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Anachronism: Softening the Temporal Domain

Can anything be anachronistic in our post-truth, entrepreneurial, Millennial age?

Joseph Natoli

”Long-form magazine writing is a bit anachronistic these days, but that's what I do."

Vanessa Grigoriades

"For some time now our culture has been dealing with the rupturing of temporality through loss of set historical signifiers, signs that distinguish the past from the present."

Jane Potthast, "For Infidelity: Reconsidering Aesthetic Anachronism" PopMatters 17 September 2013

If you have a strict sense, from the Enlightenment to the 20th century, that time was linear in a progressive ---i.e., things get better -- way, it certainly would be incorrect to place what belongs in one time period in another. You are risking a kind of aesthetic and moral transgression of the temporal domains. The only domains we now respect are Internet IP domains. Even nation-states are being softened by globalization.

So the question is: Can anything be anachronistic now?

In other words, can anything be out of place, time-wise or reason-wise or realism-wise, when time, reason and reality have been softened? I mean that we live in a Post-Truth era where no narrative can preempt a counter-narrative by offering universally accepted universal criteria of judgment-- i.e., everybody agrees and the criteria fit all cases, anywhere and everywhere. No story of what is going on can establish "The Truth" in this way. This is the reason that we hear so much about someone "needing a narrative," or "changing narratives" and so on. Within this narrative, time is represented this way; within that narrative, time is represented quite differently. Personally, you are running out of time, or, you have got too much time on your hands. Time is money or it's flying or it stops in a Black Hole. And so it goes, as a "back in the day" writer named Vonnegut would say. Time runs in a narrative. Stuff fits in variously. Or it does not.

The 1960s counterculture was historically a "wrong turn," according to Newt Gingrich while others defined the period as a paradigm leap in human consciousness. Any such "leap" would be out of place in Gingrich's "temporal domain" while any "wrong turns" would be out of place in the alternative "temporal domain."(You can take this up to rivaling narratives of 9/11, WMD's, preemptive attacks, "surges," drones, "water boarding," The Debt and Its Ceiling, "The Great Recession," The Stimulus, The Sequester, "Obamacare," Bengazi and so on).

There is a further "softening" of what is deemed out of place temporally or anachronistic. In our Post-Truth era, the search for profit, which is an axiomatic pursuit, replaces the pursuit of truth and reality. Or, more exactly, truth and reality become what we need them to be at a particular time in order to further entrepreneurial interests. A sort of "Wild West" economic system in the U.S. has softened the strictness of what truth is and how it can be evidenced, what reality is and what is required. We lobby for different versions of time. One thing we know is that time is no longer a slowly established record but a field of dreams. And we in the U.S. market fields of dreams superbly. Time is no more than what we brand it to be.

You can conclude that any placement of a past event which troubles the designs of a present economic order is out of place and therefore anachronistic in the most unforgiveable way. Citing the needless imbroglio of Viet-nam as a lesson to be learned, or the 1939 Nazi blitzkrieg as the 20th century's version of Shock and Awe, or the repeated criminality of Wall Street crashes, or the stupidities of all past Tea Party-like politics, or Ted Cruz's political trajectory looking like Joe McCarthy's and so on are no more than "back in the day/old school" irrelevancies, ridiculously out of place. On the other hand, any temporal displacement that nestles into familiarity plays to the values already market created, while excluding real differences that may disrupt those values amounts to no more than successful marketing. The Marlboro campaign to sell cigarettes, 1954-1999, invented "The Marlboro Man," a cowboy who rode free and independent in "Marlboro Country," a rugged frontier brand that Hollywood had fixed in the American imaginary. By 1999, "The Marlboro" free ranging cowboy was already an anachronism but so too was that Hollywood imposture of its mythic frontier.

Market "values" obviously do not mess with the temporal domain innocently, although the axiomatic pursuit of profit is assumed to have no moral dimension. The Communist threat segues easily into the Terrorist threat, Viet-nam into Iraq, consumer and worker protections into a simple mantra of "assuming personal responsibility," "Silent Springs" into environmental hoaxes -- all without an historical review, critique or moral censure. Similarly, a pre-French Revolution-size wealth gap has no link to class warfare, the toxicity of plastics has no link to lead and tobacco, so-called gentrification and burnt out cities and citizens have no link to a return to feudalism -- all without historical review, critique and moral censure. The time can be out of joint and all history's actualities messed with if the market wants it so.

Call us now a "Post-Truth Entrepreneurial" era.

But what about the "Millennials" and the new Millennial vibe? They further "soften" the temporal domains and here is how it is done: No corrections or apologies needed if you personally choose to perceive nothing wrong here. Perhaps a "back in the day" generation might claim "authenticity" is being violated but that claim is "whatever" not because "authenticity" is being challenged but simply because it does not matter. What matters is personal preference. There is no sanctity granted to historical precedent. The past in our Millennial view is now so hopelessly dated and dead, useless and buried, that we can only bear it if we fill it with the "Nowness of Now." The idea of anachronism is now itself an anachronism. When "back in the day" shows up anywhere today it must serve to confirm our present superior advance.

"Back in the day" has, historically speaking, probably the thinnest hold on us than it has ever had. Anachronism, like plagiarism, does not frighten us, because the past, like information, "wants to be free," that is, free of any authority outside our own. "Back in the day" is, in fact, somewhat comical. Nothing appears more anachronistic than a cell phone the size of a lunch box or a dial phone or even a flip cell phone or the Dude's 8-track tapes or letter writing. A whole lot of stuff is being quickly removed to the Smithsonian or to the local dump. When the tech is out of place or absent from the scene, it's a joke. History confounded is "whatever." There is enough room here for Market Rule to re-arrange the past as it wishes without the Gatekeepers of History showing up as anything other than baby boomers on their way out. "Back then" means no Smart Phones, I-Pads, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Apps, "social media," WhatsApp and all the cybertech innovations that make NOW so much better than "Back Then."

In the Millennial part of our era, we have a great fear of appearing as if we're living anachronistically, of appearing to live not in a faddish present moment but somehow caught in some bygone period. We become the joke. Signs of such anachronistic lifestyle in pop culture are deadly; watching a film in which no one has a cell phone or taps a computer screen is as off putting as watching a black and white film. And while we are now able to easily watch films in which a hi-tech lifestyle is portrayed, it has become difficult to attract viewers to a no-tech lifestyle, to the world of those struggling to survive, those who are anachronistic not by choice but by necessity. Our hi-tech era is an expensive one and the divide between those who can afford to live at the hi-tech cutting edge, and thus avoid becoming themselves anachronistic, and those who cannot has increased dramatically in the last thirty years. Chile, Mexico, Turkey and the U.S. have the widest wealth gap among OECD nations. Poverty and the poor have become anachronisms.

This "Millennial" part of our era attaches at this point to the "Entrepreneurial" part. The worst branding possible is an attachment to a pre-dawn of cyber civilization (call it every temporal domain right up to the late 20th century) if your market is a demographic under the age of 50. Anachronism is essentially meaningless to one demographic because nothing can really be out of place or refutable or just plain wrong if the most significant response to it is a "LIKE," a personal "I like it" and the matter is closed. An older demographic is not only straddling modernity's pretensions to truth and reality but actually recalling a past that to them was once present. They are, however, not doing so in an unfractured way, inevitable as their lives are spanning a marked time line and an unmarked one, a temporal domain in which historical sequence mattered and one in which it does not.

The way the market responds now to anachronisms is warily because of this divided U.S. demographic. However, the bigger market is with the young, not only because their personalized sense of politics and economics offers less of a challenge to an asymmetrical power status quo -- what Foucault called "an order of things" which is far from a personal entity -- but because their demographic will ultimately be the future of all marketing.

The market in our entrepreneurial post-truth climate is increasingly brazen in its disregard for the the truth and realities of what once was, in spite of exclamations by those offended by the disregard for what goes where and when. Anne Bilson exclaims in The Guardian, on behalf of those over the age of legal drinking: “Hey, we’re still here!” registering a protest on behalf of those who have lived through the past "as it really was" and who are upset by any corruption of their memory. (“I Swear Movie Anachronisms Are in the Mega-Increase", 4 August 2011).

If we combine a "Let Markets Rule!" mentality with 1. An increasing inclination to personalize and privatize what obviously cannot be confined to the personal, say, actual history and politics, and then, 2. Add to that a growing sense that "truth" is just a story someone tells (especially in advertising), we inevitably construct a very narrow stage upon which even the most ludicrous, patently fallacious and out of place can strut without censure.

I believe Michelle Bachmann got a pass from many regarding her idiocies (Paul Revere rode to alert the British that the Americans knew that the British were coming?) not simply because they also did not know history but because they felt she was entitled to her own view of history. If you want to personalize history, which no one cares about anyway, go ahead and do so because we choose to do the same. When you narrow the stage of history and generally in every way soften the temporal domain while at the same time expanding your interactive role in saying what history is, you not only give carte blanche to every sort of corruption of history but you undermine modernity's sense of a continuous progression from past to present.

The present too will soon vanish into such a corrupted history, itself becoming an anachronism before its impact can register. As long as this confined sense of reality is so limited, only what offends your personal take, most often by simply being different, is objectionable.

Call this now a "Millennial Post-Truth Entrepreneurial" era, one in which the temporal domain is softened by these three confluences.

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