"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
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
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
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.