Wednesday, December 20


The End of Tower Records and the Exaltation of "You"

This week interestingly juxtaposes two seemingly disparate events, both of which I think are connected and emblematic of a cultural problem. One of them, the closing of the Tower Records chain for good, was announced a couple of months ago, and is a sad moment for all fans of classical music. Tower has provided, like no other store, a place where classical fans could browse an extensive selection of good recordings, with even fairly obscure or new composers, such as Leo Sowerby, Pierre Villette, James MacMillan, and Tarik O'Regan getting their own headings. With the end of Tower, those who are looking for more than the rudimentary stock offered by Barnes and Noble or Borders now must head to Amazon for their classical stock, with no more opportunities to browse or seek out advice. In a sense, all of this was inevitable. With the collapse of popular music sales due to the Internet, there was no way the classical market could continue to sustain a record chain, since we tend to be fewer and poorer than the general market for popular music.

In the same week as the closing of Tower, Time, as Drew has pointed out, named "You" its "Person of the Year," a selection stunning in its banality and its unofficial declaration of the irrelevance of traditional print media in this form. In a sense these two events are very closely connected, since the Internet and its media options that exalted "You" are precisely what have forced the closure of a place like Tower Records. The problem at the heart of all of this is individualism, the individual choice trumping the formation of community, and it is ultimately poisonous and dehumanizing. This is a very troubling proposition, and not only because it closes record stores (Tower Records, of course, was no paragon of Catholic values or morality, and my purpose here is not to defend it absolutely, but to offer it as an example of where the exaltation of "you" leads).

The larger problem is that the exaltation of "you" becomes the exaltation of me, of my wants over and against those of a broader community. There is one sense in which the increasing fragmentation of postmodern American culture can be an opportunity to realize that the "American century" as exemplified by the seeming peace of the '50's never really was all it was cracked up to be, but the dark side of this fragmentation is turning inward, without a sustaining community. This is the way to loneliness and darkness, individuals in front of computer terminals perhaps talking to one another in some way but not really encountering one another.

How can we as a Church, then, respond to this fragmentation and loneliness of the exaltation of "you" and individualism? Not, first and foremost, by giving in and becoming part of it, by becoming a consumer-oriented Church. Rather, our call is to find love and community in the joy of the encounter with Jesus Christ, through beauty, goodness, and truth. Instead of being consumers, this kind of an approach leads us to be precisely the ones consumed, taken over and transformed by the love of Christ, which indeed is a consuming fire as the prophet Malachi reminds us. Only in this way can we provide a prophetic witness in a culture that offers us ever more personal choice, but in so doing often just offers us different ways of becoming lonely and fragmented. It is the unity of the love of Christ that turns consumerism upside down and enables us to live lives of holiness in community with one another, with the saints, and with God.

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