Photo credit: @julesdwit.
A not-for-profit media organization supported by people like you.
In the current issue of Vanity Fair, Kurt Andersen, host of Studio 360, asks why styles in clothing and music have stopped evolving despite rapid technological innovations.
I think this period we're living in is the pregnancy preceding the birth of something VERY new... our improved global communication has allowed us to embrace many cultures, remember and appreciate the histories of many peoples, affirm our common global humanity in a way that wasn't possible before-- nothing was ever really "new" under the sun, it just felt like a new item on the menu because individually we hadn't encountered what developed on the other side of the globe or in a past generation before. Now it's all available with a tap on our iphone for us to enjoy, like a huge buffet meal. It's ALL in style, ALL acceptable; so yes it's hard to find something "new" or revolutionary... it will take time to digest the whole disjointed buffet; but I have high hopes for the next meal, the one prepared by a global generation that recognizes and has internalized everyone's common humanity. This anti-climactic, natural birth of a common culture for all on planet earth may SEEM like a lack of cultural change, but in hindsight it will have turned out to be the biggest revolution yet.
I think the probable real explanation for both the lack of cultural change of late, and the lack of specificity in the demands of the Occupy movement, are closely related. I'm approaching it from a view of natural evolution in complex learning systems. In evolutionary terms, we've learns new things worth keeping, and are avoiding the task of learning about others.
Evolution of culture, or any other complex system, is a “stepwise process”. It’s like going through successive “graduations” as it to higher grade levels. At each level of new organization you get a foundation that you keep for a while for exploring and discovering the next. We all experience that succession from one “grade level” to the next in our personal learning cycle, throughout our lives as learning organisms.
Why Occupy demands lack specificity is that the succession of learning levels in nature also involves letting go of old ones, sort of like walking. To make progress you also need to shift away from reliance on previous foundations to put your weight on another. In this case we’re conflicted with letting go of one of the old foundation cultures.
That’s the culture surrounding the use of money to multiply our incomes and impacts on the earth, with the dream of easy limitless growth. When we adopted that ethos we lived in what was then an “infinite world of resources”. Now consuming our resources ever faster has now outgrown that purpose, and we’re in denial and so can’t even discuss it publically.
Our culture still “wants its cake and to eat it too” in terms of having multiplying money without multiplying consequences.
Hitchens would not have been allowed to live this long had he been born a Muslim and expressed his opinions. That's for certain.
I am a big fan of Kurt Anderson, but this discussion is ridiculous. It's a very broad statement engrossing all of "culture" based on very selective "observations" of one person. To say that there is no major difference now compared to 20 years ago is preposterous. Perhaps what Kurt observes in mass marketing and Mass media seems homogenous, but under the surface of this spoon feeding system is where the real changes are.
You'll never see cultural shifts as you are living through them. It takes a while for the dust to settle.
HEY KURT—PLEASE READ,
I have been an AIDS activist for the past 26 years. To see the "protester" movement is a joy! Those of us who have been running up the hill demanding change and being perceived as radical and crazy feel very excited that the nation is finally waking up. It is our responsibility to shake things up and put a spotlight on what is wrong in our nation and the world. It is also our right to demand change from the people we pay through our taxes to represent us correctly and do the right thing socially and morally. So I say to the "protester", bravo!
That said, do not belittle those of us who have been on the front lines for many, many years. Just because we didn't sleep over night after night, we have been fighting night after night, day after day, year after year without a break. You can still be affective with OR without an occupation if you are steadfast and tenacious—no disrespect to those who did.
Friends - is it perhaps that young people have caught on that any previous style than what would possibly represent "the now" represents times that are less than ideal. A nostalgic look to the the 60s could represent a period when civil rights activism was in full force but also a time when inequality still reigned supreme for women and so on.
i think because you are looking at the present time from now whereas you think 60s was veryinnovative period looking back from now, which gives you more perspectives. i assume theres new things happening right now that we havent discovered by ppl. great works of art usually become known after while.
Instant digital access to everything, yes, what the caller said. Digitization makes possible preservation infinitely without degradation, whereas "analog" life processes necessitate moving beyond and replacing things.
What about the prevalence of rap music and R&B music in popular culture. This music is now the norm not only on hip hop stations but also on pop radio, hits radio and college radio. I am 23 years old, my father who loves music and introduced me to everything from Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Robertta Flack to the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Blondie and the Sex Pistols. Is so baffled by and mostly resistant to the likes of Dipset, Drake, Jay-Z, RKelly and Kanye. These are all artist who have been reviewed and discussed in the publications he reads the New York Times and New Yorker. Yet i still find my parents and other older people in my life continue to be resistant and dismissive of this music
Who is to say that technology is not simply becoming the culture, and allows us to simply go deeper, with access to more movies, tunes and content so that there is no need to develop as much new when there is simply access to more of what we already have?
This discussion is ignoring an important aspect of contemporary American culture that has become more prominent and more mainstream than 2 decades ago: cultures of the many new, diverse immigrant groups who were not as visible as twenty years ago. These multicultural influences have infiltrated music, literature, fashion, film, etc. Not yet enough, in my opinion, but that internationalization of American culture is, I believe, the future of American culture.
There are some areas of culture that have not stalled but degraded almost beyond recognition. Contemporary films generally suck. True, I'm not in the demographic most studios aim their product at (14-year old boys raised on video games), but let's be honest. Movies today SUCK. All the money seems to be spent on CGI effects and big name stars. Strong, interesting stories and good scripts seem to be a thing of the past. I never thought I'd live to see what was once a vibrant art form die a slow, undignified death while the studios continue to rake in the big bucks.
One thing Kurt missed in the recounting of OWS's response to "what do you want" critique is one of the last points that has been made: Not only is our democracy itself dysfunctional, but what we want is to hear real and interesting ideas from those we elect to *have* them. Not that some of us don't *obviously* have some, but many of them haven't been listened to until now (see pre-Iraq war protests), so we're insisting *you,* elected leaders, come up with some.
If you haven't gotten too far from the cultural side of things yet, I wonder where Kurt thinks steampunk fits into his concept?
I think part of the problem in the artistic community is that there are more distractions (internet, anyone?), a society that fosters an impaired ability to concentrate for appreciable lengths of time, and an unwillingness to "dig" or let ideas ferment until they're interesting enough to present. All of these are necessary to create anything revolutionary in the arts.
I'm a musician and composer in her 40s. Most of my colleagues in the the performing and fine arts who are my age or older have a greater and more interesting creative output, day to day, than those in their early 30s and younger. This wouldn't be remarkable . . . except that these older colleagues of mine did more in *their* 30s (and younger) as well.
My experience as someone born in the 1970s is that Boomers have blocked cultural/style innovation because they are so Boomer-centric (and still pretty white and male -centric) and always think they are the ones who Know. What about Riot Grrrl? Huge influence on my style, musical tastes, politics, personal relationships - but not created by white men. Writing for alt-weeklies in the early 2000s there were a lot of Boomers keeping writing/editing jobs that I assumed people my age would soon be moving in to.
Every person on earth will follow the most perfect human beign made...its gods gift to mankind...this is the reason fashiion music styles art etc are like this...its the way god intended things ti look...Ps:..like why kids wear their jeans all the way down...its cuz its a manifestation of what the iman does...
Mass-market now emphasizes formulaic, stereotypes. Risk-averse.
Bigger changes where there is no mass-market:High-end taste has a huge shift over the last 20 years, where supply is limited. 18th C. English furniture used to be on top. Now, Mid-Century Modern is big.
Let's investigate where culture comes from! Doesn't it start with early education and what young people are exposed to?
The turning point might be the generation that was raised on TV, who lost the ability to use their imagination, who don't read.
As an early baby-boomer I was educated by the last generation who grew up without TV.
BTW, I was in Paris and Berkeley in 1968 and I see America's OWS as a replay but without having learned the lessons. Overseas a bigger change and more effective protest because they have been using the work of Gene Sharp (see the documentary "How to Start a Revolution")
The changes that are going on are not in the substance of reality, but in the sub-rosa world of virtual reality. Just as the effect of Facebook on the political world has finally come into consciousness thanks to the "Arab spring" revolt and now others, so the effects of video gaming and other virtual reality experiences have been missed by our "boomer" generation, who remain totally oblivious to its existence. But there is a virtual parallel universe that does exist and boomers should become cognizant of it already.
@Rachel, you're right. People in their 30's and 40's still control the zeitgeist - Jay Z/Kanye, Coldplay/Green Day. Compare that to the 80's when most superstars were famous by their 20's and done by 40.
Adidas Gazelles and Converse Chuck Taylors have a timeless aesthetic - thank god.
Might the lack of radical change--or, more appropriate to this discussion, progress--in culture and art have to do with the fact that we now lack the cultural taboos that still existed 20 or 30 years ago? For instance, I think Madonna was a pretty radical break when she started out, so many people were genuinely shocked by her. Gaga is pretty outrageous at times, but is she radical? Are we really shocked by her? Meat dress aside, I don't see many taboos she's confronting that haven't already been addressed.
I think what you are missing is that since the end of WWII there has been an ongoing decline in the influence of critical theory and philosophy behind all of the arts. Society began to see the pre-war apogee of philosophy, in Europe, as one of the principal causes of the war and the holocaust. Following the war came the rise of religion and anti-intellectualism, and the arts became more and more focused on process and aesthetics, which are generally un-challenging and non-progressive.
Brian, you might have confused some folks like me, you asked for callers in teens and 20s then Kurt asked for 30s-50s and you said "callers in those age groups"! Which groups yours or his?
About all you can hope to do these days is take something old and improve it.
"Justin Timberlake and Usher ARE Michael Jackson"???!!!
Two things: My generation was the last to move from popular music to classical at adulthood. I'm amazed (and a little appalled) at the nostalgia of the baby boomers.
I remember the early days of TV ~1950 when movie makers were trying to make films with clothing that wouldn't be laughed at. See the Glenn Miller Story with June Alyson. Everybody was laughing at the clothes (now accepted as quite gorgeous) of the 1930s.
So here's where I got stuck in Kurt's basic premise in the article:
Kurt says businesses benefits from styles etc. staying the same, cuz it costs less.
Perhaps, but wasn't it BUSINESS and MARKETING that completely MANUFACTURED the idea of styles changing, as part of consumerism.
Hemlines go up, hemlines go down, all to force us to throw out our old clothes and buy new clothes. If hemlines aren't going up and down, then where's the imperative to clear out the closet and buy new?
Business and marketing wouldn't be too happy about that, would they?
Please enlighten me- what are the radical groovy ideas that the hipsters have given us.
Oh, jeans we're definitely as skinny--if not skinnier--in the 1980s than they are now. I remember wearing tight ankle-length jeans as a teenager in 1985. Everyone did. And that's exactly what you'll find in the stores now.
If you read Grant Morrison's book Supergods, he discusses this cultural phenomenon of cyclical change. Every 11 years there is a reactionary shift in culture to the popular ideals of the last prevalent movement, so basically dress, fashion, music, and art go in roughly 20 year cycles of punk and conservative movements.
Morrison handles the argument better than I can here, but check it out. It's explained really well.
I noticed this trend beginning in the 80's, as musical styles borrowed heavily (rockabilly, etc.). Part of it is technical, yes, but I think there are bigger social factors. The 20th cent. emphasized individualism to a great degree, but the post-70's generation learned how to feel anonymous. Styles got relegated to form rather than content. This has become extreme now in our digital age, simply because it is so much easier to take things out of context.
Wheww . . . I thought this guy was saying that the usual Law against Permanency had somehow been repealed - - -
I haven't yet read Kurt's article, but I often wonder if my generation - Generation X - are going to have some sort of impact on the direction digital technology and our general culture is going in. Having grown up pre-digital, yet embracing it in our late 20's, we have a unique perspective of living in both worlds. Many of my peers are starting to get anxious and stressed out by the vast changes in society and technology that seem to happen without much thought to its social, economic, and psychological impact.
I have caught myself pining a lot lately for the pre-digital age when people took their time in general, and when things and products evolved in slower time, which allowed for a higher quality of output, as well as consideration of the impact any product, action, or thought would have.
I agree with Kurt. Nothing much has seemed to change. Particularly culturally. And particularly in art. It is the same old same old and yet the new names on the scene seem to think they have come up with something brilliant when they are reinventing the wheel. And I strenuously disagree with the caller who said that Lady Gaga and Madonna are different. I find it freaky how much Gaga's music sounds exactly like Madonna's and I think that those who think that Lady Gaga isn't a market manipulation like Madonna are really deluding themselves. I think Gaga is very shrewd and very driven and I can't help but think that her speaking out against bullying and for gay issues is a very shrewd marketing effort and that she is very aware of what audience she wants to cater to. And I find that young hipsters are very dismissive of us older folks and very self important and yet I don't see them having made any substantial or even interesting contribution.
My kids are 16 and 12. They recently introduced me to dubstep. 20 years ago we could barely surf a just emerging internet (Netscape anybody?) Now my kids don't watch TV--we don't have cable or even digital, so no broadcast programs--they watch videos and "TV" shows on wimp.com, YouTube, hulu etc. And they hang out with their friends almost everyday online. Yeah, they still wear t-shirts and jeans, but there have been lots of other significant cultural changes.
Could the lack of change be due to the conservative rise post '60s?
one thing people do not mention is that POP music, has since before Presley had "artists" who usually do not write their own music. Look at J.Lo, Pink, Britney Spears and so on. how many tin pan alley style producers and writers are on their records?
Pop music is no different today then it was in the 50's. A product on a shelf, just like cereal.
Pop music's only culture is money
5 major companies have cornered the market on musical, TV and film. No wonder there is no innovation.
I don't know but I would like to know who are the artists of today, the Picasso or Degas or Leonardo... of the past decade?
Brian, ask your guest if he's ever played a video game.
I think that the information highway has done young people wrong. Majority of young people love to be part of a group instead of branching out on their own. It takes courage as a teenager to do so. Being constantly connected leaves little room to become an outsider with something else to say, to contribute. In hip-hop, the "back-packers" were "Boro" kids and kids from Long Island that came into the city with their back-packs with their own style of MC'ing. MTV or the internet didn't dictate to them what to say or how to express themselves.
Wait - maybe it's OK.
Like, Book of Mormon may be "new" but it's an old-fashioned traditional book musical.
It's good. We need more good.
Lady Gaga is WAY more talented than Madonna! She is an accomplished musician, writes her own songs, has a great voice, poised, mature ... quite an incredible presence on the cultural scene. (PS -- I'm closer to Kurt's age than Lady G's.)
This seems to be a generation shadowed by those before; socially and economically. It seems that everyone seems to be looking up to their parents and authority figures with an inexplicable awe as the dominant forces of the last half century. This generation will soon be eclipsed by the next that will rise much stronger.Everyone seems to like the comfort of familiar and not want the drastic changes that came with the 60s.
this is such a tired boomer opinion. perhaps as you get older you fail too see the new.
I agree with you! I'm a 65 year old "gamer" and the only one I know! No one of my peers have ever played a full blown video game or really knows what they are about, and the mainstream media mavens don't know much about the phenomenon either.
But yes, videogames are undoubtedly the major revolution in entertainment in the 21st century, but the old guys and gals who are still in control of the mainstream apparatus don't "get it." They won't even try to sit down with a controller and an Xbox to try to find out.
Pop will eat itself.
Lady Gaga is no Madonna. Sorry. And I'm no huge Madonna fan. And I'll admit that I've not heard much of Lady Gaga, but I've not been motivated to by what I have heard of hers. Disposable, like most popular music today.
hip/hop - rap - is frozen in time. Nothing has happened that is original for almost 20 years.
I value both of you guys, but I think you're out of touch here. Have you mentioned the world of hip-hop once? Talk about musical innovation in the past 20 years without that? 20 years ago it wasn't mainstream, now it's everywhere.
I think this is the effect of deep corporate control of culture.
To understand the stagnation you have to look at what's happened in the rest of the culture--science has gone micro in its study of mind and body, no longer espousing, as it did from mid 20th century to the 1980's, its ability to change society--same with education, theorists abandoned the notion of education progress around the 1980s (meaning no straight line forward--only pluralistic views), and as far as fashion is concerned, I believe we've all been trained to adopt 3rd world standards of clothing---dressing down to rags....
The interest in documentary films we see today was not present 20 years ago.
And Kanye West is JUST like Michael Jackson.Riiight.Kinda with Tom on this.
Pop music is a commodity. If something works and sells it gets reused. Underground music is where culture, originality and progress occurs
MFA programs have killed art and creativity and also impoverished several generations of artists who, as a result, are more concerned with keeping things safe so they can one day hope to pay back the loans.
As a result, there is no difference between art and commerce/advertising. There is also little difference between artists and the average Wall St. banker. Both are hoping to strike it rich. No wonder culture looks the way it does today.
Still it's been a time of huge advancements in personal/domestic technologies. I went to college in 1984 with just a Smith Corona! And laptops, cell phones, social media, etc. are no longer for just a technological elite. Is content taking a backseat while we as a culture absorb changes in form?
lady gaga IS madonna. Justin Timberlake and Usher ARE Michael Jackson. Pop Music repeats itself because its very basic and simple.
Right, Madonna was the material girl.
Yet, some things have changed radically. Matriarchy has replaced patriarchy, and the "family" concept has declined rapidly. "Father doesn't know best." Father doesn't even exist. Abortion and atheism are now mainstream. So we are going through some radical social changes, only many "oldsters" don't know what to make of it.
What about the video game industry - video games these days are like a major motion picture film in their production size and level of complexity. This is quite different than 20 years ago as an industry & culturally positioned entity, no?
Did Kurt Anderson really just learn about postmodernism?
It's the beginning of the Star Trek generation. Vast technology, little cultural change. Think about it. Everyone in Star Trek dressed the same, moved the same, etc.
When they went to another planet, even the "alien" population was conformed in regards to their appearance and mind set.
He's absolutely right! Never occurred to me before but thinking about it he's absolutely right. We're approaching "ho-hum" factor. Pants either have to drop to the knees or come back up to the waist OR the breast plate. We need some movement. Stagnant is where we are right now. Let's hope Kurt Andersen's article gets folks up and thinking again.
I agree.I think it's important to know your history, so as not to get hook winked by flash of the 'new'.
I think this has something to do with the "culture of youth" that is prevalent. People in their 30s and 40s and older, still want to feel like they are in their 20s. This keeps the culture from 20 years ago alive and dominant.
"Times may change, but people don't" was one of my mother's favorite adages. Technologies may evolve, but people haven't in 30,000 years. Knowledge may expand, but people are not inherently smarter. It's just more information that most cannot absorb.
only big cultural change I can think of is tv. cable tv and shows like Lost and 30 Rock didn't exist 20 years ago (Twin Peaks was totally revolutionary in 1990 but wouldn't be today). but i agree with kurt on most everything else
we are in a black hole of originality today.
all art gets repeated. although ideas are infinite, styles are not. the kids of tomorrow will use the styles of today.
I've also noticed this lack of iconic style. When we go back to films of the 1990s and 2000s I don't think we'll be able to pinpoint the time period as we can in other decades. I nattered about it here:http://heresheisboys.com/2011/09/10/what-is-our-blue-eyeshadow/
This article just shows that we loose touch with culture as we get older.
Email addresses are required but never displayed.
Brian Lehrer leads the conversation about what matters most now in local and national politics, our own communities and our lives.
Subscribe on iTunes
Brian Lehrer Weekend: Christmas Culture; (Male) Managers; Poet Claudia Rankine
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR and PRI, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.