Here’s an opinion.
A few years back, the University of Edinburgh hosted Bruno Latour for its Gifford Lecture. Latour’s lecture series was titled: Facing Gaia: A New Enquiry into Natural Religion. You can find more about his six lectures, as well as view them, by clicking the link there. Also, my good friend David Robertson put a lot of work and effort into interviewing Latour for the Religious Studies Project. That’s worth looking at as well. Here’s Part One and Part Two.
At one of the lectures, titled “The Anthropocene and the Destruction of the Image of the Globe,” a lecturer from New College, the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, which also houses the Religious Studies department and which has been my home for the last four years, questioned Latour’s use of the term ‘Anthropocene’ to describe the current age in which we now live. Instead, he argued, we aren’t living in a ‘time of man,’ but rather the ‘Christocene,’ an era defined by the influence that Christianity has collectively given to the ‘modern world.’ It shouldn’t be surprising that this lecturer is a theologian, and while his suggestion was really just a way for him (as many academics tend to do) promote his own ideas on top of Latour’s, it’s an interesting take.
For my intentions here, I will do the same. I will build atop these distinctions with my own. This does not mean that I think they are wrong, but rather than I see the age in which we currently live as defined by something else as well.
We are currently living in a Profitable Age.
Here’s some evidence for this, based on data that I retrieved from perhaps the most accessible source: popular culture.
Depending on which addition you look at, J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, The Hobbit, is roughly 300 pages in length. While the remarkable success of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy of the Lord of the Rings not only garnered 17 Academy Awards, including Best Picture for The Return of the King, it also accumulated a financial largess roughly equal to 3 billion dollars. Which might explain his reasoning for stretching the limits of The Hobbit to three films over two hours in length each. Worldwide, the films have earned almost a billion dollars in revenue.
This isn’t limited to just this series of films. In the last few years we’ve been provided with a number of entertaining films in serial form: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Fast and Furious 1-7. Likewise, in print form, it appears that publishers have been earnestly trying to locate the next Harry Potter, the next Twilight, the next The Hunger Games, the next Hobbit. Fifty Shades of Grey (the books) have sold over 100 million copies. The first film of the trilogy based on the novels, which premiered this year, has grossed roughly $600,000,000. It is third on the list of the most profitable films this year. The second is Avengers: The Age of Ultron, the eleventh film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has films planned up to 2019, with 22 films so far either already released or in development. The highest grossing film so far for 2015 is Furious 7.
Franchises are proving quite profitable.
Beyond popular culture, we might also find evidence for our living in The Profitable Age in politics, particularly with examples such as the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. The Federal Elections Commission (2010). Originally dealing with issues pertaining to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and Citizen United’s Hilary: The Movie (2008), and the role these films played in deciding what constitutes a political statement, and who might be considered the ‘voice’ of that statement. In brief, the decision was, in essence, a First Amendment issue: in their argument, the Supreme Court declared that restricting or denying Citizens United from releasing the film would be an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. This, though colloquial understood as removing any sort of restriction on what a corporation or union could give to, or spend on, a particular candidate, or that this would somehow mean that ‘corporations are people,’ really means that corporations were free to directly advocate for an candidate. Whether this means a financial advocacy is something of debate. For a better description, here’s a New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin that explains the case in much better detail: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/05/21/money-unlimited
Again, this seems like another exemplary addition to the idea that this is a Profitable Age.
One final example.
A week or so back I wrote something here about the ‘business‘ of academia, and last week, in my discussion of the World Religions Paradigm I touched on this a bit as well concerning the way our ‘product’ is being presented in a manner that will guarantee financial success.
Tuition costs for example, are on the rise. In the United States, the cost of a four-year undergraduate education has exponentially risen in the last thirty years. Here’s a useful graph based on data provided by Collegeboard.org: As well, here is the data unabridged. Notice also that these prices have been amended to ‘2014’ dollars in order to address inflation: At the same time, ‘for-profit’ universities have been on the rise as well. Rather than my terrible description, here’s John Oliver talking about student debt, and for-profit education:
Humour aside, Oliver touches on a number of essential issues, particularly concerning the rise in cost of an education, and the means with which students are driven to pay for these costs with loans. Granted, taking out a loan is one’s choice, a choice that each and every student makes in full knowledge of the amount and difficulty there might be in paying it back. Of course, in many instances, an education is a necessary requirement for employment, so it is, in many ways, a double-edged sword, and an inescapable quagmire. As far as ‘for-profit’ education is concerned, here’s an interesting take on it from the Atlantic about the University of Phoenix (the largest for-profit education system in the US) by Bourree Lam from April of this year. While this article addresses many of the issues facing for-profit education, such as the lack of relatable skills that they offer to students, as well as their low graduation rates, I think this quote is rather poignant:
People who graduate from these schools don’t seem to be getting jobs sufficient for paying off the costs of attending them.
I think this, perhaps more than anything, nicely sums up the Profitable Age.
Let me conclude here.
Here I have offered three examples. This is, I admit, not really enough to support my argument, but that should not dissuade the reader from appreciating my theory. This is a Profitable Age. Whether that is defined by film or novel franchises, by political developments, or the business of academia, it seems more often than not that the world we are living in seems dictated by profit. How this dictates the way we move forward, and whether that might mean a diminishment of value, is something we will have to wait and see.