I lived in a gentrified section of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco for a while in the 1980’s, about ten years after the hippie movement that began in ‘the Haight’ ended in America. I noticed a funereal trend with young women: wearing black, often from head to toe.
I thought it would last a few years, and peter out like all fads. But it’s going on 25 years now, has spread throughout the Western world, and shows no signs of ending. What are you mourning ladies, and when will you stop?
Some women say I’m being obtuse in even asking the question, since, as one lady (who calls black an “epidemic”) put it to me recently, “there is probably not a woman on this earth who has not suffered abuse in some way at the hands of a man.”
I don’t know if I even want to try to unpack that one. The idea that black has become de rigueur because women feel collective sorrow over suffering abuse at the hands of men just doesn’t stand up to reason or common sense.
However there’s plenty of phallic fodder for the ‘women are victims of men’ narrative, which has taken hold in many circles in North America. Most recently, there’s the gobsmacking case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF, the probable next president of France, and one of the most powerful men in the world. He’s being held without bail for criminally attacking and sexually molesting a maid in his $3000 a night suite in New York. Here’s a caricature confirming the worst stereotype of the powerful man treating subordinate women as receptacles for the whims of their desires.
Then there’s the sad termination of the marriage of the Ex-Governator of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Turns out he took advantage of a long-term household employee before he became governor, and fathered a child with her. Maria Shriver, a compelling public figure in her own right, has been devastated by this last straw from the purported perp of many groping and cheating episodes.
Even so, the ‘women are victims of men’ apologia, rife in North America, has gotten us nowhere. It’s just added to the ‘war between the sexes,’ and done nothing to end the culture of abuse. Besides, the penchant for black (with both sexes now) goes beyond the parlous relations between men and women in America and the West.
There is an old expression from anthropology: women are the culture bearers. There’s still a great deal of truth to that. Though many people like to think that tens and even hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have been overturned in a few decades, the ancient archetypes cannot be dismissed or denied, just distorted and devastated within us.
What are women, and the men who follow, unconsciously mourning as they mindlessly and habitually don the non-color, the somber sign, the funeral attire?
All cultures have a natural or unnatural life cycle—they’re born, grow, thrive, decline, and die. But the death of a dominant global culture is a new phenomenon in human history. The old ways, rich with meanings and symbols laid down layer upon layer by anonymous generations, have become superficial differences in our globalized world.
A most disturbing sameness coats the world now. What is the actual difference between a woman or man in China seeking the best cars and cuts of meat, and the woman or man in America doing so? The only difference is that in America, we palpably feel (those of us who can still feel) the dead end to which the bastardized ‘American Dream,’ by whatever name, leads.
I heard a passionate young man today, a high school senior, speak of starting a nation-wide organization to hold the American government responsible for destroying the environment. Amazingly, he and his cohorts have filed lawsuits in all 50 states, as well as at the federal level, charging the US government with gross negligence of future generations.
America wastes an estimated two-thirds of its energy intake from all sources—oil, gas, nuclear, even solar. Ours is a culture of unbelievable wastefulness, which continues to squander the earth’s diminishing resources, while our so-called leader approves more domestic oil drilling.
In recent years we’ve exported our profligate ways to the rest of the world. The potentially earth-shattering, or world-changing Chinese people, for one, have been only too happy, in their Confucian confusion, to pick up the reckless banner.
What happens when a culture dies, and nothing new emerges? What happens when people lose hope, but refuse to acknowledge it? They drape themselves in black, and go about business as usual. What’s next, babies in black?
It’s time to quit mourning, and start doing the spadework (within and without) of creating a new global culture.