"This is a war universe... There may be other universes based on all

sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games."

--- William S. Burroughs

 

The War for Obscurity

By Rev. Matthew A. Carey

 

A large portion of the people today who are involved in the predominant

culture of our society are engaged in what I call an obscurity war. I

was involved in this war for a time. Now that I'm somewhat out of it, I

can observe it and comment on it objectively, I think.

 

The idea of the war is that the most obscure artifacts are the ones which

will receive the most honor. Quality, consistency, or underlying message

are irrelevant to this war. It's the obscurity that has value.

 

The best example of this obscurity war, I think, is in the area of

"Alternative" Music. The very name of this musical SupraGenre is quite

illustrative of the attitude that goes along with the obscurity war.

 

This attitude says that mainstream culture, the top rated television

shows, the top forty radio hits, the most popular fast food restaurants

and clothing brands, all of them are dishonorable by virtue of the fact

that they are widely accepted.

 

As the founder of the Gotcha clothing company once said, "Size is the

enemy of cool."

 

Coolness and hipness are the rewards of the obscurity war. These rewards

both protect the ego from the assault of other obscurists and provide a

kick of pleasure when others exhault the obscurist for his Hipness. The

ego food of Hipness is pleasant to the degree that intoxicates, addicts

and has spread the obscurity war to all areas of American culture.

 

In fact, almost every American involved in the culture of his or her

nation fights the obscurity war to some degree or another. There are

certain obscurists who's entire lives are dedicated to obscurity, and

others who get their Hipness kicks by watching the more extreme

obscurists and borrow the artifacts of obscurity from them. As long as

there is someone who hasn't yet seen the trophy of obscurity you possess,

you can get a Hipness kick out of it.

 

Therefore, it is only necessary to be enough of an obscurist that you can

out obscure your friends and neighbors. The effect of this is that there

are many layers and degrees of obscurism in American culture, resulting

in a sort of cultural food chain.

 

 

Returning to Alternative Music, on that front of the obscurity war the

most obscure band can become quite large in a matter of weeks. An

obscurist who listens to the 'early stuff' will predictably become less

and less enchanted with their pet band as the band grows in popularity.

Eventually, that band, as in the case of Nirvana, may become so huge that

obscurists as a group will turn their noses up at it.

 

However, the obscurity war involves more than rock music, and is fought

by people of every type and age. Such things as Saturday morning

cartoons, books, authors, brands of cereal, philosophical theories,

hobbies, pastimes and sexual practices have all been territories over

which the obscurity war has been fought.

 

The problem with the obscurity war is that it is excessivly consumptive

and breeds a low quality culture.

 

To constantly be on the edge of obscurity means to have a keen

sensitivity to when a piece of culture has grown to popular. At that

moment the piece of culture must be dropped. On the other hand the

obscurist must be on a constant look out for new things to adopt as

badges of victory in the obscurity war. These new things must be adopted

immediately. The obscurist can not wait for one or more of the pieces of

culture he holds to become 'old' in order to make room for the new

artifact. If there is no room in the obscurists life for both the old

and new, the old is discarded, regardless of whether it is truly old.

 

This process is what makes the obscurity war excessively consumptive.

The obscurist behaves like a greedy wild animal, running around and

biting into everything to see if it is edible, and devouring it whole if

it is. As he does this he causes a cramming effect which affects the

entire cultural food chain. In order to relieve the pressure, the rest

of the culture must absorb and eliminate its artifacts at the same insane

rate.

 

As the obscurist stuffs his culture full of more and more artifacts, he

pays no attention whatsoever to any quality or characteristic that those

artifacts may have. The only consideration is novelty.

 

Therefore, as the obscurist feeds on the novel, and the rest of the

culture feeds on the obscurist, the culture becomes more and more novel

-- at the expense of all other things, including the quality of the

artifacts.

 

The obscurity war, for these same reasons, is also self defeating and

inherently contradictory. The obscurist, like the common drug addict,

rationalizes away his compulsion by saying that he seeks artifacts of a

higher quality, and that the popularity of an artifact is indicative of

lower quality. In reality though, he is sacrificing quality for the sake

of obscurity.

 

However, it is the realization of this very fact that can save the

obscurist and provide a means of retreat from the war.

 

Realizing that he seeks cultural artifacts for their obscurity, and the

fact that his cultural decisions are in fact based on such simple codes,

can allow the obscurist to make a conscious decision about the

characteristics that he wants and will seek in his cultural artifacts.

 

This realization also provides the obscurist, now a person of conscious

cultural decision making, a principle upon which to create artifacts for

his culture. After all, the true food chain on planet Earth traces from

every point back to our Sun.

 

And the sun does not eat.