Competing Spirits of the Age

“Pure terror and havoc & Free stuff.  Just smash shop windows and cart out da stuff u want.”  BBM Message, London, August 8, 2011While the streets rage in London, there is also a debate raging over the cause of the rioting.  Is it economic disparity, hopelessness and desperation?  Is it a breakdown of the social fabric as families, faith and commonly shared values lose their influence in Western culture, as suggested by London's Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks ? Or is it a consequence of lax policing and an overindulgent welfare state?

Some political observers, such as Ann Applebaum  have rightly observed that what seemed to motivate the masked rioters was opportunistic vandalism, fueled by a materialist worldview and materialistic desire.There may be, however, another spirit at work.  Several years ago I discussed the film The Watchmen and more importantly the worldview of it’s writer, Alan Moore, who lives outside of Birmingham, England, another location of the rioting.   His “spirit” is an ancient Roman snake-god, Glycon, which has informed his occultic worldview and infused his storylines, among the most influential in the comic industry.  His worldview is best articulated in his graphic novel V for Vendetta -- society must be destroyed to be reborn.All of this may seem very removed from our lives.  But, as Peggy Noonan observes, the same dynamics are beginning to be manifest on our streets as well.  And similarly, the reality is rooted in our culture as much as in our economic situation.A colleague and friend, Jacob Marshall from the band MAE, brought to my attention a recent articulation of this spirit by rapper Tyler The Creator through the video Yonkers from his CD The Goblin.  Tyler was a contender for MTV’s music video of the year (warning: very graphic language and images) and recently awarded new artist of the year.   The spirit expressed in the music video is the same as embodied in Heath Ledger’ s The Joker in The Dark Knight.   It is the amoral spirit in Grand Theft Auto.  It is the spirit of the flash mobs in the streets of Philadelphia and Washington.  It is the spirit of nihilism and anarchy.The Dark Knight's director Christopher Nolan and stars discuss Heath Ledger's performance as unhinged anarchist The JokerBut there is another spirit of the age that is competing for the attention of our youth.  I met recently with Andrew McMahon, lead for Jack’s Mannequin, whose story of overcoming cancer is chronicled in his documentary Dear Jack .  He understands that his music and the platform it gives him is a conduit for hope.  Another of Jacob’s friends, the rapper Kenna, created The Summit on the Summit to draw attention to the need for clean water in Africa, and an avenue to provide it.

We have been working with the band Three Doors Down in a partnership with Home Depot  to address the housing hardship that many of our veterans and their families face. This is the spirit of the age that many culture creators are promoting  -- the spirit to restore, renew and redeem. This is the Spirit that I believe in, and the Spirit that I believe will ultimately prevail.  Let’s encourage these culture makers, as the world in which they engage is not just flesh and blood.  There are spirits they compete against that lead down streets of ruin; thankfully they would rather take us on the road of redemption.Featured Article by Mark Rodgers