Over the past few weekends, I've caught bits of VH1's I Love the 70s, I Love the 80s and I Love the 90s. If you've seen these shows, you know the format: take some iconic trend or item that was popular in the day and have actors, comedians and musicians discuss them. The material is rather sarcastic, deadpan and often funny. Not every little thing is raked across the coals, but quite a bit of it is subject to witty/attempting-to-be-witty banter. Seeing these shows and listening to what people my age and younger talk about, I wonder: when did pop culture become such a big joke?
Maybe pop culture has always been seen as a big joke, but this kind of looking back is relatively new to my eyes. Maybe Seth McFarlane's Family Guy was really ahead of its time back in its few first seasons (talking about the A&E Biography on the other guy in Wham! to talking about Tom Hanks' comedic streak) and maybe ABC's Clerks cartoon was even more ahead of its time (from talking about Fonzie jumping the shark on Happy Days to lampooning Outbreak). For people who grew up in the 80s (like myself), I guess this kind of humor goes over like gangbusters because of its widespread train of thought. For my 26-year-old self, I will say that I enjoy this kind of humor, but it has its limits.
Older pop cultural references are fun to make, but it sounds like neverending examples of the carefree past being ripped apart by our harsh present. Often it feels like our childhood memories have been overrided with eye-rolling, cringe-inducing moans and extremely harsh cynicism. For us painted as eager kids with Nintendo and slackers in flannel when we were teenagers, we're in a different place now. We're still a desirable demographic, but a younger demographic is even more important. That grouping makes sense: we don't have the same kind of extra cash to spend on non-essentials like when we were younger. I don't know when our age group becomes less desirable, but someday we'll be seen as the "55 to dead" demographic.
Seeing how people are poking fun at what was "cool" 10-30 years ago, I wonder what these same people will be poking fun of in 10-30 years from now. I can kind of see it: I Love the 00s with regulars Michael Ian Black and Hal Sparks, among others, talking about/making fun of things like dressing like a metrosexual, iPods and reality shows. Maybe this stuff will be even funnier in time. Maybe this show won't even happen because there will be a much different way of looking at pop culture. What's that line in Crimes & Misdemeanors? "Comedy is tragedy plus time."
I know there is a certain degree of embarrassment whenever I look back at old pictures or home movies. Of course there is a desire to take the piss out of what I did then and pretend like I'm fully arrived now. But I get the feeling that I'll be making fun of certain things that I'm into now in ten years. Chances are I'll be holding onto things that have made a deep, long-lasting impact on me more than anything else. I may joke about how low reality shows went, but I'll probably speak more highly of a show like Lost. I want to be into things that don't have a short shelf life and I don't believe that will change any time soon. Sure, it could be fun to make fun of what Paris Hilton did somewhere and roll my eyes about what kind of "reality" show has such-and-such has-been celebrities on it, but I want depth and not just some fluffy fodder.
Is our culture just not interested in long-lasting things because of what happened on September 11th, 2001? I think there's a large percentage out there that is interested in things that last, but their voice isn't heard as much as the bitter/cynical/uber-sarcastic one. I'm not about to erase 9/11 from my memory, but I'm not about to think that everything thrown at us in the media is subject to the same kind of treatment we have with toilet paper.