Griffiths / Eternal September lives on

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IT’S hardly revolutionary to suggest that popular culture has been stagnating for the past few decades.

John Griffiths
John Griffiths.
A Bush and a Clinton are running for the White House, a “Jurassic” movie is rampaging through the world’s box office and a new “Terminator” movie is soon to arrive.

Even such a new seeming arrival as “Game of Thrones” (a pretty generic European Medieval fantasy) needs to be taken in the context that the first book was published in 1994.

Perhaps coincidentally, but 1994 was the same year Kurt Cobain died ending arguably the last band to truly dominate the cultural landscape.

While the timing of Kurt’s death had more to do with his own demons than the broader cultural zeitgeist it serves as a useful marker.

What happened at the same time, of course, was the widespread rise of the publicly available internet.

The “Eternal September” began in September 1993 and we are still living through it.

Before 1993 the internet was largely made up of people on university campuses. Every September a new crop of northern hemisphere, first-year students would arrive, misbehave in the public forums of the time, get slapped around by the old hands, learn how to conduct themselves civilly, and life would return to normal.

In 1993, America Online started offering internet access to the general public (remember the beebly-boops of all the modems of yesterday?), all hell broke loose and, in large part, it has never calmed down.

At least in the mid-‘90s getting online still had some barriers to entry. Computers cost thousands of dollars and access to the internet meant setting aside time to sit in front of one. Setting up even an AOL account was not technically trivial.

When I moved house this year I had the internet running within five minutes of walking through the door. It’s become a lot easier.

Of course, for many internet users now, a computer need not even enter the equation, they get it with their phone like it or not.

And while this may seem like the cry of the snob for a more genteel age (I’ll confess I didn’t have a proper email address until 1997) the bigger point is what this interconnectivity is doing to the fabric of our culture (beyond allowing young men to say regrettable things to ever broader audiences).

I truly feel for the dumb young men of today (and I say that as someone who was as young and dumb as they come). Stupid things said in the pub used to disappear without trace. A record of all the things we said back then would get us banned from the “Q&A” audience. Maybe even stripped of our citizenship.

In the process, the shared cultural experience was lost along the way. Freed of the radio we find music we personally like and it doesn’t matter if no-one else in our geographic community likes it.

TV making has been liberated from the lowest common denominators of free-to-air broadcasting and has blossomed into a dominant dramatic art.

It’s great that I don’t have to even consider watching “My Voice Kitchen Wedding” or whatever other crap transiently passes for mainstream pop culture these days.

But as a society we might have lost something in that we no longer share those unifying moments.

More worrying, in the light of multiple recent controversies we’ve all gone so far down our narrow cultural rabbit holes that we’ve lost the capacity to listen to unfamiliar voices saying disturbing things.

 

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