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The rate of cultural change is slowing down.

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posted on Dec, 14 2011 @ 06:25 PM

Here's an interesting topic. I've been in discussions about this very thing before on ATS and elsewhere, so it isn't a completely new idea, but this is the first time I've seen it treated in the MSM.

In essence, the idea seems a little counterintuitive at first, but upon closer reflection, a strong case can be made that the rate of cultural change is slowing down. Technological change and social change may be speeding along, but culture is stuck in a rut. (or, more charatibly, settled down into a mature phase).

Consider the following from this month's issue of Vanity Fair:

...Since 1992, as the technological miracles and wonders have propagated and the political economy has transformed, the world has become radically and profoundly new. (And then there’s the miraculous drop in violent crime in the United States, by half.) Here is what’s odd: during these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History.

Think about it. Picture it. Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972—giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps—with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock ’n’ roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins—again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it and see that the characteristic surfaces and sounds of each historical moment are absolutely distinct from those of 20 years earlier or later: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the advertising—all of it. It’s even true of the 19th century: practically no respectable American man wore a beard before the 1850s, for instance, but beards were almost obligatory in the 1870s, and then disappeared again by 1900. The modern sensibility has been defined by brief stylistic shelf lives, our minds trained to register the recent past as old-fashioned.

Go deeper and you see that just 20 years also made all the difference in serious cultural output. New York’s amazing new buildings of the 1930s (the Chrysler, the Empire State) look nothing like the amazing new buildings of the 1910s (Grand Central, Woolworth) or of the 1950s (the Seagram, U.N. headquarters). Anyone can instantly identify a 50s movie (On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai) versus one from 20 years before (Grand Hotel, It Happened One Night) or 20 years after (Klute, A Clockwork Orange), or tell the difference between hit songs from 1992 (Sir Mix-a-Lot) and 1972 (Neil Young) and 1952 (Patti Page) and 1932 (Duke Ellington). When high-end literature was being redefined by James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, great novels from just 20 years earlier—Henry James’s The Ambassadors, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth—seemed like relics of another age. And 20 years after Hemingway published his war novel For Whom the Bell Tolls a new war novel, Catch-22, made it seem preposterously antique.

Now try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992. Movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Carey—both distinctions without a real difference—and Jay-Z and Wilco are still Jay-Z and Wilco. Except for certain details (no Google searches, no e-mail, no cell phones), ambitious fiction from 20 years ago (Doug Coupland’s Generation X, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow) is in no way dated, and the sensibility and style of Joan Didion’s books from even 20 years before that seem plausibly circa-2012.

The article goes on to give more examples to bolster the case and suggests some possible reasons for this phenomenon. One possibility is that we are coming off an exceptional burst of cultural change in the 20th century, and a slower pace is more the norm. Another possibility is that people have more ways to express themselves with the advent of new media, so things like music and clothes no longer need to change so rapidly in terms of fashion. Still another possibility is that culture has become a big, mass-produced industry, whereas before it was more "organic." When business gets big, it gets more obsessed with efficiency. One example given: It's not cost-effective for Starbucks to have to change its intererior design every few years with changing fashion, so they keep the same style. Multiply this by thousands of sleekly-controlled tastemakers and you get a less cultural change.

What does ATS think?

edit on 12/14/11 by silent thunder because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 14 2011 @ 06:40 PM
I blame it on hipsters

posted on Dec, 14 2011 @ 06:57 PM
reply to post by silent thunder

Nice topic.

I personally think that expressing yourself with clothing or accessories, of which I never let define me has now changed into your status on FB, The cover you have over your X-Box or PS3, whats on your iPod, etc,.

Back in the day it was how cool you were, then how much money you had to buy the clothes, and finally how in debt you can get by buying $400.00 electronic items every 3 months.

I figure that with social sites, and Photoshop, we will all be avatars, and no one will ever know what each other looks like, personally meeting someone will be through web chat, and cameras on your laptops, and the only way you can be cool is if your avatar has a penthouse, 3 Mercedes, a heliport, and an indoor theater.

Even on a site where the conspiracy is to not be like others, we have different status'.

I personally dread how things will be in the future, so I figure that I will hope for some type of easy drift into into a fake "dementia" (where I act crazy for kicks), and watch everything around me change. I used to dread being the lady will all the cats, but I figure if I dont want to deal with the smell I can always get a game with avatars of cats, and I wouldn't know the difference.


Peace, NRE.

posted on Dec, 14 2011 @ 07:24 PM
If you take the internet into a piece of culture in itself, the change hasn't slowed much at all. Granted no huge economic or religious shifts haven't been really born out of a cultural boom but it doesn't mean it has slowed down a lot. I wouldn't say we're in a stagnation of cultural change but a continuation of a culture pattern. Where culture booms, like that in the 60s (for example) then it returns to normal again. If that makes sense

posted on Dec, 14 2011 @ 10:32 PM
reply to post by silent thunder

Great article.

I agree with the author’s premise and I believe the explanation he offers is correct:

Like any lucrative capitalist sector, our massively scaled-up new style industry naturally seeks stability and predictability. Rapid and radical shifts in taste make it more expensive to do business and can even threaten the existence of an enterprise. One reason automobile styling has changed so little these last two decades is because the industry has been struggling to survive, which made the perpetual big annual styling changes of the Golden Age a reducible business expense. Today, Starbucks doesn’t want to have to renovate its thousands of stores every few years. If blue jeans became unfashionable tomorrow, Old Navy would be in trouble. And so on. Capitalism may depend on perpetual creative destruction, but the last thing anybody wants is their business to be the one creatively destroyed. Now that multi-billion-dollar enterprises have become style businesses and style businesses have become multi-billion-dollar enterprises, a massive damper has been placed on the general impetus for innovation and change.

I am well acquainted with this behavioural dynamic from having spent a quarter-century in the advertising business trying to sell innovative ads to marketing executives who blenched at the thought of approving anything they had never seen before. The last thing consumer marketers really want is creativity. It involves too many risks.

The music and film industries offer excellent examples of the cultural conservatism of money. In the periods when they are run by big corporations, the rate of innovation falls precipitately and the theatres and charts fill up with backward-looking, uninspiring dross. It is only when the money-men throw up their hands in confusion and let the market set its own trends that novelty and innovation return to the scene.

Unfortunately, the internet seems to have killed that cycle off by simultaneously fragmenting and homogenizing popular culture and taste (incidentally, poster above me, the article does take the exception of the internet very much into account). But the internet is poisonous to art and culture; it smothers quality in quantity.

posted on Dec, 15 2011 @ 03:35 AM
The "change" you speak of has changed.
No longer are we judged by our clothes or hair style. We are judged by what new, snappy electronic equipment we carry and the data package we are paying for. That also has extended into our homes via other electronic toys.

Across the board, the average citizen is far richer than previously when one pair of shoes and one suit of clothes was the norm. Clothes were our identify, the way we made our mark. Today, we are projecting ourselves beyond mere clothing because everyone can dress nicely. So torn jeans say about you what they used to say. It means that you have a 4G-rated device in your pocket. And this electronics aspect has outreachers, knowledge of how to operate them and how many apps you have (Cars as status symbols still hold sway however.)
edit on 15-12-2011 by Aliensun because: (no reason given)

edit on 15-12-2011 by Aliensun because: Spiced it up


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