In the face of the approaching end of a millennium, popular culture is going through a veritable renaissance. The youth of America, with their ten-second attention spans, are slowly becoming the dominant market group, and the entertainment moguls of America, realizing this trend in the demographics, have already begun pandering to them.
Singing groups of young boys virtually indistinguishable from one another clutter the airwaves, while at the same time ticket sales to teensploitation horror films are on the rise, just as long as one of the stars of Dawsonís Creek or Party of Five is in the cast. Television shows such as these that spotlight American teens are receiving stellar ratings, no matter how small the network is that airs them. Advertisers seem incapable of making a
television commercial that doesnít have snowboarding in it. What is causing this sudden rush toward youth and its fleeting interests? And is this trend of a culture based on insignificance limited merely to the pre-teen crowd?
Some might point now to the mid-eighties, to movies such as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, to the New Kids on the Block, and say that this trend is nothing new. There is a precedent to this phenomenon, say some. We are simply witnessing a resurgence.
Or, others might say that what we are witnesses to is the emergence of a new Lost generation. The children coming of age today are disoriented, having grown up in the age of technology, the age of awareness of other cultures and lifestyles, the age of AIDS. They have been brought up to believe that computers can instantly link them to the world, and that talking about, thinking about, and even having sex is a perfectly natural and safe thing to do, as long as you wear a condom. As the children of the Baby Boomers, they are a vast generation, large in number and accustomed to change.
Both of these positions contain elements of truth, but it would be dismissive to assume that they form the whole picture. It is natural for these children who were raised in homes with cable TV and video games to embrace a faster-paced culture with no strong
ties. But why has this phenomenon stretched out to include their parents?
One has only to look at the box office totals for fluff movies like Independence Day or the Nielsens for shows about nothing like Seinfeld to see that there is more to this trend than we might at first perceive. The youth of America are not the only ones who are disenchanted; their parents are also slowly loosening their anchors, letting go of their past sentiments and traditions for the quick fix of today.
Look at the trend in the motion picture industry to remake classic movies or television shows of years gone by. Why do these classics themselves not stage a successful comeback? Why must they be renewed instead? Look at the trend in the publishing
industry towards the bestseller. Why in this age of information, when the variety of literature that could be read is vast and expanding, are publishers only going for the quick buck and banking on their bestsellers? Why are the readers not exploring more? And why are the numbers of those people who are still reading rapidly diminishing?
My answer to these related questions is simple. The power of trifles is growing exponentially in direct relation to the proximity of the approaching millennium. I truly believe that, at least on a subconscious level, people are afraid of what is to come, and that this fear is manifesting itself in a pop culture explosion.
For years we have been told, in Biblical texts and in pop culture itself, that the millenium is something to fear. Science fiction has been latched onto the year 2000 like a parasite, using it as either a far-off future time in which technology reigns supreme or as the definitive date of Armageddon. And now, as the end of the millenium approaches and we are nowhere near achieving a technological paradise with flying cars and cities on the moon as predicted, people are fearing the worst.
The optimists have begun to manifest their fear of the unknown future as millenial fever. They are ready to embrace the year 2000 as the dawn of a new era in the world, in which humanity unites despite our differences and in which we all abandon the
deep-rooted hatred and fear we have of each other that is in our nature.
The pessimists have begun stockpiling weapons and food so that they might survive. They form militia groups, surrogate families that will all stand together to protect each other from danger when the world goes to hell in a handbasket on Jan. 1, 2000.
Most of us, however, fall in neither of these fanatical groups, just as most of us donít fit into the rigid, two-party political system we have built up around us. The rest of us simply choose to ignore what we feel is our impending doom. We get into debates
about the inconsequential, arguing in pool halls or convenience stores over the merits of Empire Strikes Back as the best of the Star Wars trilogy, or whether the millenium ends in 2000 or 2001. When it turns out that our new god the computer might have its own serious problems with the millenium, we tell ourselves that all will be well, delude ourselves into apathy, and turn the television on so that we donít miss the new episode of
Must See TV.
And thus by trifles will we be saved. When we donít become a totally enlightened race after the year 2000, and when the world doesnít end, the fanatics will be dejected, saddened, angry, even suicidal. But the rest of us will be prepared. After having spent
these past few years focusing more and more on the mundane, we will not be surprised when life goes on in its day-to-day drudge. We wonít say to ourselves that itís all been done so the world might as well end because thereís nothing new for us to do. We will be able to survive the next hundred, thousand, even millions of years without going insane or giving it all up.
And that is the true power of pop culture: its ability in wallowing in the inconsequential aspects of life to teach us to accept these things for what they are, the force that keeps us going, the only real reason to live.