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where have all the visionaries gone?
the next big same old same old thing
by joe procopio (@jproco)
12.3.01
pop culture


Never forget that we're all in the business of entertainment. Show business. A monolithic collection of multinational conglomerates and corporations all feverishly and farcically hunting for that moment that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Don't forget this. Otherwise you'll be embarking on the short road to heartbreak.

You'll be me, looking for more than a dozen or so people who heard, saw, or read that piece I heard, saw, or read and really enjoyed it. Now, of course, that's why I started this site, to provide an outlet for that proverbial cultural underground. But kids, we can't do it alone. Shouldn't there be an occasional cultural coming together for reasons beyond the inevitable results of a corporate call-to-arms?

Shouldn't we have something else to camp out for other than Harry Potter?

I'll level with you. I'm not that excited about anything in the pop-culture lexicon. Well, I can get somewhat excited. Like sing-it-out-loud excited. Or this-belongs-on-the-site excited. But not gotta-have-it-on-the-first-day excited. And certainly not camp-out-for-it excited.

For example, I remember when rap wasn't just gangsta. I long for the days when pop wasn't just prefab (in the most mundane sense of the word) Ken and Barbie acts in Hilfiger. R&B wasn't just snotty little warbling divas who do that pitch-guide number with their free hand. And rock wasn't just frat-metal (yep, you heard it here first: frat-metal, covers everything from System of a Down to Limp Bizkit).

I remember when a blockbuster film with an ensemble cast of high caliber and a buzzworthy director wasn't guaranteed to either suck or be crushed under the weight of its own hype.

I remember when you tuned in to a new NBC show on Thursday at 8:30 because it meant a standard of quality, not guaranteed ad revenue for dicey shit.

I remember when we made fun of the Scott Stapps of the world for their little pull-down-the-rainbow and release-the-awesome interpretive gestures. Now we lap them up with an astonishing arc of 800,000 out of the gate.

What the hell happened to zeitgeist?

For the last few months I've been wrestling with this question. Is it me or is it them? It's them, right? Am I onto the big machine or is nature taking its course and turning me into my Dad. Now there's a guy who hates everything. Especially anything after 1965.

I'm certainly not getting any younger, but geez, this can't be the end of the entertainment road. I used to pride myself on separating wheat from chaff. I was easily able to discern Nirvana from Pearl Jam, Weezer from Nada Surf, even the Beastie Boys from, well, from every other white rap act. Now I can't tell the difference between Blink182 and Sum41. Well, wait. I can, I just don't know why it makes a difference.

And I don't care how delicious it is, I want to see Harry Potter about as much as I wanted to see Dungeons and Dragons.

And I don't get the big deal about Windows XP. It just does the same stuff my computer does now. Only I'm told it's being done better.

And dammit, where's my flying car?!

Am I just too old?

Seriously. Am I done? Is it time for me to pack up all my 45s and 8-tracks and listen to them in the garage on weekends, creepy-style. I've looked deep into my soul, and I've seen Men at Work.

But of course, I've also seen Run-DMC. And Van Halen. And U2, Living Colour, The Replacements, New Order, The Cure, Husker Du, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and XTC. Furthermore, I'm not calling for the resurrection of any long dead genre to rise up and vanquish the crazy trends these kids are into today.

That'll teach 'em a lesson.

With their hair and their clothes.

No. I don't miss rock. There's still rock. But where's the alternative rock? I don't think it all sounds and looks and smells bad today, I just think it all sounds and looks and smells the same.

Rebellion, in the oughts, is a myth. A cartoon. If my kid, if I had a kid, came home looking like Marilyn Manson (and I know I'm treading two years behind the curve for this example), I wouldn't be shocked. I'd be trying very hard not to laugh at him or call him Whitey.

Those rap-metal grunty rage beats that litter the rock landscape today are produced with a computer. These tat-covered kids are really just nerds in punk clothing. And I can't get fired up about that. I work with guys like that. I could be a guy like that and still keep my day job.

Paul Westerberg circa 1987 couldn't keep my job. I'd like to think he'd be drunk all the time and might punch out my boss. That's one of the reasons I bought all his records.

So I'm not longing for the return of anything. Far from it. I just want something new and exciting. Culturally. Widespread. With meaning.

I want a mass standing up of hair on the back of many necks.

Zeitgeist.

Is that so much to ask?

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

The good news is I believe we've reached a nadir in the business of entertainment. Call it a cultural recession. The last cultural recession mirrored almost exactly the last economic recession. Back in 1991, the big corporations were all still in control and spewing garbage like Milli Vanilli in a pathetic attempt to put their greedy fingers back on the pulse. Sub-Pop, Miramax, even Fox Broadcasting and the like were still far off the radar.

The bad news is that, like our current economic recession, the current cultural recession has an appallingly flat bottom. How long have the Britneys and the N'Syncs been around. Since 1999? 1998? Has it been three years of this crap already?

I'll tell you what. Maybe the next big thing has already broken. Maybe Scott Stapp and Kid Rock are the best we can do. Perhaps the hipsters are going nuts for their Temptation Islands and Inside Schwartzes.

Maybe, just maybe, Harry Potter really is this generation's Star Wars.

Well, all right. If that's the case then where are my Sex Pistols?

Johnny Rotten is really Johnny Bravo.

There's a Prada ad this holiday season featuring dozens of men of various races, ethnic origins and, I assume, creeds and sexual orientations, all snowboarding down a hill in the same stance wearing the same outfit.

I gazed at it, not in shock of the message itself, I mean, that's what you expect from advertising, but the sheer balls of making the sheep concept so obvious.

The death of irony indeed.

The visionaries are still there, thankfully, and they're being propped up and touted by little outfits like this one. Little guerilla networks. So will there be a mass movement to something new, something different, something... other?

Well, it better happen soon. Or I'll end up in my garage on the weekends, screaming at those kids to get off my lawn.


ABOUT JOE PROCOPIO

Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio

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COMMENTS

russ carr
12.3.01 @ 12:20a

Is it embracing the self-awareness of my own entertainment value to talk to the non-existent camera that should be broadcasting my humble life for the thrill of others?

I've gone through this whole cycle before. It's usually followed by a purge of tired memes and a more austere lifestyle for several months...like crawling into the anti-pop culture cocoon. Then, once the world has surged past me, I emerge again to find new satisfaction and new stimuli. Hence, a goth phase. A digital phase. A bohemian phase. While at the core it's still just me.

As for your zeitgeist...check the Manhattan skyline.

tracey kelley
12.3.01 @ 12:24a

that pitch-guide number with their free hand...hehhehheh - that's funny.

Harry Potteristhis generation's Star Warsbut I don't see anything wrong with that. The little buggers needed something besides Britney and N'Stink to follow. With a (seemingly) decent LOTR and (hopefully decent) SW close behind, it could be a good 6-8 months for fantasy and sci-fi. Instead of another Freddie P. movie.

You nailed it. The "next big thing" will happen - then be mass-produced until we're as sick of it as too many Twinkies on a road trip. The cycle has always been there, especially in music. Maybe we're just old enough now to see the cogs and pistons working and realize they need a little oil.

matt morin
12.3.01 @ 1:10a

Or even scarier, the system is now old enough to mass-produce a trend so quickly that the same time we start to enjoy something new, we simultaneously get sick of it.

It's always easier to copy something that works than invent something that works.

tracey kelley
12.3.01 @ 8:40a

Hey - i just saw Ginger - it's not a flying car, but it's pretty nifty. Will I pay 3K for it anytime soon? Uh, no. But it's a new trend.

And it's positively frightening how accurate Southpark was about this.

joe procopio
12.3.01 @ 9:28a

Damn, you guys are fast. I didn't have Ginger in mind when I wrote the "flying car" line, but now re-reading it I seem sort of... Jael, what's the word? Prescient?

jeff miller
12.3.01 @ 9:48a

OK Joe - here's the deal. Right now, today, go dust off your copy of 1984 and listen to Panama.
Then go to your local video outlet and buy a copy of Blade Runner on DVD. Make a special drink for yourself and watch it.
Tomorrow, we listen to Signals, and we watch the first four Star Trek movies.
No, you're not turning into Joe Sr. - Just an older Joe Jr. Don't question yourself - everything you're talking about is true - it's all CRAP! They took the stuff our dreams were made of and turned it into a Happy Meal, those bastards.

mike julianelle
12.3.01 @ 10:17a

Signals! HAHAHA!!

adam kraemer
12.3.01 @ 1:45p

I am actually in the middle of a Time Magazine article about Ginger (now called Segway). Check this out. It might not be zeitgeist, but it's not yahrtzeit, either.

tracey kelley
12.3.01 @ 4:31p

Thanks for that link, Adam. That was interesting. But now, young urbanites, how will this thing work in the middle of January?



joe procopio
12.4.01 @ 9:06a

I just saw Ginger. I had missed the morning shows but I saw it on the Daily Show last night.

Good heavens.

This might work in Japan. Maybe Europe. Never here. Never ever. It's why you don't see the proliferation of scooters here that they have in both Europe and Japan. With the execption of a couple big cities like NY and Chicago, Ginger would be uselss.

Jon Stewart wrapped it up quite nicely. This would be great if it had two more wheels and a compartment to sit in.

joe procopio
12.4.01 @ 9:09a

Also, art imitiating life, Southpark went one better. What we NEED is high-speed rail to replace and/or alleviate the airlines, especially for short 200 - 500 mile jaunts. I would love to have taken the train to NYC this weekend but it's STILL 11 hours and $200 a ticket.

mike julianelle
12.4.01 @ 9:21a

IT'S NOT A SCOOTER!! (Said in Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice)

tracey kelley
12.4.01 @ 9:42a

hahahaha!

We looked into a train (just considering all options, since this venture d-ow-n S-ow-th wasn't planned) for the Raleigh trip, too...but we'd have to go DSM-Chicago-NYC-DC-Durham...for about $450 each and 28 hours. Sheesh. Apparently trains only move up/down and left/right, not diagonally. And that wasn't in a sleeping car. If I'm spending that much money and time to sleep upright, I'm flying to Europe.

$180 round trip through Orbitz. Not too bad, since DSM has one of the worst fly-out rates in the nation. Why? 'Cause nobody wants to flyin.

russ carr
12.4.01 @ 9:59a

Michael -- you know, I originally had "It's NAHT a SCOOtah" as the subtitle for my latest gallery piece. (Read. Critique!) Changed it for something more obscure. It just rattles me to know you thought of it, too.

Tracey: How cheap is DSM to STL?

tracey kelley
12.4.01 @ 10:07a

Our layover on the 20th/24th is at STL for about 40 minutes there and 40 minutes back. Wanna come out and say hello? :)

mike julianelle
12.4.01 @ 10:19a

Russ, don't feel bad, I'm usually way ahead of most people when it comes to intelligence...er, I mean, great minds think alike.

I think trains are okay, but not when they stop alot. I've only really taken one from Boston to NYC, and it takes a long time. Driving is quicker.

adam kraemer
12.4.01 @ 11:02a

Yeah, I actually discovered that compared to Amtrak, taking Greyhound from New York to Boston is both cheaper and faster.

mike julianelle
12.4.01 @ 11:26a

But buses can be miserable. At least trains have more room, are more comfortable, and have bars.

adam kraemer
12.4.01 @ 11:57a

Well, that's why trains are more expensive. But the seats on Greyhound and Peter Pan aren't terrible. And if you're looking to save both time and money, it's totally worth it. Between NYC and Boston, anyway.

matt morin
12.4.01 @ 1:36p

Yes, but you should also realize that Federal prisons won't let you pick up a released prisoner on the prison grounds. They're given $50 and a bus ticket to wherever they want to go. (Parole limitations applicable, of course.)

adam kraemer
12.4.01 @ 2:15p

Of course.

russ carr
12.4.01 @ 11:26p

Tracey: I'd love to, though you'd have to come and meet me at the main terminal, since we're not allowed to go to the gate unless we're actually flying somewhere these days. I may also be gone to Kansas City for some of those days. Kathy and I are deliberating taking Amtrak ($99 r/t for two) there for Christmas. Once we've determined whether or not we're going, I'll let you know if we canhave a whirlwind Midwest IM Convention.



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