Is pop culture dead?

Is pop culture dead?
Is pop culture dead?

A few years ago, at the dawn of Comics, writing this type of article – where one pretended to have a minimum of awareness of the present – was much easier. A minimum of research was enough and there was always a comic series that everyone read or that, even without large numbers, still dictated the standards to be followed. Pop culture was a genuinely mass realm, to be enjoyed collectively. On television everyone watched Games of Thrones and the days were spent between one episode and another reading witty and amusing summaries, a phenomenon so transversal that it became almost a journalistic genre in itself.

Then, little by little, things got more difficult. The various trends have gradually crumbled between our fingers, scattered in a thousand streams of wet sand. Or at least that was my impression. If you wanted to write about it there were two options: either invest every minute of every day trying to keep up with everything, risking burnout to work on an article with a life of (maybe) a day, or choose to throw in the towel to focus on other. Maybe by stopping trying to name absolutely non-existent micro niches outside the social bubble. Not having to live in writing, I preferred to shift my attention, thinking it was my problem without realizing that I was not the only one in the same situation.

Following the development of trends that involve large segments of the public in a uniform manner is a way to define the historical moment we are experiencing and to give shape to what contributes to giving us an identity. That was as long as it was possible to do it, which now seems more difficult than ever. The times when Lida Hujić celebrated her work as a trend forecaster with an autobiographical book or in which Google commissioned the trend scholar Lidewij Edelkoort research on work from home to be exhibited at Milan Design Week.

In trying to understand what could have happened, I started looking for a satisfactory explanation to justify such an important paradigm shift. Trey Tayloreditor of magazine like Dazed, Interview And The Face, gives a very effective reading of this phenomenon: «Pop culture is no longer a monoculture. According to the traditional governing bodies that tell us where to direct our attention – Grammys, Emmys and Oscars – the best album of 2021 was recorded by an artist named Jon Batiste (who?), Who after his Grammy win has achieved a 950% increase in streaming. TAIL – The signs of the heart it had minimal theatrical success before winning the Oscar for Best Picture and is available to stream exclusively on the seventh most popular streaming service in the world, Apple TV +. Both wins were deserved, I think, according to the few tweets I’ve seen from people consuming these things, but have they managed to penetrate beyond niche circles even after receiving these accolades? “

A way like any other to say that there are no longer any authentic mass phenomena, but only niches. At the most we can hope that products that are so significant as to attract everyone’s attention will arrive on the market. During the past few months the only vaguely collective experience that has been talked about has been the mainstream success – so much so that he also wrote the New Yorker – of a punitive video game like Elden Ring.

However, these are fashions linked to consumption, not vice versa. There is no longer a link with reality, as there could have been with punk, mod or hippy fashions (to give examples very distant in time but still meaningful). The journalist and strategist Ayesha Siddiqui theorizes that we have gone from subcultures to aesthetic submarket, “Aesthetic submarkets”. “These sub-markets are not entirely devoid of politics. On the contrary, they often promote a kind of political anesthetization. The digital embodiment of a certain aesthetic or attitude takes precedence over genuine political resistance. Recovery, at least on TikTok, isn’t always a depoliticization process. It is an attempt to repackage ideas, attitudes and aesthetics into identifiable trends, something that can be exploited for attention or profit, understood and widely consumed by a mass audience ». Just to clarify how everything should be monetization and only in a vaguely cultural second moment.

For the sake of the news, it should be clarified that even before this segmentation we are talking about, those who proved to be more sensitive to trends nevertheless never lived in a world of pure speculation, where the economic and production factor were completely absent. Every form of counterculture has always led to the creation of a market in search of new users. Few have squandered more money on useless junk than hipsters (do you remember them?). Yet it comes to think that certain drives had a minimum of rooted in inner needs attributable to a specific historical moment. The search for alleged authenticity of the aforementioned hipsters, the need to be ironic about everything, the subsequent desire to trivialize oneself as much as possible to end up dressing like one’s father (dad-core) arose before the market found a way to make them salable. Naturally, the possibility of earning well by riding a trend on the crest of the wave has prompted entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs to take advantage of the moment.

When a comic writer like Mark Waid was bringing Daredevil back to popularity by writing the most classic version possible, it was proof that he was working on a bare nerve, common to a good percentage of comics readers. Something that went beyond the microtrend of the week and that in fact resulted in large (and lasting) sales and an easily verifiable influence. Today there are fewer and fewer titles capable of monopolizing attention in a similar way, especially when it comes to younger readers.

“Virality is not always a bad thing, but it undermines the idea of ​​authenticity, once appreciated, that was felt when first discovering a music scene or a new fashion. Today, this feeling no longer matters much. The trend craze is considered outdated among young social media users. Teenagers, for example, are used to trying various digital-born aesthetics such as clothes (and also to buy fast fashion to represent these tastes), exchanging those that no longer fit the personalities, styles and atmospheres they are inspired by. »Explains Terry Nguyen of Vox. «The problem, so to speak, is not cottagecore, night luxe [esempi di trend effimeri portati dall’autrice dell’articolo, ndr] or the concept of micro-aesthetics. It’s the fact that modern consumers are bombarded with an endless stream of irrelevant trends to note: marketing vehicles for products that fall into a meaningless paradigm. This isn’t just about the fashion world – the effects of trend-induced brain rot have spilled over into online discourse. The arguments and figures deemed most important on the Internet are based on where they fall into this trend spectrum, depending on the scale of attention they impose. “

Put simply Nguyen argues that there is too much stuff, and being shot in the face at such a pounding rate that we believe this is normal. We are so convinced that the foreseeable slowdown of the various productions due both to the pandemic and to the increasing complexity required by the expectations of the average user is greeted with choruses of anger and disbelief. As if we didn’t have an endless slew of video games to play, books to read or series to watch. Indeed, even more seriously, as if beyond these things there was nothing else to do.

This situation is dramatically summarized by the philosopher Byung-Chul Hanwhich in his book The disappearance of the rites he writes: «The new quickly flattens out becoming routine, it is a commodity that is consumed and rekindles the need for new. The compulsion to reject everything routine produces other routine. In the new there is therefore inherent a temporal structure that soon fades into routine, without allowing any rewarding repetition. The compulsion to produce as a compulsion towards the new therefore only increases the quagmire of routine. To escape them, to escape the void, we consume even more new things, new stimuli and experiences ». An endless race as in an endless runner, without ever taking a moment to rearrange our thoughts and develop a minimum of critical sense.

So is pop culture dead? I would say no. The problem is its excessively pervasive and volatile spread. She has made herself more impalpable and elusive, with no grip on reality to give it a minimum of specific weight. Quite simply many of us, including myself, have not been able to adapt to this dramatic change of pace. According to Allison P. Davis del New York Magazine (the article was translated in Italy by Studio magazine), «Not everyone survives a“ vibe shift ”. Those still clinging to authenticity and garlands of lights crystallized into their hipster world as the culture moved on. They pitched their tents in Greenpoint and got married or moved to Hudson with their waxed beards and arms covered in nautical tattoos. And according to this law, whoever survived this change only to be stuck in the era of, say, the hypebeast / Woke, well, have already moved to Los Angeles in homes spacious enough to showcase their collections of sneakers that are worth a fortune. Unfortunately, I welcomed this social analysis with a lot of agitation. It is chilling to realize that you may be one of those stuck or, if you are not, you may soon be. ‘

Or you could take the ball and decide to apply the handbrake, serenely resigning yourself to your new condition. In the end, stay overnight to see the new season of as soon as possible Love, Death & Robots to realize that this is yet another pile of Netflix junk may not be worth it anymore.

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The article is in Italian

Tags: pop culture dead

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