We are just past the mid-point of 2017, and it’s time to take a look at the state of pop culture.
In times of political crisis, the need for escape grows, and escapism fuels a large part of the engine that drives pop culture in the mainstream. Our country is currently in the midst of the worst political crisis since Watergate, and as a result, there is a lot of impressive pop culture stirring up to take our minds off of it.
Nostalgia has been a strong component of pop culture for decades, and we are now entering a cycle where more iconic pop culture properties are moving into the realm of nostalgic button-pushing. Along with evergreens from the past, like Star Trek, The Beatles, Batman, Star Wars and Back To The Future, we are now seeing second-generation fans of Harry Potter, Pokemon and the revival of Doctor Who.
PopCult can certainly plead guilty to wallowing in nostalgia on a pretty regular basis. What would this blog be without posts about Jack Kirby, The (real) Batmobile, The Beatles, Star Trek and other icons of my youth?
Nostalgia is such a strong component because properties like these have a timeless quality that propels them to much longer lifespans than mere fads. In the 1960s it was inconceivable that people would still be talking about Star Trek, Sgt. Pepper or Adam West fifty years later. Now, for those of us old enough to have the benefit of such hindsight, it’s easy to imagine the year 2067 being dominated by memories of Pokemon, Harry Potter, The Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Walking Dead and Wonder Woman.
There’s also no reason to suspect that streaming television series like House of Cards, The Tick or GLOW won’t become beloved and iconic parts of TV history.
I do fear that Hollywood has become so conservative when it comes to trying new ideas that the malaise of their current offerings may see the current era consigned to history as a time when major motion pictures were mainly a vehicle to trot out already-proven ideas. A look at the top twenty movies of 2017 so far shows only four that aren’t sequels, remakes or reboots of existing properties. Get Out, at number seven, is the highest-grossing original concept.
My observations of the music scene are probably colored by my generational bias. I probably purchase more music than the average person half my age, but except for local music, I hardly listen to any music made by anyone younger than I am. I try listening to current hit songs and they sound like formulaic, over-produced, vapid noise to me. I understand that, when I was young and into all the then-new bands, people who were my age then said the same thing about what I listened to.
Of the current “superstar” recording artists, the only one I can see producing music on the level of the “superstars” of my youth is Lady Gaga. I can see her going on to have a long Bowie-esque career in terms of sales and influence. I can’t see anyone else among today’s hitmakers having any kind of lasting power. I also fully realize that I could be completely wrong about that, but chances are I won’t live long enough to have to admit it.
Besides that, longevity is not exactly a pre-requiste for pop culture success. Fads are pop culture too. Fidget Spinners, Beanie Babies, Funko Pop figures, man-buns, Zhu Zhu pets, those little rubber band things that were all the rage a couple of years ago that they can’t give away now–stuff like that is the short-lived spice among the meatier pop culture meals served up by each generation. Things that some people think will last forever will not. That’s why one of the biggest growth industries now and for the foreseeable future is tattoo removal.
There is a legitimate and respectable tattoo culture, but it’s been co-opted by the mainstream, which is something that happens to a lot of subcultures. The problem is that getting a tattoo became a cheap fashion statement for many people who didn’t put the proper amount of thought into it, and there will be a lot of money made helping them reverse what they should have realized was a permanent decision. It’s gotten to the point where, in the space of about fifteen years, having a tattoo has gone from being a sign of individuality and rebellion to becoming a sign of conformity. Thirty-five years from now, that tattoo of a Zhu Zhu pet with a man-bun playing with a Fidget Spinner and saying “Bazinga” will not be as cool as you think it looks now.
Tattoos should be wearable art that means something to you that’s important enough for you to carry with you for the rest of your life. I see an awful lot of tattoos that I don’t think meet that criteria. I also keep my mouth shut about them. Part of being polite is refraining from saying things like “Do you really want to die with a Poop Emoji tattoo?” Criticizing a person’s tattoo is like telling them their babies look ugly. You’re being a jerk if you do that…out loud, anyway. Nobody needs to be made to feel bad about their fashion choices, no matter what anybody else thinks.
Pop culture is a many-tentacled beast, reaching into all media, plus fashion, automobiles, education and all aspects of life. That’s why “culture” makes up half the term. Someday the Tesla will occupy a place in pop culture equal to that of the 1957 Chevy Bel Air…or if things take a turn for the unexpected, it may wind up remembered like the DeLoreon or the Corvair. It’s easy to date film and television by the hair styles and clothes. Pop culture is the generational stamp that allows future archelogists to date our artifacts.
Pop culture is “pop” because it’s fluid and changes with the tastes of each generation. Each generation, however, leaves some kind of lasting mark that may be picked up by a future generation. That’s why Happy Days was such a massive hit on TV. It’s why we had a Swing Music revival in the mid-1990s, and we may be seeing a revival of that revival now. It’s why classic car shows are so well-attended. And it’s why reruns of television shows, be they classic, or the worst the medium ever had to offer, are so popular.
There is a life-cycle of pop culture, but it’s not one that necessarily ends with death. They say that the best music you’ll ever hear in your life is whatever you’re listening to when you’re eighteen years old. I think that applies to more than just music. There’s a “comfort food” quality to watching a show that you watched when you were a kid, even if it’s obviously garbage like Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, The Facts of Life or Big Bang Theory. If it hit you at the right time in your life, it’s going to stay with you forever. On top of that, you may impart the love of that schlock to your kids, who will like some things simply because you do.
And that brings us back to today. While we seem to have more than our fair share of retreaded pop culture, given that our current political climate is as tulmutuous as earlier times that gave us punk and new wave music, the Summer of Love and the glory days of independent film, the state of pop culture is pretty healthy.
Your PopCulteer does his best to try and stay optimistic.
That’s this week’s PopCulteer. Look for a STUFF TO DO post later today, and our regular features all weekend long. And don’t forget to tune in to The AIR. We have cool programming 24/7, and the simple act of listening will make you a better person. Hit up the website or use this embedded doohickey…