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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?

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Perhaps one factor for the continued popularity of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and so on, is not only the high quality and/or catchiness of much of their music (I wouldn’t call the Stones artistically brilliant, but they certainly knew how to entertain; the other bands I mentioned had real creativity), but the fact that popular music hasn’t really experienced that much innovation and development of truly new sounds since the ’70s. Steve Sailer had a great blog post a year ago (here), about popular music, where he noted that the music his son was listening to in 2006 was little different in sound from the sort of music he listened to at a comparable age, in the early ’80s.

We live in a time of very little true creativity in popular culture, it would seem. From little innovation in the popular music scene, to endless recycling of comic books / old TV shows / old movie remakes in Hollywood movies, and an endless fascination with “retro” stuff from all different postwar decades of the twentieth century - tons of websites dedicated to retro ’80s stuff, the resurgence in popularity of rockabilly and neo-burlesque, etc. (Though I am given to understand TV is better than ever, from what some friends tell me; I gave up TV in 2004 - but from what little I glimpse or hear about, it all seems like “reality TV”, or medical shows, or action shows dealing with terrorism, etc. Doesn’t strike me as all that innovative; I don’t think I’m missing much.)

(Of course, outside of popular culture, how much is truly new in the realm of high culture? I’m seriously asking, as I don’t know; my tastes are not particularly highbrow. But I don’t read about new classical music forms being developed these days - nor different forms of opera or theatre being created - so I doubt there is much innovation going on there, either.)

And what about new inventions? (Recall my previous posting, here, about someone’s observations, which strike me as fair, that there has been little new creativity in terms of inventions, since 1955. Fred Scrooby had previously pointed out someone else had argued something similar here. )

As a civilization dies, it loses its creativity.

P.S. I also note that Hollywood continues to harp on how bad things were in the “bad old days”, still churning out movies with the theme “look how bad things were; thank goodness progressive visionaries saw that and changed things”. Doubtless, they’re propagandizing future generations, making sure that they retain at least some of the Boomers’ values, such as on questions of sexual morality; thus, classic rock bands’ sexual nihilism still resonates with the youth of today, because they’ve been so well indoctrinated. Thus another reason for their continued popularity.

And another reason, perhaps, why public discourse on issues seems stuck in the mode where only variations of post-Christian liberalism get a hearing.