Considering that foundational American culture is based on deifying the founders, it shouldn't surprise me that navel-gazing is a national past time. We're about two decades into online culture, and it appears the most prominent business is staring lovingly at the past. Facebook groups that celebrate midcentury America, Tumblr blogs devoted retro sci-fi art, and the endless love for Gen X's college rock heyday, boy bands, and old-school hip-hop. Thankfully, no one is clamoring to bring back nu metal yet.
While the slow creeping of nostalgia to remarket TV shows and Movies in remakes, reunions, and various permutations is nothing new. There's a multitude of failed attempts to remake or relaunch classic TV shows in the 80's and 90's. Dredging up Lucille Ball for another run, or merely remaking Leave it To Beaver both happened into the 80's. This nostalgia found its Platonic form in the launch of Nick at Nite.
We're so down the fucking rabbit hole that CBS is ordering another run of Murphy Brown to make dumb sitcom jokes about obscure political references. Which really just makes it the proto Big Bang Theory, so maybe it is ripe for a comeback. Joining other 90's revivals like Rosanne and the X-Files, our media cycle is currently in the throes of creating comfort food for beleaguered Gen Xers and Millenials.
On the other hand, as media has expanded in the wake of cable; the outlets for nostalgia has created a rolling timeline of reruns. The sort of pop consciousness of the internet has made some algorithmic looking backward normal. Apps like Timehop are helpful ways to make our social networking less ephemeral. Showing you all of your posts on a given day, you can see that and your pictures to get a good idea of where you were at the time.
Where it starts to get weird is that you see this constant yearning for an imagined past dominate the culture. Newer ideas are pushed aside for comfort culture that tells us what we want to hear. We're looking for the familiar in a world that has changed enough to alienate even young people. Even people born in the 90's see a media transformation so profound that it is as unrecognizable as television and movies would have been to people born in the era of stage plays and newspapers. Radio was playing the same bridging role that cable did between the television era and the channel-less on-demand era media we have now.
(This thesis compresses a lot of history into a brief summation, so forgive the oversimplification. It's a generalization meant to illustrate the cultural whiplash with a recent analog.)
The oldest of Millenials are now in their mid-thirties, and the youngest are still in their teens. Putting this in context for the Baby Boomers, this is the mid-70's or for the Gen-Xers the mid 90's. So they only have another decade or so before we start obsessing about the next generation's inevitable attempt to destroy us all culturally. I'm kidding of course, but the rhetoric will come about whatever marketing trend generalizations apply to the next set of teenagers in ten years.
We're in an unusual spot culturally. The way that demography lines up, you have sizable chunks of society in the throws of prime nostalgic revelry. With a cultural industry that panders to every impulse, we are likely to be dominated by this backward-looking. (A cursory glance at movies and television tells you that this isn't entirely wrong.) Something could slam us back into cultural acceleration, but the demographics don't give us much of a chance.
I don't want to say we're at the end of the future or anything, but we do seem to be at the end of irrational exuberance for the future. Technology is traveling further up its ass, and the successful products seem to be those that exist passively. Media is even further up its ass as everything is slowly becoming some permutation of the same recycled thoughts. If it isn't culturally destructive, it at the very least boring.
Image Credit: Scott Akerman via Flickr
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