Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pop Culture is no longer popular or culture

There's no accounting for taste...

Well at least not on the Internet.  Maybe I'm just a grumpy old man but all these new creative outlets have left popular culture in chaos.  What else can explain over 2 million YouTube views of a flatulent dog let alone that Miley Cyrus gets even one ITunes download. 

Even commercials are senseless.  I mean c'mon, 80's hair metal to sell a Honda Minivan?  I may be old enough to remember what MTV was like before Rap music but even I'm not that lame.  The rise of Reality TV in the last century certainly didn't help either.  Maybe it's the cause of all of this. 

It's got to be tough to be a TV writer these days.  The opportunities are few and far between when the big networks are crowded with such "gems" as Survivor and Big Brother.  

I guess we didn't know how good we had it when we were wondering who shot JR or whether Fonzie was going to make it over that shark. 

Maybe that's when popular culture jumped the shark.  Oh yeah, in case you don't know, the Happy Days episode where Fonzie jumps a shark on water skis is commonly regarded as the point where the series finally lost popularity with viewers.

It seems that was also the point where popular culture developed a severe case of ADD.  Take a look at your local TV schedule these days and you'll soon find that if you want something other than reality TV or infomercials there's going to be a monthly charge attached.

Ok, ok I know.  Ol' Grandpa hates that evil rock and roll and Elvis is corrupting our youth and you can get pregnant from sitting on a public toilet. 

Though before you judge me too harshly, let's look at a few examples of popular music  from the past few decades.  I happen to believe an era's music says more about its popular culture than any other medium.

1960's - Let's spend the night together, The Rolling Stones.   Risqué for its time but harmless.
1970's - Go Your OwnWay,  Fleetwood Mac.  At least we were thinking above the belt on this one.
1980's - I Still Haven't  found what I'm looking for, U2.   Maybe a bit cerebral ,not that it's a bad thing.
1990's - Smells likeTeen Spirit, Nirvana  A Ha!, there it is, I mean with a chorus of ...

Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

Hey, it's a great song and all but it might as well be the ADHD anthem.  Soon to be followed by a pop  culture confused by its own identity or a lack thereof.  Gender bending pop-stars pushing limits nobody cares about anymore and talentless hacks that even their peers can't stand.  I'm lookin' at you Bieber...

I'm not even going to bother with the 2000's, they're part of the problem with so-called popular tracks like "Poker Face" and "Give it 2 u" which never get above the bikini line let alone the belt...

Oh but the great equalizer that is the Internet, where anyone with a YouTube channel can be "discovered."  It's led to gushing pundits proclaiming the end of the "gatekeepers" and "curated" entertainment.  Evidenced by 2.7 million views of a bad fart joke.

Funny thing is that you're never going to see anyone get a Grammy or an Oscar based on YouTube views or ITunes downloads.

Maybe we need the gatekeepers.  For all their rumblings over piracy and copyright their real problem is that they  don't know how to read the public anymore.  It's true that business  concerns should never trump talent but we've gone too far in the other direction.  The entertainment industry has become  more flaky than a Wall Street broker with oil futures.

However, it's still a fact that nobody becomes successful without the blessings of the gatekeepers no matter how fickle  they are.  Some of them have even moved into the "New Media" space but in the end the new media is really just an extension of the same old construct.

That's a problem, because the gatekeepers have lost their focus by trying to entice a popular culture that doesn't know what it wants.  The result is a product only marginally better than YouTube fare.  It caters to the lowest common denominator and that part of the equation has gotten lower.

We're literally awash in cat videos, Jackass wannabes and bad movie trailers.  Hollywood is clueless, stuck in an endless cycle of formula sequels and kid friendly animation that would be better suited going straight to video.  They've become so bereft of creativity that any recent list of the top ten movies will undoubtedly include films based on either comic books or games.  

The rest usually involve vampires, werewolves or somebody's organs violently being removed from their body.  Let's not forget the new trend of "reboots" that Started with J.J. Abrams "Star Trek" and has moved on to 80's slasher flicks.    

Maybe I am too old but it seems I've managed to find a lot of things to like about every generation of popular culture.  Even those I wasn't around for. 

Something's different now.

Even with the overwhelming quantity of content it seems the quality has become insignificant.  Make no mistake, every era has had crap.  Face it, there was good reason why most of the hair metal bands didn't  manage to get past their first album.

Now imagine if all those bands were still around clogging up Pandora or Spotify.  You'd waste a lot of time wading through crap just to hear what you like. 

Art needs curation and entertainment deals with artists.  Pop culture is inextricably intertwined with art.   That means there needs to be some level of quality control.  Even if it runs against the whole "free and open" argument . 

Imagine the alternative. 


Would any museum be worth visiting if any hack with a paintbrush could throw up their paint by numbers portrait of Elvis?