The Spectre of a Smirking Demon

by Kenneth Francis (June 2023)

The Demon Seated
, Mikhail Vrubel, 1890



When I see what passes for high culture today or stroll through city streets that resemble a giant car park for tall spaceships, surrounded by tents for the homeless, I wonder is the West possessed by a grotesque, smirking demon. And when I think back to the past, despite all its flaws, I lament and feel like sparing a thought for today’s luddites, who I identify with when it comes to aesthetics and beauty.

Beyond Eden and after The Fall, there has never been a golden epoch. But let’s briefly look at a couple of comparisons and the relative positives and negatives of two separate eras. Where to begin? Musically, we never had it so bad at the beginning and beyond the second decade of the 21st Century.

Aside from dreadful ‘music,’with the demise of the vinyl LP and 45-record, we’ve gone from analogue to digital to anomie. Let me first explain the ‘anomie’ reference, a phrase coined by French sociologist Emile Durkheim, near the end of the 19th Century.

One aspect of anomie is soulless alienation. We see good examples of this in the gigantic, Brutalist shopping malls of suburbia, covered in glass and gigantic slabs of stone, and inhabited by zombie-like creatures dressed in yoga pants and tracksuits, wearing headphones while staring into their iPhones as they waddle like penguins hunting for the best bargains. They can’t even hear the dreadful mall muzak that pollutes the air in these gigantic hellholes.

Compared to the consumerism of yesteryear, where one strolled through a village or High Street in search of goods or went to the cinema, Durkheim’s version of anomie has gone from a relatively unpleasant experience to the pits of Hell, despite the techno clones thinking they have the world in their hands.

It’s true the future of cinema lies in handhelds, but nothing compares to the big screen. During the 1970s, my experience of wild sex was kissing in the back row of the movies on a Saturday night. What relatively innocent times compared to today.

Now, we live in an age where producers and directors are tailoring their movies to online viewers, not to mention the abundance of online pornography. According to statistics, young people are opting for online viewing instead of the ‘box-office’ experience of yore.

Independent movie theatres, even multiplex-cinemas, are a thing of the past. The average young person watches a movie or listens to music on a personal device, all alone by himself.

Consider the purchase of music today and in the past: Let’s call the following hypothetical character, 23-year-old ‘Traditional Bob,’ born in 1944. Prior to the satanic turbo-hijacking of the West, ‘Bob’ graduated from high school and served his apprenticeship as an electrician. A lover of the Arts, he has read almost all the classics and loves the theatre.

One Saturday afternoon, he left his house and got onto a bus to visit the nearest music store, which has long-since been converted to a money-laundering racket, operating ostensibly as an iPhone store. On the bus, ‘Bob’ sits upstairs and has a smoke, while chatting to a stranger who obliged ‘Bob’ for a ‘light’ for his cigarette.

Getting off the bus, ‘Bob’ enters the music store and browses around it before buying the latest Number 1 record or popular LP. ‘Bob’ recently broke up with his girlfriend but he meets a young lady in the store, whom he met on several occasions while browsing. She has the same musical interests as ‘Bob,’ and he asks her out on a date, to which she agrees.

The hipster behind the counter chats to ‘Bob,’ telling him about the latest band to watch out for and recommending an upcoming concert. On his way home, Bob decides to drop into a little chapel, which has now been converted to an adult store/’massage’ parlour with a flashing neon sign of a dildo over the front door. He says a prayer then continues on his way home. When he arrives home, after chatting to another stranger on the bus, he sits down sipping a cup of tea from a beautifully painted Japanese teacup while marvelling at the artwork on the LP album cover.

He then places the LP on the record player, puts the needle on the vinyl, sits back and listens to the tracks. Some of his friends visit ‘Bob’ later that day for coffee, and they’ll all listen to the LP and talk about it to one another, praising and/or criticising some tracks.

The quality of the tracks on vinyl is far superior to digital, as digital requires storage space, thus, the music (audio) gets compressed, losing some of its details but ‘gaining’ practicality regarding mobility and efficiency. With vinyl, we get the original recordings (‘masters’) of the album/record. To draw an analogy, it’s like comparing watching a singer perform in a concert or viewing the film of it on your iPhone.

Nowadays, the older senior-citizen ‘Bob’ brings his grandchildren on walks to the park to feed the ducks in the pond. His wife, the lady he met many years ago in the music store, stays at home baking cookies and preparing a tea party for her adult children and grandchildren. She tells ‘Bob’, not to smoke a cigarette in the presence of the kids.

Now, consider the ‘convenience’ and ‘efficiency’ that today brings us, at the push of a button or the click of a ‘mouse’: Meet ‘Zoomer Jack,’ a 23-year-old born in the year 2000. ‘Jack,’ who has been single all his life, is an atheist and alleged vegan, who eats the odd beef burger (why are so many vegans and plutocratic governments against eating meat and hetero-marriage? Bible answer: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the later times some shall depart from the faith giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils… Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” [Timothy: Chapter 4].)

‘Jack,’ who worships the State but hates the Bible, which he never read, graduated with a BA in Gender Studies. For the past six years, he’s been in therapy with the same psychiatrist who recently bought a $1m yacht. Unemployed, and sitting alone in his apartment, ‘Jack’ is mildly autistic, extremely dull, self-loathing, and never read a novel or had romance in his life. The only woman who loves him is his divorced mother, whose hair is pink and neck tattooed. She gave ‘Jack’ her electric car, after she was convicted of drink-driving. Like ‘Jack,’ the car pretends to be a vegan of sorts but is metaphorically a secret ‘meat’ eater, as it has to be charged on fossil fuel (gas) in order to run.

Most of the time, ‘Jack’ spends watching TV, where he has never seen a commercial with a white couple who are straight. He also views pornography and masturbates twice a day. Some evenings, he orders a coffee (made with fluoride water) and a vegan burger from his local takeaway. When it arrives, he takes his antidepressants and anxiety pills, then sips the coffee from a polystyrene cup. He doesn’t have to leave his apartment to buy a music disc, as he can avail of services like Spotify, YouTube Music or Apple Music, all at the push of a button. In fact, he doesn’t have to speak to some store music buff, as he can get all this information from algorithms that recommend new artists and tracks.

Recently, he was recommended a song (about oral sex) by rapper Cardi B. After listening to it, ‘Jack’ smokes a cannabis joint, while downloading Zoom and chatting to ‘friends’ who he’s never met face-to-face. He rarely leaves the house but, when he does go for a walk, he constantly films most things he sees—from a dog defecating in a park, to upskirt shots while travelling on a bus.

Before getting into bed, he takes a sleeping pill. The quilt on his bed has the rainbow pattern colours and, on his wall, hangs the Ukrainian flag. ‘Jack’ is also prone to suicidal thoughts. He lives in an age where the only thing safe to talk about is sports results; everything else is at risk of committing a ‘thought crime.’ All of this would surely bring a smile to the face of a demon.

The Irish writer John Waters, who is the antithesis of ‘Jack,’ has written a lot about music and culture. Growing up in the 1960s, he said that when he was a kid, and had albums or cassettes, he would take an armful or a pocket-full of them to a friend’s house, and some other friends would gather around and listen to the music, with each person introducing the artist and talking about it.

He added: “Out of that kind of communion, expanded and multiplied many […] times, was a living vibrant culture that was almost invisible in its generality. You were aware it was there but you didn’t see it until suddenly it erupted in the form of a new band. But when you think about it now, it’s like ‘push-button’ stuff. So, if I want to send a song [to a friend], I just send you a link or whatever; you play it and might send me a two-line email saying, ‘yea, that was great,’ but you’re not talking about what it’s about.”

The philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, during the 1980s’ BBC TV series The Great Philosophers, said: “We don’t even seek truth anymore but simply efficiency. For us, everything is to be made as flexible as possible so as to be used as efficiently as possible.”

Indeed, we seem to be reaching for an efficiency only to strive to become more efficient, thus ending up as slaves or soulless clones, as well as philistine vandals of high art.

In Colossians 3:23, St Paul said: ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.’ Paul is saying that if you work through the Lord, the outcome will be that derived of the Logos: Beauty, Logic, etc; whereas working for human masters at the altar of AI is open to errors or darkness.

Recently, a writer who’ll remain anonymous, said he asked AI to illustrate a self-portrait of what it looks like. The result was a grotesque-looking, smirking demon. Makes one wonder was the AI programmed by someone who was possessed by an evil spirit. Today’s counter culture is such a moral abomination, the devil has come out of the Pit but most people can’t even see him.


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Kenneth Francis is a Contributing Editor at New English Review. For the past 30 years, he has worked as an editor in various publications, as well as a university lecturer in journalism. He also holds an MA in Theology and is the author of The Little Book of God, Mind, Cosmos and Truth (St Pauls Publishing) and, most recently, The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd (with Theodore Dalrymple) and Neither Trumpets Nor Violins (with Theodore Dalrymple and Samuel Hux).

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast


2 Responses

  1. I’ve been wondering for decades what people mean by the richer sound of vinyl.
    I still don’t get it.

    I went from cassettes to CDs, so CDs struck me as obviously superior of the two. I hear the superiority of vinyl over cassettes, of course. But not over CDs.

    Even when the CD is AAD or ADD, based on an originally analog recording, it’s better. Deeper, clearer, crisper, and usually with even some of the flaws of the vinyl cleaned up. Any remaining static or scratches merely convey what the analog record sounded like, a bit.

    A DDD all digital recording is the best of all. Deep, rich, clean, crisp, clear. No static, no scratches, no hiss from the recording studio. If it’s a live recording, it will still be polluted by things like audience noise, but perversely even that will be clearer and more vividly rendered, for those who like that sort of thing.

    There is no way a commercial vinyl record is better than a commercial DDD CD recording.

    Doesn’t mean I don’t agree with a lot of the rest of this column, but this particular point has struck me as either pure nonsense or as some sort of perception or concept I just can’t get for 30 plus years. It’s as though people are really talking about something else entirely under the name of audio quality, some concept I don’t get.

    Unless the point is they like the pops, hisses, crackles, static, and other analog recording noise. OK, then I would see the difference. It’s just that to me that was always audio garbage to be got rid of, and CD technology finally did so.

  2. I DID burst out laughing when I got to the part where the degraded half-human numale Jack has hung a Ukrainian flag. L’ idée juste, indeed.

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