'Hotel California' and America's decomposing values

"Hotel California," the signature song by the Eagles and probably their most popular, is a stinging critique and indictment of the American dream and the dominant consumer culture.  There's a certain irony in that, since the band hit super-stardom early in their career in the seventies and quickly succeeded in reaching the ultimate American dream of becoming rich and famous.

Like most rock bands, they emerged out of the sixties rebelling against the blandness and conformity of previous generations, but whether the band realized it or not, Hotel California is really a conservative song.  It paints a picture of a society run amok with hyper-individualism and selfishness that is the end result of a secular (i.e., godless) consumer culture that's rejected the spiritual and conservative values of restraint, tradition, and obligation. 

Not only is there a correlation between secular humanism and materialism, but there is also a correlation between a society that values entertainment and pleasure and the dark side it engenders, as portrayed in "Hotel California" – a metaphor for a country that has descended into decadence and despair.  There are two trends that bear this out.

First, there is the decadence as portrayed in present-day San Francisco.  Recently SFGate.com posted a story on how bad downtown San Francisco has gotten: junkies, the homeless and petty criminals "smashing and grabbing" possessions out of parked cars (which made me think of "Hotel California"). This is the flip-side of the coin of a society pursuing fun and good times, just in more socially acceptable ways.  It is the end result of and logical conclusion to a philosophy of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" that has been distorted beyond recognition, where happiness has become identified with  "it's party time," rooted in materialism and detached from more significant and transcendental forms of joy and pleasure rooted in obligation and charity. 

The roots of "the pleasure society" go all the way back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Epicurus, who proclaimed that seeking pleasure through the avoidance of pain and suffering is the primary objective and value of human existence.  A line from him can be drawn to the father of hedonism, the Marquis de Sade (from whom the word "sadism" originated), who promoted the liberation of the individual through unlimited and promiscuous sexual behavior, and then to the father of existentialism, Friedrich Nietzsche, who in his book Beyond Good and Evil destroyed the old objective concepts of morality, leading to today's moral relativism.  Right and wrong have been inverted to the point where taboos and bad behavior have become mainstream because of the permissiveness of the liberal and modern value-free culture. 

The second trend is the emergence of a suicide epidemic, thrust into the public consciousness with the recent deaths of two celebrities by their own hands: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

[University of Chicago professor Allan] Bloom perceived a sense of despair and "disenchantment" with the world, a fact which he traced back to the abandonment of moral values that once permeated the culture[.] ... 

Bloom goes on to note that parents have difficulty passing on these essential moral values because they themselves don't know what they believe.  When schools try to do the same, the watered-down nature of the values makes them synthetic. ... 

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain grew up in the era described by Bloom.  Is it possible that their despair had its roots in a society which shunned values and watered down its morals, leaving them with little purpose and meaning for which to live?  And if such was the case with their generation...what will it be for those who are coming behind them?

This is where the American dream has ended – where the homeless and drug addicts are living on streets strewn with trash, needles, and feces, and where a suicide epidemic prevails.  We've all become slaves to consumerism, materialism, and hedonism – or, in what I believe is most powerful line in "Hotel California," "we are just prisoners here of our own device."

Image: Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons.

"Hotel California," the signature song by the Eagles and probably their most popular, is a stinging critique and indictment of the American dream and the dominant consumer culture.  There's a certain irony in that, since the band hit super-stardom early in their career in the seventies and quickly succeeded in reaching the ultimate American dream of becoming rich and famous.

Like most rock bands, they emerged out of the sixties rebelling against the blandness and conformity of previous generations, but whether the band realized it or not, Hotel California is really a conservative song.  It paints a picture of a society run amok with hyper-individualism and selfishness that is the end result of a secular (i.e., godless) consumer culture that's rejected the spiritual and conservative values of restraint, tradition, and obligation. 

Not only is there a correlation between secular humanism and materialism, but there is also a correlation between a society that values entertainment and pleasure and the dark side it engenders, as portrayed in "Hotel California" – a metaphor for a country that has descended into decadence and despair.  There are two trends that bear this out.

First, there is the decadence as portrayed in present-day San Francisco.  Recently SFGate.com posted a story on how bad downtown San Francisco has gotten: junkies, the homeless and petty criminals "smashing and grabbing" possessions out of parked cars (which made me think of "Hotel California"). This is the flip-side of the coin of a society pursuing fun and good times, just in more socially acceptable ways.  It is the end result of and logical conclusion to a philosophy of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" that has been distorted beyond recognition, where happiness has become identified with  "it's party time," rooted in materialism and detached from more significant and transcendental forms of joy and pleasure rooted in obligation and charity. 

The roots of "the pleasure society" go all the way back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Epicurus, who proclaimed that seeking pleasure through the avoidance of pain and suffering is the primary objective and value of human existence.  A line from him can be drawn to the father of hedonism, the Marquis de Sade (from whom the word "sadism" originated), who promoted the liberation of the individual through unlimited and promiscuous sexual behavior, and then to the father of existentialism, Friedrich Nietzsche, who in his book Beyond Good and Evil destroyed the old objective concepts of morality, leading to today's moral relativism.  Right and wrong have been inverted to the point where taboos and bad behavior have become mainstream because of the permissiveness of the liberal and modern value-free culture. 

The second trend is the emergence of a suicide epidemic, thrust into the public consciousness with the recent deaths of two celebrities by their own hands: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

[University of Chicago professor Allan] Bloom perceived a sense of despair and "disenchantment" with the world, a fact which he traced back to the abandonment of moral values that once permeated the culture[.] ... 

Bloom goes on to note that parents have difficulty passing on these essential moral values because they themselves don't know what they believe.  When schools try to do the same, the watered-down nature of the values makes them synthetic. ... 

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain grew up in the era described by Bloom.  Is it possible that their despair had its roots in a society which shunned values and watered down its morals, leaving them with little purpose and meaning for which to live?  And if such was the case with their generation...what will it be for those who are coming behind them?

This is where the American dream has ended – where the homeless and drug addicts are living on streets strewn with trash, needles, and feces, and where a suicide epidemic prevails.  We've all become slaves to consumerism, materialism, and hedonism – or, in what I believe is most powerful line in "Hotel California," "we are just prisoners here of our own device."

Image: Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons.