Thursday, 12 July 2012

Culture Shift...

Hello Friends.

I don't know whether it's all this 2012 talk, or the fact that I recently went up a jean size again, but I feel like change is afoot. I don't mean change for me personally (though I am in the midst of a move and new job hunt), but rather a larger, sweeping change in the culture.

I sometimes think about people who came of age in different time periods, like the sixties or the twenties, and wonder what it must have been like to be alive during that time. Did young people know, for instance, that they were living through a massive societal change? Did they appreciate it?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that our generation is doing just that, and I want it on record that I acknowledge it and I dig it too. People of my generation lived life before the internet, experienced it's introduction into the culture, and now see it as integral to their lives. I was a teenager before we got the internet in our house, saw it as a cool diversion for a few years, and now I can't imagine my life without it. We are globally connected in ways never before possible, which seems to have alternately expanded and shrunk our entire universe. It's as if a growing segment of the population is comfortable playing high-stakes poker with wealthy elite in Japan, developing long-distance romance with with a chat room friend in Germany, keeping track of the every move of a favourite celebrity, but unable to sit at a bar and actually speak to real people in real time.

In spite of, or maybe because of, all these changes in a relatively short time, I feel like there's more to come. Consider how saturated the average North American adult is with pop culture every day. We can watch any tv on demand, get ten thoughtful, inspirational, or funny memes on our Facebook feed every couple of minutes, see new jokes literally within seconds as amateur and professional comedians alike update their Twitter accounts. There has to be a breaking point where we get sick of it all, and demand something new.

Dream: Anticipate and predict sweeping cultural change.

Goal: Achievable. You know how Call Me Maybe is the hit of the summer? I predicted that shit back in February! So, yeah, I think I know a bit about the way the wind is blowing.

Plan: Based on where we've been, determine where we're going. I anticipate a rise in:

Street culture. I think there's bound to be some pushback to our Facebook, LinkedIn, Twittered existence, by people who refuse to put anything online. Unpluggers, they'll call themselves, or Luddites. I predict more bands refusing to make websites and instead playing killer live shows that people only know about by showing up to the venue. Strange theatre companies suddenly creating appointment plays again, where nothing is recorded, and nothing is preserved. I know hipsters think they already do this, but I think hipsters yearn for nostalgia where these unpluggers will seek to create things anew, and hipsters love things ironically, but I think ironic detachment is on its way out in some respects.

For instance, comedy. Free form rants peppered with non-sequiter one liners seems to be all the rage in comedy these days. Comedians have Twitter accounts which limit tweets to 140 characters (not words, characters), and so Stephen Wright-style witticisms ("I spilled spot remover on my dog, now he's gone") seem to be the rage. I love this trend, I attempt it myself, but we're gonna get sick of it soon. There's only so many non-contextualized throwaway lines you can hear until they stop being funny, and the proliferation of them in all forms of media continues unabated. I watched a few minutes of The Big Bang Theory the other night, a show I'd never seen before. They had canned laughter after every single line. Every line! No scenes built to anything, it was just a series of bad jokes, but The Big Bang Theory is one of the highest rated shows on tv. I predict a future where comedy is based more on the slow burn. The story joke that builds and builds, like comedians of old. Tig Notaro kind of works like that now, and John Mulaney too and both of those people have a rehearsed, precise form of delivery that seems to fly in the face of the off-the-cuff style preferred by other popular comedians.

To that end, television is going to change too. We've been so inundated with reality shows, that I predict the medium will be turned on its head when one brilliant executive decides to hire some really realistic-sounding mumblecore actors, a script writer who writes just the way people talk, and just writes out the next season of Big Brother. Stage the entire thing, but toss in more scandal and betrayal than usual, I bet we'd be riveted. Even the most critically acclaimed scripted television now is starting to look less polished and is the better for it. Consider the gritty, documentary style of Louie, or the stark honesty of Girls. That seems to have attracted more fans than the slick and speechy Newsroom or a polished but laughable reboot of Dallas. I predict a future of auteur television where the vision of one talented writer/director trumps the focus group mentality of a room full of executives who "know what the public wants." There will be more Lena Dunhams and Louis C.K.'s and I'm really looking forward to it.

Finally, and I really hope I'm right about this one, I think we have no choice but to love our neighbours a little bit more. Seems to me we're culturally losing faith in what we used to look to, be they politicians, religious leaders, news media, even celebrities. There's a growing appetite for equality in the bedroom and boardroom, political correctness appears to be turning from whiny rhetoric to the new standard in manners, we just want to get along better, and I think we will. When I worked the late afternoon/evening shift at a drugstore, I'd walk down a street filled with kids who had just gotten out of school and were walking home together. It was unbelievably heartening to notice that when these groups of kids would break off to go home, or down different streets or whatever, they'd hug each other. When I started to notice it, I made a conscious effort to track the huggers, and it was almost every group of teenage kids, guys and girls both, that would greet or part ways with a hug. Sure, the guys did that bro-hug thing, but even that is so different from anything I remember from my days in school. Maybe it's a small trend that doesn't mean anything, but if we're striving to be more tactile, more connected, more "in this together" than before, doesn't that signal some kind of revolution? I hope so. I want to be a part of it.

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