The GIGABORE: A decade of cultural blandness
March 17, 2017 3:29 PM   Subscribe

What do you get if you compare the culture of 2007 to 2017? The GIGABORE is an interesting (if bare bones) attempt to compare a decade of cultural change which identifies both the strengths and weaknesses of the last 10 years of culture.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory (34 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
This sounds so much like a teenager complaining that its parents are boring. Ten extremely tumultuous years happened, sorry if we're tired and want contemplative music and movies. Go make your own absurdism if you don't like it, that's literally why we have hallucinogenic drugs.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 4:34 PM on March 17 [15 favorites]


Poorly-researched conclusions based on narrow subjective, anecdotal evidence.
But, in the meantime, we must fight the GIGABORE with absurdism.
OMG that made me cringe, like when you see 'looking for a partner in crime' in a dating profile. Talk to me when you've been led away in handcuffs for making art. This woman needs more interesting friends.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:38 PM on March 17 [17 favorites]


Kind of lost me at "Fast music to slow music." where the tempo of the latter song was faster than the first.
posted by tummy_rub at 4:46 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Things aint what they used to be, kid.
posted by freakazoid at 5:30 PM on March 17


No new fashion trends in the last 10 years?
-Normcore
-"Minimalism"
-soft grunge and pastel goth
-Kardashian Kontouring (tm)
-Twee (RIP)
posted by airmail at 5:40 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by valkane at 5:52 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


This is why kids today cannot distinguish between real and fake news. The thinking that went into this is simply garbage.
posted by xammerboy at 5:59 PM on March 17 [13 favorites]


Well I lol'd.

Reminds me of my high school history teacher and how he indignantly recalled the story of a student who, for his term paper, wrote about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire in two pages.

Bigly ideas require bigly work.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:11 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


No new fashion trends in the last 10 years?


Techninja!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:15 PM on March 17


Isn't it interesting though how it feels like there's no distinct cultural identity for the period from 2000 to 2010? By 2007 you could talk about "90s aesthetics" and everyone would know what you meant.
posted by dilaudid at 6:26 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


This reminds me of an essay my wife read by a 20-year-old woman about how dying your hair platinum blonde will CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER.

But it's nice that at least the younger generation is getting to have their own version of "The '80s sucked."
posted by klangklangston at 6:47 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]


Literally off the top of my head I'd say normcore started in the last ten years and didn't go big till 3-4 years ago?

But it is ever the priority of youth to have confidence in its lack of perspective
posted by oddman at 7:27 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


"And then there’s stuff like this (below, admittedly extreme example from Berkeley). Older people are horrified at students demanding conformity and making stricter moral demands in terms of speech."

ahh... so that's what the recent protests and demonstrations in Berkeley have been about...
posted by Hicksu at 8:21 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Okay, yes, this was not especially well-argued, but I think there's something interesting lurking - or maybe I just mean that I'm an old now.

So what strikes me about the now is in fact just what she says: mainstream culture is actually pretty clever and interesting, yet also has a much narrower moral range and much more emphasis on positive attitude than when I was not yet an old. And "non-mainstream" culture is positioned very differently and feeds much more directly into the mainstream because of the internet.

So, for instance, when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, mainstream culture was way more garbage than it is now. You look at mainstreamish stuff and while there's plenty of not-that-grate, there's also amazingly smart stuff out there - Steven Universe, Beyonce's work, Solange's work, smart science fiction movies, etc etc etc. Things that would have been one-off outliers a la Twin Peaks are now regular occurrences. Politically, I'm struck by how things that you would have had to be an assiduous reader of far left publications to encounter when I was growing up now appear as commonplaces in, like, Slate. Popular culture is exponentially less dumb, reactionary and despicable than it was when I was young.

And yet, as this article says, there's way less space for the negative and the transgressive. (Not just the offensive/rude/mean/etc.) it's all, like, lifehacks and #bestlife and instagramming pictures of chia smoothies - I think when she points to athleisure and the cult of the body/gym, she's onto something.

Angela Carter wrote a couple of short pieces about beauty at the end of the seventies/beginning of the eighties that remind me of the now. She writes about the influence of Princess Diana's very done hair and matchy styles on working class fashion, which she attributes to bad economic times - she has a phrase about needing to keep your collar clean so that you can stay in work. And then she compares this with transgressive styles which she links to a feeling of stagnation - the sense of being stuck on the dole forever, so to speak.

With the caveat that culture is large, so even if something is broadly true there are always counterexamples, I think this article gestures toward some kind of confluence of social media, recession, precarity and lack of social safety net all giving us work that's smarter but also constrained by the perpetual need to hustle.
posted by Frowner at 9:00 PM on March 17 [29 favorites]


The thing is, Frowner, that the article is asking in wide-eyed wonder "what could possibly be behind this, isn't it strange that there has been this kind of change? What could be behind it?"

It's not just a "didja notice this" article, it's wondering aloud what could be behind this change, and assuming this culture shift just sort of poofed out of the ether - when a familiarity with history, or hell, even common sense, would have easily underscored that "oh right, maybe the reason that there aren't more people engaging in flashier fashion in the Harijuku District is because the economy went to shit and everyone's too broke for that."

I've read another theory as to why the lengths of skirts get long in times of economic scarcity; it may not be about modesty, as this article suggests. There's a theory that it's a sort of unconscious attempt to display wealth - "look at how much fabric I can afford to clothe myself with! While all you people wearing miniskirts can only afford half a yard of fabric to dress yourselves, behold, I have TWO FULL YARDS for this one garment!"

I mean, a perusal of the prices of fashion would quickly show that both skirts would be about the same price anyway, but this is a more subconscious display-signifier thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


There has been culture going on, like culture is still a thing? I had to go and Google "normcore" just now, and it seems like kind of a Rickroll... so, it just means dressing in really normal not fashionable stuff? And this is a big cultural trend that I was oblivious to? Wow. This is what being old is. Get off my lawn, you kids with all your normal stuff!
posted by Meatbomb at 9:44 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


Nostalgia just isn't what it used to be.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:50 AM on March 18


I'd argue that while the article starts as lazy, the ending is downright insidious.

The author isn't merely naive about why economic cruelty might stifle artistic expression, part of their 'fix' to the problem is, quote, "Ignore Politics".

Political Disengagement is a substantial part of why national funding for the arts is being slashed in the US (alongside health insurance, environmental protection etc).

A lot of people didn't fucking show up and now there's a crowd of lunatics in power trying their damndest to jam every gear of society and ruin our collective future. I'm not the least bit smug up here in Canada, because similar wingnuts are currently preparing to try the same thing.

Absurdism is great, make whatever you want. But for the love of god pay attention and don't tune out morality and foresight because you just took a class in dadaism and all this suffering bums you out, man.

See also this excellent analysis of Rent's political messaging (long, but the ending 10 or so minutes is extremely poignant)
posted by AAALASTAIR at 12:52 AM on March 18 [15 favorites]


Also, Frowner, i genuinely appreciate your work in parsing something more thoughtful from this piece. I would like to read more of that trail of thinking.
posted by AAALASTAIR at 12:57 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Frowner's comment kind of reminds me of some of the discussions we had about twee back in 2015. (Sadly, the main article on that FPP is now a 404.) See also Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:35 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Frowner thanks for your comment you did a great job articulating better than I could have what I found interesting about the point she was making.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 3:42 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Isn't it interesting though how it feels like there's no distinct cultural identity for the period from 2000 to 2010? By 2007 you could talk about "90s aesthetics" and everyone would know what you meant.

It takes time for this to materialize. I remember sitting in an 8th grade classroom at the end of the 90s thinking about how weird it was that the 90s didn't have a defining aesthetic -- that turned out to be dead wrong, of course. But it took almost all of the aughts before the 90s became a punchline.

In other words, just give it a couple more years.
posted by thejoshu at 4:28 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


I've only had one coffee, so excuse any lazy thinking here.

Mainstream culture has always been bland and conformist - it is part of its appeal that it does not shock, disrupt or upset. It may shift some things (see: skinny jeans vs bootcut jeans) but the essence of mainstream is that it is a nice, steady stream flowing forward onwards and you can easily get on board.

Has the last decade been one big snooze of blandness? Of course not. I'd say the last decade has been both the least and most curated decade we've seen - it's just been a question of who's been doing the selecting (us rather than them) and if you've kept up with the right hashtags. You can no longer rely on mainstream media to pick up on trends because trendsetters have taken back control. Instead of waiting for street fashion photographers to discover Your Personal Aesthetic, people are now using Instagram themselves to show off, discuss, and mash up fashion trends.

You have mainstream artists like Beyonce getting increasingly political (I read an Amanda Palmer article a while back where she was complaining about the lack of protest music - where were the punks? - and I facepalmed as the Formation video flashed before my eyes) and obviously Solange pushing it even further, You have Armenian beauty standards by way of drag queen makeup skillz become A Thing with young kids of both genders.

But mostly culture now plays out online by micro-trendsetters. That's been the biggest cultural shift and it's one that I think the linked article really fails to consider.
posted by kariebookish at 4:43 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


Adding my thanks to Frowner for writing a summation that far outstrips the material being summarized. Those are the kind of discussions worth having.

I agree that things seem to be reaching for a homogeneous-ness that in and of itself, threatens everything. The great philosopher Syndrome once said, "When everyone's super, no one will be." The internet, social media, hell, even MeFi, all push us toward so much common knowledge that the ability for peaks and valleys to form just seems lost. When a nugget shines through, be it glorious or horrible, it's amazing, and worth my attention, because there is just so much of the same everywhere. That sort of breakthrough seems to happen far less these days. (And by "these days" I am not sure what I mean; perhaps it's the same timeframe this article references.)
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:22 AM on March 18


Frowner's comment kind of reminds me of some of the discussions we had about twee back in 2015. (Sadly, the main article on that FPP is now a 404.)

(fyi it was re-urled.)

This past November, many folks were rather shocked to find out that our Facebook and other social media "friends" have drastically different values than we do, something that's fairly easy to catch in normal social situations but not necessarily easy to ascertain when comparing cat pictures online. There's a whole layer of subtle interaction, a kind of communal handshake, that goes missing when we discuss ideas online. On the one hand, anonymity allows us to completely conceal our true persona and poison the well of discourse. On the other hand, our urge for recognition pushes us to be edgier and more upvoteable with every comment. Sustainable knowledge loses to hype because there's no immediate real world penalty for swallowing and propagating a steady stream of bullshit. So there's a kind of hollowing out or memeification of culture that takes place when it's filtered through casual online channels. Ideas get spiky, HDR-ed, trendier yet ultimately weaker because their origins are so ephemeral and not rooted in the concerns of physical communities. Real world culture simmers in the organic stew of food, sex, clothing, shelter, health, actual physical things, and thus touches us more deeply. The internet has become a vital and valuable part of our lives, but in its sheer size and value-agnostic interface, nothing gains cultural traction. Or rather, the lack of cultural traction has gained cultural traction.
posted by xigxag at 6:54 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


Many expected the rise of Instagram to lead of increased variance of style, but the only big fashion trend in the last 5 years has been athleisure and an increase in gym culture, which I guess fits with the trend towards conformity and conscientiousness.
...
I think when she points to athleisure and the cult of the body/gym, she's onto something.


In Adam Curtis's Hypernormalization, he cocksuredly tosses off a bunch of pretty pat theories that aren't necessarily right. But! one that I found resonant was (at around hour six hundred and fourteen of the documentary) when he characterized the rise of exercise/calisthenics/aerobics in the eighties as an attempt among US citizens to seize some amount of control in a socioeconomic landscape that had visibly demonstrated it didn't need those now-atomized individuals.

So: you, citizen, may not be able to change where money or power is funnelled in order to make a more virtuous society, but you can make a more virtuous body. It is a very tiny personal fiefdom where you can still exert control to try to improve SOMETHING. I think that's what the athleisure stuff is about. (If you want, you can draw out this connection a little more specifically into anxiety about healthcare security, and the resulting desperation to control one's individual health in the absence of a safety net.)

Anyway, on this article: I think it's not very good, largely because I think focusing on (and finding emblematic) two specific years kind of ignores larger multi-year swings and arcs.

My own personal (US-centered) lens here is that the comparatively-"fun" 2007 cultural products she cites came only after the early aughts, where so much of American culture was defined by slow realization that the Bush admin's neocolonialism sucked, coupled with the realization that the 90s Clinton admin's shift to non-local economic forces also sucked. So a lot of the terribly-uninteresting art bubbling out of that background basically amounted to anyone even vaguely leftish (most of the popular-culture producers) saying "this sucks, right? I'm not alone in thinking it sucks?"

Bowling Alone came out around 2000, Jon Stewart's Daily Show started around then (and then took off as it became increasingly clear it there was a market to EVISCERATE the CHIMP-IN-CHIEF), and there was this long slog of extremely tedious mainstream cultural product where much of the message was a slow realization in the citizenry that "wait, we HAVE been atomized, we ARE lacking previously-vibrant local communities, we DON'T have power over the forces that shape our lives." This realization was facilitated by the weird tendrils of the internet as it started to turn from "a place for freaks" into something every American accessed on the regular (but before larger forces like facebook and google and amazon really got going in the power-consolidation they're doing now).

(the lack of attention paid to the way the internet looked at 2000/2007/2017 is I think the biggest weakness of this article, and probably speaks to the author's age - she's doing the whole fish-saying-"what the fuck is water?" thing)

ANYWAY: this look at pre-2007 cultural background is what I think her essay lacks: an understanding of what gave rise to Wacky Fun 2007. It was a slow and steady realization that something was fucked up, and the sense that it could change for the better. As Bush policies became more clearly unpopular and Obama appeared to promise Hope, you could feel the burbling energy of a world excited to see actual change, and (again, driven through the proliferation of the internet as a kind of long-tail chaos of possibilities) it emerged as a bunch of more fun stuff in popular art.

The decade since, I think, has been a slow grinding back down into that realization of atomization that circa-2000 had brought us. So now everything seems kind of dour because it's slowly dawning on a lot of left-leaning culture-producers that it's not just the people in charge, but the very foundation of worldwide civilization (capitalism) that might be fucked up. It's leading to fear and self-seriousness because Americans realize they need to work together somehow, but don't quite know how, since we've become so structurally encouraged to atomize ourselves. The essay notes that "gaming has become a team sport," which I think is one small way this is manifesting. More seriously, huge numbers of people are turning to fascism and socialism, both being modifications to capitalism that promise we can work together to make things less fucked up.

So what seems "boring" to the author is anything but: I believe it's the tense quietness of a bar right before two dudes start throwing the first punches. Something is about to GO THE FUCK DOWN.

A lot of socialists use the "socialism or barbarism" catchphrase to point out the two paths we could follow from here, but I think that's not quite right: "barbarism" is an oversimplification of the kind of technocorporate feudalism that would emerge out of a fascistic path, which would give lip-service to a xenophobic in-group solidarity while still keeping its members safely atomized by raising fear and precarity.

"Socialism" is possible, but lacking larger structures like unions or Elks Lodges or sewing circles (and as the previously-diverse internet gets further herded into the big google/amazon/facebook distribution channels that prevent the weird non-mainstream offshoots of the early aughts), I'm not sure how feasible it is. (I think church is a possible answer to that, to be honest, but man, getting a bunch of leftists to gather under the banner of the divine is a whole other fucking uphill battle; at this point, I'm worried that the Mormons are most likely to drive American culture, since they DO have a steadily-growing larger structure that can direct huge swarms of people)

The other hopeful option, of course, is neither socialism or barbarism, but a re-do of what FDR pulled off: reinforcing capitalism by giving the citizenry just enough socialist safety-net to keep shit from going down.

So anyway: I think there's going to be way more blood on the street soon, so the "go to a nightclub!" imperative at the end of her essay doesn't really bother me; it just seems like blinkered wishful thinking, like the person in your passenger seat turning to you and saying, "Hey. Remember to Live. Love. Laugh" exactly at the moment your car is sailing off the cliff at the edge of the highway.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:05 AM on March 18 [13 favorites]


This is why kids today cannot distinguish between real and fake news. The thinking that went into this is simply garbage.

Because old people are never wrong and never have been. Our thoughts leap fully formed in crystal torrents from our brows like a combination of Edward R Murrow and Encyclopedia Britannica, while the cilium-antenna clusters of fine hairs that protect our sensory organs from mendacious fuckery glint smartly in the internet's neon glare.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:27 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Isn't it interesting though how it feels like there's no distinct cultural identity for the period from 2000 to 2010? By 2007 you could talk about "90s aesthetics" and everyone would know what you meant.

I wonder if this is because 90s fashion is cool again, so it's easy to notice. It is hard to put your finger on what the 00s aesthetic is. The related google search really nails it, though, so it existed: just not in a way we have a popular consciousness about yet.

I think there were a lot of "futuristic" vibes - chromes, etc. It all looks super tacky now, but that's likely just cause it hasn't completely come back into style yet.

I was rewatching Arrested Development lately and it struck me how deeply 00s it feels, in a way that is immediately recognizable. The other show I'd consider very "of the era" was 24. I think of it as a pretty bleak and sometimes absurd decade, marked by anxiety about 9/11, terrorism, George Bush, etc. Like cyberpunk with a minivan. Maybe it's hard to think of that as an aesthetic when we're still so deeply in it.
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:06 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


It just looks to me as though she noticed that things don't seem as transgressive or exciting as they did when she was an adolescent, and then she went around cherrypicking data to support that hypothesis.

Things usually seem a little edgier when you're an adolescent simply because, for a lot of people, it's their first kind of immersive experience with adulthood, depending on how sheltered you were as a kid.

So for example, I don't know what criteria Google uses to return "top movies" results, but it's not the top grossing movies. The top grossing movie of 2016 was Deadpool, which I'm guessing wouldn't fit into her blandness model. And if you go one year back and search "top movies of 2015," I don't think that supports her notion either.

I'm not saying there's nothing at all to it. I have no idea, but I am very much unconvinced by the case she's made here.

I'm not saying that young people are gullible or unperceptive and that older people are smarter, but age is literally experience. Plenty of old people suffer from the phenomenon where, rather than having x years of experience, they have one year of experience x times; and plenty of young people have the insight to put their own experiences in context. But any one given person should gain experience and perspective as they get older, and it looks to me as though this particular young person should gain some experience watching trends come and go before she starts making sweeping pronouncements about them. I think she's just suffering from an early bout of nostalgia and is projecting onto the culture at large.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:44 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


So anyway: I think there's going to be way more blood on the street soon, so the "go to a nightclub!" imperative at the end of her essay doesn't really bother me; it just seems like blinkered wishful thinking, like the person in your passenger seat turning to you and saying, "Hey. Remember to Live. Love. Laugh" exactly at the moment your car is sailing off the cliff at the edge of the highway.

First, before I say anything - thank you for a perspective that made me sit up and say "...huh!" In this cafe.

I would argue, though, that the "go out and dance" advice is more productive than you may think. Maybe not just for dancing as such - but you talk about how the left doesn't have churches or Elks clubs or whatever that serve as gathering spots; so hen, this exhortation to " go forth and celebrate" could be the seeds for how more of these groups form. They all start small - maybe just with a handful of "let's all go try out weird restaurants every month" club, or whatever, but those bonds then strengthen to the point that eventually someone says "hey, I just met someone at work that's new in town and he'd dig this, can I bring him?" And the rest of the group is secure enough to say sure, and the circle grows. And it grows more each time that happens, and I with luck it grows big enough to be a Movement - but it always starts small, with people realizing they have something in common and going to actually do it together as a way of creating a weird little tribe for themselves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:48 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


(the lack of attention paid to the way the internet looked at 2000/2007/2017 is I think the biggest weakness of this article, and probably speaks to the author's age - she's doing the whole fish-saying-"what the fuck is water?" thing)

especially the big shifts - web 2.0 and then social media
posted by infini at 12:57 PM on March 18


The writer is looking at the wrong place. Look at what queer & trans people, people of color, people with disabilities are creating, forming, developing. Just trawl around Tumblr. Hell, look at niche fandoms, indie games. That's your counterculture right there.
posted by divabat at 4:54 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


the lack of attention paid to the way the internet looked at 2000/2007/2017

And every so often I'm reminded that I miss Suck.
posted by oddman at 10:04 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


"So there's a kind of hollowing out or memeification of culture that takes place when it's filtered through casual online channels. Ideas get spiky, HDR-ed, trendier yet ultimately weaker because their origins are so ephemeral and not rooted in the concerns of physical communities. Real world culture simmers in the organic stew of food, sex, clothing, shelter, health, actual physical things, and thus touches us more deeply. The internet has become a vital and valuable part of our lives, but in its sheer size and value-agnostic interface, nothing gains cultural traction. Or rather, the lack of cultural traction has gained cultural traction."

To play the part of Miko from a similar argument I had with her years ago: There are a couple of conceptual mistakes in this framing that end up being unsupportable. The perception of "moreness" is, as framed, inseparable from the nowness, and has been a consistent criticism of accelerating media since before there was mass media. Cultures are all extremely localized, and while we have much, much better abilities to preserve and distribute information now, we suffer from extreme confirmation bias in assessing how "much" culture existed prior to current norms. The past always used to be simpler because we weren't aware of as much going on, and we've forgotten the ephemeral (largely by definition). Because of that, arguments that current culture is more hollow, less resilient or persistent, or less authentic or "real" almost always break down upon any real reflection.

I can't find her comments right now, but she framed it all in talking about how sea chanties and folk songs were the memes of the 1800s, and connected it with thinking about how for almost any given slang term, multiple groups always claim they invented it in part because the same ideas often bubble up in a lot of places at the same time, without being aware of each other. The difference that the internet (writ large) implies isn't that these ephemeral memes didn't appear at essentially the same rate (even if, by population growth, the volume is higher now), but that we expect them to be preserved in a way that prior generations didn't. That expectation seems more connected to the sense that things are more ephemeral and less "real" or "authentic" than any actual qualitative changes.

I might be butchering her a bit with the paraphrase, but it was a nice reminder that people thought lithography was going to kill painting and that Egyptienne fonts were a passing fad which would be totally forgotten once the public didn't need handbills about the pyramids.
posted by klangklangston at 2:15 AM on March 24


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