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Frozen revolution

Why is so much of pop culture so stable? Young people have listened to Bob Dylan and the Beatles since around 1963 and still find them up-to-date. “Hip” and “cool” are still hip and cool, and they’ve been mass-market for 50 years. On slightly more substantive matters, we’re still stuck at bottom with ’60s political and social attitudes as the public standard for what all good people believe or at least want to believe.

It seems to me that all that’s been added in recent decades is less involvement in public issues, more acceptance of explicit commercialism, and a tendency toward irony. All those developments were implicit in “do your own thing” though. If everyone does his own thing then politics disappears and exchange, supplemented by occasional sentimental gestures no one really believes in, becomes the basis of social cooperation. When combined with residual idealism that’s fertile ground for irony.

Some possibilities:

  • Boomer tyranny. There are lots of baby boomers, so their tastes, attitudes and personal histories are going to set the tone until enough of them die for the country to move on to something else. That’s not a good explanation, though. If it’s a tyranny how come young people accept it without resistance? Withdrawal and irony are not resistance. Neither is sporadic repetition of rituals of rebellion.
  • The ’60s were a black hole, and once you fall into a black hole you never get out. Actually, it’s even worse than that. “Do your own thing” puts each of us in his own black hole, and so makes further development impossible. Everybody just goes around in the private circle of his own thoughts and desires.
  • Pop culture is commercial culture, and commercial culture works by ceaselessly presenting slight variations on iconic symbols or themes (the cowboy, the Eiffel Tower, the rebellious artist, whatnot).
  • Power today exists by imitating its absence. Government is here to help you. “Diversity” means uniformity, “multiculturalism” abolition of culture, “tolerance” strict rules on what to do and say. Why shouldn’t “style” mean eternal repetition of the same?

Other ideas?