I was just reading an A.V. Club article about "pop culture that makes you feel old", and while I got a good laugh and startle at the fact that there are college sophomores who can't envision a world without new episodes of The Simpsons and Law & Order, it reminded me of another piece I read on the changing tide of pop-cultural savvy. The author suggested that when I was a teen in the mid-90s, it was important to be conversant in pop culture if you ran in the circles my friends and I ran in. References to '70s cop shows, able to quote Ghostbusters, and have an intmiate knowledge of Saturday Morning Cartoon Culture. And while some of the hip young elite of that era are still working, and still using that knowledge for good (a la Robot Chicken), they're the old guys, with the new generation (which I'm straddling the line of) not caring about any of it.
Now, I'm technically part of the "Generation Y" subset, and while I would love to distance myself from that as much as possible, I will only say that it's true that I was way more interested in the culture of people 5-10 years older than I was, and didn't have much time for the cultural interests of my peers. Which makes me both precocious and a snob. I was a clever kid, so I tended to follow not my high school cohorts, but what I read was happening elsewhere in the world. I missed out on a lot of "moments", but I stand by my choice.
So what happened? Where did Weezer's references to Kiss go? Why did nobody care about Thurston Moore's favorite breakfast cereals from the early '70s, as reported in Grand Royal Magazine? What happened to sitting around a record store and debating the guy behind the counter about which (still-sorta-obscure-even-then) Big Star album was the best one to get first? Why won't anyone believe that Urge Overkill's Saturation is amazing?
Boom! Didn't think I'd go all Giuliani on you, huh?
Now, I got a lot of crap from my friends about how I was stuck in the '90s when I was just post-college, wearing my Dinosaur Jr t-shirt and listening to Sonic Youth's Dirty 'cause it was sassy, maaaan. (I never did that last one). But that's what I knew and liked at that point, a line of taste that had been established only 5 years prior, but even by that point they were the "good old days". Who gives a fuck about the merits of the goddamn Smashing Pumpkins if you're worried about getting blowed up all the time? Our leader (ostensibly Slim Pickens from Dr. Strangelove) was reacting to the biggest attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor or earlier by waging TWO wars (can't say he wasn't ambitious)... suddenly our thoughts on the potential drug metaphors of H.R. Pufnstuf seemed a whole lot less important.
There was a gap where we were all freaked out, and when the dust settled, we young people found ourselves on either side of a large cultural divide. There were those who were old enough to entrench themselves, and those young enough to reset. I was on the former team. I have an additional theory that the younger set had their "irony circuits" scrambled in the shakeup as well, their "irony training" was disrupted prematurely. I understood the humor and culture jamming when I saw Adam Yauch in a Madonna t-shirt. Yauch was a former punk rocker turned rapper, Madonna was the queen of plastic pop in the 80s. Yes, recontextualization was fun, playing with semiotics was a good laugh, but this group (I say "younger", but it's a mental thing, I guess) ended up taking a lot of this at face value, scrambling the point. I see Rivers Cuomo extolling the virtues of Def Leppard, the first level I get is "he's talking about a crappy hair metal band, but he's in a catchy alternative band. That juxtaposition is ironic." The second layer below that is I happen to know that Cuomo, in his teen years, was actually a big metal fan. OK, even another interesting layer. But what I don't do is hear that and say "Rivers thinks Def Leppard is awesome. I like Weezer. Def Leppard must be awesome." Simplistic thinking like that is why we have people who have tricked themselves into liking crap like Journey. But the difference and value of being attracted to something directly vs. a few levels removed is another discussion.
My point is that after the dust settled (sorry), while amateur ironists and pop culture archivists like myself put that stuff on the shelf for a while. Other things took precedence, like being in our 20s and not being blown up on a plane. Things got grim. Things went from the kaleidoscopic Beastie Boys to the Ballardian imagery of Radiohead. Everyone said that OK Computer was ahead of its time. They were 5 years right. The first half of the decade, to me, sounded like a coma patient hooked up to a frayed wire, making it twitch. Whatever I listened to (especially older music) sounded like a dusty dream from the past, like finding a photo album in the attic. How could I listen to Pet Sounds in the intended way when we could all die at any moment? The navel-gazing anxiety of Death Cab For Cutie and Spoon seemed far more solipsistically appropriate for the moment than anything else, and even the larger-than-life stuff went from celebration to redemption as Coldplay, Travis, and their ilk flourished, while granddaddys U2 left behind their most interesting experimental phase (Achtung Baby - Pop)to reclaim their throne of overbearing, pandering Epic Rock... that I thought they realized better after Rattle & Hum.
And now I'm a relic. Most of my cultural peers, who were a little older than me, are now occupied with kids, careers, families. They'll occasionally pull out their LP copy of Check Your Head or Emperor Tomato Ketchup, but that's about it. I don't often connect culturally to my peers, due to my dislike of Dave Matthews and today's indie rock. And I'm starting to slip gently into that point where everyone more than 3 years younger than me is an idiot with terrible taste. I don't give a fuck about American Idol, and I sure don't care about this Lady Gaga crap (shitty dance pop is shitty dance pop). So what now?
I don't know. Does it matter? It's only pop music...