evolution of pop culture—josh hadley—may 2020
Why does pop culture age so poorly from generation to generation? Why do the movies from the 1950s make the kids of today laugh when in fact those movies were legitimately scary or unique for their time? Why does the protest music of the '70s come off as saccharine and bland when in fact it was biting and purposeful in it's own era? Why does the TV of the '80s elicit culture shock when viewed through the eyes of a beaten down adult when the hopefulness and tone of these shows could not have been more opposite?
Pop culture is one of the least fluid things we encounter in day to day life and yet it is also the most fluid, by that I mean, the technology advances, the world advances, the ideals advance but the pop culture itself is pinned into a specific period. Most of pop culture is made with a short term half life in that it is meant to be consumed NOW with no regard to any lasting legacy or longevity. You are meant to enjoy this movie NOW and it was made with the tropes of now, with the music of now, with the editing style of now and most of all with the desired impact being viewed NOW. You don't make a movie you think will be relevant 20 years later, you make a movie for NOW. You want to make a movie that makes money NOW and that is the sole goalpost in front of you. No one ever made a movie HOPING it will fail at release only to find its audience in 25 years. A fool's errand and one that has never existed if such even needed to be said. Even if one was able to predict the social norms of the future you would still be stuck in the present in terms of techniques, equipment and most of all in a thought process.
You think like you think and you think like the times you are living in.
Consider it like this, do you imagine that George Pal, Fritz Lang or even Terry Gilliam made their visions of the future based on what they thought things would be like in real terms or did they envision worlds colored by the tropes of their respective presents? "War Of The Worlds" strays from the Wells novel in a great many ways but is a complete product of its time period of the early 1950s. "Metropolis" is a nightmare vision of a future ruled by class warfare that was happening at the time of the films making. "Brazil" is a complete work of the mid 1980s in that the story is an allegory to that time, the characters use the lingo of the time and most of all the vision of the near future world was one not that far from the 1985 it was made in. Looking forward is not the only segment of this to blame though, those pop culture ventures which look backwards are just as guilty.
Watch just about any period piece, be it one set in 1400s France or one set in the 1940s American South, and you will see a manifestation of the time period not of which the story is set, but one the period the story was made. The ideals and techniques of the time of making and not re-enacting will shine through. This is inherent to the medium and honestly cannot be avoided but it still stands as an issue which must be addressed.
Music is no different in this aspect, as each era of music has its limitations in what can be done based on the equipment available in contrast with the ideals intended. A 1950s songwriter may have had the idea for heavy metal music in the 1950s but was simply unable to produce the sounds they heard in their head due to the lack of ability to play the tones, not the lack of ability to interpret the tones. Sometimes it is simply a matter of willful laziness such as the synthesizer's miraculous (and inexplicable) growth in popularity in the 1980s.
Do you think that Frankie Avalon would not have used synth if it had been an option to him? Those '80s songs with the heavy synth tones are a product of that time and no other. Is this good or bad, that I cannot say, but I can say that pop culture tends to age at a faster rate that other parts of culture. While you are part of the time you live in also you fail to notice just how fast the very culture is changing right before your eyes and yet it seems to move at a constant rate when you are experiencing it, it is only looking back do we notice just how fast things changed. Do you think the hair metal fruits of the early 1990s EVER saw just how much "Nirvana" or "Soundgarden" was going to change the music landscape or how fast that change would happen? Do you think moving from the silent era of movies to talkies was an overnight occurrence? It was gradual and at the time, I am betting it seemed such but looking back it happened almost overnight. One day talkies were just the norm and you never even noticed it happen.
My point is that without the past there is no now and without these pop culture items being part of their respective time periods, and all that they represent, you would not notice the change in pop culture. Some might say that nostalgia is nothing more than a kind of way of saying "dated" but without nostalgia you don't get evolution of the artform and without the evolution of the artform you grow stagnant. Pop culture ages as it should, as it always has, it simply seems to age slower to those of us at the nexus of NOW and THEN.