Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Was the Past Really Better? Part II

First, one thing about memory: everythings gets better as you become more distant from it. The bad things start to slip away, and you only remember the good things. That's why, even though I wasn't so much a fan of a lot of high school, I look back on it fondly now. We have a tendency to filter out the negative things. That's not to say that high school was bad, it's just that you tend to focus on the good things, and the boring moments slip off somewhere into the void of lost memories.

The same thing can happen with movies. If you haven't seen a movie for a while, you can build it up in your own mind, talking it up, remembering the great moments, and then when you go see it again, it's not as good as you remember it. Of course, you can be surprised by how good something is if you haven't seen it for awhile, but I'd say a slight disappointment occurs more often. Like, I saw Gladiator on Friday. Now, I hadn't seen it since 2000, and I remember it being a really great movie. However, watching it again, I was struck by how weak the dialogue was, to the point of really hurting the movie. And, the action scenes weren't as impressive either. I'm not really sure how that ended up winning the Oscar for best picture.

Anyway, you always hear people saying music wasn't as good as it used to be. Older people are more likely to say it's not as good as the 60s or 70s, sometimes you'll hear people my age talking about how the 90s were better. I'm going to go out on a limb here and concede that the popular music the 60s and 70s was better than what is popular now. Maybe it's just that I don't like most R 'n B type ballad songs that are so popular, nor do I like the noise-hard rock of bands like Korn, or even the angry rock of someone like Linkin Park. There are still some great popular songs, 'Hey Ya' was one of the absolute best pop songs of all time. However, I feel like in the 60s, bands that were breaking new ground were what was popular. That The Beatles, the most popular band in the world at the time, could put out an album as diverse and bizarre as The White Album, astonishes me. Each of their album somehow maintains a pop sound, while still goin really crazy with sonic experimentation. And it's not just The Beatles, all sorts of meaningful artists were putting out great songs that were also popular, and it was at this time that the full album length work came into vogue.

Today, music has changed a lot. It's not that it's gotten worse, it's just that the most popular bands are usually far from the best bands. The best thing about music today, as compared to the 60s, is the diversity of material available. Back then, it was mostly rock and jazz, now rock, trip hop, rap, etc. There's such a variety of stuff, and most notably, a new type of music, made by bands like Air and Massive Attack. These bands have no real stylistic equivalents in the 60s era, they're redefining music, and just because they're not popular, it doesn't mean there's not quality albums being put out. Almost all the stuff I listen to pre 1990 is rock, but I've got a huge variety of genres when it comes to recent stuff. You may have to look a little harder, but amazing albums are still being made. The Polyphonic Spree is one of my favorite bands of all time, and they didn't come about until a couple of years ago. When you look back, the crap songs slip away, and the best remains. That makes people inherently biased towards the past.

While I wouldn't say music is in a Golden Age today, comics definitely are, or if not now, have just finished one. The 1990s was the decade when the comic book became the graphic novel, and creators started to publish incredible finite series. Works like Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan and of course, The Invisibles, told some of the biggest stories ever told in any medium, and more so than even Alan Moore's 80s work constitute a bibliography that's the best in comics history. People talk about the 60s as the best era of comics, they had nothing comprable to what went on recently. With the end of Transmetropolitan, an era ended as well in a lot of ways, but I think it's more that we're in an era when a lot of new talent is emerging. This is the equivalent of the late 80s, when people like Ennis, Ellis and Morrison were proving themselves on corporate titles before starting their magnum opi. Comics have never been better than in recent years.

Film is also in a great era of films, but it's more comprable to what I was talking about in music. In the 80s, Spielberg and Lucas almost singlehandedly invented the great blockbuster. Stuff like Star Wars and Indiana Jones set a standard in terms of quality works with blockbuster appeal. Lately, I'll admit most blockbuster movies have been pretty awful, but recently, we've seen a ton of new directors coming up and producing amazing works. In the last 10 years, we've seen the emergence of PT Anderson, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Darren Aronofsky and a lot of other great directors. While there may not be as many good blockbusters, 2004 has produced some of my favorite movies of all time. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kill Bill II, Garden State, Before Sunset and Dogville were all brilliant movies, the sort of timeless works of art that will become immortal.

So, maybe popular culture is going down hill, but as long as great works are being produced, it doesn't really matter what's popular. In both comics and film, auteurs have been getting more respect, and that's a great thing. And the thing is, even if you think pop culture is crap today, we've got a backlog of thousands of movies and albums, so whatever era's to your fancy, you can enjoy as you please.

Oh, and I forgot to mention TV. Other than Twin Peaks, basically all the series I really loved were made within the last 10 years, most of them even more recently. Buffy, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Office, Spaced. The auteur driven finite TV series has emerged, just like it did in comics, and this is without a doubt, the golden age of television.

Related Posts
Was the Past Really Better?: Part I (11/14/2004)
The New World of TV and Film (3/31/2006)

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