I reprint below an excellent substack post by Ted Gioia – a keen cultural observer, especially of music.
He explicates many of the obvious trends in our cultural degeneration. As one who has studied the entertainment industries from the inside and out, I have shown that these trends are primarily driven by technology and economics. Digital tech has minimized the return to risk for publishers and distributors, leading to the depletion of risk capital. Without risk capital on unproven art, there is no investment in the new and innovative. Thus, we get the most risk averse business models that basically regurgitate what worked last time. We see this is movies, music, visual arts, and books.
by Ted Gioia
I’ve occasionally mentioned, in interviews and other settings, that we are living in a society without a counterculture. People ask me what I mean by this.
That’s a a reasonable question, but the new normal defies simple explanation. At some point, I hope to write in-depth on this subject. But today I will simply offer a quick definition, and then share 14 tweets.
These capture the flavor of what I’m trying to express better than any long-winded analysis.
First, here’s a quick definition. These are the key indicators that you might be living in a society without a counterculture:
- A sense of sameness pervades the creative world
- The dominant themes feel static and repetitive, not dynamic and impactful
- Imitation of the conventional is rewarded
- Movies, music, and other creative pursuits are increasingly evaluated on financial and corporate metrics, with all other considerations having little influence
- Alternative voices exist—in fact, they are everywhere—but are rarely heard, and their cultural impact is negligible
- Every year the same stories are retold, and this sameness is considered a plus
- Creative work is increasingly embedded in genres that feel rigid, not flexible
- Even avant-garde work often feels like a rehash of 50-60 years ago
- Etc. etc. etc.
This is a deep matter, and I won’t try to unlock all the nuances here. I will now simply share 14 tweets that capture the stale taste of life without a counterculture. Some of these tweets are my own, others from total strangers—but they all paint the same overall picture.
The Honest Broker is a reader-supported guide to music, books, and culture. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.
You might be living in a society without a counterculture if. . . .
(A story told in 14 tweets)
1. Every screen shows the same movie.
2. Alt Weeklies disappear in every city—along with everything else that’s alternative or outside the norm.
Alone in a room with neatly stacked newspapers. It feels like a vigil for the alt weeklies that are gone, whether bought out by big media & whittled into husks or ended altogether. Everything from The Village Voice to my community paper, gone. I hope the sound they made echoes.
3. The most popular song doesn’t change for three years in a row.
4. The banal word ‘content’ is used to describe every type of creative work, implying that artistry is generic and interchangeable.
5. There are lots of journalists, but they all seem to be working for the same corporations.
6. The dominant company in the creative culture views everything as a brand extension.
7. Indie music and alt music are marginalized.
8. Telling jokes becomes a dangerous profession.
9. The experts who ‘explain’ the culture to us all seem to be insiders with identical backgrounds.
10. This year’s movies look a lot like last year’s movies.
11. Even elite awards for creativity are dominated by reboots and remakes.
Four of the Best Picture Oscar nominees this year are remakes or reboots of earlier films. Academy history can offer clues about how “Nightmare Alley,” “West Side Story,” “CODA” and “Dune” might fare on Sunday.
12. Five companies have almost complete control over the book business—where, in an earlier day, dozens of indie publishers thrived.
Industry consolidation in US commercial book publishing has come down to a “Big Five” (soon to be a “Big Four”) commonly listed as Penguin/Random, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster. Each of those companies, though, is of course owned by a bigger company.