Sunday, March 25, 2012

Temporary like Achilles

I've been trying to not comment on this article, which I found linked by Andrew Sullivan's indentured servants, because I knew if I did it would turn into a rant, and I'd end up looking like a cranky old man.  But then again, I was a cranky old man when I was 20:  why stop now?

Viewers raised on a steady diet of 15-tab Internet browsing and “Family Guy” are fundamentally more clever than they used to be...
 Is stupid.  But it's not just stupid:  this is the Internet, and stupid isn't remarkable.  What's remarkable about it is the particular way in which it's stupid, a manner of stupidity that, while itself still banal, is also indicative of larger varieties of stupid endemic to the culture.   

First, the obvious:  arguing that culture now is more clever and meta than it's ever been before in the history of the world, bro!!! is stupid.   Do I need to explain why?  Two words:  Tristram Shandy.  Or, for the Japan-savvy out there:  Santō Kyōden.  The point is that there's always been self-referential, parodic, topical, fourth-wall-breaking, maddeningly specific comedy:  that's how humor works

Second, the even more obvious:  kids always think they invented the world.  I used to think it was just that kids always think they were the first generation to discover sex.  But lately I've been realizing that the conspiracy goes farther:  kids think they invented irony, morality, in-jokes, cool, and kids think that whatever technology they're using is the breakthrough that has reinvented the species, that they're fundamentally different from older people, who Just Don't Understand.  This is what's behind most of the internet utopianism you see out there:  it's either young people congratulating themselves on having the wisdom not to have been born sooner than they were, or older people pandering to young people, which is always a smart business strategy.

Don't misunderstand me:  I'm not saying that these kids have it wrong, because in fact it was my generation that really invented everything, back in the '80s and '90s, which is another piece of stupidity you always see.  That's what my parents' generation was saying to us, of course.  Like I said - and you'll just have to believe this, or not - I've been a cranky old man since I was 20. 16, more like, when I realized that my generation's hipster rebellion (postpunk) was in essential ways a repeat of the previous generation's (hippies), which was a repeat of what went before that (beats), and that (flappers, anarchists, etc.).  That's the curse, I guess, of having developed a historian's mindset at an early age:  while I was always intensely conscious of being in my generation, I never managed to feel completely of it.  Too much awareness that little of this was new, that what was new wasn't always necessarily what was best, and that therefore the world we were going to make wasn't necessarily going to be better than what was made for us.

This is a song that I liked when it was new. 

1 comment:

Matt said...

I like the scope-broadening around here lately!

Do you think that your first point can be expanded beyond comedy, or is there something special about that genre? E.g. do you see a qualitative difference between the in-gags, self-referentiality, assumed knowledge etc. of the Simpsons, and the self-consuming Kokinshu/Shin KKS strain of poetry-about-other-poetry that Shiki hated?