Wednesday, December 20
The End of Tower Records and the Exaltation of "You"
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.