Johnny Cash Did It
by Uncle Joe
Zeitgeist is defined as the spirit of the times. Now, that's actually bullshit. Cuz we all know that what's happening now in, say, Belfast, isn't exactly happening in New York City. So, Zeitgeist is really the spirit of a certain time and space, or of a certain subculture.
But regardless, Johnny Cash killed Zietgeist. Here's what I mean:
No Longer Transported
At its core, Zeitgeist is made up of the art pieces that capture the moment we live in. So, at this point, you might say that the White Stripes tune "Seven Nation Army" has some Zeitgeist -- or it makes the Zeitgeist. Whichever way you put it, it seems everyone knows this song: it's chanted across the earth's stadium. Fans of World Cup games, the NFL, you name it, they know the song as part of a rallying cry. It's played everywhere, and stadium-goers have all had a little head banging moment in their own personal lives, complements of Jack White and his creepy sister.
In twenty years, assuming another tune captures takes over as a champion's chant, it's fair to say that many will be transported back in time when they hear that White Stripes riff -- like Queen's "We Are The Champions" has somewhat faded into athletic nostalgia. We'll be like, "My roommate used to play that song over and over again when we played pool in college!" Or, "I was at the Packers Hail Mary game. That song played all night." Or, some kid of today might remark as a thirty-year-old, "I used to listen to that in the backseat of my mom's minivan when she took us to and from school."
Zietgeist implies a certain reach, but it also implies that for art to transport us back to the culture, the mileu, and the feel of a certain time period, the piece of art must not change.
If, for example, Jack White at sixty-years-old remakes "Seven Nation Army" into an acoustic ballad, we will not be transported to the Zeitgeist of today. The new rendition will speak to the new time period if that song is as alluring.
Much of what we still create in art is stagnant. Many t.v. shows, movies, sculptures, etc. will not change, and each will be rerun, or displayed as they originally were crafted.
However, with the advent of modern media and global communication devices, there is now (...no pun intended ha...) what I call "Post-Zeitgeist" art.
Johnny Cash's posthumously produced video "Ain't No Grave" -- due to it's 250,000 plus contributors worldwide -- is continually a new experience. It is updated with a new mix of images every so often. The same video is not created twice. Each time someone goes to the video on its source site, new images are inserted and new orders of sketches are created. Imagine if the "Seven Nation Army" riff was different every time it played? Not the notes or the core of it, but the sound of it, with some kind of audio effect or adjustment in playing technique.
Traditionally, when we re-experience a piece of art, there is a natural inclination to relax and anticipate. Looping and/or replaying a song or video usually brings about the same experience and expectation. That same experience part of why we might seek it out. But with the "Ain't No Grave" video, there is a constant jarring. Innately -- through the constant evolution of the video -- the viewer is not allowed to remember or re-experience. Each time "Ain't No Grave" is viewed, it's wholly "Now" -- it startles the viewer, sometimes starkly sometimes subtly, to the present moment. This experience of art is a new thing. It's Post-Zeitgeist; through its constant evolution, the piece of art will not allow any nostalgic connotation in our minds. Yes, it's based on the original, but it's will break the viewer out of memory at some point. It cannot be a "sign of the time" if it's different every time.
Johnny Cash died and he killed Zietgeist.