Nothing new in American art/culture since 1980?

I am reading “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History,” by Kurt Andersen – It is mainly about what the author calls “political economy” (“the economy is weather, the political economy is climate”) and about how median American income has stagnated since 1980 even as GDP has expanded (the rich getting the sole benefit of the expansion).

But he also remarks in several places that American CULTURE, as expressed in art, music and fashion, appears to have stagnated since 1980. Earlier in the 20th Century, such things changed drastically from decade to decade. E.g., one could easily tell a movie made in 1950 from one made in 1930. But then in the 1970s, in apparently terrified reaction to the “Peak New” of the 1960s, a fashion for nostalgia set in, and it seems to have smothered innovation. For instance, rap/hip-hop and techno/house/rave music went mainstream about 1990; since then nothing really new has emerged on the music scene, and techno already seems quaint.

Reflecting on this, I do note that, allowing for technological advances, movies made in the 1980s seem a lot more like movies made now than do movies made in the 1970s. It is hard to imagine anyone in Hollywood now producing anything as boldly innovative as “The Godfather” or “Jaws” or even (pre-franchise) “Star Wars.”

As for fashion, I suppose a distinction could be drawn between '80s over-the-top and '90s grunge, but both seem more similar to each other than to anything that emerged in the '60s or ‘70s. The basic men’s business suit, while ties and lapels might widen or narrow, is still essentially what it was in 1930 or even 1920. I recall in “Back to the Future 2,” future men were wearing double-parallel neckties with otherwise familiar suits, but no change even as drastic as that is visible on the horizon IRL. (Personally, I’d like to see a future where, for business and courtroom and political and Sunday-go-to-meetin’ purposes, the necktie is entirely and thoroughly replaced by the mandarin or banded collar.)

As for the graphic or visual arts – what does one even hear about any more from that quarter? Can you name any artist more recent than Jackson Pollock?

Or any poet (who is not a song lyricist) more recent than Rod McKuen?

Well we’ve got twerking now, there’s something to think about.

Of course you’re not going to find anything new by looking at the old artforms. But there are plenty of new artforms, many of which weren’t even possible in 1980. Computer gaming, for instance, only barely existed in 1980, and a lot of what’s come since then surely qualifies as art. And the Internet has enabled art created by pretty much anyone to be viewed and enjoyed worldwide: That’s a far bigger revolution than anything from the 1970s or earlier.

The claim seems crazy on its face. Let’s use '85 as the most 80s year and 2015 for a nice round number.

The Cosby Show won best Comedy and Cagney & Lacey won best drama. IN 2015 we can compare that to Game of Thrones as the best Drama and Veep won best Comedy. I never got into Veep but from what I can tell it is worlds away from the Cosby show and I can’t imagine Game of Thrones existing in 1985 let alone winning awards.

For music let’s go with the #1 single on the billboard 100 on June 1st on one hand we have “Everything She Wants” by Wham! vs “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift. I’m not a music expert but those certainly seem to be miles away and I can see significant style differences in the music videos too.

I think a decent argument can be made for culture stagnating in the late 90s but the 80s are a different world.

Claims like the one in the OP generally rely on some kind of fuzzy categorization error to claim that there’s nothing new.

The music broadly categorized as “hip hop” today is as different from the “hip hop” of the 1990s as Megadeath is from The Beatles, although both of the latter could be called “Rock and Roll”.

But it is true that fashion has mostly stagnated. That is, people today dress kind of like people in the 80s and 90s, and you can’t obviously tell the difference in aggregate. I think it’s worth considering why that is.

I think most of the reason is that cultural evolution happens on the media vanguard, and fashion is no longer a primary creative vanguard. Nor is Hollywood or music.

If you want to see what culture is evolving, look at the internet. How do the memes of today compare to those of the 1980s? Who were the biggest Tik Tok stars?

If I may hazard a guess: No one participating in this thread so far is younger than 30. Is it maybe possible that it’s not culture that’s stagnating, it’s the parts of culture that we are active participants in?

All the chatter in the last ten to twenty years is that we’re going through a renaissance in television, with shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad elevating the medium from the hacky tropes of yesteryear to “Prestige TV.”

It takes a movement. For most of us, happy after finding something that suits us, we’re complacent and content with where things are.

There has been a lot of change, but not as drastic. Micro-fashions change rapidly, but tend to fall back again into the familiar quite quickly.

I guess it has plateaued.

There is hardly ever anything new under the sun but there are things that are different every day.

What about movies like Inception? Are Taranatino’s movies “Boldly Innovative” enough for you? I would suggest that the reason movies made in the 30s are different to those in the 50s is innovation - the same thing that seperates 80s movies from todays. Just because its technical innovation doesn’t make it less valid.

The thing with music is it’s splintered a lot, and people can listen to what they actually want to listen to. There is new music in almost every genre, freely available, and new genres (such as dubstep, to name one new thing since 90’s grunge) appear all the time. But they don’t need to achieve mainstream success to propagate like they used to.

The internet has changed culture, but it’s still going, and still changing.

Even with things that could have existed in 1980, there are differences. For instance, take the TV series with an overarching plot and defined ending. There’s no reason shows couldn’t have been made that way at any time in the history of television. But it didn’t start until the 1990s. Or something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a large set of movies all of different styles and featuring different characters, but which are all interconnected. You may or may not like how Marvel did it, but it’s still new.

If those are the shows elevating the medium, then IMHO you are making the OPs case. The Sopranos, for example, ran from 21 years ago to 13 years ago. It doesn’t particularly strike me as being an “old school” show. On the other hand, let’s take the perspective of the person in 1999 when The Sopranos was starting. 20 years prior to that, they might have been watching Little House on the Prairie.

In other words, the OP was off about what year culture began stagnating. I’d put the year somewhere in the late 1990s rather than 1980. Other than being off by about 15-20 years though, I think the OP is correct.

Someone else mentioned Taylor Swift’s music. Sure it’s revolutionary compared to 1980, but is her music really that much different than what was on the radio in 1999 or 2000? I don’t think her music is all that different than say, 1999 era Britney Spears. Hip hop was also mentioned. Yes, today’s hip hop is very different than say, MC Hammer or Ton Loc, but compared to the Notorious BIG or Tupac Shakur not so much.

Fashion is the same way. If you show me three pictures of a group of ordinary people, from 1985, 1999, and today, I’d be able to pick out 1985 easily, but 1999 vs. today would be a 50/50 guess.

IMO there’s no question that art has stagnated in recent decades. That’s not an American issue: art is a worldwide phenomenon. The cubist, dadaist, and surrealistic movements completely rocked the art world in America and they came from Europe. So did modernist and brutalist architecture. Most major cultural changes, including fashion, car design, modernist novels and poetry, and auteur cinema also originated in Europe.

There were several New Wave movements that appeared in both Europe and America in the 50s and 60s, including in film, mainstream fiction, and science fiction, and later music in the 1980s.

America took up leadership for a while after WWII. Op art and pop art were enormous in the 1960s. Postmoderist architecture was led by Americans.

And then what? Nothing mentioned above, with the possible exception of hip hop, had a similarly enormous effect. (Video games may be huge but they look like modern movies which look like 1970s movies with better special effects.) We live in the 21st century and nothing in fashion or architecture screams “future” at all. Everything is minor variations on the past.

For a few years people (e.g. the cyberpunk movement) thought that Japanese culture would take over. Maybe South Korean culture will start having influence. Maybe global warming will force new styles of dress and housing.

But for today, every cultural historian and commentator I’m familiar with is flat-out astounded by how art and culture stopped having revolutions. Is all that talent going into designing apps and Tik-Tok videos? What happened to creativity? It’s a gigantic mystery.

Never mind.

The late 1990s styles are the ones that seem to have stuck. This is the same time the internet really took off in terms of something that is just there in the background and that everyone uses. That’s probably why those styles are the ones that stuck. Anything new that comes along has to compete against a culture that has penetrated every corner of the world.

New musical forms are increasingly splintering out into smaller more numerous splinters each of which bury themselves deeper below the mainstream. And the mainstream features less and less of the new forms of music - being influenced by them but not transformed. I know you’re going to ask for a cite but Im not sure I have one - although I worked in music radio for a while and I’ve been watching it happen.

This is the key. Art and creativity finds outlets in many more ways than it did a few decades ago. How about creativity within games? Or in music videos? Look at the work of a rapper like Lil Dicky. Is it high art? No. Is it creative? Very much yes. The same splintering is happen to wider culture. Art is no longer found in just a few forms.

This splintering process is almost like part of the route to the technological singularity (although I rather suspect that’ll end up being a s curve rather than an exponential one). Maybe I should write a book about it - then I could use it as the cite.

That’s part of what I was trying to get at. Back in the day everyone watched Star Wars, or the MASH series finale, listened to Casey Kasem count down the top 40, or read Stephen King’s latest novel, and so on, because that’s what was available. With the internet, streaming services, and so on, everyone can do their own thing so it makes it harder for any new trends to establish themselves.

Let’s say I am a freaky artist, though. Do I care about establishing, let alone following, a trend, or doing my own thing?

You probably wouldn’t, but that’s not the issue. It’s not about you as an individual, it’s the culture at large that’s stagnant. If you do your own thing, that’s great, but unless lots of other people follow up on it, it won’t change the larger culture. The internet has made it harder to do because the huge forums that most people followed before the late 1990s have much less influence than they did previously. Back then there was ABC, NBC, and CBS. There was your local FM pop station and your local FM country station. The local bookstore probably had shelves full of Stephen King and Tom Clancy. Now the choices are so much more varied any one development, even something of artistic merit, will have a much harder time becoming known to the culture at large.

Here’s an insanely general idea i just thought of and it probably belongs on the wall where I threw it at to see if it sticks but:

Art prospers when you’re fighting an idea or notion and stagnates when you use it to fight people. Such as creating something just to ‘piss off all the right people’.

Get Out is art…this isnt:

My first website was created in 1997. The Internet back then was a crude smattering of amateurs trying to figure out how to communicate in this new medium. Social media as we know them today were nonexistent. The Dope hadn’t even arrived on AOL yet.

So talk about the Internet doesn’t explain anything about why the 1980s and 1990s lacked the huge cultural changes of earlier decades. The lack of cultural change had already been noticed; we’re not suddenly seeing it in hindsight.

Nor does it explain why the cessation of the new happened worldwide. If new art forms could be transmitted from Europe in the 50s and 60s why couldn’t they also be picked up on in the 80s and 90s and even 00s when the Internet was barely creeping into societies?