The End of The Era
When we look back at the 20th century, we can say with some assurance that it was probably one of the most alive and progressive centuries in the history of mankind. In each decade, the ground was broken, the impossible made possible, limitations liberated and eras defined.
With each era there was a sense of common experience wherein not just a group but all peoples were at some level engaged in a universal moment or feeling. Part of the way in which we remember the past is by defining what the masses were engaged in (socially and culturally) as an era.
When people talk about an era coming to an end they mean the time which marks the last breaths of these shared experiences such as the end of The Jazz Age or the end of Rock ’n’ Roll. An era served to contextualize the mood and spirit of the time. The mood of how an entire demographic were feeling at the time.
Although it would be too simplistic to assert that in an era, all people are the same, it is merely to say that the common experiences everyone is subjected too at that time produce a sameness. This is largely facilitated by the way in which the prevalent culture is transmitted. For example, the widespread availability of the television post WWII marked the decline of modernism. Music became less about the complexity of the composition itself and more about who was singing it and what they looked like. Similarly, the invention of the phonograph to record sound marked the decline of classical music in place of an era of Folk, Jazz and R&B. Put simply, it is the common experiences we all share in, like watching the television, listening to the radio or reading the newspaper that produces this sameness and ultimately defines the kind of era we are in.
Setting some time aside for explaining what an era really is, was important as it leads us onto a very interesting point. For we are now in an information age, where we turn to the Internet to find out whats going on in the world rather than turning on the television or reading a paper, meaning that our culture is no longer transmitted to us in one universal experience. We all connect to the Internet in entirely different ways. So, what happens to the era that relies so heavily on our shared feeling? Is it possible that the great eras of the past century will not be superseded in the information age?
Many people say that the Internet has democratized music, art, culture, film and even taste. To be clear we have completely diversified our interests. Today, society is split into niche categories that are all so readily available online. From google, no subgenre of music, alternative news blog, independent film or lo-fi art curator is out of our reach.
To say that the term ‘era’ is dead may seem speculative but if we are currently living in a new era, what is it? What new impartial, universal, common culture are we all sharing in?
Specifically in music, each decade or so of the 20th century could be prescribed with an era. Jazz in the 40s, Rock n Roll in the 50s, Rock, R&B and Soul in the 60s, Glam Rock and Punk in the 70s, New Romantics in the 80s, Hip Hop and Electronica in the 90s. Of course, there was so much more going on in each of these decades than these simple definitions but in each, the masses of people were either affected by or identifying with specific eras in music.
Could we really ascribe or label the 00s and especially this current decade with any such specific common musical or social experience felt by all? Is there any music or culture that we all identify with or are we now too different and difficult to cohere? Some say that recent years have been culturally stagnant but it is simply that, in the modern day, culture, feeling and experience cannot be quantified or defined under the term ‘era’.
And so, this is quite possibly the end of the era.