No More Pop Culture Big Bang

11Apr14

This one’s a mess.

I’ve been listening to Nirvana. Again. As I’ve written before, I seem to fall into a rut with this band around this time of year, every year, for the last couple years. Near the anniversary of Cobain’s suicide. It’s a contemplative time that ultimately succeeds in ruining me for my mother’s birthday. But with this contemplation, I start to get big picture with things. I swear, for someone who has never had an interest in smoking pot, I come up with a lot of “What’s it all mean, man?” type of ideas. This leads me to assume that “pot wisdom” is more bullshit than ever.

ANYWAY, in my Nirvana-contemplation state, I was talking to a friend of mine, and we agreed on a couple things. Some are sort of true, others are not, and others feel true and might be. The things: 1.) There hasn’t been a BIG BANG moment like “Nevermind” in the age of the internet. This is because 2.) the internet makes it kind of impossible for an undiscovered entity (like a band tucked away on a minor label/the Pacific Northwest) to remain undiscovered to a majority of the planet. This is because 3.) it is very possible to tailor your exposure to entertainment to only things you like, thanks again to the internet, and/or 3-a.) there are so many outlets for exposure, that it’s simply impossible that one will hit you and last for very long.

Now, some debunking. I’m sure there have been other Big Bang moments since 1991. In fact, for a person like myself who actually lived during that time period – as a teenager, no less, which is arguably the very best way to have lived during Nirvana’s Big Bang – I don’t remember much of it. I lived in small town Illinois, which most would call “rural” and others would call “r’r’l.” Trends didn’t hit us as quickly as it did in, say, Chicago. By the time I graduated in 1994, grunge had passed, but most of our styles were still locked around 1988. This is all to say that we knew Nirvana existed, and some may have even liked it, but I never experienced a clear moment of transition. This moment may be a construct of revisionist rock history, trying to relate Nirvana’s expulsion of hair metal and glam pop to the moment Dorothy goes from her black and white shack to the full Technicolor glory of the land of Oz. I’m sure it is, but I’m also sure that for some out there, they feel the transition was quick. Maybe not minutes, hours or days, but probably months. So, that’s that.

On the other hand, historically speaking, it is possible (and fun) to point to that moment as The Moment! And that’s kind of what I’m talking about. Again, maybe it’s a construct of the historians favoring their favorite story, but I can’t think of another moment quite as big or monumental as that one in the last 20 years. The closest I can come to a moment like that – where there’s a clear Before This and After This – is “The Matrix” premiere in 1999. And even that is still pre-Full Internet Age. It’s Baby Internet Age. The point is that when these things hit (however we define that), nobody had seen anything like it before. Same goes for the original “Star Wars,” Elvis, all that stuff.

Back on wavering point: what is the point? I feel the reason historians revere the 1991 arrival of “Nevermind” is because the numbers support the theory. It came out on September 24 1991 was Gold and Double Platinum by November of the same year. That can help support the seismic shift theory. But this sort of thing cannot happen today. Well, it CAN, but it’s highly unlikely. With previews for movie trailers for movies yet to come out being a chief export, it feels like the internet’s main focus is hype. It’s always searching for a new thing to hype. So if Nirvana had come out in 2012 (or if the internet had been at full power in 1991) we would have all known about it, even those of us living in rural Illinois. Actually, we would have been told about it, so we would have “known about it” before even really experiencing it. We probably would have been told “This band will change the face of music,” would have heard a clip, nodded along and then moved on. The infinite number of outlets to access media dissipates the affect, and Nirvana would not have become gargantuan, ironically destroying and possibly saving Kurt Cobain’s life. FURTHER SO, if a band can’t be the next Nirvana in 2014, and a movie cannot be the next “Star Wars,” then what’s the point? The point of art (sometimes) is to make those big, grand, giant KA-BOOMs that smacks everyone in the face and changes the world. To communicate a message no one has heard before or, if they have heard some of it, to communicate it in a manner which feels fresh and new and relevant. But that can’t happen now.

My advice: stop trying to reach for the stars. Reach smaller. Lower expectations.

Case in point: Jimmy Fallon taking over “The Tonight Show.” In fact, take all of late night post Johnny Carson. The Johnny Carson reign has been unmatched mostly due to the fact that there’s simply too much competition. When Carson was on, he was kind of it. He ran unopposed. When he retired, there were three big contenders in Letterman, Leno and Hall**. Now we have Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, “The Daily Show,” “Colbert” and the influx of cable late night shows to compete with. I’m sure that Fallon will be compared with Carson for years and years, but that’s decidedly unfair, mostly because “The Tonight Show” of 2014 doesn’t mean the same thing as it did in 1979. It really hasn’t meant the same thing (re: “meant as much”) since Carson left, and continues to mean less and less with each additional competitive outlet. So it’s unfair to compare Fallon’s “Tonight” with Carson’s “Tonight” because the eras are so vastly different. It would be like comparing the land speed record of a horse-drawn carriage from 1600 to that of a race car in 1980. You can say one was vastly faster, but then you have to qualify the hell out of that statement.

MY POINT here is that in the democratization of media has dissipated the effect media can have on the masses, and must therefore success must be measured accordingly. There will never be another Carson’s “Tonight Show” or Nirvana because there can never be another one in this time period. The times simply won’t allow for it, try as they might.

And they TRY. Maybe it’s the stuff I read or listen to, but the I have serious doubts about the cultural impact “The Avengers” will have 5 years from now. I could be way wrong. It made a ton of money. But it was always going to make a ton of money. Nobody was surprised by this. Even people who didn’t see “The Incredible Hulk” (myself included) knew that it was a stepping stone to this upcoming Big Movie Event. To say there was a risk in producing “the Avengers” feels more like nuts and bolts business talk. Really, the biggest risk rode on the first “Iron Man,” because if that hadn’t been as successful, then there wouldn’t have been a clamoring for more of that character. But once it hit, a sequel was imminent, so why not make an even bigger sequel? And why not use other movies forged in the “Iron Man” mold to hype that upcoming bigger sequel? It’s completely (and expertly) manufactured. “Avengers” could have been a bad movie, but there was simply no way it could have failed. We had all been force fed so much on those characters, that we were made to “buy in” to see this thing through.

Furthermore, while an argument could be made for the characters in “Avengers” being new to the realm of good movies, they are all from pre-existing, long-standing comic books, and some recent movies and TV shows. You can marvel (hey!) at the success, but don’t be surprised by it.

I’m a screenwriter, and I have never written anything remotely close to “The Avengers” in any capacity in my life. I don’t think I should be compared to it, nor to the success of the past Big Bangs like Nirvana, or Johnny Carson. We live in a world of loud niche.

FURTHER FURTHERMORE, and to make this bigger and more sprawling, the internet has become a mall. I’m channeling my Cobain, and I feel like retracting my earlier statement: the internet maybe could have saved Cobain from crazy-making superstardom, but its current state would have probably made him mad. Can you really see that guy getting into Facebook? Have a look at YouTube. The “home-made” entertainment is all funded. From Disney, no less.

Now, I have friends who are in this market. I’ve worked in it myself. I don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity. And I’m really just being a pissy brat. But at the same time, the closest rock n’ roll we had was the beginning of YouTube, where things could be rough and it was OK. Now production value counts for so much with someone’s dumb video that it’s starting to price itself out again.

This relates to Nirvana in as much as I’m in support of things being shaggy, because why not? Something inside me wants to write this all nice and neat, but who the hell cares? I’m not really getting workfrom this blog. It’s my own. Agree with me or don’t. I don’t care. It does not matter. I cannot be expected to compete with corporate blogs. I’m tired of giving out good stuff for free for no one.

I wanna start a band. We’ll play loud songs titled “Malls” where we scream “Malls, malls, everything’s a mall” over and over. I’m a teenager again. And now I’m pissed that I actually DID manage to tie this up a little. Freakin’ malls.

[cranks “Aneurysm” for the 46th time today].

*I’m sure I’ve admitted this many times, but I sometimes fear that my Twenty-First Century fascination with Nirvana is not simply nostalgia, but some weird attempt to relive a past I never actually had. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to being a Civil War Re-Enactment Guy, if those guys started re-enacting things in 1902.

**It feels really weird to not call him “Arsenio,” but the other two are known so much more by their alliterative last names that I had to stick with it. I also didn’t want to come off as racist by way of condescension.

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