Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Howls From the Wasteland: Prophetic Analysis from 1998

What follows is the introduction that I wrote to my creative writing student's magazine, Howls From the Wasteland, in 1998. It now seems more prescient than it did then, 18 years ago, pre-9/11. We only published the hard copy one more year before the magazine was published exclusively online; this was also six years before Facebook and its progeny changed social media forever..................

In 1920, T.S. Eliot published his poem,"The Wasteland," chronicling the nihilism, despair, and confusion of his "Lost Generation." In 1950, Allen Ginsberg published his poem, "Howl," chronicling a similar malaise of the "Beat Generation." 

Now, with the millennium fast approaching, we are experiencing a new cacophony of fear and loathing—dark and disturbing evidence of disintegration—disgruntled employees, anguished children, disenfranchised loners—a generation whose hopelessness soars in the face of scientific advance, whose loneliness grows in the face of a burgeoning "communication" technology, whose spiritual emptiness deepens in direct correlation to its economic success

This is the generation whose perceptions of the world have been shaped by an ever-spiraling cynicism. Every administration of the last two decades has been accused of involvement in high level malfeasance. Political discourse has been replaced by unmitigated vitriol in the hands of masters like Rush Limbaugh, James Carville, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton. Mischievous Dennis, “The Menace,” became impertinent and ill-mannered Bart Simpson, who, in turnbecame the nihilistic, antisocial, cruelly malevolent Bevis and Butthead.

And what of the two Jerry's, perhaps the two most influential TV shows of the decade: Jerry Seinfeld and Jerry Springer? The former show's ensemble spent nearly ten years introducing ever more graphic discussions of bodily functions while competing as to who could be more cruel and disdainful to each other, to their loved ones, and to total strangers. Jerry Springer upped the ante. He brings us the absolute dregs of society and allows us to wallow in and relish their aberrant behavior and mindless violence while, with a few show-ending homilies, he encourages us to pretend that our slack-jawed awe and our taunting guffaw is simply spirited, audience participation and not the self-degrading, culturally-damaging, mind-numbing voyeurism that it actually is

Pop stars have become paparazzi fodder, creating a feeding-frenzy mentality that has killed public icons and altered our perceptions of ourselves. The ever-present video camera has made its contribution. It has captured racist cops beating a black man and going free; a black star found guilty in the press of killing his wife, then acquitted in a media circus trial; religious fanatics challenging the government to a game of chicken and getting blown up in Waco and gunned down in Ruby Ridge; other fanatics blowing up clinics and killing doctors and nurses tosave lives” in God's name; the government and the United States being retaliated against in the New York Trade Center, the Atlanta Olympics, and the Oklahoma City Bombings; and the now almost daily litany of lonely, loony losers who grab a gun (Thank you, NRA) and kill their parents, children, spouses, bosses, co-workers, teachers, classmates, fellow commuters, and absolute strangers. 

This is the milieu from which the following pieces arose. Many of them are dark; some are violent; most are harsh. Some smack of self-indulgence and self-absorption, but isn't that the source of a great deal of timeless art? Ultimately, they are honest. They offer the artist's struggle to understand and communicate. Some even offer a glimmer of hope and a ray of sunshine. Still, they are all, in one way or another, “Howls From the Wasteland.” 
Tim McMullen, Creative Writing Advisor 

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