[Groucho Marx voice]If they can survive on Uranus they deserve a million bucks! [/Groucho Marx voice]
The years of the first decade of the 20th Century are/were referred to as "ought five" ('05), etc.
In my view, the two BIG themes are:
the democratization of information, as WhyNot described.
the continued diffusion/pluralism/multiculturalism - so much so that “American culture” is almost meaningless. For practically every popular phenomenon, you can identify another that has the opposite values.
I think a profitable direction of inquiry would be to look at how kids are acculturated (through things like McDonalds & Spongebob & Shrek).
But that would not be to deny there are strongholds of “American” culture, and that if foreign ideas are invading the US, it seems to be in exchange for American ideas spreading abroad.
How about the weirdness in Regular TV where Sex, Skin, and profanity have become seen as intollerable for viewers while the number of gruesome images of murder and mayhem are allowed on during even family hour.
It’s a weird world when Children can watch a couple of murders a night but may become permanently scarred for life at the sight of a boobie!
Oh yes and speaking of the little tykes how about the growing trend to view them as more sophisticated than any other child in history while barring them up in their houses to protect them from the horrors of the outside world. In my view this is making them grow up to become less Saavy and more likely to become a victim as they grow older.
Foreign exchange is not the essence of it. Two of the most powerful phenomenon in “American culture” are Oprah and World Wrestling Entertainment. I don’t see how you even begin to reconcile that, except to say we don’t actually share much of a common culture.
I know you asked about American culture, but I will add this: The continuing spread of English as an international language among the educated in many countries has affected American culture in at least two ways:
It allows Americans (those with enough money and interest, anyway) to learn more about other cultures, through direct interaction (as in this message board, or when traveling, or through post-incident interviews on CNN and such) than they did before.
Paradoxically, it also allows Americans to share in a kind of common, airport-hopping, international, English-dominated culture with educated, well-off citizens of other countries, without getting to know the more unfamiliar, unique-to-place, indigenous cultures. (A counter-trend to this is the post-9/11 set of restrictions which have made it more difficult for foreign professionals and students to live in the U.S. – that is, not as many foreigners can fully participate in this common world as they would have otherwise).
(Since the cultural observers of '80’s-'90’s postmodernism liked to use architectural styles as particularly visible evidence of that trend, perhaps we could see how architecture links to what I said above – perhaps how, say, the booming cities of China are being designed using a collection of styles which in many ways has roots in the U.S., and indeed is being implemented much by U.S. designers working abroad).
I thought he called it “double aught spies” myself…
What about High Culture in America? Ballet, Opera and snooty stuff like that.
Is baseball in decline in popularity? (Yes, they sell a lot of tickets, but nobody seems to talk about baseball in the office.)
I don’t think there were any major changes in these arts. It was pretty much the same as the eighties or nineties. (Although I’ll be the first admit I don’t follow ballet or opera.)
I also don’t follow baseball. I think this decade was a lull after the events of the nineties: the strike followed by Ripken’s, McGwire’s, and Sosa’s records. The big baseball event of this decade has been Barry Bonds; he’s a powerful player who broke a major record but he’s also been the center of controversy because of his personality and because of steroid allegations.
I think one of the main things (that others have already touched upon) is that the culture is splintering. Before, the mass media used to provide us with X options for TV news, movies, music, etc. Now, the options for everything are staggering, as the internet has made publishing so easy, and everyone and their grandma’s puppies are doing it. Some people get their news from random independent news sites, or bloggers, or even message boards. Music is well on its way to becoming very decentralized. Even the options for sports are increasing, as even the most niche sports are now accessible via satellite or internet broadcast/download. And with increased internet use in general means people are spending less time watching TV, which means people’s viewing hours are being spent more and more differently. There will always be water cooler topics (esp. as people intentionally try to get into the same stuff as their colleagues), but I suspect this decade will be known as the beginning of The Splintering.
Excuse me, my connection is coughing up furballs this morning. This reply was delayed.
But on the other hand there is a building of communities. Like this one.
If you are a gay skydiver who is into motocross, you are no longer alone. Are we more alone as we all type at our desks in the evening, or more connected to others, but at longer distances?
Further the consolidation of media in the hands of a few corporations is also the very opposite of splintering. (Think how many local people lost their jobs as a local celebrity when Rush took over the airwaves.)
(How is funding for the fine arts going? Remarkable how with Borders and Amazon anyone in the country can get Sartre before the weekend. If they wanted to.)
In terms of news, there is a weird bifurcation. Everyone can comment on the news. Some of the comments are grand. People unlucky enough to be where the news is can report it. Super. But the news networks are now interconnected and there are fewer and fewer real newsmen on the ground ABC seems to use BBC reporters. BBC takes tape from ABC and so on. In news more than elsewhere, we will miss the experienced trained observer.
The Golden Age of Animation officially refers to the span from the late 20’s to the 60’s. The Silver Age started in the mid-to-late eighties (milestones include both Disney and WB, the titans of the Golden Age, simultaneously entering television animation at long last, as well as the release of The Little Mermaid) and ended in the late nineties. We’re treading water to keep from slipping into another Dark Ages right now.
I don’t follow broadway or theatre, but it seems like there has been a shift toward shows like Mama Mia – combining music that people already know with a story-line. A stage show to pack in the masses when they’re on vacation in NYC.
Mama Mia, Phantom and Blue Man Group are all playing in London, Las Vegas and New York. That says something about culture, but I am not sure what.
What are “Blue Men?” Grown up Smurphs?
One social difference is the increase in Hispanic immigration.
In 2000, only the southwest and a few big cities had large Spanish speaking areas. Now, every city has a noticeable Hispanic population.
In 1999 or 2000 I went back to the fast food place where I had worked in high school( a couple decades earlier, in the mid-west). It had the same look–the employees were all white, middle class teenagers,( who worked,-- and goofed off-- like I had).
Today, the same place employs older, Spanish speaking workers, (who seem to work harder )
It says all ‘high culture’ was ‘pop culture’ at one time. If it was any good, at least.
Not Smurfs, but very acrobatic musicians and performers who make their own instruments and play a very tribal, percussion style of music.
‘Part’ is not a synonym for ‘all’. Not by a long shot. To take a specific example, those local pundits got blogs and, if they’re any good, have a global audience now. They’re not limited to how far an AM carrier reaches with interference at every step.
WhyNot: You expanded on my ideas admirably.
Americans exchanged freedom for security.
We got security?
This is probably the biggest cultural shift of the decade. All art must now be financially successful, or else dimissed as precious and pretentious, which is a complete turnaround (or more likely a backlash) to the direction of the previous 100-150 years.