A few years ago I was struck by this comment by a reviewer named Michael Azerrad:
Walk around any urban center in the Western Hemisphere and you’ll eventually come upon someone dressed like a punk rocker. That look was codified as early as 1977, and yet 34 years later, kids still replicate it… But in 1977, did you see bohemian youth attired like bobby-soxers from the ’40s?
Azerrad was right. The popular culture of our era is old and stagnant… an unnatural development and one that I maintain is unhealthy.
The rock concert is unchanged since the 1960s, the products of the music industry come from the same old mold (many barely being “music” at all), movie studios roll out rehashes one after another, and modern art still pursues what Salvador Dali, in a moment of truthfulness, called “the cult of strange.” Once the entertainment corporations stumble upon a successful show, you can expect half a dozen copies.
To put it simply, we’re suffering through a cultural stasis. More than that, we’re living in a single flavor of cultural stasis, one dominated and maintained by baby boomers.
With small exceptions, the “social furniture” of the West, and especially in the US, has remained unchanged since the 1970s, enforced by baby boomers who’ve held power for the entire run. Generation X and the Millennials have been stuck in the same patterns; they were, in effect, baby boomer version 1.1 and baby boomer version 1.2.
Understand, please, that lots of business and political types are addicted to this model and very much do not wish for it to change. Generation X and the Millennials have been held in these patterns, when by nature they would likely have changed. (As I know many of them have wanted to.)
Before the enforcement of cultural stasis, the flappers of the 1920s gave way to goldfish swallowers in the 1930s, who gave way to bobby-soxers in the 1940s, who gave way to greasers and beatniks in the 1950s, who gave way to hippies and boomers in the 1960s and ’70s. It has been quite unnatural for a single model to hold for 40 or 50 years.
Two Reasons This Will Change
As I examined this, I’ve found two big reasons why this will soon enough change, regardless of the titanic corporate and political forces that need it to not change:
The first reason is very simple: The baby boomers are getting old.
The baby boomers are slowing down, relinquishing their control, and dying. The oldest baby boomers are hitting 72 this year. More and more of their icons and pillars will be checking out. The hands on the levers are growing weak, and a bunch of the most prominent cultural boomers have been exposed as creepy serial abusers.
And so, the cultural version of “science proceeds one funeral at a time” is now gathering steam. The iron grip on culture that prevailed for so long is weakening. What comes next will not only be different, but it will tend to look at itself as “other” to what went before. Already, studies are showing young people less likely to take drugs, among other examples. The old model is cracking and the search for new social furniture is under way.
The second reason is that the coming generation is too different from the baby boomers for the pattern to hold.
The generation now in puberty was born after 9/11 (9/11 being the major cultural wave after 2001). These young people have no more association with it than Richard Simmons and Stevie Nicks had to World War II. They don’t know what a modem was, and they’ve never really known the US to send people into space. Perhaps more directly, they’re watching politics descend into knee-jerk hatreds, they’ve never known a time when the US wasn’t running multiple wars, and their aunts and uncles are being ruined with debt serfdom.
Beyond that, most of them know about dark markets and cryptocurrency. They also know that their parents are enslaved to work through their smart phones, that college is for rich kids or those who are willing to accept debt slavery, that all the good jobs require the aforesaid rich parents or debt slavery, that the crypto-economy doesn’t require those things, and that politics is where people go to hate each other.
The coming generation, then, is going to be different from their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’… as it should be.
And so the extended cultural influence of the boomers will give way to something new, regardless of the stasis machine trying to hold everything in place. It appears to me that politics, media, and big advertising lack the manipulative voltage to force yet another generation into the mold of the baby boomers, and I certainly hope they don’t.
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A book that generates comments like these, from actual readers, might be worth your time:
- I just finished reading The Breaking Dawn and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking, amazing books I have ever read… It will be hard to read another book now that I’ve read this book… I want everyone to read it.
- Such a tour de force, so many ideas. And I am amazed at the courage to write such a book, that challenges so many people’s conceptions.
- There were so many points where it was hard to read, I was so choked up.
- Holy moly! I was familiar with most of the themes presented in A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the concepts you presented at the end of this one.
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