According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “Zeitgeist” means “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era”. If we rely on a word-to-word translation of the concept, it means “Spirit of the time”, or “Spirit of an era”, if you’re willing to stretch the definition a bit.
The world changes constantly. What was trendy and popular is no longer “in”. Instead, we have plenty of new trends to get hooked up to. Every month, year and a decade is somehow different. Zeitgeist changes without us even knowing. We just feel…somehow different.
Good ol’ times
Remember 90’s music? What about millenial uncertainty, as we came to welcome this new era with more conflicts and a birth of a worldwide terrorism threat? When the iron curtain finally fell in the beginning of 90’s, many thought that there is only one way our future can look like. Finally, we had all the answers and some of us even went as far as calling it “The end of history”. But the new millenium brought some new questions and the future was uncertain yet again.
Now, we live in a completely different world than we lived in 10, or 20 years ago. The astonishment is gone and with it, all the answers. However, questions remained. What’s more, new problems arose and we are getting desperate to find that one all powerful solution.
South Park depiction
For me, the best depiction of contemporary Zeitgeist can be surprisingly found in an animated TV show. The one series that since its beginning in 90’s was always ahead of describing contemporary issues in society. South Park. What started as a twisted animated cartoon for a new generation is now valid more than ever. That’s why, in comparison with other shows, South Park remains so charming and distinguishable from all the others.
With the end of the last season, people of South Park defeated the all-powerful advertisement (literally), when they finally stood up against the manipulation and killed advertisements that grew up to be so clever that they became unrecognisable from the general population. Now, let’s get back to the Zeitgeist theme again; with the defeat of advertising, people were no longer brainwashed and were able to make their own choices. People these days are also able to make up their minds more freely than any other time in the history of humanity.
But without the voice of a leadership, people don’t know how to choose and what to choose from anymore. There are so many thoughts, instantly reachable on social media and the internet that people are confused. And that’s completely understandable. This is exacly the overarching topic of South Park, since the new season aired a month ago. People of South Park, the same as people in the real world choose to “not choose”, by being completely apathic to the result of some important choices- this is what happens with presidential ballot and the choice between Turd Sandwich and a Giant Douche in the show. The framing is almost perfect when the “‘member berries” are introduced. These berries are unlike any other; they remind people of good old times, which makes them completely oblivious to their future. I guess you could call it living in the past. See the resemblance yet?
“Remember 80’s? Remember 90’s? Yeah, I ‘member!”
The frustration of not being able to choose is best portrayed with Randy Marsh questioning people’s choices. It almost seem that one day, inhabitants of South Park belong to one group and with the next morning, they turn sides and support the opposite stance. The frustration only intensifies when he comes to realise that he’s the same.
Zeitgeist of our era
What’s the Zeitgeist of our era? According to South Park, it’s the inability to choose and stand with the decision. Everything is in question these days and people can’t choose. Not because they decided not to choose, but simply, because they choose too much, switching sides with every new tide. There is just too much bullshit all around us. Maybe that’s why Giant Douche wins in South Park. People want to see honesty and an easy choice. The problem is however that by switching sides every now and then they don’t choose at all. They think they did. But they didn’t, which only means that there is nowhere to go, if only to the past, represented by ‘member berries.