Capturing the Zeitgeist

What does it mean to capture the zeitgeist? It’s one of those things that everyone seems to throw around or be chasing, but no one seems to really nail down. I certainly couldn’t have given you a definition. It’s one of those things that “you know when you see it.”

Perhaps you might have guessed, considering the harsh sounds, that the word is German. In German, “zeit” means time and “geist” means spirit. According to Oxford, the definition is “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” Literally, the spirit of the time. So, things that capture the zeitgeist are those that tap the vein of an era. It’s like hitting the gold rush at just the right moment. It is so perfectly connecting with a moment that you rocket to fame.

When I think of quintessential things that “captured the Zeitgeist,” I think of The Beatles. For a while, I resisted their charms. As a little kid, my big rebellion was telling my brother that I did not like The Beatles, or any other classic rock for that matter. He was appalled that he could be related to someone so uncultured. So, he hung a Beatles poster high up in the skylight in my room… too high in fact, for me to take it down. After years of staring up at Paul, John, Ringo, and George, my tastes improved. I do in fact now love The Beatles, just like everyone else.

What is far more interesting to me than their music, though, is how they became the biggest band that the world has ever seen. The band achieved total cultural dominance, they “captured the zeitgeist” in the 1960s. I’ve always found the phenomenon of popularity as, if not more, interesting as art itself. It’s what makes me equally interested in The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Star Wars, Titanic, One Direction, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games. You could say that I’m an anti-indie cool bro — I like things even more once they get popular. I’m just so intrigued by the way so many people can be feeling the same thing at the same time.

That’s what made me fall in love with Daisy Jones & The Six, a book by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It’s a love story, but more than that, it is the story of a band that captures a generation. The fictional band, based on Fleetwood Mac, has their own TV show that came out yesterday on Amazon Prime.

I’ve been loving it, though reviews have been mixed. There is lots of praise for the acting and the 70s aesthetic, but less for the script or format. No matter what you think of it, though, it will get you thinking about what it takes to become the biggest band in the world. That’s always been an intriguing question to me, because it’s one that we need to answer to make change. I hear you saying… “but why do we need to understand sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll to decrease greenhouse gas emissions?”

Well, in a way, pop culture that captures the zeitgeist is doing the exact same thing as popular movements like the Arab Spring or the Civil Rights Movement. We have to be asking ourselves the same questions that rock stars do. How do we break through with the public? This needs to drive our every move. This is actually the question that brought us to co-founding On the Level. We didn’t necessarily think that a one-stop shop for climate action would blow up the climate movement on its own, but we did recognize that the climate movement needed to be accessible if it were going to grow at the scale we need it to. This is still the question driving us today. When we dream of what we could become, we think about what the world might look like if 12 million people used On the Level to find their place in the climate movement, if the millions of people who watched Don’t Look Up were able to immediately find a way to act, or if all of Billie Eilish’s millions of followers were plugged into the movement through our platform. Speaking of, want to join the climate movement? Find an action with us today.

Find your home in the climate movement!

While I still don’t think the climate movement as a whole has broken through, occasionally we see glimpses of what that might look like. Just this week, the protests to stop the Willow Project in Alaska have garnered widespread attention. Just check out this tweet from Jamie Henn.

Twitter avatar for @jamieclimate
Jamie Henn @jamieclimate
The Willow Project is now a top trend on TikTok: the only things getting more attention are Bieber, Gomez, and the month of March. Safe to say this has become a cultural moment. The White House has a genuine messaging crisis on their hands.

That’s a lot of views, and they’re rising fast. Here’s an example of one of the videos. For those who don’t know, the Willow Project is a giant ConocoPhillips drilling proposal in Alaska that the Biden administration is considering right now. They are set to release a decision soon, and to say its controversial would be an understatement. Alaska’s bipartisan congressional delegation is going all in on keeping the project on track, environmental groups are going all in on canceling it altogether, and the Biden administration is trying to find a compromise that pleases no one. One thing is sure, though, it would be a climate disaster. CNN writes:

“By the administration’s own estimates, the project would generate enough oil to release 9.2 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon pollution a year – equivalent to adding 2 million gas-powered cars to the roads. Over the course of 30 years, climate groups have estimated it would release around 278 million metric tons of carbon pollution, which is more than what 70 coal-fired power plants could produce every year.”

Perhaps most insanely, due to climate change, the permafrost that keeps the ground solid enough for infrastructure is melting. Conoco’s answer? They plan to refreeze the ground before drilling for more climate-warming oil. WHAT???

You can use this Protect the Arctic action page to make your opposition to the project known.

Say No to the Willow Project!

After feeling depressed about the state of the world, maybe do yourself a favor and rock out to Daisy Jones & The Six. You can even call it research! One day, with your help, we’ll capture the zeitgeist too 🙂 After all, even The Beatles had their Hamburg years.

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