josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | oct. 2019
History does not always age well and the history of pop culture is no exception.
Look, it was funny when I was 15, okay? Is it that we evolve over time in relation to our tastes in music, movies and art or does the art itself change with the times, either becoming more relevant or less so?
As we are right in the middle of "cancel everything that does not jive with the norms of today" culture, it seems like the past just cannot continue to exist. It must be washed and sanitized and still shamed for having existed at all.
Let's just take for instance Andrew Dice Clay, who in 1990 was the biggest comic in the business. Imagine that this woefully unfunny man and his terrible jokes once sold out stadiums. He had the highest-rated HBO Special in their entire history and his first album jumped up the charts. All of this despite the fact that it is not a funny album nor is it any kind of quality art. Keep in mind this is the me of 2019 saying this because the me of 1990 loved this album. At age 15, I thought the Dice Man was one of the funniest people on the planet and I followed his career like a mindless devotee. Now as a bitter old man, I wish I could go back in time and beat the ever-loving crap out of my 15-year-old self for ever finding that bile funny. The question is: Did I and my tastes simply evolve or did the material itself fail to evolve?
If the material — be it a movie, a record, a painting, a comic — is strong enough and far enough ahead of its contemporaries, it can indeed evolve with the times. It is the opposite of becoming "dated" and it will maturate. Even if the hairstyles or the technology in a movie from the 1970s or 1980s is actually dated, the movie by and large and the ideas contained therein, might only have had society catch up with it 30 years later. Let's look at a movie like “Network,” which was more or less science fiction when it was released in 1976. At that time news and television didn't approach the circus-clown levels of silliness we have today and yet this movie, this one incredible movie, not only predicted what would come about, but perhaps aided its fruition.
If not for “Network,” would we actually notice just how cartoonish things have gotten today? The movie held up a mirror to society before society even knew what was happening. In that case, the movie became more relevant as time passed, not a dated artifact of a very specific Neanderthal time such as “The Dice Man Cometh” has. “Videodrome” is the same way. The ideas presented in that picture far exceed anything that 1982 was ready to adopt. The movie is only now maturing to the point that it is part of today's culture.
Back to the Dice Man, though: What did I ever see in this crass, homophobic, racist, monotone "comedy"? Was it just something as simple as this is what a 15-year-old boy thinks is funny or was it something more? Was it simply that I was looking for something "counter culture" and I was not ready yet for real and thought-provoking material? No, that can't be as I was a devote fan of The Dead Kennedys and Max Headroom — two of the most intelligent examples of their counter culture artistry. It's hard to say what I found appealing, but all I know is that “The Dice Man Cometh” failed to evolve and is now a punchline itself in the world of stand-up comedy (as well as used today as a cautionary tale). The Dave Chappelle special "Sticks and Stones" is “The Dice Man Cometh” of today. It is shocking just to be shocking and not actually saying anything relevant that will move into the future. The me of 2019 was in awe of how not funny "Sticks and Stones" was and yet if this had come out when I was 15, I would have loved it. Just as with “The Dice Man Cometh,” "Sticks and Stones" has no real jokes to it; it is simply an hour of saying shocking things to get a rise of people and "own the libs and SJWs." As a comedy special it fails on every level as there is no comedy in it. I actually happen to agree with most of the rants that Chappelle goes on but that does not make this comedy. In 15 years, "Sticks and Stones" will be looked at as embarrassing as “The Dice Man Cometh” is today.
These things we love as children and even into legal adulthood can be anything from a very simple lapse or a qualification of bad judgment or they can be nothing more than a "what the hell was I thinking" moment. The hardcore “Twilight” fangirls from a few years back, have they have the same revelation that I had about Dice or will they, in 20 years, still be fans of this vapid, lifeless, plotless vandalism to the termliterature? The borderline stalker girls on Youtube that profess their love for a fictional character, do you think they will attempt to purge those videos from the cultural memory before their kids see them or will they embrace their grand mal stupidity and chalk it up to, "Hey, I was 15" like I did for Dice? Should we even hold what we liked at 15 to any real standard of quality? Can we in any real sense? Let's face it, 15-year-olds can be dumb — eating-laundry-detergent dumb.
It may be unfair to use a 15-year-old as a barometer due to a fundamental lack of life experience and/or hormones eating the rational portions of their brains, but let's do this anyway. To a 15-year-old, things will never stagnate, a song will never get repetitive, a movie will not have a spoil date on it, a game will always be the most awesomest thing ever in the history of coolness. And then one grows up — usually.
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.