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Saturday, August 21, 2004

The State of Pop Culture Address

I am genuinely worried about the direction that popular culture is going. Sure, some people may worry about the defecit or taxes or the war on terror, but that's all bullshit. We may look back and laugh about bad presidents or unjust wars, but we'll be remembered by future generations as they look upon our entertainment.

American pop culture definitely works in cycles. For every couple years of really interesting, intelligent and insightful material, there's 10 years or so of awful, bubblegum-shit pop music accompanied by prop comics smashing fruit and doing Jack Nicholson impressions.

To illustrate, think of the late 60s and early 70s. Musically, a lot of thought was put behind the music. Even a group that started out as poppy as the Beatles had to quit smiling, smoke a mountain of weed and start writing shit that made people think (sort of). Comics like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin pushed the boundaries and forced people to redefine what was acceptable. This limped through the 70s, we elected Reagan, and then the bottom dropped out.

Some people, myself included, are ferocious defenders of the 1980s. And there truly was great stuff created in the 80s. What people have to remember, however, is that no one was buying New Order albums. People who listened to the Cure or the Smiths were freaks. Everybody was busy rushing to Tower to get Bon Jovi, Warrant, Lita Ford, etc. And standup comedy? It was the peak of popularity for Gallagher, Yakov Smirnoff and younger more irritating versions of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. I'd love to say mediocrity held sway, but calling the 80s mediocre is generous.

So along come the 90s and the pendulum finally swings the other way for a little bit. We get grunge (which idiots like to make fun of today), edgy comics like Bill Hicks and lots and lots of sarcasm. Generation X becomes undefinable, something that corporations can't sell to, and therefore, public enemy number one. Pepsi and Coke know that they have to destroy this 'individualist' fad, and they find ready allies in white trash kids from the south who want to be famous (Britney, Christina, Backstreet boys), and hair metal losers that lost their jobs (Metallica, Vince Neil).

But how is this coalition of the awful going to destroy the current culture? It suddenly occurs to them, NOSTALGIA! So all the forces of evil team up with the most evil entity of them all, VH1, and begin a long process of saturating the world with so much 'retro' that it doesn't even know what's current. Combine that with electing Bush again (Is it 2000 or 1990?), starting a war, tanking the economy. Suddenly thoughtful entertainment isn't so high on America's priorities anymore is it?

And that brings us to today and why I'm so worried. In times of trouble, when there's a complete douchebag in the white house and things everywhere look grim, people turn to the Carrot Tops of the world for comedy, they turn to Good Charlotte for their punk music, they turn to Fear Factor on TV. No one wants to think, they don't even want to be entertained. People just want to be distracted, and there's a million awful acts waiting in the wings to do just that. Every city in this country has two morning DJs that have been waiting 15 years for the pendulum to swing. Now sit back and watch the rest of the country fill their pockets with money for making Al-Quada jokes.

And then, over the course of the next few years, the 90s will look more and more like the Howard Dean campaign. Good enough to get everyone's hopes up, but then destroyed by evil people that don't see how they can make money off of it.



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