Drowning In The Popcult Goldmine Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-05-24 12:00:00 No comments

It's a shame this blog this isn't being updated anymore, because you could easily lose a month of weekends reading the gems contained within. To wit:

Something Old, Nothing New: When Were Movies Invented? 1977? Or Later? (2010)

... I was discussing the fact that on most areas of the internet, movie history is basically about 25 years long. This also applies to a lot of movie magazines, critical videos, and so on: you'll get people discussing movies in historical context, or making lists of the greatest movies or movie moments, but only from 1985 onward (if that). If an earlier movie shows up, it's almost a freak occurrence. ...

... the only way to get into old movies [today] is if you actively decide to learn about them, and you can't blame anyone for not wanting to sit through movie after movie as a learning experience. 

... the feeling [I have] is not so much crankiness, let alone blame, as sadness at something inevitable and unavoidable: movie history, and perhaps all of pop-culture history, is going to contract. There has never been a greater amount popular culture history accessible, in the sense of being there for anyone who wants to see it. But it's been a long time since there has been less popular culture history accessible in the other sense, of being something that the average person can assimilate without a long, hard slog. I was going to say there has never been less interest in pop-culture history, but that's not true at all. Traditionally, people have been more interested in new books, plays, music. The idea of gathering to listen to a concert of old music, or building an entire repertoire of old plays, is fairly new. So maybe the current situation is simply the way it ought to be.

Emphasis mine.

I once expressed something similar by way of a parallel thought. Nothing ever goes out of print anymore, thanks to streaming media and ebooks and what have you. But it also means the selectivity that inevitably accompanied scarcity, whether artificial or actual, is also vanishing.

I'm not arguing in favor of scarcity as a means to selectivity, or scarcity as a virtue. I'm saying, it was unwise to abolish scarcity without also providing people with a way to navigate the resulting onslaught. We opened the floodgates and didn't bother to give anyone life vests, because we figured everyone would just learn to swim. Instead, everyone ended up clinging to their own little rock in the stream, pun partly intended.

This is why I keep meeting people who call themselves writers, but are astonishingly ill-read and uncatholic (in the small-C sense) in their tastes. This is why I keep meeting "film fans" who think there's no point in watching anything made before 1977, if even that, because Tarantino did it all better anyway. But after I read the above-linked piece, it hit me sidelong the real reason this happens isn't because these people are being incurious dolts, it's because this is a survival strategy. There's just no way to not hit your head against the rocks and drown without becoming a hyperspecialist. What was it Theodore Roszak said? "One no longer studies literature. One studies Shakespeare -- the tragedies -- the late tragedies." Now everyone is a cultural specialist unto themselves. Modern cultural life punishes you for being curious, because then you end up with too many choices and not enough other people to share them with.

I guess what bothers me most, though, is not when this attitude is prevalent amongst ordinary people, or even amongst self-described fans of anything. It's at its most disturbing when it manifests in creators, people who are supposed to be the the explorers, the vanguards, the very ones who brave the rapids on purpose and come back with fish caught in their bare grinning teeth. They ought to do it if only to know what else is out there, and to get some ideas from it. Falling in love with any of it, defending it from picayune dismissal, isn't even the point; it's to have the experiences with those books that few others choose to have, to form a point of view about it, to see how it might inform what they do.

I suspect there's more to mine here about the way the democratization of creation means that anyone can be a creator, and so maybe those kinds of self-imposed research missions aren't needed. Maybe the hyperspecialization of taste means we can make do with the hyperspecialization of those satisfying those tastes. But I don't like the implications of that; it sounds to me like an excuse for people to just till the same patch of ever-thinning soil until the only crop it produces is rocks.

For some popular culture that isn't too thin (I hope!), check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.

Tags: books culture fandom moviegoing movies popular culture publishing writing