Monday, October 23, 2017

The 20th Century was a fluke


Greg Ferrara once pointed out that American Graffiti came out in 1974 and took place in 1962. That's a mere dozen years, but they feel like different worlds.

He said it a few years back. At that time, he noted that the same period of a dozen years would be difficult to distinguish those times. Let's say it was five years ago and he was comparing 2012 and 2000. The way people dress are essentially the same. The look and style of cars and architecture is little changed. If one were filming on the street, they'd have little effort to avoid things that would give the differences away to a casual observer.

Now, in 2017, I think you could still go back twice that, to 1993, and still have much the same. The only thing that would be stand out would be those last vestiges of the '80s you would have still seen hanging around in 1993, but we vaguely forget about it when we remember it.



The '80s are important. The '80s are the last decade that are immediately recognizable, and would be by casual documentary footage of people as they lived without making sure to highlight specific details to show the time. Because of this, it has become the nostalgia singularity. It began it's run on the nostalgia circuit too soon, '80s nostalgia stations existing before the '90s ended. This collapsed in on itself eventually, in that there was never a '90s nostalgia, because they never went away.

I've looked at this, and a number of related issues a lot over the years.

It used to frustrate me that no matter how old I got, no one had created a new musical genre that really pisses me off. It seemed unnatural. We all grew up believing that's the way of things. Every generation is supposed to dress in some specific new ways that identifies them and listen to some new music that pisses off their parents. We lived through it. We saw it work a number of times, it has to be a thing, right?

Except I think we're mostly done with it.

Mind you, I think Justin Bieber and Robin Thicke suck. And that's with me being fully aware that there's undoubtedly some newer, hipper person that the preteens are on about now. My point is just that they perform R&B-tinged pop music. They don't perform a genre that pisses me off, they just perform one that's hit or miss for me, and they fall of the miss side.

Part of the problem is that in order to have a real conversation about new music forms pissing off parents, we have to acknowledge how much racism was involved. It gets touched on, of course, in any documentary about the introduction of rock 'n' roll, but it continues well past that.

I think the role play some people took on played a part in downplaying the earlier racism. My dad, for example, might have had some reason to find my interest in Celtic Frost or Dead Kennedys disconcerting, but when you add it together with his unwillingness to even attempt to understand Van Halen or even Sting was mostly a performance he put on in order to play the part of parent, and exert his power.

In fact, well after my time, he would come to realize that himself, from years of having to listen to KISW with the guys who worked for him. The realization that many of the differences between his era and mine were superficial.

That didn't change the fact that the performative version that he, and many other Baby Boomer parents, put on at that time had the effect of legitimizing their parents and their grandparents actions, downplaying the racism of it. In this view, it's mostly just what parents do with new music, and, yeah, in that specific time of the mid-'50s with the Civil Rights movement starting up, there was some racism in the South that led to some of that leaking into the parents hatred of the new music, but really, mostly it's just a thing that happens.

But, of course, it's the other way around. Yes, there are reasons that most people's musical taste is formed at a certain point in their development into adulthood, but mostly the major cultural issues surrounding the changes in the music were led by racism.

I'm not trying to declare racism dead. In fact, this year has only made me, along with others, more aware of how much there is still to be done.

However, I'm pretty sure that the many decades of African-American music making its way into, and defining, the American mainstream, makes it so there are fewer people who can be shocked and outraged by it. It is, if nothing else, ubiquitous.

The fact is, all of born and raised in the 20th Century, especially the second half, grew up around patterns that don't exist anywhere else in human history.

Until the 20th Century, integrating races over a large population was still a new idea and involves a lot of growing pains.

We also have evolved from people who demanded that a group of arbitrary and specific manners of dress and grooming habits represented responsible, adult and educated from one in which that belief system is fading to be more ceremonial than believed in.

We are also in the process of evolving from one that demands the same regarding a large number of our speech and writing habits.

On purely personal levels, I have mixed feelings about this.

As someone who loathes the look and feel of "dress" clothes to a point of rage -- As someone who can't achieve the intended look of "dress" clothes when I've tried -- As someone who looks and feels like a clown in an incongruous costume when I wear them -- As someone who feels recognizably like myself in casual clothes, I'm overjoyed that the tyranny of those dress standards are falling rapidly and hope to see even the ceremonial level drop out in my lifetime.

As someone who had precocious language skills growing up -- As someone who has always been able to utilize my abilities with language to, at least partly, mask my deficiencies in formal education -- As someone whose only modest success in life can almost all be handed to the fact that my language skills make me seem like a more competent all around citizen than I am, I am concerned about where I might find myself in a society in which the formal skills of language are no longer held in particular esteem.

But because of all of these changes, we are no longer reacting to each generations changes either.

Wearing the new outrage that symbolizes your rejection of the previous generation and their fashion only meant something in that time as a step on the path "growing up" and giving in to the formal demands of the adult world. It was as much a ritual as my dad rejecting middle-of-the-road music of my generation, no matter how close it was to the music he loved.

Don't get me wrong, my Facebook feed has way too many middle-age white guys for me to think there isn't still plenty of bitching about the younger generations going on. Now, we're back to the same stupid shit Aristotle said every generations since has said, just with hip new references to iPhones. There isn't a uniform or a soundtrack anymore.

And maybe that's the way it's supposed to be, and we all just lived through a weird hiccup we couldn't understand until we were past it.

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