During a conversation at a gathering the other night the observation was made that, in today’s culture, young people have an outlook on life that’s noticeably grimmer than, say, thirty years ago.
Maybe too broadly speaking, the point was made that they tend to have an affinity for art and entertainment, especially film, painted in dystopian brushstrokes. Through a glass darkly, many young people, or so it seems from what I was hearing, view the world as vaguely threatening, with a future, perhaps, devoid of positive outcome. Optimism is regarded with suspicion.
Not being that age anymore, I don’t know if this in any way accurately depicts their outlook, but its possibility got me thinking.
My acquaintance who was making this observation said he too found this dystopian view attractive. Having just listened to his account of a series of events, each of which nearly took him down, his disposition seemed entirely plausible. And yet, although having just met him, he struck me as one of the most benevolent, confident, and optimistic people I’ve ever met. He apparently refused to succumb to the dark side in his own life.
If dystopia was a compelling attraction for this optimistic person, someone old enough to possibly have acquired a broader perspective on life than a young person just entering the fray, then, I realized, my own perspective needed to be aired.
As I said to him, wanting to let him know where I stand on the issue, I come from an opposite place. In terms of our potential as individual human beings, I said, I take the high road. I think that a dystopian point of view can seriously undermine that potential. Even though I agree with the importance of seeing the world as it is and not through rose colored glasses, it’s far more important to me that the endless messages we send out, especially through our art, leave a door open to, if not overtly encourage, upward motion.
While I find utopias to be an unreasonable universe of unintended consequences, I cannot buy into an opposing viewpoint based on or amplifying helplessness; one that implies fundamental futility in a quest for positive change, for improving ones life.
On the other hand, neither do I subscribe to the notion that idealism by its nature must be disconnected from reality. By recognizing and accepting reality as it is, only then can we succeed in altering it. Only then can we make what we want of it. That’s always our choice and our responsibility.
To connect these comments back to my primary focus on architecture, we all need life-affirming experiences, those moments when anything seems possible, when it’s all worth it. Art – architecture in this case, while conceived in and influenced by an existing reality, can nevertheless rise above that reality where that reality is bleak, and, in so doing, become a major source of those indelible moments when life feels downright good .
What, after all, is the payoff for accepting the alternative?