by Francesca Carola
Since the upcoming of this keyword in the 17th century, the word zeitgeist has become more and more present not only in literature and philosophical science but also in everday life. Now the question rises, if zeitgeist is at all a keyword of the 21st century.
Skimming through the internet, there are several results for zeitgeist. It is a title for an article series about political events, the heading for a blog concerning the everyday life of Christians today, a furniture shop that praises itself for its fresh and new ideas, a half-marathon in the USA and a documentary series about the society of today.
As different as the several „zeitgeists“ seem, they all have one thing in common: the claim t o be actual, modern, now, concerning events happening at the moment, present. If we try to create an image, it is the image of how we see the present; which set of beliefs, ideas and values produce „our“ present and what makes it different from the present of past generations. At the same time, it seems that the present use of Zeitgeist always contains a negative rating of our time. Mostly, the political and social events or developments are questioned and analyzed.
Scientific literature, however, associate Zeitgeist to illustrate the subject of their research; to illustrate that they are analyzing a certain decade or the changes a field undertook. Examples are „Measuring the effects of no-fault divorce laws across fifty states: Quantifying a zeitgeist” by Harvey J. Sepler from 1981 or “More than there’s a crowd… in the best interest of companies! Crowdfunding as Zeitgeist or ideology?“ by Jérôme Meric, Karima Bouiass, Isabelle Maque publlished 2015.
But what makes this word so attractive? First, a look on how the word was established. In the 18th century, the Latin term „genius seculi“ was used by the German philologist Christian Adolph Klotz for one of his literatic works. The following critic from Johann Gottfried Herder (to be found in Kritische Wälder oder Betrachtungen, die Wissenschaft und Kunst des Schönen betreffend, nach Maßgabe neuerer Schriften, 1769) one of the most important German authors during the Sturm und Drang period, contained the German translation: Zeitgeist.
What makes the actual uses of zeitgeist negatively connoted?
This video shows the short film „Zeitgeist“ (2007) by Peter Joseph, who later released several films under the same name. The video is starting with the big bang and concludes in the events around 9/11 and supposedly in the Iraqi war. On his website, creator Joseph describes „zeitgeist“ as “dealing with »intellectual, spiritual, cultural awareness of the time« [http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/about.html]
Very interesting despite what Joseph views as zeitgeist (war and terror) is the fact that the film is “designed for public consumption without the inhibition of most copyright limitations” which opposes it to the rest of the average films being produced. As many viewers consume movies and series via Internet on illegal platforms, this film may be contributing to a new way of publishing films and art media – creating a new zeitgeist by documenting the zeitgeist.
The American film „Men, Women & Children“ was called „#zeitgeist“ in Germany. The trailer shows people of different ages trying to cope with the social media surrounding them in their everyday life. We see parent-child conflicts, struggles in school and in marriages.
This picture by artist Andreas Wagner and is inspired by famous painters of the Surrealism.
All three use „Zeitgeist“ to make clear that they are critizing what they see as society and the values this society holds. Interesting is that all of
Compared to that, the website of the furniture shop is the complete opposite. Here, Zeitgeist has a positive connotation as it is used to praise the style and design of the furniture – possibly a way to suggest to the costumer that by buying their products he or she is uptodate, modern, fashionable and very trendy. Furthermore, they position themselves opposite to old-fashioned furniture – actuality is a key feature of their products.
But what about Zeitgeist and the word mainstream? Could it be, that those words have become synonymous? For those who believe that zeitgeist doesn’t really exist or creates an image or idea that leads in the wrong way, it could describe things they find unnecessary or too modern and hence refer to them as ‚following the zeitgeist’. It has a negative connotation to pursue a certain way of lifestyle and to not seek the individual and maybe more questioning lifepath. It could be linked to the idea of mainstream, as the idea of mainstream and following the mainstream is often viewed as giving up personality and individuality to be able to enjoy an easier way of living according to what is mainstream.
To conclude, it seems that Zeitgeist is a word of the 21st century as it links well to events happening in the present but also to every century to come and every century to pass. It has no boundaries when it comes to the timing, and being a synonym for mainstream, it has a place in our every day life.