An astute observation (in a time of relatively few astute observations)

I just read an excellent article in Vanity Fair called You Say You Want a Devolution by Kurt Andersen.

The general premise, best summarized from the excerpt below, is that American culture has always changed dramatically over any 20 year period. But that stopped in the 80s.

“Look at people on the street and in malls—jeans and sneakers remain the standard uniform for all ages, as they were in 2002, 1992, and 1982. Look through a current fashion or architecture magazine or listen to 10 random new pop songs; if you didn’t already know they were all things from the 2010s, I guarantee you couldn’t tell me with certainty they weren’t from the 2000s or 1990s or 1980s or even earlier. (The first time I heard a Josh Ritter song a few years ago, I actually thought it was Bob Dylan.) In our Been There Done That Mashup Age, nothing is obsolete, and nothing is really new; it’s all good. I feel as if the whole culture is stoned, listening to an LP that’s been skipping for decades, playing the same groove over and over. Nobody has the wit or gumption to stand up and lift the stylus.”

I’ve never thought about this, but I found the entire premise to be really intriguing and unique.

But one side revelation I had from reading this was about the nature of Capitalism.

When audiences were still mass, in nature, it was easier for Capitalism to determine the winners and the losers. It was easier to determine where the culture was headed and what the trends were and were going to be. (Obviously, some were always better at this than others.)

But now, in the era of the long tail, where everyone’s personal whim – however specific and detailed – could be satisfied by a website, there’s no longer a mass audience. This, in itself, is not a revelation. What is a revelation, to me, is that it’s much harder for capitalism to work when we’re not all acting out our individualism together.

Now, when we pursue our own individual interests, they’re much purer with fewer individuals joining us. So nothing close to “mass” ever happens. This deprives the culture of tidal waves – epic quakes that shake up the culture and advance us all forward (willingly or reluctantly).

I think this is one of the main reasons, as touched on in the article, that we’re someone stagnant in our cultural evolution. Instead of few economies, now there are tiny micro-economies all over the world.

The funny thing is that there is still a mass audience, as evidenced by cultural phenomena like American Idol and Lady Gaga. And from the looks of it, those who haven’t gone off to pursue their own personal interests are those who probably wait for the culture to tell them what it is.

– My name is Jon Friesch, and I’m going to have to think on this one.

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1 Response to An astute observation (in a time of relatively few astute observations)

  1. I notice the same thing as well. Is anything going to really change?

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