“Another is the fact that the earth he fell into in 1976 was such a prescient reflection of our own. Choose your subtext—the politics of fear, substance abuse, domestic violence, celebrity culture, corporate corruption, climate change, the sexualization of innocence.”
I wrote these sentences down in my journal on the plane, from the pages of a fashion magazine tucked in the seat pocket in front of me. I’ve remembered them more than once here.
I’m not sure what to do to be wise to these times. Stop reading fashion magazines altogether and pick up Proust, whose work I’ve meaning to read for years now? Refuse to watch Asia MTV while I run at the gym and turn instead to a news network?
Fashion and popular culture are as much indicators of our human climate as a lauded piece of literature is. Human trafficking is a big problem in Mongolia. Young women go to Honk Kong as prostitutes with the plan to run away once they’ve saved some money. Maybe 1 in 100 successfully carry out the plan. I want to know what those women are watching on TV—and it’s unlikely to be CNN.
Part of the explanation for why a solid half of Mongolian TV networks air music video live chat shows for most of the day and night lies in the fact that Mongolia is an incredibly young country, with a majority of the population age 30 or under.
On the way home from the gym once, a poem came on random. I listened to a poem read in a deep, puffed up voice about Kublai Khan’s Xanadu by Coleridge. Against the backdrop of twilight in Ulaanbaatar, where immigrants from the countryside with rivers of wrinkles down their faces walked past me alongside groups of eyelinered teenagers on the dirty sidewalk, the poem in my ears just didn’t hold a lot of relevance. To me, at least. It’s extremely arguable that I should read more classics and do more research in the musty basements of libraries. It’s also possible that what I want to know won’t be found there.