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What is Romanticism's influence on today's culture?

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Romanticism, a movement emphasizing individual self-expression and emotional power in the arts, has left a profound influence on today's culture. Its focus on individualism and emotional intensity can be traced in various forms of art and literature, including the Victorian era works and the "decadent" movement. The Romantic's emphasis on the importance of nature and the introspective understanding of it are still prevalent. Additionally, the "dark romanticism" gave rise to genres like horror and science fiction, questioning the uncontrollable consequences of technological advancement.

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Romanticism was a movement in the arts centered in Europe and North America. It emphasized art as a form of individual self-expression and believed the value of an artistic work lay in its emotional power rather than technical excellence.

One problem in determining the degree to which it was influential is whether one regards it as a cause or symptom. If, for example, one sees Romanticism as an expression of bourgeois culture, replacing the ethos of aristocratic culture with a bourgeois one, then the subsequent emphasis on individual emotion and authenticity as a value in art would not be so much an influence of Romanticism as a growth of the culture shift of which it was a symptom.

The individualism and emotional emphasis of Romanticism is amplified in many works of the Victorian era, and leads to the "decadent" movement at the end of the 19th century. One can also argue that various expressionistic forms of art are an extreme forms of Romanticism.

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The Romantics also stressed the importance of nature in our daily lives. One of the earliest and best known romantic poets, William Wordsworth, wrote this line in the poem "Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey":

For I have learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes the still, sad music of humanity.

These lines indicate the introspective, personal nature of the romantic poets, writers, and artists. To them, the natural world was more than just something to be analyzed scientifically, it was something to be felt and experienced. The path to self-knowledge and to God lay in the understanding of nature on an individual basis.

Romanticism also gave rise to a parallel movement sometimes referred to as “gothic” or “dark romanticism.” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in the 1820s, is a good example of this type of romanticism. It is important still, because it was instrumental in starting the genres of horror and science fiction, which are still prevalent in literature and the arts today.

Frankenstein was ahead of its time thematically, as it questioned the value of scientific advancement in light of man’s inherent fallibility, asking the still crucial question, “Can we really control what we create?” Think about the technology that we have created but cannot control in modern life: computers and communications--hacking is an unexpected consequence of modern technology. Nuclear weapons—how long is it going to take before a fringe group sets off a dirty bomb somewhere? Social media—look at how terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda are able to recruit globally.

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First, we must acknowledge that there is no one culture that is shared by all people, even within a single country.  Therefore, any discussion of the impact of Romanticism on our culture must be generalized and will not apply to all people.  That said, we can identify at least two important ways in which Romanticism affects our culture today.

Individualism.  The Romantics were very interested in the uniqueness of the individual.  They encouraged people to follow their own desires instead of conforming to societal norms.  We have arguably taken this to extremes in the United States, with a culture that encourages people to do whatever they feel like doing.

Emotion over reason.  This can arguably be seen in the clash in our country between religion and science.  People who believe in the Bible as literal truth typically believe this because they have an emotional or intuitive certainty that the Bible is the word of God.  This is not something that can be proven scientifically or objectively.  Therefore, they use emotion as the basis of their decision to reject scientific ideas such as evolution and to place their faith in the Bible.

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