Friday, May 30, 2014

BYGONE ERAS: "The Picture of Dorian Gray" or "Did Oscar Wilde See Our Ageist Culture Coming?"

Hey all,

We are back for my belated Blogging Thursday!

Before I begin with my scheduled post, I will give you yet another 'goth video.' I gave you a pretty long, though very informative video title "What Goth Is Not" courtesy of YouTuber, Leahmouse in my first Bygone Eras post. Well, I give you another, only this one is much shorter (about a minute and a half) and features one of my FAVORITE goth artists, Voltaire, being interviewed by FEARNET, where he provides some very thoughtful insights

So for those asking themselves the question of "Why are Goths so sad all of the time?" Well, Voltaire offers this simple answer:

Perhaps a post on the Goth subculture will be in the cards for the future. It's actually quite a broad topic. And I also recommend checking out Voltaire's projects at his website,

So, with that said, I will begin this post by saying that I started this series of essays on bygone eras (and possibly other things generally misunderstood within the mainstream arena) is because I feel that oftentimes in our culture, we tend to get caught up in what is right in front of us with our television sets and various other propaganda. We tend to latch onto one particular news/entertainment source, and even with the best intentions, we form opinions on various issues, groups of people, cultures, time periods, etc on what really is a very limited and often one-sided spectrum.
As I stated in the first Bygone Eras essay, I have gotten to where I need to seek out at least three independent sources before I'll form an opinion on something (and even then I may still only be getting a small piece of the puzzle). I've come to recognize that one should never assume he or she knows it all, because you never really do. And while you might think you're openminded? EVERYONE has some sort of prejudice, whether they wish to admit it or not. Some less than others, of course, but nobody is perfect and we've all formed some sort of preconceived notion in some form or another based on limited and one-sided information.

This brings me to the topic I wish to discuss today, and it is an issue that isn't really addressed too much in our culture. The issue of Ageism.
People of all age groups face it in one form or another.
Recently, I read a book that has been on my 'to read' list for quite sometime, and that was the great Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Oscar Wilde is among my FAVORITE writers. I've been a huge fan of his plays since high school and I'm happy that I've finally sat down and read his only novel. One thing I love about literature from bygone eras is that not only is the language the beautiful, poetic kind that I like, but much of the fiction of yesteryear involves an honest assessment of the author's view on society and the criticisms he or she had. Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles (a book I plan to read this summer) is said to be rife with allegory on how he viewed society around him. Same goes for I'd say most fiction from previous centuries.
In my recent blogpost "The (Mis)Use of Classic Literature in Modern Fiction" or "Wuthering Heights was Gothic Horror, Not a Romance", I address how much of modern fiction is often misunderstood and misinterpreted today, mainly - I think - due to such a separation between our society and theirs. Romantic Literature in the day of Emily Bronte had a different meaning than it does today (in fact, Edgar Allan Poe, whose specialty was in Horror, is considered Romantic Literature due to the time period it was written in). Plus, a good portion of fiction of centuries passed didn't seem to necessarily be aimed for escapism (which seems to be what alot of readers today look for first and foremost...I'm not saying that's a bad thing as I look to escape myself at times, but I feel that if you're looking to indulge in a world of whimsy and traditional romantic love by reading Wuthering Heights, you might be in for major disappointment), but more so to point out what was wrong or right about society during their time, or maybe ruffle a few feathers amongst the powers that be (and Oscar Wilde did plenty of that).

The Picture of Dorian Gray is, in a nutshell, a story about a good-looking young male who sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth. It takes place in a setting of aestheticism and decadence when many are out for themselves and every relationship is one of convenience. It also takes place among the "new hedonists" of the Victorian era.
I believe that there has always been an obsession with maintaining youth, beauty, and appearances (physical and social). However, in my own lifetime (born in the 1980s), I have witnessed this obsession escalate, especially in the last ten years. I mean seriously, look at all the celebrity tabloid periodicals and "news" programs out now. They seem to have doubled since the year 2004 and also seems to affect the way many in the general populous view themselves and those around them.
For instance, who remembers Madonna's Superbowl Halftime show from back in 2012? And now, who also remembers all the snarky "grandma" comments hurled at a 50-something Madonna over the interwebs? Like being a grandma is a bad thing? I personally love my grandma. And my mom is a grandma now (to my two adorable nephews). So does that mean she should be ridiculed now everytime she leaves the house?
In addition to that, even us under 50ers have that annoying clock in front of us:
"You're 25? Oh! You're a quarter of a century old! It's the beginning of the end!"
"You're 30? It only goes downhill from here!"
"You're 40? Well, I guess you look great for your age."

Yes, I do hate the whole notion of a person 'looking great for their age.' Why can't people just look great, period?
Many of us do just want to live our lives, but then we have everything from the media to the medical community and insurance companies there to cheerfully remind us of how old and decrepit we are getting with each passing year (SIDE NOTE: this is one reason I went a more holistic route when it comes to medicine and lifstyle, where we feel that people can actually get BETTER with age).
In the beginning of Dorian Gray, the young man, Dorian, is the subject for a well-known artist's newest portrait art (along with being the artist, Basil Hallworth's obsession). After the artist and his friend gush over the portrait, the conversation turns to the subject of aging. The two older men mention how the painting will remain immortal and forever youthful, even after Dorian himself ages and dies. This disturbs Dorian tremendously, and he states that he would rather sell his soul and exchange positions with his image on the painting than become old and decrepit. Dorian gets his wish, but he ends up far more tormented than he ever dreamed he would be. In other words, be careful what you wish for.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot as I definitely encourage everyone to read it. But did Wilde somehow see our youth and vanity obsessed culture coming? Well, that's debatable as literature is always open to interpretation. But I do believe that the novel applies as much today as it likely did back in Wilde's day in Victorian society. Each character in the book is a representation of a portion of society and what people are in danger of becoming. The book addresses many prejudices and a person who lives a double life, hiding part of him or herself in order to maintain what is perceived as a respectable appearance (also touched on in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a work which Wilde was said to have very much admired). It represents what can be lost in humanity. No matter how terrible the acts Dorian commits, his peers still gladly accept him because of his ability to maintain an outwardly young and beautiful appearance. Kind of gives you something to think about.

 If you have thoughts on The Picture of Dorian Gray and other literary works of yesteryear, I'd love to hear them. :)

Also, check out this great article on the novel: The Conflict Between Aestheticism and Morality in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.


A little more on Oscar Wilde

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