Culture in Decline
I try to write something once a month and haven’t gotten around to it this month, so here are some random thoughts.
I have been really tempted to write about the steep decline happening in politics, not just in America, but everywhere these days, but there is way too much material to go through, and most of it is from Russian hackers. So no politics.
Instead, since we are nearing the end of 2017, I thought about writing a year in review piece, and since I’m leaving politics out, I have to limit myself to arts and media so far in 2017.
Bottom line: It Sucks!
Part 1: Music Sucks! Especially American Music.
How much does American Music suck these days? The #1 song for most of the year was in Spanish, by a Puerto Rican, and got 4 and a half billion views. Yes, this one. OK, yes it is a pretty good song. It’s just that songs in Spanish rarely hit the top of the charts, let alone stay on top of the charts for 16 weeks.
OK, there is more music than this one song, and most of it came from all the pop divas who topped the charts the rest of the weeks: Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Ariane Grande, Katy Perry, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Rhianna, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, P!nk, and of course Taylor Swift all had new singles or new albums out in the past year. The overwhelming trend of songs coming from this group of females is an “angry” edge. It’s not a very good trend, in fact in my opinion nobody is doing their best work.
Let’s start with Taylor Swift who released a huge selling album “Reputation” as a follow up to 2014’s “1989”. I listened to both albums, and if I were to pick the best songs over all, I’d mostly pick songs from “1989”. The overall feel of Reputation is dark: angry songs, depressing songs, sad songs. The most lighthearted track is probably “New Years Day” which is more melancholy.
Certainly it is OK for music to be dark, some of the best music ever is dark, but pop is supposed to be fun and exciting. Maybe that is why “Despacito” was so popular. Ironically, the most “fun” song in English this year was a new track by Paramore (welcome back guys), with the not so fun title “Hard Times”.
Anyways, it is not just my opinion that music is getting worse and worse. There are actually legitimate provable reason why pop music is getting worse, and here they are:
These trends are primarily focused on American music. If you want more upbeat pop like we used to have, look elsewhere. Like Japan, who have produced two of my favorite music videos of the year, namely this one and this one.
Part 2: The Golden Age of TV is Over!
For the last 20 years or so, we have been living in a golden age of TV. For those who don’t remember TV before Buffy The Vampire Slayer, well it wasn’t very good. There was the occasional classic like Twin Peaks, X-Files, Babylon 5, and the first 8 seasons of The Simpsons, but most of the TV before 1997 is crap by today’s standards.
The desire for networks to have shows that people would talk about drove them to dump a lot of money into creative peoples laps and create some great TV. The best of which came from Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, Ronald Moore, and Bryan Fuller, but others were doing some great work, too. The network golden age died in 2007 with a devastating writers strike, which killed a lot of the better shows, but it continued on with cable and streaming thanks to the TV-MA rating which allowed swearing and nudity and a bit more violence and gore.
2017 seems to be killing that trend as well. Yes, there is still some great TV like Handmaids Tale and Stranger Things 2 being released but it is getting rarer, and the older shows like Game of Thrones, aren’t as good as they used to be.
Part 3: If you are not a “franchise” film, no one will watch you
Part of the problem with the golden age of TV is that we were mostly satisfied with binging series instead of going to movies. In fact, the only films that are really doing well are “franchise” films. As I write this, 9 of the Top 10 films of the year are franchises or remakes, and I’m pretty sure Dunkirk will be taken off the list by either Justice League or Star Wars 8 by the end of the year.
I don’t see any end to this trend. There are at least 6 more “comic book” films scheduled for 2018.
Part 4: Star Wars Battlefront 2 has done serious damage to the gaming industry
There are two things that game players despise: random number generators, and the “pay to win” model of gaming. We are kind of OK when this shit shows up in so called “freemium” mobile games, because we just play for free for a while until it becomes obvious that we need to break out the credit card to continue, and then we uninstall.
But when this junk shows up in premium video games that we already paid at least $60 for, it is definitely not OK. That is what EA attempted to pull off with Star Wars Battlefront 2, and the gaming community went ballistic. It resulted in: 1) way lower sales than expected, 2) a call from Disney execs to EA execs to get rid of microtransactions as it is giving the Star Wars name a bad reputation, 3) politicians announcing that the RNG “loot box” model amounts to gambling, and as these games are supposed to be for kids, there may need to be restrictions.
I have to believe that this kind of backlash has every single game developer suddenly rethinking strategy in all of their current and future games. Just this same month, my favorite game Guild Wars 2 had its own backlash against RNG type products in their store, and this was just for pure cosmetic stuff, not “play to win”.
The gaming community is getting sick of this crap, and I suspect that they will be voting with their wallet on future purchases. While “gaming” continues to be a growing market, pretty much all the growth is in mobile games. PC and console gaming is actually stagnating, while costs for producing these big “triple A” games go up.
Is the decline in politics somehow causing the decline in the arts? Or is the decline in arts (which has been happening for a while now) causing the decline in politics? Maybe they are just reinforcing each other.
Either way, I wonder if we are witnessing the decline of civilization as a whole.