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Posts Tagged ‘2010s’

The 1990s was Last Great Decade for People Living in USA and West: 1

January 26, 2020 15 comments

Here is a series I first contemplated writing about five years ago, though the core idea occurred to me a bit before that and in an unexpected place. See.. spending too much time looking at the less frequented parts of the internet often results in me noticing unusual correlations, trends and patterns which escape the attention of most people. About seven years ago, I was going through a newsgroup about new large architectural projects all over the world and noticed an odd trend. Increasingly the most interesting and large building projects in the world were in Asia, not North America or Europe. Some of you might attribute this to Asia finally catching up to the West, and initially considered that possibility. Then I noticed something else.. most of the few large building projects in the West were increasingly way over budget and took far longer than expected. More interestingly, the results were usually of poor quality and full of poor design choices.

And then I started noticing this same basic trend in many other areas, from drug discovery and computer technology to video games, movies and music. It was as if the past 15-20 years have been one continuous blur of stagnation if you were living in USA or any other western country. Some of you might say that smartphones, “machine learning” and other assorted bullshit is a sign of progress. But is it really? Think about it.. Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile could be used to browse the web, check email, play games, watch movie clips, take photos, utilize GPS and many more things almost 20 years ago. The biggest “advance” smartphones represent is that they are permanently connected to high-speed cellular networks because data rates are now very low. Has all that hype about “machine learning”, “deep learning” and “AI” translated into any worthwhile improvement in your quality of life? Can you think of a counter example?

While I would like to start this series by talking about how technology has stagnated, a better (more popular) place to start would be how cultural products has either stagnated gotten worse. While trends in music and video games will be addressed in subsequent posts, we will focus on trends in films and TV in this post. But before we go there, let us first define the 1990s. In my opinion, the 1990s began on December 26, 1991 and ended on September 11, 2001 though it kinda dragged on until August 31, 2005. The period between those dates was the last time the west (especially USA) was dominant and relatively prosperous. As you will see, these dates define that decade in many fields. It is as if this time-span was the last hurrah for the western socio-economic model including neo-liberalism (and neo-conservatism).

Now let us get back to the main focus of this post, namely the almost complete stagnation of creativity in western films and TV shows (including online offerings). Here is a question- Do you remember any film or TV show released within the past 15 years that was not a direct derivative of something released earlier? Do you remember anything financially successful or unsuccesful that was not a direct derivative of something from before 2006? But why does this matter? Well.. because almost decade in the century before 2006 witnessed multiple major new trends that were not a direct derivative of something from the past one. To be fair, some of it was due to technological advances and changes in social mores. But much of it was driven by people experimenting with new ways to present novel material. Confused? Let me explain..

Consider the 1920s, with german expressionist cinema (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Pre-Code Hollywood movies, Russian Cinema (Battleship Potemkin, October). Can anybody deny that these represented new ways of making and editing films, not to mention the fact that they tackle hitherto untackled subject matter- at least in cinema. Or take the 1930s with its classic monster movies, Hollywood musicals, Disney Cartoons, Leni Riefenstahl’s documentaries etc. The 1940s had Film Noir and other memorable movies such as Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life, Casablanca etc. To be clear, I am not suggesting that previous decades were full of good, let alone original, movies. But it is clear that every decade in the century prior to 2006 saw the emergence of new and influential trends in cinema. However, we haven’t really seen anything similar occurring in the past 15 years.

The 1960s had tons of new trends, as did the 1970s. Even the 1980s had their new trends from low-budget horror movies to summer action blockbusters. There was much innovation in western cinema for a century before 2006. But the something, or more than one thing, happened western cinema became boring, repetitive and (most importantly) forgettable. I have briefly touched on some of these issues in my post about the current rash of film remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels and I sort of started talking about this topic in a post a few months ago– but never got around to building on it. And yes, I am aware that there are broader sociological trends at work. But whichever way you try to explain, it is hard to argue that the past fifteen years saw the alsmot total stagnation of creativity in western cinema and TV shows.

Don’t believe me? Well.. here are some facts. Most of the LOTR trilogy was filmed in New Zealand between October 11, 1999 and December 22, 2000, and the first movie in that series came out on November 20, 2001. The first X-men movie was released on July 14, 2000. The first film in the highly successful Spider Man franchise came out on May 3, 2002. The Matrix was released in 1999, as were the following important movies: Star Wars: Episode I, Office Space, Election, The Mummy, American Pie, The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, The Green Mile, Fight Club, American Beauty, Sleepy Hollow and many more. 1998 saw the release of important movies such as The Truman Show, Armageddon, Deep Impact, 1998 version of Godzilla, The Big Lebowski, Wild Things, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and many more.

The first Austin Powers movie came out in 1997, the first Jurassic Park in 1993. The first Scream movie came out in 1996 and the first I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1997. The first Toy Story came out in 1995 and the first Shrek movie in 2001. Can you think any equivalents in post 2005-era? Oh, and even the 40-year-old virgin came out in 2005. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy came out in 2004. Superbad was filmed in 2006 and had been under development since 2000. Once again, I could keep going on and on- but you get my point. Pretty much every single major movie released in past 15 years can with very few exceptions directly trace its roots to the pre-2005 era. In the next part of this series, I will show how that the same is true for TV shows including their streaming variants. We will also start going into why this major socio-cultural-economic shift (aka stagnation) began in earnest around the mid-2000s.

What do you think? Comments?