex and chaotic universe of states that change driven by ‘hidden’ variables that not only are unknown but, often, unknowable. This has become so accepted in the science world that pop culture characters like Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park make speeches about it in pop books and movies.

[Added 3:00pm — Indeed, even the movie Jurassic Park itself is an example of the status quo issue in pop culture. Ian Malcolm makes very eloquent and erudite speeches about the inability of humans to “manage” complexity, but the plot of the film follows something like the archetypal superhero plot I wrote about above. The super-rich guy conceives of a plan to radically change the world by cloning dinosaurs and creating an amusement park that will make every other amusement park on the planet as boring as buggy rides. The scientists—substituting for superheroes—arrive at the park right when complexity overwhelms the environment, as the mathematician predicted it would. And through the scientists’ knowledge and general spunkiness many of the people are able to survive the disaster and prevent the disaster from spreading beyond the island to the world at large. The status quo was protected. The world post-Jurassic Park remained essentially the same world as pre-Jurassic Park. The status quo of the planet was successfully “managed” even as one of the heroes of the story was making long—and accurate!—speeches about the inability of human beings to “manage” complexity.]

But the status quo is still enshrined by pop media in almost every way.

For the rest of this week I’m going to be talking about examples of the status quo as the status cow.

No comments: