I was reading in the Costco magazine about Marvel Studios movies and how they have become so popular when I ran across the word “zeitgeist.” The article read, “10 years ago, Marvel truly exploded into the zeitgeist when the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched with Iron Man.”
Zeitgeist – noun zeit·geist ˈtsīt-ˌgīst, ˈzīt-
1. the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era
2. the general beliefs, ideas, and spirit of a time and place
Etymology – From German zeitgeist (Herder, 1769) from zeit meaning time and geist meaning spirit or ghost.
Zeitgeist, unrelated to poltergeist which is a ghost or other supernatural being responsible for loud noises and throwing objects, refers to an invisible agent or force dominating the characteristics of a given epoch in world history. The concept comes from 18th century German philosophy translated as “spirit of the age” or “spirit of the times.”
Scholars have long maintained that each era has a unique spirit, a nature or climate that sets it apart from all other epochs. Some writers and artists assert that the true zeitgeist of an era cannot be known until it is over and several have declared that only artists or philosophers can adequately explain it. “Zeitgeist” has been a useful addition to the English language since at least 1835.
Zeitgeist used in a sentence: The movie does an excellent job of capturing the zeitgeist of the dot-com boom. –Rachel Pasqua, quoted in Adweek, 3 Nov. 2016
Gone is the obvious wink-to-camera cheese that made the original ‘60s show such an embedded piece of the American TV zeitgeist. — Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, “Lost in Space Netflix review: Danger, Will Robinson (and fans of rational plots)” 13 Apr. 2018
That mission has since broadened to promote a diverse community of international artists, all the while charming the wider art world with its zeitgeist-tapping exhibitions. — Thomas Gebremedhin, WSJ, “A New Art Space in New York City’s East Village,” 29 May 2018
There are zeitgeist theories regarding leadership and business. Leo Tolstoy believed that leadership was a product of the zeitgeist or social circumstances of the time. On the other hand, Thomas Carlyle proposed the great man theory that stresses leaders do not become leaders by fate or accident. They instead possess characteristics of great leaders and these characteristics allow them to obtain positions of power.
Executives, venture capitalists, journalists and authors have argued that the idea of a zeitgeist is useful in understanding the emergence of industries and evaluating the relative value of innovations giving those who achieve this understanding an advantage in business.
Do you find the zeitgeist of today elusive and difficult to comprehend, almost ghostly? Do you attribute modern day success more to the fortunate timing of the zeitgeist or, as Mr. Carlyle proposes, the great man theory? Please share your experience with our readers and submit any thoughts on this month’s column or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.