josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | dec. 2017
Many industries we use today are stuck in old and outdated models that will only result in their demise. An unwavering adherence to a business model that failed to evolve along with the times is something I cannot understand.
People are dropping free FM radio and paying for satellite radio? Still? People pay for radio? Internet radio is still a thing but it happens to be free, so how do the over the air stations take this? The obvious solution is to ignore the problem and double down on the commercials that you already play along with the same 300 songs in an endless rotation ... no way that drives more customers to the opposition, right? If they don't like what we are doing now they will like it more if we do it more. Sure.
Radio (over the air radio) is a dying industry and yet, it won't update its methods. They are dead within a few years if they do not institute a major change that shifts the entire model they are built on. I have even approached stations such as WAPL with ideas... and was met with dead silence. Why? Because my ideas are risky but if they work they will work amazingly. Problem is that WAPL and so many others just don't want to risk it, even among all of the layoffs and shrinkage.
Necessary evolution is true of all media industries, be it the news, home video, records, books, magazines or even video games. Much as I hate to admit it, streaming and the internet are the most viable options to get your product out there these days and as much as I value physical product and owning something tangible, I happen to be in the minority. Most people would rather stream a movie than get a DVD. Most people would rather have an MP3 than a CD. Intangible media is the new format, like it or not.
Radio feared that records being sold to the public would kill radio listenership back in the day so they fought against it. The movie industry thought that television would hurt ticket sales. When video tape made its mark in the late '70s, the mainstream movie industry shunned it as it was (again) a threat to ticket sales with the added bonus of being a threat to TV sales (ironic that). When blogs and "internet magazines" began their rise in the late 1990s the print industry reacted with a collective "these are just amateurs, everyone knows only print is real." DVD, iTunes, disc-based video games, e-books, streaming, talkies, Blu-ray, laserdisc and any change of format was fought against by the already established industry cowering in the corner fearing that big, dark cloud called the future.
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 is pinned into a specific period as are those who bring that pop culture to us. Most pop culture is made with a short-term half-life 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 to be viewed now. You don't make a movie and think it 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. That is a fool's errand. Even if you could 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. This stagnant thought process is what makes the aforementioned pop culture delivery systems stick with what they know. You think like you think and you think like the times you are living in.
Think about 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 Welles 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 film's 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 this near future world was one not that far from the 1985 it was made in.
This isn't true only of pop culture ventures which look to the future, those that look backwards are just as guilty. Watch just about any period piece, be it one set in 1400s France or one set in the American South during the 1940s and you will see a manifestation of the time period not of which the story is set, but the period in which the story was made. The ideals and techniques of the time of making and not re-enacting will shine through. How we see these movies has changed over time but only begrudgingly. Take movies from the 1980s where acts we now see as sexual assault, harassment or actual assault were considered comedy. That was how comedy of the 1980s worked and it simply does not work today. In “Revenge of the Nerds" our heroes commit numerous acts of sexual assault and even rape ... for comedy. In “Animal House" the Deltas are, in reality, the bad guys but not in 1978, things were different.
Music is no different in this aspect, as each era of music has its limitations in what can and can't be done based on the equipment available. A 1950s songwriter may have had the idea for what we consider heavy metal music 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 for 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 can not say, but I can say that pop culture tends to age at a faster rate than other parts of culture and yet the mediums of that culture age much slower. While you are part of the period of change it's difficult to notice just how fast the 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 dudes 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 but I am betting, looking back, it happened almost overnight. One day talkies were the norm and you never even noticed it happen.
DVDs were the way to watch movies at home and then, seemingly overnight, iTunes, Netflix and Hulu were the norm. On the grand scale it was a shockingly brief window, but at the time, it seemed to take forever. VHS was the same way. One day it just seemed like DVD was everywhere and everyone had a player when the perception was that just months ago DVD was a collectors-only format. Things change, not always for the better, but they change despite those of us who cling to the past.
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 art form and without the evolution of the art form 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.
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.