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You Say You Want a Devolution?
December 8, 2011 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Everything feels old. There have been no radical changes in style, culture, art, and fashion over the last 20 years—a stark contrast to every other two decade period going all the way back into the 19th-century, Kurt Anderson argues in Vanity Fair. Every 20 year period marked a drastic and unmistakable shift in cultural appearance with the exception of our current quarter century.

The article, in full, is nuanced and concedes some things have changed a lot, technology mainly, but other things which used to change a lot - fashion, pop culture, etc have remained fairly much the same over the past 20 or 25 years, a distinctly unusual condition since the 19th century. Compare our last 20 years with: 1957 to 1977. 1932 to 1952. 1902 to 1922.

Anderson is not the first the notice it. Simon Reynolds recent book Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past (blog) has been getting a lot of attention, looking at the question through the world of music. Culture has always remixed, but currently genuine innovation, genuine future-now, is just the pasts future remixed into a sort of perpetual groundhog day. There are underlying structural reasons for this, as argued in the above essays.
posted by stbalbach (258 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
Skinny jeans weren't popular in '92. Boom, roasted.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:17 AM on December 8, 2011 [17 favorites]


Just wait til all those Iraq/Afghanistan vets get back - all the hoipolloi will lining up to get their designer prosthetics.
posted by spicynuts at 8:20 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


What?

I mean really?
posted by empath at 8:21 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Skinny jeans weren't popular in '92.

No, but if you go down to the NYU/SVA/New School/etc. stomping grounds in the East Village the incoming classes look like they fell right out of a Saved By The Bell casting call. A lot of hip (read: non-Top 40) music right now is using production techniques straight out of 1994, with just slightly more fidelity/better synths.

It's not an all-encompassing zeitgeist, but the cultural reverence to the 80s and 90s has gone way past the simple retro-fetishism and irony.
posted by griphus at 8:24 AM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also, compare Lollapalooza in 1991

To Lollapalooza in 2011
posted by empath at 8:24 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


That explains it. I have been desperately waiting for flare and boot-cut jeans for women to go out of style for seemingly forever...

All I want are regular, old black jeans that don't make me look like I'm auditioning for "Scooby Doo" is that so much to ask?
posted by JoanArkham at 8:25 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Datamoshing.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:25 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


We're already living in the singularity, people.
posted by gauche at 8:26 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmmm. Two of those periods have World Wars smack in the middle.
posted by XMLicious at 8:26 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


There have been no radical changes in style, culture, art, and fashion over the last 20 years

The globalization and fragmentation of modern popular culture is a radical change, arguably the most radical change pop culture has ever undergone. Mr. Anderson's inability to point at just one thing may make him feel old, but it doesn't mean nothing interesting is happening.
posted by mhoye at 8:27 AM on December 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Nothing is new in music? The current fad/trend of dubstep would say otherwise (and it's not mentioned on Simon Reynold's blog, at the time of posting this comment).

But there does seem to be a lot more folding in old styles (musical and otherwise) into new styles. But some of that (esp. retro synths) have never really been out of style completely.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:27 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


TLDR i'm no longer on the cutting edge so i guess it mus not exist
posted by JingleButt_HiRes_REAL.gif at 8:27 AM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is really interesting. I wonder if it is not that there have been no changes in the past 20 years, but that there was a large amount of change from mid-80s to mid-2000s, and then a shift backwards from the mid 2000s to the mid 10s.
posted by rebent at 8:28 AM on December 8, 2011


this person has not spent any amount of time with actual young people. the modern look is diverse and syncretic and heavy steeped in nostalgia, but it is a distinct look.
posted by The Whelk at 8:28 AM on December 8, 2011 [22 favorites]


Article abstract:

Nothing has changed except the vast majority of things that have.
posted by pokermonk at 8:29 AM on December 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hmmm. Two of those periods have World Wars smack in the middle.

And the other one has damn-near the entire Civil Rights movement, plus the Vietnam War, plus the space race.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:30 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Commercialization has been perfected.
posted by dglynn at 8:30 AM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Maybe we're just done fucking around.
posted by fungible at 8:31 AM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's not an all-encompassing zeitgeist, but the cultural reverence to the 80s and 90s has gone way past the simple retro-fetishism and irony.

That explains it. I have been desperately waiting for flare and boot-cut jeans for women to go out of style for seemingly forever...

The time you are waiting for is 2006. We've since gone past bootcut, through the skinny jeans resurgence, and are on to carrot cut.

But the carrot cuts look fucking stupid, so you might want to wait.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:31 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


The major thing that's changed is how much time people spend online developing their personas there. How your facebook page looks might be more important than how you look in real life.
posted by empath at 8:31 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wonder if the Germans have a word for "he's wrong, but he has a point."
posted by griphus at 8:32 AM on December 8, 2011 [37 favorites]


Okay, how about this. I just went to Gaga's Workshop and was pleasantly surprised at the aesthetic, lots of it was geared toward young people (granted rich young people) and it was in this Fauvist-30s-meets-80s Alternative Cartoon mode that every kid in there freakin' loved. It was like walking into Face Like A Frog and that kind of haring-super deformed bendy cartoon look has not been popular for over a decade.
posted by The Whelk at 8:32 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


concedes some things have changed a lot, technology mainly

But other than THAT what've the Romans ever done that was cool?
posted by DU at 8:33 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kids are always experimenting. I still wear the same jeans a polo I wore 20 years ago, hair length and style has not changed at all. Steve Jobs in his jeans and black turtle did not change. Anyone else see a radical change in their look in the past 20 years? I don't mean from Goth kid to family man, but normal attire.
posted by stbalbach at 8:35 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The time you are waiting for is 2006. We've since gone past bootcut, through the skinny jeans resurgence, and are on to carrot cut.

But the carrot cuts look fucking stupid, so you might want to wait.


Carrot cut? Is this a real thing? I'm so glad my approach to clothes shopping involves wandering in a store and saying "Oh look, some pants" and walking out.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:35 AM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


My theory is that 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror lead to some kind of collective cultural trauma and loss of innocence, and ever since then we've been trying to hold on desperately to our innocent past. Think about it, mid-00s is around the time when this obsession with nostalgia started happening. And the 80's/90's, relatively speaking, were the height of cultural innocence; just look at how light the 'darkness' and 'angst' of 90's grunge comes across in retrospect, for example. It's more pronounced in some trends than others, but that chillwave, ambient aesthetic of late night VHS lucid dreaming of the 80's seems to encapsulate a real and melancholic yearning for a pre-traumatic childhood to me. It's like we got hit hard by a blunt force and suffered amnesia and have been reeling and trying to piece together the parts of our past to make sense of our present.
posted by naju at 8:36 AM on December 8, 2011 [30 favorites]


mhoye, very good point. But in some way, it's just old cultures caught up with a broader net. I was going to point to DJ /rupture's website and his curated collection of current happenings and "new" sounds as a source of new creations from broad backgrounds, but a lot of it is harkening back to other past cultures. Sure, it's new for many western audiences, but it's old news elsewhere. Even Zoo City (book and soundtrack) is melding a lot of old concepts and cultures to make the "new" thing. But that doesn't make it any less awesome.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:36 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone else see a radical change in their look in the past 20 years?

I went from ascots and vests to tweedy WASP but like half of that was Dr. Who
posted by The Whelk at 8:36 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am not clear on what he means by a "distinctive look." Would the 60s be an example, which borrowed heavily from art deco and arts and crafts? Or perhaps we have to go back to the origins of the 60s, to the original art deco, which borrowed heavily from ancient Egyptian motifs.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:36 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


(er ten years, 20 years ago I was wearing overalls and playing in dirt)
posted by The Whelk at 8:37 AM on December 8, 2011


Ten bucks says carrot cut jeans are going to last about as long as harem jeans. That is, long enough for them to be touted as the Next Hot Thing, but not long enough for anyone to figure out how to wear them without looking like they crapped themselves.
posted by griphus at 8:38 AM on December 8, 2011


It's not an all-encompassing zeitgeist, but the cultural reverence to the 80s and 90s has gone way past the simple retro-fetishism and irony.

Er, I meant to respond to that too.

No, it hasn't. Not any more than usual. In the eighties, for example, one could have said things went beyond "retro-fetishism and irony" regarding the fifties, but it was never really much more than putting pictures of '57 Chevy tailfins and poodle skirts on every available surface, and having claymation raisins singing the oldies.

The past influences the present...eventually. The superficial things are the most noticeable. Is this a surprise?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:39 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]



My theory is that 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror lead to some kind of collective cultural trauma and loss of innocence, and ever since then we've been trying to hold on desperately to our innocent past


America has lost it's innocence so many times I am beginning suspect it has a bucket of chicken blood by the sheets. There was a 50s revival in the 70s (in which the idea of the innocent 50s was created, at the time they called it the age of anxiety) and a 30s revival in the 80s which lead to lots of glass blocks and stupid hats. the 90s saw a uptick in Hippie Chic and the goth look went mainstream. The super-saturated "fun" look of to-day seems to be a both a Carnaby-Street-Thing combined with Raver Nostalgia, clubwear going mainstream.
posted by The Whelk at 8:41 AM on December 8, 2011 [22 favorites]


I can get on board with some of the increasingly omnipresent "we're all just regurgitating the past" meme (see also Simon Reynolds' Retromania), but this is ridiculous. I lived through the 80s and the 90s and there's no way that watching a movie from 1991 (from setting to tone to the clothes the actors are wearing) feels anything at all like it's 2011. The movies on tap 20 years ago were "The Prince of Tides," "The Fisher King," "For the Boys," "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country," "Beauty and the Beast," "My Girl," "Father of the Bride" (a remake of a 1950 movie), and "Cape Fear" (Scorsese's remake of a 1962 movie). As for music, the argument's maybe a little more valid, but not as a sweeping argument. As for fashion, well, I'll leave that for others to argue about.
posted by blucevalo at 8:41 AM on December 8, 2011


I do get a odd feeling seeing so many youth walking around with t-shirts for The Ramones or Led Zeppelin or Iron Maiden. If I had t-shirts for forty year old artists when I was a teenager, they would have had to have been for Glenn Miller or Bing Crosby. But I didn't because that was my grandmother's music.
posted by octothorpe at 8:42 AM on December 8, 2011 [18 favorites]


57 year old man finds himself out of touch with current style, culture, art, and fashion.
posted by orme at 8:42 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not any more than usual.

Outside of, say, the Stray Cats and some other rockabilly-revival stuff here or there, a good portion of brand-new music in the 1980s did not sound like music from the 50s. Take a look at some non-genre'd, non-radio Top X lists of 2011 and tell me how much of that music sounds smack-dab out of the late 80s and early 90s.
posted by griphus at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2011


America has lost it's innocence so many times I am beginning suspect it has a bucket of chicken blood by the sheets.

QFT
posted by dammitjim at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, a lot of people are creating art things with a retro look cause it's cheaper then creating something super slick. I mean, we can talk about how we eventually go from hating the imperfections brought on the means of production to fetishizing them, but that's not the point in the article is making.
posted by The Whelk at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2011


Outrageously ugly haircuts weren't popular in the 90s. I mean, some of the haircuts may have been outrageously ugly back then, but they weren't that way on purpose. Reverse bobs, chunky highlights, pasted-down bangs--you know what I'm talking about, right?
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:44 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I blame Kurt Anderson! If he and Graydon Carter had kept the original version of Spy going (approximately) 20 years ago this never would have happened!
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:45 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was just thinking this recently -- how the styles around when I was in Jr. High (1990) would fit right in with the styles today, and not necessarily because people are consciously retro now. Music, too, doesn't seem to have really changed.

I attribute it to technology and economics. Now, we are all hyper-consumers of culture, more focused on have a gagillion songs on our Ipods instead of developing a deep interest in a genre. The monetization/commodification of EVERYTHING (enabled by technology) has lead to a great convergance towards mediocrity, because MBAs now interfere with everything, and it's all about profit and standaridization instead of the risk of uniqueness. At the same time, technology means that a niche really isn't a niche -- it's not free to develop on it's own, locally, but instead has a global (mediocritizing/standardizing) exposure from teh beginning. Another aspect might be personal finances and gentrification. If young kids don't have the security today to make art and culture, because they can't afford it, then only big business can make art.
posted by yarly at 8:48 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also for thought: While technology has made music from any point equally accessible, it's also made sub-cultures just as visible as mainstream looks, which gives them more legitimacy.
posted by The Whelk at 8:48 AM on December 8, 2011


Oh, to add further support to my "we're grasping for innocence" theory: the new somewhat tongue-in-cheek 'trend' this week is "seapunk", an aesthetic inspired pretty much exclusively by Ecco the Dolphin and Lisa Frank trapper keepers. Seriously.
posted by naju at 8:48 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


The thing where people have haircuts like anime characters wasn't around 20 years ago.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:49 AM on December 8, 2011


(although if you want a rant, go look at the Dandy Warhol's Bohemian Like You video, some sub-culture fashion have becomes fixed and immutable)
posted by The Whelk at 8:49 AM on December 8, 2011


Ruinously expensive jeans that you never wash - that's new. Really gross, but new.
posted by bonecrusher at 8:52 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a good point about our easy access to everything - we've all become curators now.
posted by naju at 8:53 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, to add further support to my "we're grasping for innocence" theory: the new somewhat tongue-in-cheek 'trend' this week is "seapunk", an aesthetic inspired pretty much exclusively by Ecco the Dolphin and Lisa Frank trapper keepers. Seriously.

The original Ecco or Tides of Time? THIS IS IMPORTANT.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:54 AM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


An opinion piece posits an outrageous, but difficult to prove (or disprove) theory, spurring more wild displays of anecdotal evidence! Imagine that.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:54 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think we are to some extent comparing apples to oranges. The fashion changes from 1902 to 1922 would have been mainly among the rich. 1932 to 1952 is a big change indeed, but mainly because FDR pulled the country out of poverty and into the 20th century. 1957 to 1977? Big social changes, but fashion changes *among the masses*? I dunno.

Which brings us to today and the fact that we are deliberately ignoring the hugest change of the last 20 years, computers and the Internet. How about information retrieval? Raise your hand if you remember have to go to the library and use a paper card catalog to write a paper. When the only way for most people to find new music was via the radio. When the only people you could talk to were those that lived close to you, and heaven help you if you were a nerd or some other low-geographic-density minority.
posted by DU at 8:54 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everything that rises must converge.

But that's an '80s tune, innit? Sorry.

IMO, the world will have to implode first before something new is created, at least the way it's going now. Even with OWS, nothing's reached a flashpoint yet. It's still too comfortable.
posted by droplet at 8:55 AM on December 8, 2011


That's a good point about our easy access to everything - we've all become curators now.

A friend of mine, a photographer, was interviewed a couple years ago by some blog and was asked "What trends do you see in the 'art world'?" She answered "taste is the new talent" which I thought was pretty fucking right on.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:56 AM on December 8, 2011 [24 favorites]


Holy shit. Carrot cut jeans are a real thing. How soon until bootcut jeans become the new mom jeans?
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:57 AM on December 8, 2011


My theory is that 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror lead to some kind of collective cultural trauma and loss of innocence

I remember exactly how the sudden, irrevocable crumbling of our post-enlightenment underpinnings felt. How fundamental principles of modernity slipped into the ether the first few days of the aftermath. Of course the 1980s look better. We're in something closer to 1680s.
posted by clarknova at 8:58 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing where people have haircuts like anime characters wasn't around 20 years ago.

What's Anime got to do with it?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:58 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let's play a game:
Except for certain details (no Google searches, no e-mail, no cell phones), ambitious fiction from 20 years ago (Doug Coupland’s Generation X, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow) is in no way dated
How many things can you find wrong with the above?
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I had t-shirts for forty year old artists when I was a teenager, they would have had to have been for Glenn Miller or Bing Crosby. But I didn't because that was my grandmother's music.

Allow me to introduce you to my friend Fallout 3.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


This explains why I still keep hearing Ace of Base everywhere.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:01 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


How soon until bootcut jeans become the new mom jeans?

I tried to figure this out but considering mom jeans are the new skinny jeans, I had a seizure.
posted by griphus at 9:01 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


What is the thrust of the article? Is it that something is "wrong" right now? Or is it more about what made the last century so atypical? A quick scan did not seem to reveal much about previous centuries or localities, which seems like it would be important context.
posted by curious nu at 9:01 AM on December 8, 2011


What is the thrust of the article?

"My lawn. Get off it."
posted by empath at 9:02 AM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


The Renaissance was the biggest retro fad in history.
posted by The Whelk at 9:03 AM on December 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


Oh, tattoos and piercings, too. Only the really wild types had them in the old days. Now I see lip rings on junior-high kids from the midwest.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:04 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The 1978 movie "Superman" was based on a 1938 comic. I rest my case.
posted by hyperizer at 9:05 AM on December 8, 2011


(er ten years, 20 years ago I was wearing overalls and playing in dirt)

And?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2011


On the other hand, "Auto-Tune."
posted by hyperizer at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


(and, upon more careful reading, I see the author does concede the point about tattoos and piercings. He didn't say anything about ugly haircuts, though)
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2011


MrMoonPie: "Oh, tattoos and piercings, too. Only the really wild types had them in the old days. Now I see lip rings on junior-high kids from the midwest."

Yea, when I was in high-school (late 70's New Jersey) only bikers and ex-military types had tattoos. And if a guy had a piercing it was a gold stud in his left ear only. And he'd probably get beaten up for wearing it.
posted by octothorpe at 9:09 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


This kind of thing is really interesting to me. It took me thirty years to get enough perspective to be able to 'see' the 80's look/sound--and that keeps being refined with time. I have a hard time defining whatever the current and previous decade are/were in terms of fashion and sound (for whatever reason--and I enjoy vintage fashion quite a bit). This might be why the current take on 1980's vintage is kind of lost on me. I can't 'see' it. It's not the real 80's (because, hey, I was there!--which is what my mom said to me about my 1950's vintage phase smack dab in the 80's: I was "doing it all wrong").

I found this previous post fascinating for the way it snapped me suddenly into realizing how long ago the early 1990's actually were. Those photos do not look similar to current fashion--unless someone is deliberately dressing like the 1990's (in the vintage sense, which I'm sure someone is/the whole 'Elaine Benes' for example).
posted by marimeko at 9:10 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


MrMoonPie, Andersen concedes everything except the things that prove his point.
posted by pokermonk at 9:10 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Check out fuckyeah90sclothes.tumblr.com (not entirely positive of the URL, I'm at work). Some of those fashions would look ridiculous today.
posted by desjardins at 9:11 AM on December 8, 2011


It might be fuckyeah90sfashion.tumblr.com
posted by desjardins at 9:11 AM on December 8, 2011


If I'm understanding them correctly, "carrot cut" jeans are narrow in the ankle and calf, but big in the thighs and ass. So, in other words, they'd fit me pretty well.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:12 AM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Does fuckyeahfuckyeahtumblrblogs.tumblr.com exist yet? With just screenshots of other fuckyeah blogs?
posted by nathancaswell at 9:13 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Goddamnit. fuckyeahugly90sclothes.tumblr.com. For realz this time.
posted by desjardins at 9:13 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't tell if the Ace of Base comment is meant to be sarcastic since I don't know their corpus well enough to know if I keep hearing it, but I still hear Donald Fagan's solo stuff (even the just OK tracks) from Karmakiriad and Night Fly now, from going on 20 and 30 years ago in various "we want to be edgier than Muzak but we dare not leave the sheltered harbors of adult contemporary" mixes.

Of course I still hear Steely Dan's most shallow stuff (and darkest, most encrypted stuff) from time to time, so....
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:13 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's also Sexy People (safe for work) for more terrible 90s fashion.

Here's an ex of mine's yearbook photo from there. I'm fairly sure no hipster would wear that today, lol.
posted by empath at 9:14 AM on December 8, 2011


I'm fairly sure no hipster would wear that today, lol.

You are definately mistaken about that vest. And maybe the hat. And for the record that background is sweet.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:16 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The gist of this article is very similar to an Onion piece from 1997. Perhaps this reinforces his argument in a way he never fully intended.
posted by Mr Mister at 9:17 AM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


What about body art? Sure, body modification and tattoos have been around for ever but I'm fairly certain that the prevalence of sleeves and neck tattoos has gone through the roof in the past ten years.
posted by Lisitasan at 9:18 AM on December 8, 2011


An awful lot of the reactions in this thread so far are missing his point. He's not saying "nothing new has happened" or "nobody is doing anything cool"--so you don't have to defensively lash out at him for not thinking whatever new thing you like isn't just the neatest thing ever. He's talking about the broad middle--not the cutting edge. And he's right.

The film American Graffiti came out in 1973. It was about a bunch of American college kids in 1963 and it could have been about another century. When you went to watch that film you watched it to marvel at a bygone era--an era in which nothing at all looked remotely familiar: not the cars, not the clothes, not the music, not the mores. It's impossible to imagine a similar movie coming out now about 2001. The broad cultural/fashion continuity that stretches from the 70s to the present is a genuinely weird and interesting phenomenon. The fact that pop music from thirty years ago can still be seen as cool and relevant--still be seen as something worth arguing about and part of young people's badges of group identification and exclusion is extraordinary. Young people in the 60s just didn't give a crap about music their parents had listened. That's simply not true of young people today who often care fiercely about music their grandparents listened to.
posted by yoink at 9:19 AM on December 8, 2011 [49 favorites]


Different theory. The major cultural difference between 20, 30 years ago and now is, as others have noted, the dying or at least serious wounding of mass culture; it's a shadow of what it was. One of the things mass culture did at its height was drive cultural change top-down at an arbitrary speed, in order to move units. It's one of the big things people would complain about. Mass culture's taken a shot, so it no longer drives change very well. But the thing is, a lot of people miss mass culture, so the artifacts of it keep popping up – it's comforting and it's an attempt to reestablish a lingua franca. Also, the internet is actually pretty good at retarding change – things that have roots in the past get spun over and over, while new things wind up going into the three-day hype/destroy machine.

I don't think much of this applies to fashion, which has changed at about the same speed it always has.
posted by furiousthought at 9:21 AM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


Young people in the 60s just didn't give a crap about music their parents had listened.

I don't think that's true. There were large and passionate folk, blues and jazz scenes in the 60s that were fairly retro and cared deeply about 'authenticity'. They booed Bob Dylan when he went electric, for example.
posted by empath at 9:24 AM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Young people in the 60s just didn't give a crap about music their parents had listened. That's simply not true of young people today who often care fiercely about music their grandparents listened to.

I'd argue that a big amount of our cultural slowdown, if such a thing exists, is due to the way that the boomer generation so thoroughly captured the culture writ large, such that a Roger Daltry scream from 1971 is immediately understood by American teenagers as cultural shorthand for 'badass rebellion.' That generation's music and films and fashion and hairstyles and etc. have so come to typify what we think of as counterculture that, even though now the youth of the 60s are now running investment firms and diversifying their porfolios and retiring to the suburbs, American capitalism has co-opted their signifiers (at least partially because the youth of the 60s is now the establishment generation) that kids today are still immersed in Led Zeppelin and Easy Rider and expected to have an opinion on which Beatle is best.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:27 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm fairly sure no hipster would wear that today, lol.

Pfff. Are you kidding? Take away the bolo tie, make the vest an Edwardian thing, throw some skinny jeans and booties under it and I have personally seen that outfit in the wild, many a time.
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on December 8, 2011


I've been experiencing this "retro vu" in a rather quirky way. Yesterday I was listening to the radio and I heard Phoenix's 1901. I could have sworn it was a song from the 1980's and I had to google the damn thing to find out otherwise.

What about Mayer Hawthorne's The Walk? Damn if it doesn't sound like "Crystal Blue Persuasion" to me. But a good song nonetheless.

I've been hankering for something new. Who's going to give it to me?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:27 AM on December 8, 2011


It's the 90s!
posted by brundlefly at 9:29 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's impossible to imagine a similar movie coming out now about 2001

Coming of age movies constantly come out set that are set 10 or 20 years previously. There's a flashback scene in Human Traffic (1999) that shows how different clubs were in the UK just 10 years earlier (1991).

Or look at 24 Hour Party People, which tracks factory records from the 80s through the 90s.
posted by empath at 9:31 AM on December 8, 2011


What? yt

I mean really? yt

empath, your argument seems to consist of "this recent Hendrix-like guitar jam video doesn't look at all like this much-ridiculed pop hit from the 90's."

Weak sauce. You know what else doesn't look like "Ice Ice Baby"? REM's "Losing My Religion", released the same year.

You know what else looks like Radiohead's "Anyone Can Play Guitar" performance? Led Zeppelin. From somewhat before the current quarter-century.

Kurt has an interesting point. People are pointing out cultural niches and events that stand out in contradiction, but I don't really think they're fully contradicting the idea that there's no large cultural/artistic movement that is characteristic of this period. Even dub step seems immensely derivative of breakdancing (to my uneducated eyes, and I'm sure I'll be corrected, but nonetheless).

Also -

Ruinously expensive jeans that you never wash - that's new. Really gross, but new.

bonecrusher, know how I know you weren't around for the disco era?
posted by IAmBroom at 9:33 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


"My lawn. Get off it."

#occupylawns
posted by curious nu at 9:33 AM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


20th Century mass culture is a spent force, and is slowly but inevitably dying out. There is lots of interesting stuff happening culturally, it's just that it's less likely to break through to the mainstream now. When you look at what's on TV, what movies are playing at the multiplex, what songs are in the top 40, what clothes they're selling at the mall, it all looks pretty uninteresting. That's because you're looking in the wrong place.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:34 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know what else looks like Radiohead's "Anyone Can Play Guitar" performance? Led Zeppelin. From somewhat before the current quarter-century.

Ah, yes, that old-timey blues cover band.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:35 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let me refute the linked article with a single image: Evolution of the Hipster.

The real difference between then and now is that improved communication has deeply compressed our fashion cycles and shifted the tides such that the image-conscious are being pulled out to the fringes and niches where they can still individuate themselves.
posted by Ryvar at 9:39 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, yes, that old-timey blues cover band.

Seriously, I mean you know that 'squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs down my leg' is straight from a Robert Johnson song, right?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:43 AM on December 8, 2011


Dear god. "The Ashton" in that picture looks exactly like a friend of mine from 2002.
posted by brundlefly at 9:43 AM on December 8, 2011


Yeah fashion cycles are super fast, think about how quickly memes wear out their welcome.
posted by The Whelk at 9:43 AM on December 8, 2011


You know, IAmBroom, I do pretty much agree. We are pointing out fairly small exceptions to the rule. My daughter is 16, and I can't think of anything particularly distinctive about her hair or clothing or music tastes. I'm not, however, convinced that my parents wouldn't have said the same thing about me in the 80s. Subtleties of hair length, in which ear earrings are worn, etc., are tremendously important to 16-year-olds, then and now.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:44 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


empath, your argument seems to consist of "this recent Hendrix-like guitar jam video doesn't look at all like this much-ridiculed pop hit from the 90's."

The 'recent hendrix like guitar jam' was from the same year as the vanilla ice video.
posted by empath at 9:44 AM on December 8, 2011


Even dub step seems immensely derivative of breakdancing (to my uneducated eyes, and I'm sure I'll be corrected, but nonetheless).

You have no fucking clue what you're talking about. Breakdancing isn't even a type of music.
posted by empath at 9:46 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a Milennial, so my recollection of this is pretty dim --

But I remember at the beginning of the 90s, I sensed that there was this strong neo-60's revival in part because the era of Reagan and Bush was over, and now the ex-hippies could finally create the society they had originally wanted. As a kid in the early 90s, one of the subliminal messages I got from my parents' generation (baby boomers) was that, "We", the good guys, had won, so there was no more need for young people to rebel. After all, the older generation was now COOL! Their conception of themselves in the world was so thorough that they couldn't fathom why anyone would ever rebel against them. I mean, they invented rock and roll! They tolerated drugs (sort of) and sex (sort of)! Now that Reagan and Bush were gone, the narrative of rebellion was over!

I grew up very obedient to authority, and while that's partly just because of my personality, I still noticed that those of my peers who did "rebel" never actually did anything original in their own rebellion. Their rebellion pretty much followed the script the Boomers had written.

The only real dissent from that omnipresent narrative (which I was too young to understand) was from Generation X, which as has been previously discussed on the blue, got screwed over by the encroaching reality waaaayyyy sooner than either the Boomers (who were now rich) or their children the Milennials (who are only now realizing the bill of goods we were sold). Even now, the Milennial version of "counterculture" is like a remix of 60s protests - you go to a place, hold up a sign, and wait for the people in power to change.

It's still the Boomers' world. We just live in it. I'm goddamn sick of it. But I don't have any other ideas, either.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:46 AM on December 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


a Roger Daltry scream from 1971 is immediately understood by American teenagers as cultural shorthand for 'badass rebellion.' old people and their lame puns about recently discovered corpses.

FTFY.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:48 AM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


(er ten years, 20 years ago I was wearing overalls and playing in dirt)

20 years ago kids in high school were wearing overalls because they thought it looked cool. Also mock turtlenecks. You just brought back some disturbing repressed memories whelk
posted by Hoopo at 9:48 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


a Roger Daltry scream from 1971 is immediately understood by American teenagers as cultural shorthand for 'badass rebellion.' old people and their lame puns about recently discovered corpses.

Because I don't watch CSI (this is a CSI joke, right?), I spent a couple of minutes thinking that "recently discovered corpses" referred to Roger Daltry.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are there more back to the land types or has technology just made them more visible? A persistent Home Ec DIY cultural presence seems straight of 70s era The Good Neighbors stuff.
posted by The Whelk at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2011


... and just as I'm reading this thread, I get an email from Spin: "1991's 10 Best Videos"
posted by naju at 9:51 AM on December 8, 2011


Breakdancing isn't even a type of music.

Probably means Electro, although personally I wouldn't make an immediate comparison to dubstep.
posted by Hoopo at 9:52 AM on December 8, 2011


Also maybe I'm insane, but I consider the bizarre effluvia of the Internet to be some of the most vital cultural novelty going. 4chan alone creates and remixes all kinds of weird shit. The anonymity of that universe gives people a historically unique opportunity to push boundaries and taboos. That "anything goes" environment is a lot more fecund than the corporatized, regimented, private-security-defended chain store universe of meatspace.

We have a true underground culture on the Internet right now. If you're not hip to THAT, then of course you're not going to think anything's happening.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:57 AM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


From the carrot cut jeans link (That's so 2006):

Designed for the non-conformists, almost anti-fashion victim, Levi’s® Carrot jean brings fresh attitude to an otherwise tired and drab denim world.

Levi’s® Carrot jeans are RRP$169.95 for both Men and Women, available from April 2006 from select independent retailers...
posted by vitabellosi at 9:59 AM on December 8, 2011


Until we get space suits and sci fi gear, we've kinda done it all so all we can do is repeat it.

There are differences between now and 20 years ago. A lot of differences. If you can see them then maybe you're not paying attention. It's not drastic. Clothes fit better- that's the main one. But basically, everything is in style these days and has been for a while.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:01 AM on December 8, 2011


I blame the digital archiving of almost everything (and our ability to access so much of it anytime, anywhere). There's just so much *stuff* at our fingertips, all electric and pulsing with look-at-me shiny vitality, why bother creating anything new? We're hypnotically dazzled by what we already have.
posted by treepour at 10:10 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


There have been no radical changes in style, culture, art, and fashion over the last 20 years

I may get laughed at, but make it 25 years, and, for fashion, I'd say Burning Man. Or "rave fashion" (possibly NSFW) ... they've mostly merged together. This sort of Mad Max vs. Steampunk fashion is on main street now. See the Biebs. Maybe you can say that's derivative of '80s punk or '50s glamour or the '60s hippies, but it definitely is a look of its own, imo.

I'm sure there are plenty more examples of subculture fashion, style, or art going mainstream ... Zentai? Salvia? Harajuku/Ganguro? Furries?

The major thing that's changed is how much time people spend online developing their personas there. How your facebook page looks might be more important than how you look in real life.

The existence of a virtual digital personas (3D avatar kind or not) is a HUGE cultural change.

The music mashup is a HUGE cultural change. See fucking Glee. When was that, like 2000?

Also maybe I'm insane, but I consider the bizarre effluvia of the Internet to be some of the most vital cultural novelty going.

Remixes are nothing new, but the "remix culture" in which (aomost) everything ever recorded becomes available for doing whatever the fuck you want with it is certainly a significant cultural change.

This dude just seems old, or desperate for a topic. But that would be the Vanity Fair audience. From my (admittedly brief) time in publishing, I think I remember that the median income of readers was something ridiculous like $150K.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:18 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


A couple of things I think are at work here. First, because income has been stuck during the current period, people aren't growing out of the old culture economically the way they did in prior periods. Second, because the US has been the cultural world leader, other cultures that normally supplied raw material to western culture to remix and adapt are instead just providing our own stuff back to us.
posted by charlieevett at 10:23 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


THANK YOU. I’ve been saying (ranting) this for a while and most people don’t seem to get it. I often wonder if it’s a sign of a culture ending. Maybe technology has replaced style and creativity.

I think younger people are not realizing how much things have stagnated because they’re used to it. When I was a kid any song 10 years old was considered Classic Rock and often relegated to a certain time of day. There are many stations playing this exact same play list today. At the time we barely knew any music from 10 years earlier. In the late 70’s (when I was a young teen) I thought of the Beatles like I thought of Bill Haley or Glen Miller. I’ve read that most Jazz musicians in New Orleans in the 30’s didn’t know anything about the guys from the 20’s. One anecdotal example; When the Pet Shop Boys song "West End Girls" came out I heard it on the radio and was confused by it. I thought it sounded dated in ’86. It turns out it had been recorded a couple of years earlier and rereleased. But that couple of years made a noticeable difference, DJ’s would even mention it when they played it.

Art, music, movies, style in general, nothing’s happening. 10 years used to mean complete overhauls. I can usually easily still identify most music, movies, clothes, etc. to a 5 year period up until the early 90’s. My brother says the only way you can tell you’re watching a movie from the 90’s is the size of the phones.

Of course you can point out something that’s changed, but that just emphasizes the point; You didn’t have to point out something that changed before, every 5 years Everything had changed, every 10 years Everything completely changed. The Beatles made all of those albums and stylistic changes in a 10 year period because that’s what you did (I’m not a Beatles fan BTW).

It’s not really a good argument to say you have to look at the underground, not the mainstream. There was always an underground, and it was always doing something different. Even the underground is pretty lame and out of ideas these days. The mainstream is not interested in anything new, and the underground can’t think of anything.
posted by bongo_x at 10:28 AM on December 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'm sure there are plenty more examples of subculture fashion, style, or art going mainstream ... Zentai? Salvia? Harajuku/Ganguro? Furries?

I used to run a little punk rock boutique in the East Village in the mid-00s. One week I had a bunch of kids come in looking for salvia (unlike most shops around there, we only sold clothes and hairdye and jewelry.) Apparently, there was a news report on it, which spiked the market for the next week or so. It was kind of amazing.
posted by griphus at 10:36 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let me refute the linked article with a single image: Evolution of the Hipster.

To me, that illustration is a terrific example of what the article is saying. The two at the start of the timeline still look like contemporary stylish people. Nothing weird or dated about either look, and "The Twee", "The Mountain Man" and "The Vintage Queen" models are all styled in ways that you'd see (even in totally mainstream MTV videos) in the early/mid '90s.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:42 AM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don't think that's true. There were large and passionate folk, blues and jazz scenes in the 60s that were fairly retro and cared deeply about 'authenticity'. They booed Bob Dylan when he went electric, for example.

The 60s folk scene, to the extent that it was a mass cultural movement, was about listening to 60s folk singers. To the extent that it was about listening to older music, it was not about listening to music that had been popular in the 30s, 40s, or 50s. That is, if you were sitting around listening to Folkways LPs of stuff curated and recorded by Harry Smith you were listening to music that had been fringe music at the time it was recorded.

Coming of age movies constantly come out set that are set 10 or 20 years previously. There's a flashback scene in Human Traffic (1999) that shows how different clubs were in the UK just 10 years earlier (1991).

Or look at 24 Hour Party People, which tracks factory records from the 80s through the 90s.


Of course they do. That's not what is strikingly different about American Graffiti. The point is not that it is set "just ten years ago" it is that it regards that period as a lost age that we look back on shaking our heads at how incomprehensibly strange it is. It's not about the development within some particular subculture ("ten years ago we danced like this, now we dance like this") it's about how America has completely and irrevocably changed--and in the most strikingly visible ways--for absolutely everyone. Again, you simply could not make an equivalent movie about 2001 now. You couldn't cut to a shot of cars on an everyday street and have the whole audience go "wow, imagine living in a time like that!"--which was the effect (I can personally attest) of watching American Graffiti.
posted by yoink at 10:44 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


@treepour, that is a part of it. As our economy has become more information oriented, more design focused, and the mode of production increasingly automated where everything is a copy of something -- in reaction, people desire the authentic, the real, the original.

This desire for authenticity was first noticed and commented on in the 1930s, long before computers, in the context of the original new media, photo and film, that allowed for unlimited copies divorced from the original. Computers just accelerated it to the point its becoming all encompassing and obvious. Now everything is a copy (digital) and the sense of what's real is so acutely missing we desire it strongly which manifests in anxiety over authenticity. Authentic food, authentic travel experience, authentic clothing, etc. the quest for the authentic drives culture, and paradoxically makes it increasingly less so, further increasing the anxiety over authenticity. Culture is increasingly focused on the authentic, but nothing is really as it seems.
posted by stbalbach at 10:45 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thing where people have haircuts like anime characters wasn't around 20 years ago.

Work seems to be blocking Flickr now, so you'll have to take my word for it, but I (and my brother, and future husband, and most everyone we knew) had anime hair from the mid-80s to mid-90s.
posted by JoanArkham at 10:46 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The article, in full, is nuanced and concedes some things have changed a lot, technology mainly, but other things which used to change a lot - fashion, pop culture, etc

The answer is in the same sentence. It is because of technology and globalization that people care less about expensive/shallow aspects of culture. All nerds have lived this way, and the mainstream has just gotten a bit nerdier. Going deeper is a good thing.
posted by polymodus at 10:47 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


That is, if you were sitting around listening to Folkways LPs of stuff curated and recorded by Harry Smith you were listening to music that had been fringe music at the time it was recorded.

They were listening to people like Woody Guthrie, who was always popular.
posted by empath at 10:50 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


"rave fashion"

it did not occur to me that ravers today could look more ridiculous than ravers in 1995.
posted by elizardbits at 10:55 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


> It is because of technology and globalization that people care less about expensive/shallow aspects of culture.<

Really? $100 a month for a mobile phone so you can constantly keep up with Facebook?
posted by bongo_x at 10:56 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kid Charlemagne: I hate to explain the joke, but, it would be about Lady Gaga and similar recent pop and how little changed it is, although Alejandro was the worst offender by far.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:57 AM on December 8, 2011


>Again, you simply could not make an equivalent movie about 2001 now. You couldn't cut to a shot of cars on an everyday street and have the whole audience go "wow, imagine living in a time like that!"--which was the effect (I can personally attest) of watching American Graffiti.<

This. We would ask our parents "what was it like to live back then?" and they would laugh and say "It was only a few years ago". But the pictures told a different story, it was another world.
posted by bongo_x at 11:03 AM on December 8, 2011


Fashion and youth culture as it stands now is a post-industrial 20th century invention, which was made possible by advances in textiles and production technology. A hundred years ago, children were seen and not heard, and most people would have had maybe two or three good suits of clothes which they wore until they fell apart. Not so nowadays.

The 20-year cycle is still a reality, but until now the shear volume of clothing produced has meant that vintage pieces would reappear after a respectable length of time, to be reinvented and worn by a new generation. Meanwhile, fashion cycles move at breakneck speed, clothing design has become partisan and diverse, while the rise of the street style blog focuses the fashion maven on the "how" rather than the "what". If anything, what we're seeing now is the pinnacle of the eclecticism that this stylistic variety and rich past allows us: rather than "same fashion" we're seeing "no fashion." I think this is a very positive innovation which is pretty unique to this era.

The problem is that this pattern isn't sustainable, because contemporary production methods are generating too much poor quality clothing, vintage stocks are already dwindling or becoming commodified and it's getting harder for individuals to draw on the past to reinvent it. All the while, a market flooded with mass-produced crap designed to last a single season has robbed most people of the ability to dress themselves nicely.

If that's what the author is railing against, then I'm with him all the way. But I have the feeling that's not the case, and in reality he doesn't actually know or care much about contemporary fashion.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 11:08 AM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I just want JNCOs back.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:13 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Steve Jobs in his jeans and black turtle did not change.

Oh really?
posted by designbot at 11:16 AM on December 8, 2011


This reminds me of Patton Oswalt's excellent Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die. which I think sort of gets at the same thing from a different angle.

With instant global communication via the internet and the 24 hour news cycle, trends are pretty much retro within a week or two... how is any one new look or style going to stick around long enough to establish a look and feel unique enough to be identifiable with a whole decade?

The other thing that my friends and I ponder a lot lately is that what we thought of as "old people" growing up are a hell of a lot less old these days. I always had the impression that much of my grandparents' generation sort of checked themselves out of mainstream popular culture once they reached the age of about 30 or 40. My grandparents were in their 50s and 60s when I was a kid, and everything about them, clothes, decor, world view, mannerisms, and general disdain for "the rock and roll" came from a totally different world.

By contrast, in my 30s I've had conversations with people in their early 20s and their early 60s at the same time where people trade quotes from Family Guy one minute and talk about their favorite Beatles album the next. 50-60 years old is nothing like it used to be, and maybe that blurry line has something to do with what Anderson's talking about.
posted by usonian at 11:18 AM on December 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


20 years ago, when you said FB you meant Fuck Buddy.
posted by CrazyJoel at 11:18 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


They were listening to people like Woody Guthrie, who was always popular.

This isn't really true on either side of the equation. Guthrie was a reasonably successful working musician in the 30s and 40s, it's true--but he wasn't, even remotely, a period-defining popular success in the mode of a Benny Goodman or a Bing Crosby or a Frank Sinatra. He was a niche success in what was a niche market of the day. And in the 60s, kids new about Woody Guthrie because Bob Dylan sang about him--but very, very, very few actually bought albums of Guthrie music. I was around in the 60s and 70s and owned lots of Dylan albums and knew lots of people who owned lots of Dylan albums. I didn't know a single person who had a single Guthrie track.

Again, you seem to be wilfully misunderstanding the argument. It's not that "nothing remotely new happens now" or that "nobody ever, at all, ever listened to anything old in the 60s." Of course there were young kids in the 60s who thought big band jazz was keen and there are kids today who don't listen to anything older than a few months. That's not the point. We are, again, talking about the overall fashion/music/built environment/design scene. Where once the markers for "up to date" and "passe" were pretty clear and coherent and got pretty thoroughly revised every decade that just simply isn't the case any more.
posted by yoink at 11:19 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had this discussion with my dad a few years back (actually, ten years back now, fuck), about what defined "my generation," somewhere in between Y and the Millennials. He thought there wasn't anything, not the way WWII or the Civil Rights movement defined their particular eras. I told him we had the internet, and he said, "Well, yeah, but that's not really defining in the same way. I mean, you're not going to say in twenty years: I was doing X when that website launched, the way I would about the moon launch or the Kennedy assassination." And I said, "Yeah, exactly."

It's not just that we have unparalleled access to images and sounds from the past to play with--we also have unparalleled access to the things associated with it. I mean, I can read an article about X new trend on metafilter or whatever, hop on Amazon, and have whatever it is delivered to my doorstep the very next morning. Even if what X is is vintage anti-consumerist. If someone mentions a song or album, I can buy it and have it on my computer less than a minute. I can chat with someone from New Zealand while watching a youtube video of traditional African dance.

Meanwhile, much of the social rights focus in my generation has been about deconstructing fixed categories. What it means to be female or male, feminine or masculine, gay straight or queer*.

And what all of this means is that there's no particular pressure to be part of any subculture or identify as anything in particular. I can wake up tomorrow morning and play at being anything I want to be, and then play at being something else the day after, and no one (of my generation) will bat an eye if I show up to work in full steampunk regalia or a 40s pinstripe suite I stole from my grandfather. It's not a costume--or, rather, everything is a costume.

So, yeah, in a way I agree with him: "nothing is obsolete, and nothing is really new; it’s all good." But it's not that we're tired of change--it's that when you can change almost anything with a click of a button, change for change's sake is really kind of meaningless most of the time.

*not that we've magically reached 100% acceptance or anything; there's still a long way to go.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 11:25 AM on December 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


great comment E13. compare the 1580s with the 1610s. why, what's this, a non-neck irritating soft falling ruff?!

I mean, you're not going to say in twenty years: I was doing X when that website launched

But I am going to very definitely remember the first time I used a newsgroup, or browsed a Web site with Netscape.

It's not a costume--or, rather, everything is a costume.

Another good insight. The rise of costume as fashion is a definite millennium trend.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:28 AM on December 8, 2011


Think about this: there was this recent movie called "Remember Me" and SPOILER ALERT the big twist ending, if I understood the reviews, was that it didn't take place in the present day at all, but rather, in the days leading up to 9/11/01.

Could a movie released in 1990 reveal, at the end, that it's really set in 1981? I don't think so. And as you go farther back, it gets less and less plausible. I think the author's got a good point.
posted by borborygmi at 11:29 AM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Where once the markers for "up to date" and "passe" were pretty clear and coherent and got pretty thoroughly revised every decade that just simply isn't the case any more.

You're pretty wrong on that, at least with popular music, and particularly dance music, if you get away from the scene for 6 months, by the time you get back, everything will have completely changed. I didn't DJ for a few months and then played at an anime convention and was completely blindsided by how popular dubstep was all of a sudden, even though it was a scene I'd been following for years. And even within dubstep, the stuff that's being made now is vastly different from what was being made 5 years ago.
posted by empath at 11:33 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Could a movie released in 1990 reveal, at the end, that it's really set in 1981?

I dunno. Aside from the film production styles, you could sell me that 1992 was 1982.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:35 AM on December 8, 2011


That's not what is strikingly different about American Graffiti. The point is not that it is set "just ten years ago" it is that it regards that period as a lost age that we look back on shaking our heads at how incomprehensibly strange it is.

We don't even have to go back to American Graffiti: both Romy & Michele's High School Reunion (1997) and The Wedding Singer (1998) were incredulous/nostalgic looks back at the silliness of the '80s. Compare Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), which had to reach back to ...1986.

There's been a recent trend (at least here in urban U.S.-land) of saying "Wow, the '90s were so long ago," but at the same time my local New Fresh Hits of Today! radio station is still playing Third Eye Blind and Eagle-Eye Cherry.
posted by psoas at 11:38 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Ruinously expensive jeans that you never wash - that's new. Really gross, but new.

bonecrusher, know how I know you weren't around for the disco era?"

Well, I was a kid, and mom wasn't about to buy me anything from Gloria Vanderbilt. So maybe I missed it.

I spent a significant amount of time last weekend, over some elaborate mixed drink, discussing the denim-care regime of some new, bearded acquiantence. He puts them in the freezer to kill bacteria. He may spritz them with a mixture of everclear and water. He frequently brushes off dirt. But they can never go in washer. He explained this like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Were people doing that in the 70s?
posted by bonecrusher at 11:38 AM on December 8, 2011


There's been a recent trend (at least here in urban U.S.-land) of saying "Wow, the '90s were so long ago," but at the same time my local New Fresh Hits of Today! radio station is still playing Third Eye Blind and Eagle-Eye Cherry.

Yeah, but the prototypical 90s alterna-rock stations were playing The Cure, New Order, XTC, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, The Ramones, etc..
posted by empath at 11:44 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


You're pretty wrong on that, at least with popular music, and particularly dance music, if you get away from the scene for 6 months, by the time you get back, everything will have completely changed. I didn't DJ for a few months and then played at an anime convention and was completely blindsided by how popular dubstep was all of a sudden, even though it was a scene I'd been following for years. And even within dubstep, the stuff that's being made now is vastly different from what was being made 5 years ago.

And, again, you're talking about changes inside a particular scene. I'm sure that car designers are incredibly aware of the changes in car design from year to year. But for the average movie viewer, say, you can't use cars to inform people that the movie they're watching is set in the 1990s in the way that you can use cars to tell people that the movie they're watching is set in the 1950s.

Dubstep won't be used in future blockbuster movies to establish that we're in the late 2000s/early 2010s in the way that I could use "Stompin' at the Savoy" to establish that we're in the '30s.

Try to stop seeing this as being about incremental changes within narrow cliques of passionate devotes and think about broad big-picture cultural representations of the "era."
posted by yoink at 11:48 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


"devotees"
posted by yoink at 11:50 AM on December 8, 2011


Dubstep won't be used in future blockbuster movies to establish that we're in the late 2000s/early 2010s in the way that I could use "Stompin' at the Savoy" to establish that we're in the '30s.

It absolutely will, in the same way that Chemical Brothers and Nirvana is used as a marker for 'the 90s'. It already has been used as a 'future marker' in Children of Men.
posted by empath at 11:51 AM on December 8, 2011


Yeah, but the prototypical 90s alterna-rock stations were playing The Cure, New Order, XTC, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, The Ramones, etc..

Point taken - although The Cure, New Order, and Depeche Mode were still generating hits well into the '90s, which doesn't make that so much of a stretch.
posted by psoas at 11:52 AM on December 8, 2011


And if you want a marker for the early 2000s, it's Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit..
posted by empath at 11:52 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vindicated!
posted by whuppy at 11:54 AM on December 8, 2011


Tangentially, when I was a teen, fighting for my civil rights (the right to wear long hair, baggy t-shirts and frayed jeans), I swore that I would never judge a person based on appearance.

Fast-forward to 1998 or so when I caught myself recoiling in mild disgust at young men with shaven heads dressed in oversized sports jerseys and thigh-hugging, baggy pants.

Actually, come to think of it, there are a lot more piercings and tattoos nowadays.

And the backwards/sideways baseball cap look seems to have taken a breather.
posted by mmrtnt at 11:55 AM on December 8, 2011


naju: It's more pronounced in some trends than others, but that chillwave, ambient aesthetic of late night VHS lucid dreaming of the 80's seems to encapsulate a real and melancholic yearning for a pre-traumatic childhood to me.
You know, I really, really like this as an encapsulation of a certain dominant/underground aesthetic that's everywhere right now. But do you really think 9/11 (alone) explains this, or this, or this? There's something larger going on surely, a combination of the enforced infantilization brought about by economic contraction (grown adults sleeping in their childhood beds); boomer frequency jamming (not that I'm having a go at Wire here, particularly); and general cultural decline. As I used to say to annoy my friend Jamie, "we're living in a Hellenistic period. That's why we can't have nice or meaningful things."
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:55 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Try to stop seeing this as being about incremental changes within narrow cliques of passionate devotes and think about broad big-picture cultural representations of the "era."

The 'mainstream' (whatever that is anymore), is as much a narrow clique as anything else. Even best selling records don't sell that many records any more. Ratings on 'top 40' stations are way down. MTV doesn't play videos anymore, and nobody watches it anyway. Top sellers on the charts are selling less than 100,000 records. Everything is available now and the new doesn't just have to compete with what else came out this week, but every song that's ever been recorded.

You tell me dubstep isn't mainstream, but guys like Skrillex is selling piles of records and got nominated for 5 Grammys. That's as mainstream as it gets.
posted by empath at 12:02 PM on December 8, 2011


And then it hits me: a movie from the 2000s but purposefully set in the early 1990s for a sense of history? Donnie Darko.
posted by psoas at 12:02 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


And then it hits me: a movie from the 2000s but purposefully set in the early 1990s for a sense of history?

The Fighter and The Wackness were as hardcore 90s-nostalgia as one can get.
posted by griphus at 12:05 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


(For the former they actually got the same camera-people and equipment they shot 90s HBO fights on to shoot the boxing scenes.)
posted by griphus at 12:06 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, people have been wearing t-shirts with graphics and funny sayings for about as long as its been okay to wear a t-shirt without a dress shirt.

It's like two days after it was made legal, people got sick of blank tees and started buying ones that had been silk-screened.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:11 PM on December 8, 2011


It absolutely will, in the same way that Chemical Brothers and Nirvana is used as a marker for 'the 90s'. It already has been used as a 'future marker' in Children of Men.

Well, I guess time will tell about dubstep; personally I think you're wildly overestimating the breadth of its cultural reach, but I obviously could be wrong. But I realize I shouldn't have used "Stompin' at the Savoy" as my example of the 30s marker. Nirvana get used to mark the 90's or Britney to mark the early 2000s because they were so insanely famous that we identify them with the time. But you couldn't use some nameless unsuccessful grunge band to mark the 90s, or some nameless unsuccessful Britney-wannabe to mark the early 2000s because the music itself isn't sufficiently constrained to that time period stylistically. You could, however, find a 60s song by some obscure New Zealand or Australian or South African band and use it in an American film about the 60s and have every single person in the audience go "oh, yeah, this must be the '60s" even though they'd never heard the song before.

Similarly, I could find obscure swing-era numbers which virtually no one in the audience had ever heard and if I played them over the opening credits of the film--along with some Deco architecture and some period-appropriate cars etc. and have the audience think "o.k., we're in the 30s."

That's the kind of broad cultural/period coherence I'm talking about--and there really isn't an equivalent in the past 20/30 years. There's really nothing at all like that that would work for "Now we're in the 1990s" and definitely not the late 80s or early 2000s.
posted by yoink at 12:12 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


the enforced infantilization brought about by economic contraction (grown adults sleeping in their childhood beds)

I kicked myself for not mentioning that. Absolutely.
posted by naju at 12:12 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The music you hear in supermarkets now while shopping is iike the music we used to play in the supermarket in the middle of the night when we were stocking shelves back in the '70's.

Now I don't think it's mandatory for the crew to change the music back when the store opens.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I hear the Strokes or White Stripes I can assume this is going to be a late 90s early 00s kinda thing.
posted by The Whelk at 12:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


But you couldn't use some nameless unsuccessful grunge band to mark the 90s

You can, and they have.

Well, I guess time will tell about dubstep; personally I think you're wildly overestimating the breadth of its cultural reach, but I obviously could be wrong.

Probably.
posted by empath at 12:16 PM on December 8, 2011


If I hear the Strokes or White Stripes I can assume this is going to be a late 90s early 00s kinda thing.

Sure, but would your parents know that? Will your kids?
posted by moxiedoll at 12:17 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that it matters, but my third link (boomer frequency jamming) should have gone here. Otherwise my Wire call-out looks a little ... abstract. Which is fitting, I guess.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:22 PM on December 8, 2011


psoas - I think Donnie Darko is supposed to be set in the late 80's. ; )
posted by bitterkitten at 12:25 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The music you hear in supermarkets now while shopping is iike the music we used to play in the supermarket in the middle of the night when we were stocking shelves back in the '70's.

I will never forget the evening I was wandering around in a Safeway and heard that familiar old boom-psht, boom-psht and then "You let me violate you, you let me desecrate you"...
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:34 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wonder if they were having similar conversations in the stagnant Brezhnev-era Soviet Union.

My favorite example of American cultural stagnation is the incessant movie remakes and reboots that are so popular with the big studios these days, almost to the total exclusion of any new ideas at all - they'd rather run the whole Spiderman series over and over again into eternity, or at least scavenge from some other old comic or something, than come up with a single new goddamned idea for a movie.

To some extent, I think this broad cultural stagnation (which I agree is happening) is a result of our political and economic stagnation and the continuing baby boomer cultural hegemony (so to speak), but I also think it's a side effect of the fracturing of subculture that has followed the internet. Pretty much the only mostly-universal, iconic-big rock groups left (e.g. Radiohead, or even the White Stripes/Strokes per a recent example) were established when there were major gatekeepers like MTV or radio; now it's really difficult to achieve the kind of broad mainstream appeal that previously helped to define these cultural movements for everyone, not just people into that particular subculture (e.g. dubstep). Now, everyone might have their own particular cultural touchstones that mark the passage of time, but they aren't even close to universal (e.g. empath's attachment to the dubstep subculture, or someone else being way into indie rock, or yet another person devoted to ukelele music, etc), but the overall zeitgeist is really amorphous and still stagnantly anchored in the stuff that got popular while the gatekeepers were still largely functioning. Nowadays, TV is one of the only broad cultural gatekeepers left, and even that is fracturing quickly.

It will be very interesting to see how this cultural fractioning (and mainstream stagnation) affects the US and its social cohesion, as the sorts of cultural things we all can generally assume we have in common (e.g. "did you see Leave it to Beaver last night? What a show!") seems to shrink every year.
posted by dialetheia at 12:34 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's the kind of broad cultural/period coherence I'm talking about--and there really isn't an equivalent in the past 20/30 years. There's really nothing at all like that that would work for "Now we're in the 1990s" and definitely not the late 80s or early 2000s.

I sincerely think dubstep has this. It's a distinctive sound, as distinctive as swing or 60s psychedelia or disco or hair metal. (Have you listened to recent dubstep, the kind that's popular on college campuses? WUB WUB WUB WUB WUBWUBWUBWUBWUB) And it gets used as a marker of "present" right now in a lot of shows (I'm thinking of Misfits in particular).

As for the 90s, grunge is actually pretty distinctive, but I would vote for early-90s hip-hop as a better marker.
posted by vogon_poet at 12:35 PM on December 8, 2011


You can, and they have.

Examples? I can imagine this working if you had visuals that quasi-caricaturistically linked the music you were hearing to the 90s grunge scene, but I can't imagine it working as simply music on a background soundtrack playing over images of 90s cars with people in normal 90s streetwear walking past. Whereas I can pretty much directly picture the equivalent scene for the 10s, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

Now you're probably saying "but that's because you're so OLD, daddy-oh" (see how I keep up with the hepcat lingo?)--but I could recognize those same scenes back in the late 60s and 70s for every single one of those decades. And so could people my parent's age. They didn't go to American Graffiti and think it was actually about the late 60s or the late 40s. Something really has changed, and it's pretty remarkable.
posted by yoink at 12:41 PM on December 8, 2011


> "You let me violate you, you let me desecrate you"...

I wanna shop just like an animal

I fill my cart up while I'm inside
posted by mmrtnt at 12:42 PM on December 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


I confess that I wasn't remotely with it until roughly 1995, but it seems to me that the thing that's new now is the coexistence of so many previous styles. One can see well styled folk rocking 80s looks, 40s looks, and 90s looks, in the same neighborhood. Trendy acts include dubstep, shoegaze, synth pop, folk rock, rap, found-sound assemblage, house, hardcore, string-heavy art pop, and theatrical singers like Antony Hegarty. That the same people are enjoying and experiencing so many different eras simultaneously makes me think that the next several years, when people start blending these things, as expected from a sampling culture, will create great, beatiful things. I think that is exciting, personally.
posted by Schismatic at 12:42 PM on December 8, 2011


@Schismatic: well, dubstep certainly is "beatiful," I'll give it that.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:44 PM on December 8, 2011


Dubstep is definitely going to lose its cultural cachet very soon, if it hasn't already. Maybe even around the time the new Bieber album comes out (he says it's dubstep-influenced.) Mostly I just don't want this decade to be the "WUB WUB WUB" brostep decade, that's just hugely depressing.
posted by naju at 12:44 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hair styles date a movie faster than anything, I was really impressed when Fringe's 1985 episode actually gave people good looking but not stereotypical 80s cuts. A doctor would not be wearing Mall hair. So throw on some early 90s grunge, give people the right hair cuts and baggier clothing and I can see it as reading as "the 90s". Giant cell phones help, of course.

Or you know, have people show up wearing athletic wear.
posted by The Whelk at 12:45 PM on December 8, 2011


Evolution of Dance Since 1970

My favorite example of American cultural stagnation is the incessant movie remakes and reboots that are so popular with the big studios these days, almost to the total exclusion of any new ideas at all - they'd rather run the whole Spiderman series over and over again into eternity, or at least scavenge from some other old comic or something, than come up with a single new goddamned idea for a movie.

Here's a good candidate for the MetaFilter SuperHyperbole.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:47 PM on December 8, 2011


This seems a little backwards to me. Consider that the average car in the US is ten years old, going back ten years isn't going to produce the same sort of scene change that yoink's transition marked in American Graffiti if only because our durable goods are more durable, and in many ways, less fashionable.
posted by zenon at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2011


For all the times that I fight autocorrect, it fails me in my time of need...

And for all the shitty dubstep stuff out there, I wouldn't trade in Burial or James Blake for the life of me. I gather that they aren't the norm, though.
posted by Schismatic at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wanna shop just like an animal

I fill my cart up while I'm inside
Bargains
Imprisoning Me
All that I see
Absolute Savings

posted by usonian at 12:51 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


naju: Dubstep is definitely going to lose its cultural cachet very soon, if it hasn't already. Maybe even around the time the new Bieber album comes out (he says it's dubstep-influenced.) Mostly I just don't want this decade to be the "WUB WUB WUB" brostep decade, that's just hugely depressing.
Yeah, it feels a hell of a lot like the 3-year hegemony of drum 'n' bass which pretty much ruined the late '90s. I don't think many people look back on that with much affection.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:52 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


As for the 90s, grunge is actually pretty distinctive, but I would vote for early-90s hip-hop as a better marker.

Nah. Terrible 90s club music.
posted by empath at 12:53 PM on December 8, 2011


I didn't realize how much I associate shitty club music with the 90s until a bartender inexplicably became obsessed with it so I have to hear the C+C Music Factory when I want a beer.

Actually, there's your candidate for the 90s montage - "Everybody Dance Now", no one would make music like that on purpose anymore.
posted by The Whelk at 12:57 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


We work hard, we play hard.
posted by griphus at 12:59 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


As for the 90s, grunge is actually pretty distinctive, but I would vote for early-90s hip-hop as a better marker.

Nah. Terrible 90s club music.
Yes, yes, yes. Saying otherwise is kind of like the Beverly Hill 90210 DVDs, where they couldn't get the rights to most of the music that originally aired on the show, so filled out party scenes and so on with generic, royalty-free rap. And everyone who watched it the first time around was screaming at the screen, "NO! IT WASN'T LIKE THAT AT ALL!!"
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:59 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every single haircut in this screams 90s and would be completely out of place in a modern setting
posted by The Whelk at 1:03 PM on December 8, 2011


Or like, the frosted tips craze.
posted by The Whelk at 1:04 PM on December 8, 2011


C+C Music Factory and its ilk were like a bad hangover from the 80s. My memory of 1990-91 is that it was the 80s warmed over until grunge finally gained traction.

(It still blows me away that both Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine and Faith No More's The Real Thing came out in 1989, though.)
posted by usonian at 1:06 PM on December 8, 2011


Saying otherwise is kind of like the Beverly Hill 90210 DVDs, where they couldn't get the rights to most of the music that originally aired on the show, so filled out party scenes and so on with generic, royalty-free rap.

This is off topic, but a struggling hip-hop producer I know licensed one of his tracks to one of those teen-oriented shows on one of a major networks. He spammed his facebook and twitter telling people to watch it for weeks, had a party at his house so people could watch the show with him, etc. He thought it was going to be his big break.

Here is basically how the scene went:

Girl 1: Oh, and he thinks he can be a music producer. Want to hear his 'music'?

*plays his song*

Girl 2: Oh my god that's terrible.

Girl 1: I know right?

* and scene*

He never mentioned it again, but he did get a decent royalty check for it, at least.
posted by empath at 1:07 PM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


God, I love Ace of Base.

Actually, there's your candidate for the 90s montage - "Everybody Dance Now",

The two songs that scream 90s to me are Smells Like (of course) and Everybody's Free by Rozalla.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:08 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


C+C Music Factory and its ilk were like a bad hangover from the 80s.

Nah, they were a detour on the path from house and techno to acid house and rave. Compare them to KLF, DeeLite, Technotronic, etc.. They're actually decent tracks, just way, way overplayed.
posted by empath at 1:09 PM on December 8, 2011


or Snap!
posted by empath at 1:09 PM on December 8, 2011


I think this whole thread was worth it just for that anecdote, empath.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:11 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another musical marker for the late 80s/early 90s is Freestyle.
posted by empath at 1:12 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh god no. I really don't want to be reminded of Rhythm is a Dancer or The Power. It seems like they were the background for 1989-1991.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:13 PM on December 8, 2011


So I rewatched the Dandy Warhol's Bohemian Like You video (which has way more nudity in it then I remember) and on one hand, it's from 2000 and while the looks are bog standard, you are looking at Brooklyn Mark 1 model there, it also looks dates. It looks like what the older managers at the co-op wear, not their younger workers.
posted by The Whelk at 1:15 PM on December 8, 2011


dated*
posted by The Whelk at 1:17 PM on December 8, 2011


Another suppressed early 90's memory just got jogged loose thanks to this thread: "Acid Jazz"
posted by usonian at 1:21 PM on December 8, 2011


The Whelk: [Bohemian like You] also looks date[d]. It looks like what the older managers at the co-op wear, not their younger workers.
Yes. It's like how it's implied in one or two episodes that Nate from Six Feet Under is a Dandys fan. Which I thought was a pitch perfect piece of characterization.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:25 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite example of American cultural stagnation is the incessant movie remakes and reboots that are so popular with the big studios these days, almost to the total exclusion of any new ideas at all - they'd rather run the whole Spiderman series over and over again into eternity, or at least scavenge from some other old comic or something, than come up with a single new goddamned idea for a movie.

This happens because the studio no longer tosses out a bunch of movies and pays for them with whichever ones turn out to be big hits. They're trying to make the big hit every time, and they want to use what they think they know about what people like in order to make sure it works. So you get caution, big dumb flashy ideas, lots of notes from execs, nothing new.

Radio is a similar story. A lot of record labels used to give artists time to develop. Now it's give us a hit the first time out or you're out. And that doesn't touch on the payola, the focus groups, the top-down playlist management. It's been said before, but one reason we had that short bright period wherein idiosyncrasy made money was that executives figured, hell, we don't know what these weird long-haired kids want, let's throw some money around and see what sticks. Whereas since the boomers took over management philosophy has turned back into hey, we're not like those old guys we grew up with, we know what the kids want. We'll tell them what they want.
posted by Adventurer at 1:25 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


I sincerely think dubstep has this. It's a distinctive sound, as distinctive as swing or 60s psychedelia or disco or hair metal. (Have you listened to recent dubstep, the kind that's popular on college campuses? WUB WUB WUB WUB WUBWUBWUBWUBWUB)

The thing is you could also say this about jungle, but I lived through it and couldn't tell you what period it signifies now. Mid-90s? late 90s? Early 00s? All feel plausible to me.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:36 PM on December 8, 2011


Hey everyone lets just remember Nurock is dead and never coming back, lets just enjoy that.
posted by The Whelk at 1:37 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite example of American cultural stagnation is the incessant movie remakes

On the other hand, we forget how often the classics of the past were remakes. Lots of great 30s and 40s films were remakes of silents or remakes of earlier talkies. The Maltese Falcon that we all know and love was the third version of that story brought to the screen in ten years. The Wizard of Oz had been made over and over before the Judy Garland version. His Girl Friday is a remake. One can go on and on and on.

And, if anything, sequels are probably less common now than they were in the 30s and 40s. Look at the Charlie Chan films or the Thin Man films or the Mr. Moto films or the Tarzan films etc. etc. etc. They would ride those franchises as long and hard as they could.

There's nothing wrong with remaking a story or doing a sequel. What's wrong is having nothing to say when you do it.
posted by yoink at 1:38 PM on December 8, 2011


Uncle Whelk, what did the 60s-revival folkish fad in the 90s look like?

Like this Billy

You know what you never hear on the radio anymore? Earnenst female singer songwriters with a guitar. You couldn't toss an over-sized coffee cup without hitting some lady on a stool singing about her bird and how its a metaphor.
posted by The Whelk at 1:48 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Okay you know what's a big factor in this that no one has brought up?

Cable TV. I was born the year "Time After Time" was released, why should it evoke my childhood? Cause at someone everyone got or knew someone with cable and early cable showed nothing but reruns, I swear Comedy Central just looped the same 4 hours of stand up for like 3 years in a row and during the day - the time when kids are home - MTV showed nothing but old videos and VH1 had pop-up video, so there's this like time-release delay going on.
posted by The Whelk at 1:56 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have heard tall tales of them playing Regina Spektor and St. Vincent on the radio in LA.
posted by griphus at 1:56 PM on December 8, 2011


Uncle Whelk, what did the 60s-revival folkish fad in the 90s look like?

Like this Billy
I used to really, really hate that song (it's 3 chords in the same strumming pattern through both chorus and verse, and goes on for like 28 minutes) until someone pointed out that it's the exact same progression as "Don't Worry, Be Happy." I still hate it, but at least it makes me LOL now.
posted by usonian at 1:58 PM on December 8, 2011


I rewatched Clueless this weekend and I couldn't get over how dated and 1990s the whole things was. The cars were noticeably old models (lots of straight lines) and the cell phones were hilarious. Not to mention the clothes. The best part when four or five young guys walked by with giant baggy pants, giant t-shirts and backward hats and Cher started complaining that you couldn't tell if guys were cute because their clothes were too baggy. Just wait Cher! I'd like to introduce you to skinny jeans and deep v-ed t-shirts.
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:01 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cable TV. I was born the year "Time After Time" was released, why should it evoke my childhood? Cause at someone everyone got or knew someone with cable and early cable showed nothing but reruns, I swear Comedy Central just looped the same 4 hours of stand up for like 3 years in a row and during the day - the time when kids are home - MTV showed nothing but old videos and VH1 had pop-up video, so there's this like time-release delay going on.

A while ago I read a pretty convincing internet snippet that blamed most of 2k-era '80s retro bullshit on VH1's "I Love The '80s." It might have been from you, actually, I forget the provenance.
posted by furiousthought at 2:06 PM on December 8, 2011


I was born the year "Time After Time" was released, why should it evoke my childhood?

OMG, yes! That was on HBO at least three times a day in 1978.
posted by JoanArkham at 2:10 PM on December 8, 2011


I meant the Lauper song, from 84', but the point stands.
posted by The Whelk at 2:13 PM on December 8, 2011


I don't remember television being flooded with reality tv 20 years ago. (Though I do think CSI existed and was just as rampant, just with a different name...)
posted by Metro Gnome at 2:20 PM on December 8, 2011


I don't remember television being flooded with reality tv 20 years ago.

MTV's The Real World was an inescapable phenomenon from 1992 on.
posted by naju at 2:22 PM on December 8, 2011


It was a dark period in American history... the phones were enormous.
posted by mmrtnt at 2:26 PM on December 8, 2011


Now try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992. Movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Carey—both distinctions without a real difference—and Jay-Z and Wilco are still Jay-Z and Wilco.

This seems like ridiculous lumping together. Adele and Mariah Carey sound nothing alike and their genre/look is nothing alike except that they're both recognized as having big voices. Even when Mariah came out and did mostly ballads she was much more R&B tinged than Adele. Plus Adele is basically the only ballad singer making it onto the radio now when Mariah was just one of the big-ballad divas that ruled the early 90's.

Gaga and Madonna is an easier surface comparison, but even there - I would never confuse Bad Romance (or anything from that album) as a Madonna song, nor could I see Gaga doing Vogue in period costume. They both like to create trends or spectacles, but in different ways.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:33 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I normally agree Mads and gaga are not really alike but this gave me Vogue whiplash
posted by The Whelk at 2:40 PM on December 8, 2011


Adele is another white british soul singer in a long line of them. She doesn't even sing in the same genre as Mariah Carey, and she doesn't have her vocal chops, in any case.

Gaga is Madonna-ish in about the same way that Madonna was kind of Marilyn Monroe-ish.
posted by empath at 3:17 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I meant the Lauper song, from 84', but the point stands.

Ha! Er, um...yeah

So embarrassed. So old...
posted by JoanArkham at 4:06 PM on December 8, 2011


I normally agree Mads and gaga are not really alike but this gave me Vogue whiplash

Madonna would have done it with eyebrows.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:12 PM on December 8, 2011


Personally, I look forwards to the collapse of the culture industry. It's already on its last legs and no longer capable of producing anything that might be called growth, yes, but it's not quite there as evident by all the people who still care about such nonsense. But soon now I expect people will look back on the obsession with marketing -- and all culture is marketing now, the pretense is over -- as so cheerily stupid. It's like the WA obsession with witchcraft or how the Europeans used to always be up for a good war. One day people will look around and stop realize how stupid it all really is.

One can only hope that the children of the future have much better things to do than "rebel" against their parents by buying the latest shit churned out by the music and fashion and other culture industries. Hopefully they'll be playing ARGs or lost in virtual worlds or buried deep in some collaborative cult or even obsessing about how to increase their friend count. That would be progress.
posted by nixerman at 4:34 PM on December 8, 2011


Here's my theory. During the 20th century cultural change accelerated with the growth of new technologies and mass media, and I think we've just run out of ideas that are novel in an obvious kind of way. That doesn't mean there are no new ideas left, but it means artists will have to find more subtle ways of being original (which I personally prefer).

Because our culture puts so much pressure on artists to be original in a flashy way, and because all of the trends of the past are firmly fixed in our cultural memory through video and the internet, artists become paralyzed by their fear of being derivative. So instead of trying to find their own voices, they take the easy way out and self consciously or ironically reference the past, which is considered an acceptable if lesser alternative to actually being innovative.
posted by timsneezed at 5:02 PM on December 8, 2011


i have to make one observation that's puzzled me for some time

a certain subculture of kids are STILL wearing backwards baseball caps and baggy pants, exposing their boxer shorts

i just thought that after 20 or so years, it would have changed to something else, but i guess not
posted by pyramid termite at 5:32 PM on December 8, 2011


Dubstep is a fringe trend. It's, um, interesting, but you can't really dance to it. It doesn't quite have the same cultural impact like The Beatles had in the 1960's.
posted by ovvl at 5:34 PM on December 8, 2011


It's, um, interesting, but you can't really dance to it

what
posted by empath at 5:36 PM on December 8, 2011


Well, I certainly can't dance like that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:44 PM on December 8, 2011


Regular people dance like this. Basically jumping up and down, like every other concert.
posted by empath at 5:57 PM on December 8, 2011


I did have something to contribute, by I've had my brain wiped by reading up on people freezing their jeans to avoid havIng to wash them.

Oh yes, that was it: digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
posted by cromagnon at 6:08 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


This desire for authenticity was first noticed and commented on in the 1930s, long before computers, in the context of the original new media, photo and film, that allowed for unlimited copies divorced from the original... Culture is increasingly focused on the authentic, but nothing is really as it seems.

Yep, feels like time to read The Man in the High Castle (1962) again.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 6:11 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My husband works at a college. He is 32, I'm 33, so we are 10-15 years older than the students that he works with. Which doesn't sound like all that much, until you factor in that my stepson is 13, so a whole bunch of our student friends are actually closer in age to our eldest child than they are to us, and that while we were born in the 1970s, our oldest and our student friends were born in the 1990s.

But the point here is that we have student friends, loads of them. There just really isn't much of a generation gap there.

This fall, the kids and I went in and ate lunch with my husband and all seven of his assistants, the eldest of whom was hungover because she'd turned 21 the night before. I remember gently teasing her about being born in 1990, and how I had seen a magazine at the doctor's office dated 1990 earlier that week.

"Oh, that's nothing," she said, "I see them all the time! They are everywhere. Besides, it wasn't that long ago, I mean, I'm still pretty young." Everyone else, people born in '93 and '94, agreed.

It really stuck with me, and it recalled for me something that happened in the fall of 1992, when I was a highschool freshmen in English class. Our teacher mentioned Pravda, and how the USSR founding fathers were "constantly referenced, and this was in a fairly recent edition, from about 1978." The entire class exploded in laughter, since that was the year most of us were born. Recent! Ha! Old people!

When I was 14, the year of my birth was the deep past. Now people who are 21 and even younger think of the year of their birth as not so long ago.

What really, really struck me about this interaction was that this was the first time that I had given more than a passing glance to our generation gap, because before this, I just never noticed one.
posted by Leta at 6:19 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


But any trace of spontaneity from the public in official broadcasting is controlled and absorbed by talent scouts, studio competitions and official programs of every kind selected by professionals. Talented performers belong to the industry long before it displays them; otherwise they would not be so eager to fit in. The attitude of the public, which ostensibly and actually favours the system of the culture industry, is a part of the system and not an excuse for it. If one branch of art follows the same formula as one with a very different medium and content; if the dramatic intrigue of broadcast soap operas becomes no more than useful material for showing how to master technical problems at both ends of the scale of musical experience – real jazz or a cheap imitation; or if a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely “adapted” for a film sound-track in the same way as a Tolstoy novel is garbled in a film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air.

We are closer to the facts if we explain these phenomena as inherent in the technical and personnel apparatus which, down to its last cog, itself forms part of the economic mechanism of selection. In addition there is the agreement – or at least the determination – of all executive authorities not to produce or sanction anything that in any way differs from their own rules, their own ideas about consumers, or above all themselves.


Theodore Adorno, 1944
posted by empath at 6:23 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you can't dance to dubstep then you are basically admitting you contain zero funk.
posted by The Whelk at 6:24 PM on December 8, 2011


This thread has left me unsure if Kanye West is the best or worst thing to happen to rap music.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 6:29 PM on December 8, 2011


Also, people have been wearing t-shirts with graphics and funny sayings for about as long as its been okay to wear a t-shirt without a dress shirt.

t-shirts = primal social media construct
posted by shoesfullofdust at 6:45 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What he's talking about is an illusion caused by two events : the rise of Narrowcast culture, and the failure of Widecast culture to die.

Widecast culture was pretty much a 20th-Century invention. TV, radio, movies : never was it so easy to reach so many people with the same cultural product. And it was a great machine! People on the fringes kept it fed with new material, which was then bowdlerized and turned into product. But it was in the interests of the machine to change up the formula every now and then; the Quirkies and their intellectual pals would gripe about staleness, and besides, coming out with new product is always good for business. At the same time, we were leaving the age of Victorian morals, so there was still an envelope to be pushed in terms of what was acceptable in the public arena. America was never a country that hungered for change; what we craved was novelty.

Narrowcast culture is a new invention, and pretty much began with the Internet. If you're a person with Quirky tastes, it is now easier than ever to have those tastes satisfied. Any sort of weird art, music, performance, writing, or whatever, it's all available at your fingertips; you need only know about it. So if you do have Quirky tastes, you have no reason to turn to any of the traditional Widecast sources for it. Widecast culture even lost its ability to effectively titillate; with every possible variation of human behavior shamelessly on display, what could possibly be shocking? Not too long ago, wide-eyed futurists theorized about the death of Widecast culture -- about how, in the future, everything would be Narrowcast....

... which never happened. Widecast culture didn't die. It just became more boring and risk-averse. You see, the machine never really loved the Quirkies; it begrudgingly gave us our due, while turning our culture into product. With the Quirkies no longer part of their customer base, the machine largely became concerned with shoring up their bottom-line; something they've had a hard time doing, since they failed to forsee the impact of digital technology. So what you get is the most boring possible product, guaranteed to be mildly appealing to the largest segment of the population. And surprise! It doesn't look all that different from the Widecast culture of the early 90s, which, coincidentally, was when Narrowcast culture was born.

So, to 20th century-oriented Widecast eyes, culture is stale and hasn't changed. But to 21st century Narrowcast eyes, Widecast culture has never been less relevant.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:48 PM on December 8, 2011 [31 favorites]


To quote cat and girl, in the past everyone was famous for 15 minutes, now everyone will be famous to 1,500 people.
posted by The Whelk at 6:50 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Afroblanco wins the thread.
posted by empath at 6:56 PM on December 8, 2011


I was born the year "Time After Time" was released, why should it evoke my childhood?

OMG, yes! That was on HBO at least three times a day in 1978.


Usually mentions of it being on HBO a year before it was released would be a boo-boo, but in this case, it works...
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:28 PM on December 8, 2011


The problem with "narrowcast culture" is that you don't get the same communities of artists united by a common movemente. Artists usually produce their best work when they're bouncing ideas off each other, and when they're working in an atmosphere infused with a sense of excitement about creating something new together.
posted by timsneezed at 7:59 PM on December 8, 2011


Well, one thing to remember is that Narrowcast culture is not really new at all; in fact, it's exactly what we had for millenia before Widecast culture existed. It's just that, now, the whole world can see your cave paintings.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:15 PM on December 8, 2011


yeah but most of the enduring art that exists came out of widecast culture.
posted by timsneezed at 8:19 PM on December 8, 2011


But to 21st century Narrowcast eyes, Widecast culture has never been less relevant.

It's pretty to think so, but "narrowcast culture" (I take this to mean Shit You Find On The Internet) so far hasn't really developed the momentum to create its own real movements. A million original subcultures have yet not bloomed - it's a bunch of disparate interests. If that is the endgame, it's not here. Somebody can look in one place for one interest and another place for a different one and that's all that ties them together. The idea that you have much in common with me because we are posting on the same website is an illusion.

The other problem with that scenario is that a lot of internet culture is directly parasitic on pieces of mass culture, past or present. So no, "widecast" culture is not yet irrelevant.
posted by furiousthought at 8:23 PM on December 8, 2011


Well, I agree with you mostly -- there is no mass movement you can attribute to narrowcast culture; in fact, that would be basically a contradiction in terms. And I wouldn't limit narrowcast culture to "Shit You Find On The Internet" : it would be a lot more accurate to say that it's "Shit You Find Out About On The Internet"
posted by Afroblanco at 8:41 PM on December 8, 2011


Basically all webcomics, for example.
posted by The Whelk at 8:45 PM on December 8, 2011


It's all happening so quickly now that you can't really identify it. Even in the 1990's mall photo, there are places where you can go right now and see people looking like that. And it doesn't look a hell of a lot different from Fast Times at Ridgemont High either. Styles overlap, sub-sub-cultures in corners of neighborhoods develop and die. It's all a cacophony now.
`Where do I fit?' screamed Random suddenly. The hand holding the gun was trembling fiercely. Her other hand delved into her pocket and pulled out the remains of Arthur's watch. She shook it at them. `I thought I would fit here,' she cried, `on the world that made me! But it turns out that even my mother doesn't know who I am!' She flung the watch violently aside, and it smashed into the glasses behind the bar, scattering its innards. Everyone was very quiet for a moment or two longer. `Random,' said Trillian quietly from up on the stairs. `Shut up!' shouted Random. `You abandoned me!' `Random, it is very important that you listen to me and understand,' persisted Trillian quietly. `There isn't very much time. We must leave. We must all leave.' `What are you talking about? We're always leaving!' She had both hands on the gun now, and both were shaking. There was no one in particular she was pointing it at. She was just pointing it at the world in general. `Listen,' said Trillian again. `I left you because I went to cover a war for the network. It was extremely dangerous . At least, I thought it was going to be. I arrived and the war had suddenly ceased to happen. There was a time anomaly and... listen! Please listen! A reconnaissance battleship had failed to turn up, the rest of the fleet was scattered in some farcical disarray. It's happening all the time now.' `I don't care! I don't want to hear about your bloody job!' shouted Random. `I want a home! I want to fit somewhere!' `This is not your home,' said Trillian, still keeping her voice calm. `You don't have one. We none of us have one. Hardly anybody has one any more. The missing ship I was just talking about. The people of that ship don't have a home. They don't know where they are from. They don't even have any memory of who they are or what they are for. They are very lost and very confused and very frightened. They are here in this solar system, and they are about to do something very... misguided because they are so lost and confused. We... must... leave ... now. I can't tell you where there is to go to. Perhaps there isn't anywhere. But here is not the place to be. Please. One more time. Can we go?'
posted by gjc at 8:55 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


There seem to be a few arguments that there are great things, styles, movies, books, art, music, happening, it’s just that they’re happening for such short periods, and/or to so few people that the average person can’t keep up with them. That sounds like the most amazing "I’m an insider" excuse ever. Do you really think there weren’t small trends in all of these fields that came and went quickly and didn’t reach the mainstream, before the internet? If so you seriously need to get out more and broaden your world view. Trends among small groups of people for short periods aren't remembered much, or have much impact on society.

The people who mentioned the lack of generation gap are getting straight to the point; the phrase "generation gap" doesn’t even have much meaning anymore. If your in your early 20’s or younger your parents probably dress like you, listen to the same music, like the same movies, etc. That’s the point; it’s not weird, new, or unfamiliar to them. That didn’t happen before.

People of every generation are dismayed by their children’s generation, the strange styles, music, etc, they often find it offensive. Except this one. And the Middle Ages.

Brostep is not a compelling argument for the creativity of the times we live in.
posted by bongo_x at 9:49 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well how about the idea that once a Way Of Doing Things becomes outdated, there erupts a desire to re-create the flaws created by the older Way Of Doing Things?

It ties directly into the idea of Skiamorphae and the aesthetic lag created by technological progress.
posted by The Whelk at 10:27 PM on December 8, 2011


Or how every new Thing first comes disguised as the Old Thing but better, before the New Thing's qualities are exploited as virtues in and of themselves and not just things it does like Old Thing.
posted by The Whelk at 10:29 PM on December 8, 2011


It's still the Boomers' world. We just live in it. I'm goddamn sick of it. But I don't have any other ideas, either.

xkcd agrees with you.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 3:48 AM on December 9, 2011


Well, I agree with you mostly -- there is no mass movement you can attribute to narrowcast culture; in fact, that would be basically a contradiction in terms. And I wouldn't limit narrowcast culture to "Shit You Find On The Internet"

I know people keep bringing up dubstep, but dubstep was a narrow cast culture that blew up into the mainstream. It was something that 4 guys were playing in London for years until it blew up world wide.

Another one is Moombahton, which is a dance music micro-genre that a guy I know personally invented that's been bubbling up in different cities around the world for a couple of years now and has been covered on BBC and NPR.

There's Brazilian Baile Funk, there's Chicago Footwork, there's Baltimore Club, Angolan Kuduro. All local micro-scenes that currently have small worldwide followings and are feeding into mass culture through guys like Diplo.

If your in your early 20’s or younger your parents probably dress like you, listen to the same music, like the same movies, etc.

Brostep is not a compelling argument for the creativity of the times we live in.


These two sentences kind of contradict each other, old man.
posted by empath at 4:04 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this guy's confusing the fashionable minority with the mass of people.

Most men in the 1970s didn't have huge afros and paisley shirts and bell-bottom. They wore suits with slightly wider ties.

In the Sixties, only a minority of young people listened to the Beatles. Most older people were listening to Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck and Frank Sinatra.

Also, you don't tend to notice the things about your era that are dated, until later when they've become dated.

So don't panic, I promise in twenty years you'll look back at pictures of young men with big shaggy beards and young women in oversized plastic glasses and anyone in an oversized luridly-patterned cardigan and think "So 2011!"
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:52 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


xkcd agrees with you.

He and I are about the same age.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:38 AM on December 9, 2011


Trends among small groups of people for short periods aren't remembered much, or have much impact on society.

What the fuck? I'm no art expert, but I immediately think Ashcan School or Dada ... there weren't many of those folks, were there? They both had huge impact, no?

That's the thing (as already noted). We don't know yet which of these seemingly smaller trends are going to affect the future.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:51 AM on December 9, 2011


xkcd agrees with you.

That chart willfully ignores Mariah Carey (1994) (and Celine Dion, and pretty much all modern country music) for the 1990s. I know I hear far too much of Mariah Carey (admittedly, her big Christmas hit attempts to recreate the sound of Brenda Lee.)

Also, he includes Felix Navidad, but not Happy Xmas (War is Over) from 1971? He also conveniently omits Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (1979). No Merry Christmas Darling (1978) by the Carpenters either. I hear those a shit more than "Blue Christmas" or "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

From the 1980s, Fairytale of New York, Do They Know It's Christmas, Last Christmas, and that goofy Sting hymn get plenty of airplay.

Finally, it ignores Christmas in Hollis (1987). No assessment of Christmas music is complete without an acknowledgement of Christmas in Hollis.

No, I don't think Mr. xkcd listens to much Christmas music, no. The fact that he calls "The Christmas Song" (good lord, Mel Torme) "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" is a clue.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:39 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


>Trends among small groups of people for short periods aren't remembered much, or have much impact on society.

What the fuck? I'm no art expert, but I immediately think Ashcan School or Dada ... there weren't many of those folks, were there? They both had huge impact, no?
<

I thought that might read funny, but what I’m saying is that something may start out that way but take on a larger life later, like you said. It can’t then be called a trend among small group for a short time when everyone loves it and copies it, just it’s origins were. I’m reading people here saying that doesn’t need to happen, that just being the trend among few people for a short time is somehow really meaningful on it’s own now that we have computers, and that stuff never happened before the internet. Or something like that.
posted by bongo_x at 10:40 PM on December 9, 2011


I had this discussion with my dad a few years back (actually, ten years back now, fuck), about what defined "my generation," somewhere in between Y and the Millennials. He thought there wasn't anything, not the way WWII or the Civil Rights movement defined their particular eras. I told him we had the internet, and he said, "Well, yeah, but that's not really defining in the same way. I mean, you're not going to say in twenty years: I was doing X when that website launched, the way I would about the moon launch or the Kennedy assassination." And I said, "Yeah, exactly."

I'm not sure exactly how old you are and I'm not sure whether your father was talking about defining events of specifically formative years (say childhood to the end of high school), but anyway here are some of the moments I remember (or defining events, because WWII and the civil rights movement were not "moments".)

- Challenger explosion
- The first computer in our house/rise of home computing
- Ryan White/start of AIDS awareness
- Fall of the Berlin wall
- Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings
- Operation Desert Storm
- OJ Simpson trial/verdict
- The first time I ever went on the World Wide Web
- Columbine shootings
- 9/11 and the ensuing ongoing wars (similar to Pearl Harbor as a moment, followed by America's entrance into WWII)
- My first cell phone/the rise of cell phones
- Obama's election

That's just what comes to mind now.

I think a lot this stuff is much easier to see in retrospect than as it happens. Possibly the next major cultural shift is around the corner. And 80 years from now looking back, no one will be shocked that until now it was on average 20 years between cultural shifts, and this cultural shift took 40, extending the average cultural shift by a minute amount of time.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:00 AM on December 10, 2011


Salamandrous: I'm not sure exactly how old you are and I'm not sure whether your father was talking about defining events of specifically formative years (say childhood to the end of high school), but anyway here are some of the moments I remember (or defining events, because WWII and the civil rights movement were not "moments".

I'm twenty five (the challenger explosion happened the year I was born, heh.) I actually thought really hard about putting 9/11 down as a counter-example, but decided against it because I couldn't remember exactly where I was when I heard about it. It isn't so much that Big Import Things That Change Everything don't happen anymore--of course they do--it's that the response to them is different.

You say "I think a lot this stuff is much easier to see in retrospect than as it happens," which is totally true! But there have definitely been things in the past which everybody knew were huge the moment they happened. I can talk to my parents and their friends and they can all still tell me what they were wearing or what song was playing on the radio when they heard about Kennedy. My grandfather has the early stages of Alzheimer's and can't always remember what day of the week it is, but he can still remember what he was doing when he heard about Pearl Harbor, and so can my other relatives of that generation. All I can say is, "Well, it happened in 2001--I would have been in high school.... yeah, I was in some class when I heard about it." I knew it was important when it happened, and that it would probably change things, but it was just one in a long list of other important things.

I guess what I believe, and what I find really fascinating about the whole thing, is that we've had the huge 20 year cultural shift and no one noticed.

This thread is probably dead (and probably no one wants to hear the ramblings of a twenty something kid on why she's special), but I've been thinking about this for a while now and this sort of crystallized things for me, so hey, here goes.

A few years back I was reading De Beauvoir's The Second Sex, and there was a line that really struck me. She said (probably paraphrasing), "I wanted to define myself to myself, and the first thing I thought was: I am a woman." I thought back a few years (around when I was having this discussion with my father), participating in some youth group thing with a bunch of other teenagers, and some well-meaning Gen-Xer was earnestly asking us "Who are you? Really? What one word describes the real you?" And we all stared at him, blankly, and eventually someone responded, "Well, I'm me, I guess." At the time, everybody chalked it up to just being dumb-ass teenagers, but ten years later the question still makes me deeply uncomfortable. If you asked my parents, or people of their generation, they'd say something like "I'm a Christian!" or "I'm a feminist!" or "I'm gay!" De Beauvoir could say, "I am a woman" knowing that that could say something about her: about how she would be treated, about how she responded to things, about how she considered herself. The closest I can get to her statement is "I'm female bodied, and fairly comfortable with that," and there is a universe of difference between those two self-definitions. There was a thread here a few days back about Gay Sports Bars and the death of gay culture, and this was posted in the comments about someone's teenage son:

Pogo_Fuzzybutt: He's just gay, like you have brown eyes, or that person there likes brunettes. Karl is gay as part of his identity and culture and who he is. It has less meaning for my son, because he paid less for it.

And I think it's not just that he "paid less for it," though that's probably part of it--it's that previous generations have worked so hard to dismantle our cultural definitions of things that my generation has a hard time defining ourself by anything at all. And this, amazingly enough, ties back to all these arguments about why our generation isn't producing any wildly new artistic movements. In the past, at least the last hundred years or so, most new artistic movements were based on dismantling the previous ones' preconceptions about what art was, from WC Williams obsession with finding "new rhythms" for poetry to Duchamp's toilet, Pollack's splatter painting and Warhol's pop art, Joyce's stream of consciousness and the nested footnotes of House of Leaves. Well, our generation comes along, and we say, "Okay, sure. Anything can be art. Anything can be anything." You can't really rebel against the act of rebellion, after all, not even by not doing anything at all. It's not that we think that everything has been done--there's plenty of new things to try. But there's nothing to prove.

I'm a writer--some small part of me dreams of coming up with the next Great American Novel that makes everybody take notice. But the thing is, even if I came up with something entirely (heh) novel, it wouldn't surprise anyone, because, well, dismantling all of our notions of what a novel is has already been done. And that's why we can sit here and argue til the cows come home over whether such-and-such band is doing something really new. There's no novelty in newness anymore. There aren't defining events or movements, because we threw out definitions, no rebellion because everything already goes. All we can do is say, "Well, I am me, I guess, and here is this thing I made which is pretty neat."

And, ironically enough, this is a pretty huge shift in how we approach art, completely different from our parents and theirs. It's not just "different distribution methods" brought on by itunes and youtube, it's an entirely different attitude towards creation and, amazingly enough, what art is, because art isn't something that re-defines everything anymore, it's something a bunch of people found kind of neat.

In other words: metafilter is the art gallery of my generation's culture.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 10:14 AM on December 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned video games in this thread, since that's where most of the creative energy is being spent right now. You can almost date a film by the month based on what video games you show.
posted by empath at 10:39 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Salamandrous, I think we may be exactly the same age. I think it's important to note that if you were born between about 1976 and 1982, you really are a cusp, a very young Gen Xer or a very old Millennial. So none of the wide culture stuff is about us or for us, anyway, because we are such a small silver of the population.
posted by Leta at 11:44 AM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kittenmarlowe: I think that is a very good description of how I feel and what my self-identity is. I don't really identify with a movement or a description or an identity so much as just being me.
posted by rebent at 1:44 PM on December 10, 2011


And, um, now that I bother to click the link:

That illustration is bullshit. There were plenty of people in 1952 who looked exactly like the 1932 illustration; plenty in 1972 who looked exactly like the ones for 1952 and 1932; and plenty in 1992 who looked exactly like the ones for 1972, 1952, and 1932.

And, you know what? There were millions of people in 1932 who looked exactly like the 2012 drawing. (Minus the headphones.)

So, uh, yeah.

And as for the assertion that, "With rare exceptions, cars from the early 90s (and even the late 80s) don’t seem dated." I mean, seriously, what the ever loving fuck is this guy talking about? Cars from 1992, with the exception of a small handful of sports and muscle cars, look like absolute shit, and nothing at all like cars from even five years later. They do not make cars like that anymore, a fact for which my eyes are eternally grateful.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:22 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


empath: "I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned video games in this thread, since that's where most of the creative energy is being spent right now. You can almost date a film by the month based on what video games you show"

That's going to work for people who play a lot of video games, but not for the population at large. I could tell the difference between Space Invaders and one of the games you young people play nowadays, but there's no way I could tell the difference between a screenshot of a game that came out now and a game that came out ten years ago.

It just doesn't compare to the difference between, for example, a 1946 Chevy and a 1958 Chevy; you don't need to have been a driver in those years to see the difference.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:45 PM on December 10, 2011


Peter Merholz responds.
posted by activitystory at 6:34 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's going to work for people who play a lot of video games, but not for the population at large.

The population-at-large plays video games. More money is spent on video games than either movies and music in the us, and it's getting more popular every year. If you don't play video games at all, you're on the fringe, not the mainstream.
posted by empath at 8:19 AM on December 13, 2011


I said "a lot" of video games. Enough to recognize from a few seconds in the background of a scene just what game is being played and thereby what year the scene is set.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:56 AM on December 13, 2011


How soon until bootcut jeans become the new mom jeans?

Too late, if what I noticed at the mall food court before Christmas is any indication. I was looking around at pants hemlines, and only women in their late twenties and older were wearing flares or boot-cut jeans. This makes me sad. I've always hated tapered pants; even as a kid they didn't flatter me, and they definitely don't now that I'm an adult with a butt and hips. Even carrot jeans would be more flattering on me.

Oh, tattoos and piercings, too. Only the really wild types had them in the old days. Now I see lip rings on junior-high kids from the midwest.

That was one thing I think The Matrix and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles pretty successfully predicted about the future—culturally amorphous combat chic, with tattoos, piercings, tight jeans, and tall combat boots the norm. I think we'll only see more of that.

On the other end of things, I'm seeing fashion spreads for this spring with those awful printed polyester shirts with elastic waistbands like someone's great-grandmother would've worn in the late '80s (and which I spent the late '90s dodging in thrift stores). It's heinous.
posted by limeonaire at 6:16 PM on January 7, 2012


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