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Worldviews in Dialogue 1. Superman Explores His Sensitive Side

In this new series, Worldviews in Dialogue, we want to explore the interior nature of different historical worldviews, comparing and contrasting the values, perspective, and the quality of consciousness intrinsic to different types of worldviews both in contemporary, and sometimes ancient, culture. We hope to use art, literature, pop culture, media and just about every other form of cultural expression to illustrate the ever-fascinating differences between these deep underlying structures of consciousness that have informed the evolution of human culture.

Modernism and Postmodernism. We use these words a lot on this blog to talk about the difference between two worldviews, two fundamentally different sets of values, two historically different ways in which human beings have constructed the world around them and made meaning. And whether we’re talking about Spiral Dynamics, Integral Philosophy, developmental psychology, or some other school of thought or research that identifies the critical importance of worldviews in the evolution of consciousness and culture, it is important to have a deep understanding of exactly what makes up the differences between these two stages of culture.

Of course, when we’re talking about such broad yet fundamental distinctions, the differences express themselves in myriad ways but are not always exact or perfectly clear cut. Yet as culture has changed over the last hundreds of years we know that there are certainly real differences between the values and perspective of a modern worldview that emerged on the cultural scene in the European Enlightenment and the values and perspective of a postmodern one that has been on the mainstream cultural stage since the 60s.

Modernism calls to mind things like scientific insight, reason and rationality, nation-states, industrialization, democracy, Newtonian physics, etc. The postmodern worldview calls to mind environmentalism, political correctness, pluralism and equality, respect for marginalized peoples and indigenous cultures, the breakdown of hierarchy, self-awareness and self-exploration, etc.

Now, my colleagues and I at EnlightenNext never get tired of exploring the differences between these worldviews and how they express themselves in popular culture. One of the ways to explore the interior difference between them is to use art in all its forms, so in this first edition of Worldviews in Dialogue, I want to employ music. I have a couple of clips here that can help us compare and contrast. Please don’t take these distinctions I’ll be making as gospel truths but as fun pointers that reveal fascinating differences, highlighting the evolution of culture. My point here is not to critique these songs. I genuinely like each of them. Please don’t think postmodern examples are better than modern ones or vice versa. My point is to explore the differences and how the characteristics of the two different cultural worldviews, modernism and postmodernism, are richly represented in these works of music and lyrics.

First, let’s take Superman. He was a DC Comics superhero (for those keeping score, DC comic-book heroes tend to be more modernist, Marvel Comics a little more postmodern).. Here is a video clip of the musical theme, created by popular composer John Williams, for the great 1978 movie with the late Christopher Reeve. Listen and take in the quality and emotional transmission of the music.

(These links are chosen from YouTube. Some have artwork associated with them, which was immaterial to my selection.)

Now that’s a heroic soundtrack. I love it. It contains all the glorious optimism, confidence, power, and strength that we associate with modernism. It’s uplifting and makes one want to go out and save the world, or jump tall buildings in a single bound or…well, at least do something very positive.

Let’s move on to another much more recent soundtrack about Superman. The group here is Five for Fighting, and the song is “Superman (It’s Not Easy).” Musically, it’s a beautiful melodic song. But check out the lyrics! I can’t imagine these lyrics ever being written before the year 2000. I guess Superman in the new millennium is super-sensitive, and is searching inward, looking for his more sensitive self.

Isn’t that interesting? Superman can’t stand to fly? Looking for the “better part of me”? The lyrics are hilarious and full of irony (another postmodern sign). New millennium Superman is officially postmodern. But even beyond the irony, notice the inward nature of the lyrics, so fundamentally different than the outward-focused optimism of the movie theme song. Superman is no longer interested in heroism; he wants to find his true self and explore the interiors that he has marginalized. He’s trying to find “special things inside” of him. And whatever you think of the song, it is richly evocative of the move from the more externally focused, inspired (though probably naïve) confidence of modernism to the more internally self-aware, existentially concerned, authenticity-seeking angsty world of postmodernism.

Okay, let’s try another example. I’m going to use two different songs describing men falling in love, both of them ambivalent about it. One captures modernist sensibilities and the other postmodern. Let’s start with the postmodern example.

The Counting Crows are a great example of a Generation-X version of postmodernism. First, let me say it’s a beautiful song, one of my favorites from this band. It is about a person who is falling in love but is ambivalent about it. Notice the interior, introspective nature of his reflections, the sensitivity to minute emotional experience, and hesitancy about deep commitment. He is hyper-self-aware, ruminating on his own emotional and psychological responses to things, reflecting on all of the various options and imagined consequences. He is even self-aware of his own ambivalence and even his own tendency to objectify his lover by escaping into fantasy. It is a study in uncertainty and sensitivity, and of the interior experience of falling in love. This kind of interiority and sensitivity and psychological self-awareness and the subtle narcissistic flavor that goes along with it all are reflective of the postmodern character.

Now let’s take another ambivalent man who is falling in love, this one much more characteristic of the modern mind. It’s a famous and fantastic song.

Rex Harrison is genius here. What a wonderful song. Again, he is falling in love and not happy about it, almost in denial. Even that reflects the less interior focused nature of his reflections. In this song, his thoughts are not about his emotions or psychological responses as much as his external perceptions of her. He’s grown “accustomed to her face.” She “makes the day begin.” Notice how that represents a less interior-focused perspective, less introspective. He is concerned with his independence as a man and the whole song is obviously characteristic of the polarization of gender more reflective of the modern worldview. In the transmission of this song, one feels less inside his experience, more aware of it from the outside, so to speak.  He is less concerned and perhaps even less aware of what he feels about his personal subjective experience.

So there you go. Is Superman a bold, larger-than-life world-changing superhero, or a self-seeking, inwardly focused anti-hero? Well, it all depends on your worldview. These two examples represent two general worldviews as expressed through music. Again, not necessarily good or bad (though please spare me the postmodern Superman), but different and indicative of the ways in which consciousness is changing and evolving, and culture right along with it.

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Filed Under: Cultural EvolutionDevelopmentEnlightenNext Editors’ BlogPop CulturePostmodernismTimeevolutionary worldviewinteriorityprocess

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About the Author

Carter Phipps is the Executive Editor of EnlightenNext magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Carter_Phipps.

Comments (8)

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  1. Jeffrey Feldman says:

    Here is the theme from the Superman series I knew, as a kid…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74_Vhqwz-lo&feature=related

    Ads for that series…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEi4LKz-zZ0&feature=related

    I do remember that as strong and incredible as he was, he also had a gentle-mannered side to him. Sensitivity, we might say. He was not a macho man – but rather a true gentleman. Was it this combination of soft-spoken, thoughtful, considerate qualities and strength, dedication to truth, justice, and the (mid-western) American way) that made him a super-hero par excellence?

  2. David Marshall says:

    Hi Carter, great idea! Music and integral thinking, two of my top favorites.

    I would like to humbly suggest a modification to the Superman rundown in the spirit of evolution and inquiry–it seems to me that the first Superman song is really mythic in nature, one of the many faces of premodernism.

    The major mythic heroes are people like Jesus and Buddha, but I believe mythic alternatives include people like John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, sports heroes, and superheroes. Superman lives in a world of good and evil, and he is good. For Ronald Reagan, there was America (the Good) versus the Soviet Union (the Evil).

    It seems to me that a modern example of a superman song would be Gil Scott-Heron’s “Ain’t No Such Thing as Superman”:

    “Yes, so tell me why/Can’t you understand that there ain’t no such thing as superman?/There ain’t no such thing as a superman.”

    Modernism sees through the Amber myth.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xD_9Ph8KiVM

    I love Five For Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy).” That’s an unbelievably perfect example of a postmodern song! :)

    Best,

    David

  3. David Marshall says:

    I love “Anna Begins” for the postmodern love song and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” for the modern.

    To fill in for the premodern, how about Stephen Foster’s “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” a big hit in 1854:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKdq249uOGs

    “I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
    Borne like a vapor on the sweet summer air;
    I see her tripping where the bright streams play,
    Happy as the daisies that dance on her way.”

  4. Frank Luke says:

    Most postmoderns are really iconoclasts, young Turks out to tear down long-held assumptions and attitudes, mocking often.

    This is what younger folks do with preceding generations.
    And this will fall on postmodernism too, maybe steps backward, progress isn’t always for the better though inevitable.

    If we think of evolution of humanity and of our thinking and conceptualizing, can we say this is in its most serious intents a search for truths, or at least for different perspectives to see things?

    Truths may at times be graven in stone but we humans get bored and seek new ways to think and see things, don’t we?

    • Nada says:

      Hi Frank, Let’s recognize that the “postmodern” EMERGED FROM the modern, just as post-postmodernism will/is emerging from postmodernism. Evolution, the unfolding of what was enfolded,transcendence and immanence,has it’s way in these major movements of consciousness. And while some may sneer at the past,everything that they are now CAME FROM what was! Our dignities;human rights,abolished slavery,feminism,advanced medicine,etc.,came from the differentiation of the value spheres (Arts,Morals,Science)and the separation of Church and State. Previously, nothing could challenge the “truths” of religion(God made Eve from Adam,the sun travels around the earth,etc.)without dire consequences. The backlash,of course, was an overpowering “scientism,” or scientific empiricism,which said that anything that couldn’t be measured by it’s methods,wasn’t “real.” The value spheres of arts and morals were essentially de-valued by science,and humanity,en masse,took the bait on the hook and swallowed! Science was shaping ego development to see the material world as the only truly valid value,and Spirit and Soul were collapsed,claimed by Western psychology to be nothing more than fantasy and infantile wish-fulfillment.

      Fast forward to where we are now,struggling to heal the divide of science and Spirit;science still struggling to answer the “hard problem” of consciousness,and evolutionary/integral spirituality struggling to re-inform the masses of the enduring “truths” of the Hierarchy/Holarchy of Being,with newer,postmodern philosophies concerning development of consciousness. But postmodernism is diverse,sceptical,narcissistic,anti-hierarchy,technologically sophisticated,and still insists on collapsing Soul and Spirit into egoic ways of being and knowing. Young Turks, indeed!

      LOL(;

  5. Nada says:

    Thanks, Carter! Great illuminating juxtaposition of sentiments!

    You can hear fortitude and determination in the modern songs, and a kind of wishy-washy reluctance in the postmodern ones. The modern ones are “entitled male” in tone, the postmodern; sensitive processing of feelings with a shared inner dialogue,but an indecisive processing torn between “self” and “other,” that sums up the postmodern obsession with the inner life displaying itself for all to see;the inner that wants to be recognized by the outer – an almost,”see how I suffer” tone.

    You can hear the “rules and roles” of the modern songs, and the “anti-hierarchy,” “let’s level the playing field” in the postmodern. As a woman, I feel the feminine “subordination” in the modern, and in the postmodern, I feel like grabbing those guys by the scruff of the neck and telling them to “choose.” (ha ha!)

    Really great choices to educate us on the evolution of culture and consciousness!

    Thanks again!

    • Frank Luke says:

      What I note in the differing tones of modern and postmodern songs is that the modern ones are more singable and tender which are devoid in the the latter ones, with maybe few exceptions.

      There’s a kind of mocking quality in postmodernity, as if ashamed of expressing tenderness. This will pass though it seems tender feelings gets old fast, don’t they?

      Boy/girl stories are done to death. Vampires have gotten so en vogue since there’s little left to explore re: sex.
      Vampires are the new sexy, evidently.

  6. Frank Luke says:

    I may be off-topic but want to give a shout out to “Being With Krista Tippett”‘s radio show recently where she discussed with Prof. Jacob Needleman his book described below. For those not familiar with the show, it’s really well worth listening to or acccessed online. He said so many great things re: democracy, America and keeping our nation strong.
    ——–

    “The Inward Work of Democracy” with Jacob Needleman

    As young democracies emerge around the world, we take a long view of the ingredients that formed this democracy well beyond July 4, 1776. The philosopher Jacob Needleman reminds us of the inward work of conscience behind institutions and political values that Americans now take for granted.

    —-
    What struck me about the book is how Needleman points out the spiritual underpinnings of the founding of America, not often mentioned given our so-secular culture.

    But isn’t this what’s leading America astray, forgetting about America’s Soul and spiritual values in our headlong quest of material “progress”? This is costing us dearly and why those who are despising America are doing so, we saying beautiful things and acting hypocritically and despicably.

    I highly recommend listening to the show and/or picking up a copy of this wonderful thinker and spokesman for America, democracy and keeping our nation strong and alive.

    It would be such a tragedy if history will tell that the end of America came as a self-inflicted blow from its own people who didn’t take seriously anymore that Freedom is not license but comes with obligations and responsibilities.

    With hard work and a lot of luck, may America continue to prevail. Let us pray!

    Happy Birthday, America!!