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  1. #1
    Senior Member Robopop's Avatar
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    Default Are we in a period of cultural stagnation?

    In a Vanity Fair Article, Kurt Andersen compares the last 20 years(1992 to 2012) and notices that stylistic innovations in fashion, music, even car designs have kind of stagnated/slowed compared to other 20 year intervals during the 20th century plus he sees alot of unoriginal rehashing in pop culture.
    Simon Reynolds has wrote something similar to this in his new book Retromania.
    Here is a quote from the article:

    Since 1992, as the technological miracles and wonders have propagated and the political economy has transformed, the world has become radically and profoundly new. (And then there’s the miraculous drop in violent crime in the United States, by half.) Here is what’s odd: during these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History.
    Think about it. Picture it. Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972—giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps—with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock ’n’ roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins—again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it and see that the characteristic surfaces and sounds of each historical moment are absolutely distinct from those of 20 years earlier or later: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the advertising—all of it. It’s even true of the 19th century: practically no respectable American man wore a beard before the 1850s, for instance, but beards were almost obligatory in the 1870s, and then disappeared again by 1900. The modern sensibility has been defined by brief stylistic shelf lives, our minds trained to register the recent past as old-fashioned.


    Go deeper and you see that just 20 years also made all the difference in serious cultural output. New York’s amazing new buildings of the 1930s (the Chrysler, the Empire State) look nothing like the amazing new buildings of the 1910s (Grand Central, Woolworth) or of the 1950s (the Seagram, U.N. headquarters). Anyone can instantly identify a 50s movie (On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai) versus one from 20 years before (Grand Hotel, It Happened One Night) or 20 years after (Klute, A Clockwork Orange), or tell the difference between hit songs from 1992 (Sir Mix-a-Lot) and 1972 (Neil Young) and 1952 (Patti Page) and 1932 (Duke Ellington). When high-end literature was being redefined by James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, great novels from just 20 years earlier—Henry James’s The Ambassadors, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth—seemed like relics of another age. And 20 years after Hemingway published his war novel For Whom the Bell Tolls a new war novel, Catch-22, made it seem preposterously antique.
    Now try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992. Movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Carey—both distinctions without a real difference—and Jay-Z and Wilco are still Jay-Z and Wilco. Except for certain details (no Google searches, no e-mail, no cell phones), ambitious fiction from 20 years ago (Doug Coupland’s Generation X, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow) is in no way dated, and the sensibility and style of Joan Didion’s books from even 20 years before that seem plausibly circa-2012.
    An Epiphany
    The Aeron chair in which you’re sitting is identical to the Aeron chair in which I sat almost two decades ago, and this morning I boiled water for my coffee in the groovy Alessi kettle I bought a quarter-century ago. With rare exceptions, cars from the early 90s (and even the late 80s) don’t seem dated. Not long ago in the newspaper, I came across an archival photograph of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell with a dozen of their young staff at Morgans, the Ur-boutique hotel, in 1985. It was an epiphany. Schrager’s dress shirt had no collar and some of the hair on his male employees was a bit unfashionably fluffy, but no one in the picture looks obviously, laughably dated by today’s standards. If you passed someone who looked like any of them, you wouldn’t think twice. Yet if, in 1990 or 1980 or 1970, you’d examined a comparable picture from 27 years earlier—from 1963 and 1953 and 1943, respectively—it would be a glimpse back into an unmistakably different world. A man or woman on the street in any year in the 20th century groomed and dressed in the manner of someone from 27 years earlier would look like a time traveler, an actor in costume, a freak. And until recently it didn’t take even that long for datedness to kick in: by the late 1980s, for instance, less than a decade after the previous decade had ended, the 1970s already looked ridiculous.
    There are, of course, a few exceptions today—genuinely new cultural phenomena that aren’t digital phenomena—but so few that they prove the rule. Twenty years ago we had no dark, novelistic, amazing TV dramas, no Sopranos or Deadwood or The Wire or Breaking Bad. Recycling bins weren’t ubiquitous and all lightbulbs were incandescent. Men wore neckties more frequently. Fashionable women exposed less of their breasts and bra straps, and rarely wore ultra-high-heeled shoes. We were thinner, and fewer of us had tattoos or piercings. And that’s about it.
    Not coincidentally, it was exactly 20 years ago that Francis Fukuyama published The End of History, his influential post-Cold War argument that liberal democracy had triumphed and become the undisputed evolutionary end point toward which every national system was inexorably moving: fundamental political ferment was over and done. Maybe yes, maybe no. But in the arts and entertainment and style realms, this bizarre Groundhog Day stasis of the last 20 years or so certainly feels like an end of cultural history.
    What are any of your thoughts on this article, what does this mean for innovation and creativity in general?

    I personally don't agree that 2012 looks similar to 1992 in fashion, music, ect. I remember 1992 very well with all the big frizzy hair,acid washed jeans, high top fades, zig zag patterns, and high waisted mom jeans on women. I do agree that we've been recycling previous fashions and music styles more(the hipster subculture anyone) and have more past influences to draw from, I think if Kurt Andersen compared 2012 with 2000 or 2001 he might have more of a point but even then popular music styles have changed since 2000 when teen-pop, post-grunge, mall punk, and nu metal were popular.
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  2. #2
    Member Mr. TickTock's Avatar
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    I blame businesses. The people want to sell. And if it sold well 20 years ago why not again? This generation does not at all realize everything is a rehash.


    Although just because the culture looks the same on the outside I don't think it is the same culture. I would not call it "cultural stagnation" simply because things look alike. The symbolism of the object and how the culture views it and what it means to us probably differs.


    Something else I forgot to mention is how we don't have such accurate measures of such things. We only have the exaggerations of TV shows and music at the time. Plus the bias memories of some older people. We usually romanticize culture. Like everyone in the 70's was a hippo disco guy. I doubt thats true. Maybe it was always the same. But we just realized it now as we more openly record culture.
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  3. #3
    Tier 1 Member LunaLuminosity's Avatar
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    Is there really a shortage of new in fashion, music and car designs?


    Plus, culture is a whole lot more than these things. 2006-2012 is pretty much exploding with internet culture.

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    @ OP. Yep. I just said this so someone earlier.
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    Music provides one of the clearest examples of a much deeper relation between mathematics and human experience.

  5. #5
    Away with the fairies Southern Kross's Avatar
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    This is something I have been going on about for a while now. I think of it more as cultural pastiche, in addition to the pervasive elements of self-reflexivity and irony (often with a dash of cynicism). Straight-forward storytelling, and earnest truth are a thing of the past. There is always this wink to the audience, which we are meant to find amusing. And it did used to be amusing. I only have to think how funny Shrek was when it came out, with it's ironic take on fairy tales; intermingling them with modern sensibilities. The problem is that everyone does it now. And this is comparable across every art form; it is all so knowingly clever, so self-aware.

    One thing we must keep in mind is that every generation steals from past trends. Those 1970s sideburns, for example, are right out of the 19th century. So we can't consider this a new phenomenon, only that it has become so over-bloated with self-consciousness.

    I think this has a lot to do with it being the age of information and new age thinking. Everyone is so well informed and reflective on the world around them, especially about culture and meaning, that nothing can exist in and of itself; it always has to be viewed in a greater context or trend. In many ways it seems to be an over abundance of Ne, or should I say tertiary/inferior Ne, because I feel it has been an improper use of the function; instead of encouraging innovation in ideas, it stifles them within the framework of the past.
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    Senior Member Elisius's Avatar
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    I find it odd that the author compares Lady GaGa and Madonna as though they're very similar, and also doesn't note any rap or hip-hop artists other than Jay-Z and Wilco, whoever Wilco is. Ignoring melodic styles of Flobots, which outright defy the majority of rap/hip-hop norms, or the downright fun and carefree rhythms and lyrics of Dan Le Sac VS Scroobius Pip. I bet this guy hasn't even heard of DMX.
    And I can give example of many other art forms where the difference is easy to see.
    The difference between 1992 and 2012 in forms of art and culture are so distinct that I literally have no fucking clue what this article is about.
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    Blah Orangey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elisius View Post
    I find it odd that the author compares Lady GaGa and Madonna as though they're very similar, and also doesn't note any rap or hip-hop artists other than Jay-Z and Wilco, whoever Wilco is. Ignoring melodic styles of Flobots, which outright defy the majority of rap/hip-hop norms, or the downright fun and carefree rhythms and lyrics of Dan Le Sac VS Scroobius Pip. I bet this guy hasn't even heard of DMX.
    And I can give example of many other art forms where the difference is easy to see.
    The difference between 1992 and 2012 in forms of art and culture are so distinct that I literally have no fucking clue what this article is about.
    I kind of agree. This is the type of horseshit that tends to come from luddite academics with postmodern intellectual sensibilities (i.e., shit sensibilities.) They're all usually old, fat 60s fanatics to boot.

    Also, it just seems generally shortsighted/arrogant/narrow to suggest that we're some sort of "end of cultural history." Not to mention extremely melodramatic.
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    Senior Member Robopop's Avatar
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    Well I've been asking people's opinion about this article on different forums, most just don't seem to agree with Kurt Andersen's observation about the music and fashion similarities between 1992 and 2012. I think the music styles that he totally neglects is hip-hop and electronic music which have seen enormous changes and new styles created since 1992(2 step, jungle, euro-trance, grime, crunk, juke, hyphy, reggeaton, micro-house, electro-house, dubstep, ect.), he is extremely selective about his comparisons in the 20 year intervals between decades. Does anyone agree that Sir Mix A Lot's music sounds anything like rap today?
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    Senior Member Robopop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elisius View Post
    I find it odd that the author compares Lady GaGa and Madonna as though they're very similar, and also doesn't note any rap or hip-hop artists other than Jay-Z and Wilco, whoever Wilco is. Ignoring melodic styles of Flobots, which outright defy the majority of rap/hip-hop norms, or the downright fun and carefree rhythms and lyrics of Dan Le Sac VS Scroobius Pip. I bet this guy hasn't even heard of DMX.
    And I can give example of many other art forms where the difference is easy to see.
    The difference between 1992 and 2012 in forms of art and culture are so distinct that I literally have no fucking clue what this article is about.
    Lady Gaga's music is heavily influenced by some of Madonna's late '80s/early '90s music but her fashion sense is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more out there, she makes Madonna look tame in comparison, I just don't get his comparison between Adele and Mariah Carey though, wtf, their music sounds NOTHING alike(although Adele is not groundbreaking or innovative). His Jay Z example is actually evidence for the difference between 1992 and 2012 because Jay Z didn't reach his peak in popularity until the mid '00s(he didn't even start releasing music until the late '90s too). Wilco also wasn't releasing music in '92(they too became popular more in the early '00s), I think the overall culture has just fragmented alot since the late '80s so it is harder to get a unified cultural zeitgeist for the '90s, '00s, or 2010s, innovation might happen more in scattered niches instead of whole unified movements like he is expecting.
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  10. #10
    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Southern Kross View Post
    This is something I have been going on about for a while now. I think of it more as cultural pastiche, in addition to the pervasive elements of self-reflexivity and irony (often with a dash of cynicism). Straight-forward storytelling, and earnest truth are a thing of the past. There is always this wink to the audience, which we are meant to find amusing. And it did used to be amusing. I only have to think how funny Shrek was when it came out, with it's ironic take on fairy tales; intermingling them with modern sensibilities. The problem is that everyone does it now. And this is comparable across every art form; it is all so knowingly clever, so self-aware.

    One thing we must keep in mind is that every generation steals from past trends. Those 1970s sideburns, for example, are right out of the 19th century. So we can't consider this a new phenomenon, only that it has become so over-bloated with self-consciousness.

    I think this has a lot to do with it being the age of information and new age thinking. Everyone is so well informed and reflective on the world around them, especially about culture and meaning, that nothing can exist in and of itself; it always has to be viewed in a greater context or trend. In many ways it seems to be an over abundance of Ne, or should I say tertiary/inferior Ne, because I feel it has been an improper use of the function; instead of encouraging innovation in ideas, it stifles them within the framework of the past.
    I'd say more of the latter -- like of like undirected Pe, where you're just recycling previously stimulating things that already exist and tossing them together in new ways to experiment, without a lot of rhyme or reason about it.

    Good post.

    I think there was SUCH a quick acceleration too in tech and whatever else, and now with all the innovations typically going "inside the box" so they're not visible, that this is to be expected. We're not seeing the invention of the telegraph, the radio, the TV, the computer chip, new ways of approaching things; instead the industry has kind of soaked up all the major "directions" that communications technology can go, and now the innovation is coming in making them smaller and more portable, as well as integrating them into the same device rather than having them separate. It's just a different stage of the industry.

    Same thing elsewhere... music was stuck in a few particular genres for centuries, then with the electronic revolution, the notion of a "drum set," portable sound equipment, recording and disseminating technologies, etc, there were many more options available with the sound. But once you cover the broad gamut, new terrority isn't open, just as the United States was once natural raw territory but eventually the terrain was "discovered" or just like once upon a time we were discovered and labeling new elements but eventually it came down to the point where new elements (the few that are new) had to be created in laboratories rather than discovered, because the main/natural ones had been found already; instead, the experimentation comes with how you cobble old things together in new ways.

    Which is what our culture has become, using technology (filtered out to the base consumer level) as a tool.

    I think one thing we could be losing is expertise, though. Tossing everything into a bowl and mixing it with a spoon allows for a lot of sloppy cooks to be in the kitchen, whereas before it seems there was a higher bar that needed to be jumped before someone became popular or was considered a professional.

    I actually welcomed the self-referential awareness of the Simpsons and other "breakings of the curtain" when it happened, because the culture at the time was very much entrenched in its own view of things and unable to see itself from the outside , and the mild slaps to the face of the culture were refreshing. However, now it's the to the point (20-25 years later) that it's all that seems to be done, and what I find refreshing is a less cynical and self-absorbed mirror of the world, it's nice to have some things be straightforward and earnest.
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