The culture industry is an interesting thing. Often, we allow what we consume of it to be large definers of our lives. We do this especially when we are young. At my high school there were skaters, pop punkers, metal guys, goths, emos, and the jocks/preps. There were more groups, but those groups were heavily based on entertainment and fashion industries. I guess you could call it art, but that wouldn’t make how we were identifying ourselves any less unnecessary.
Myself, I was somewhere between a skater (even though I could barely stand up on a skateboard, I just loved the X-Games, and had all the Tony Hawk video games) and metal guy. Band t-shirts showed off how amazing it was that I had not only heard of, but was into bands like Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Tool, and Dreamtheater. I wore a lot of Nike Dunks in various colors, often red, to show off I understood skater culture. I wore bullhead jeans exclusively, even when they doubled in price the summer before sophomore year. I wasn’t afraid to shop at American Eagle or Abercrombie either though, which made a lot of my metal friends upset.
But it was all just pop culture. Few of the bands I listened to then are still around, and even less are making any music at all. The clothing changed radically soon after I graduated, and I no longer physically fit into it anyway (it’s called the freshman fifty, right?). I started to buy things that were made well for more money instead of things I thought were cool when really they were just overpriced. Some of the TV shows of my youth have survived on some obscure channel, but most of them died a slow death. I suppose movies are still around, but more and more the ones I defined myself around, 12 Monkeys, Se7en, Pulp Fiction, Bottlerocket, are going by unnoticed.
Nothing lasts in the culture industry.
I suppose that is a clichéd statement, but what I really mean is that, within the 12 years since I graduated high school, not only have the things I was into come and gone, but the things after those things have come and gone as well. Very few things today can look back to when I met my wife 8 years ago. It is an incredibly transient economy that we all dive so deep into.
Hell, when I was in high school, comic book movies were considered jokes that killed careers. Spiderman and X-men were out, and changing that dialogue, but to even think that one day there would be 3 or more comic book movies released practically every summer would’ve been laughable.
Nu-metal was all the rage at the turn of the millennium but none of it exists anymore. It pretty much took down thrash with it. Some progressive metal survived, bands like Coheed and Cambria were popular when I was in high school, exploded when I was in college, and just released a new album. But even them, a band named after characters in the science fiction graphic novel series they created and were, in fact, soundtracking, are now releasing their first non-concept album. It is completely removed from the universe they created. And it sucks, not that their recent work has been great anyway.
Almost everything is completely different. And what are we to do about it? Some older cultural icons shift in a different direction, as they become more cemented into the collective. Do we try to find these and hold on? Do we shift with popular culture just to remain relevant? Relevant to who exactly? Do we just stick with what we know and never grow or change or evolve?
I suppose the better question is what the hell are we doing deriving so much of our identity from things that come and go so easily?
But what else is there? The Zeitgeist is on the move, changing as the next generation comes along. I am still in that movement for now, but I’m aging out quickly.
I am in deep fear that my experiences, my likes and dislikes, my opinions, my thoughts on how the world should be will soon be overlooked. Did I hold onto anything permanent at all?
I’m guessing before popular culture, people created identity from things like personality and virtue. I still find myself summing up or comparing my life and aspirations to my favorite characters from movies, TV and books. I desperately want to be as brilliant and strategic as Ender Wiggin, as calm and cool as The Dude, or as virtuous and flat out bad ass as Batman. I still view my high school self as a cross between Sam Weir and Seth. Even from the time I was a child I wanted to live the big city life of Jerry, Chandler or Ted.
When I want to get to know someone I immediately ask them about movies, books and TV. And if we have similar interests I will move on to art, philosophy and baseball.
But none of it matters. None of that is us or me. As a creative person, shouldn’t I be rebelling against the idea that I am simply absorbing someone else’s creation? It is oddly cannibalistic.
I want to know that I will not become extinct before the age of 50, and maybe more terrifyingly, I want to know that something I have done will matter in a few decades. If that is what we all want, then why do we hold pop culture so dear?