The GIGABORE: A decade of cultural blandness

The Harajuku street fashion magazine Fruits is allegedly shutting down because of a lack of cool kids. Whether this is true or just an excuse for a print publication to go bankrupt, it does seem plausible. Culture in general seems less upbeat and edgy than it used to be, and more somber, more sanitized and more wholesome, but also in many ways more thoughtful. That’s not to say things have become worse — TV for example has become a lot better — but that tastes have changed in a fairly striking way in a short time.

No more cool kids

The Evidence

Let’s start with adverts. I’ll pick two random Apple adverts, one from 2007, and one from 2017.

Color to black and white. Fast music to slow music. Overt happiness and in-your-face dancing, to something much more toned down. This change in mood is what I call the GIGABORE.

Movies

The top 5 movies of 2007 (according to Google’s search algorithm) were:

  • No Country for Old Men, “Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande”
  • There Will Be Blood, “A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.”
  • Ratatouille, “A rat who can cook makes an unusual alliance with a young kitchen worker at a famous restaurant.”
  • Juno, “Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual decision regarding her unborn child.”
  • The Bourne Ultimatum, “Jason Bourne dodges a ruthless CIA official and his agents from a new assassination program while searching for the origins of his life as a trained killer.”

The top 5 movies of 2016 (according to Google’s search algorithm) were:

  • Moonlight, “A chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young black man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.”
  • La-La Land, “A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.”
  • Manchester By The Sea, “A depressed uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies”
  • Arrival, “When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.”
  • Hell or High Water, “A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas”

Note the stark differences in attitude between the top movies of 2007 and 2016 towards social transgression and violence, as well as absurdism — the movies from 2007 stop just short of glorifying these things. Note also how the movies of 2016 focus more on personal hardship and sacrifice.

Music

Compare the top hits of 2007 with the top hits of 2016:

This ain’t a scene, it’s a GOD DAMN arms race

“This is Why I’m Hot” vs. “Treat You Better”. That really says it all.

Video games

This is slightly older than 10 years (2004) but can you imagine such a game marketed to teenagers today? It wouldn’t be banned, they just wouldn’t be interested.

I won’t compare 2007 vs. 2016 best-selling games, since the industry was at radically different levels of maturity. But note, the moral panic over violent games has faded, and gaming has become a team sport.

Fashion

In retrospect, can you believe this (below) was an actual trend in 2007?

There were a number of different fashion subcultures — emo, scene, goth, hip-hop, crunk, hipster, etc.

Many expected the rise of Instagram to lead of increased variance of style, but the only big fashion trend in the last 5 years has been athleisure and an increase in gym culture, which I guess fits with the trend towards conformity and conscientiousness.


Decade of Bad Manners

The 1920s, a time of boom-bust cycles and economic prosperity, were once called the ‘decade of bad manners’. This suggests to me that society has regular fluctuations in how permissive vs. strict it is in terms of expectations of morality and conformity.

Supposedly “nice” girls were smoking cigarettes — openly and defiantly, if often rather awkwardly and self-consciously. They were drinking-somewhat less openly but often all too efficaciously. There were stories of daughters of the most exemplary parents getting drunk — “blotto,” as their companions cheerfully put it — on the contents of the hip-flasks of the new prohibition regime, and going out joyriding with men at four in the morning.

It’s not crazy to think this has something to do with economic prosperity. The ‘hemline theory’ that more provocative fashion comes with a booming economy has attracted some preliminary support. There’s even this spurious possible connection between littering and the economy:

And then there’s stuff like this (below, admittedly extreme example from Berkeley). Older people are horrified at students demanding conformity and making stricter moral demands in terms of speech.

But that’s how eras like the Roaring 20s ended. The economic crash took away people’s ability to experiment with slightly frowned upon lifestyles, and also their tolerance for the deviant behavior of others. There are a few good things about this new culture, such as increased community and thoughtfulness, but mostly it is just depressing.

The Antidote

I can’t wait until the economy recovers, so we can go back to playing violent VR games (that will be the next moral panic, maybe).

But, in the meantime, we must fight the GIGABORE with absurdism. Ignore politics, ignore moral arguments, make awesome stuff, increase aesthetic pleasure, do weird shit, experiment as much as you can, occasionally go to a nightclub instead of the gym, remember that FUN is half the point of civilization.