Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Be Here Now

Ram Dass is dead. But Be Here Now lives on, a three-word summation of the current zeitgeist. The format of streaming, through which most information now comes to us, is fundamentally about the present. Content passes before us, then disappears and is quickly forgotten. More content takes its place, an endless supply. 

For anyone idly thumb-scrolling down their phone screen, as maybe you are while reading this, the only thing which exists is right now

from Be Here Now, Ram Dass, 1971

Photography is no exception. It's currently dominated by Instagram, a platform which is fundamentally about the present. An infinite supply of images cycle through. Perhaps a double-tap. Tomorrow and yesterday are essentially irrelevant. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Spotify, Tik Tok fall in line. On these streaming formats only the last post matters much, and also the passivity they foster.

Be Here Now suits street photography, and may have much to do with the genre's current burst of popularity. Walking down a busy sidewalk is a physical version of streaming content. The important thing is now. Pedestrians appear and recede before the camera. No interaction or history is necessary. New narratives are created on the spot.  

Street photography is just a small subset, but in some sense all photography is also about the present. The quick opening of the shutter which locks now forever into history is life affirming. But I think future and past are just as integral to the art. The very photographic act, creating a new exposure, requires some imagination for future possibilities. And no sooner has a picture happened than it begins receding into the rearview. Every photo is historic. Or something like that. 

Trump's recent impeachment has me thinking on a longer timescale. How will people in the future judge this moment? Donald Trump certainly has an opinion. "One hundred years from now," he wrote to Nancy Pelosi, "when people look back at this affair, I want them to understand it, and learn from it, so that it can never happen to another President again." 

So that's, um, one take. But probably inaccurate, in my opinion. I think it's more likely that people one hundred years from now will look back on this moment and wonder "How the fuck did you elect this clown? What were you thinking?" It's similar to how we might look into the past now and wonder about Silvio Berlusconi or Ferdinand Marcos. How did someone like that gain power? Was 2019 that blind? In retrospect, the problems seem glaringly obvious. But from a contemporary perspective it's more murky.

I'm sure there are some in the GOP who agree with Trump and feel that his impeachment is unjust. But I suspect they are a minority. I think most Republican leaders know full well that Trump is a buffoon. McConnell, Barr, Graham, Hannity, and others. These are smart men. They've been around a while. Surely they can see through a conniving charlatan as easily as anyone. But they've made the duplicitous decision to banish their conscience and support him anyway. In other words, these old white men realize that history will judge Trump as a loser, and them by association. But that eventuality is far off. Meanwhile the benefits of current power outweigh historical judgment. In economic terms, the GOP has severely discounted future opinion in favor of the present.

This might also explain climate change denialism. As Greta Thunberg points out, viewed from a future earthling's perspective, such an outlook is insane. But with blinders focused on the present, perhaps it's understandable. "The eyes of all future generations are upon you, "says Thunberg, "and if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you." Yeah, well, future schmuture. Come on in, the water's fine.

Nevertheless time marches on, albeit never in much of a hurry. The exception comes around this time each year. Hanukah, Christmas, and year-end lists flurry quickly tick tick tick until BOOM....The year turns over. 

This year's change may seem especially momentous. One morning next week we will awake not just to a new year but a new decade. 2020! Holy crap! How will this moment appear in history, looking back in a hundred years? Here we are. Here and now. That's all there is. And if it isn't beautiful, man there's nothing.


Stan B. said...

Enjoy it while it lasts! Scientists tend to be pretty conservative in what they say, ie- they don't like to scare us. But previous worst case scenarios have already been replaced with more dire ones- planet earth is gonna be one major disaster zone by the end of this century. By 2050 alone, there will be more plastic in our oceans per pound, than fish! Bangladesh will be one of the first significantly populated land masses to go underwater, where are those MILLIONS going to go? And that's just the start- increased famines, droughts and storm ferocity together with less land from flooding- all of which will lead to major wars and conflicts for whatever little's left...

And they're gonna look back at this time to a POTUS who spouted that: "Windmills cause cancer!" Good News- Plenty to photograph!

Stephen said...

I read an opinion piece today which blamed the polarization of politics on social media.