Monday, September 8, 2008

Why Is It Always 1968? Part 2

In my prior post, Why Is It Always 1968 Part 1 I discussed some of the factors accounting for the astonishing fact that culturally, from music, to food, to dress, to politics, to entertainment (with some exceptions), twenty year olds from 1968 (that's a full forty years ago folks) share the same tastes as twenty year olds from 2008. [Men and women who are Sixty Years old do not generally play any video games save the Wii sports games. Finding the games too difficult and boring.]

In comparison, a man who was twenty in 1928 would have almost nothing in common with a man of twenty in the year 1968. Those intervening years saw great social and technological change (that drove a lot of the social change). A switch from mostly horse-drawn or electrified street car local transportation and trains for long distance travel, to the private auto for local transportation and cheap jet air travel for long distance transportation. Travel from New York to Los Angeles did not take days but hours. Radio was replaced by Television as the entertainment of choice in the home. Recorded music at home went from expensive, and fairly bad sounding novelties, to cheaply available. Telephones went from novelty to ubiquity. Social attitudes about race, sex, women, and more changed drastically as people moved from cities to suburbs. In 1928 women had the vote (nationally) for only 8 years, by 1968 it was nearly half a century old. In 1928, the world was stable, with no threat of sudden destruction of cities imaginable, the US protected by wide oceans, and the idea of war and destruction visited upon the US simply inconceivable..

Yet the world of 1968 is at least as different from today as 1928 was to it. Computers have gone from corporate data rooms, costing tens of millions of dollars, and the size of refrigerators, to commodities sold in Warehouse stores. Mobile phones capable of recording and playing video are common. The Internet, cable and satellite TV, laptop computers, and free wifi have all made unimaginable amounts of data and media accessible almost anywhere, any time. Jet travel is even cheaper and more available (if far less pleasant). Attitudes about gays (including Gay Marriage) unimaginable in 1968 are routinely discussed today on Daytime Television.

Why is it, then, that our culture remains stuck in 1968?

One reason might be the men who shape it, versus the men who shaped culture previously. Using, I used the data to construct the following tables. First, the culture that was replaced by the Youth Culture of 1968, the major cultural creators from roughly 1935-1954:

Previous (1935-54) Age in 1954Year of BirthYears before WWI End
John Ford60189424
Samuel Goldwyn75187924
Louis Mayer70188434
Jack Warner62189226
Orson Welles3919153
Preston Sturges56189 20
Howard Hawks 58189622
Alfred Hitchcock55189915
Frank Capra57189721
Anthony Mann48190612
Charles Laughton55189919
J Lee Thompson4019144
John Huston48190612

There are some interesting things about this table. First, you'll note how Old these key movie makers were. The Average Age was 56, they were on average, born in 1898 and had twenty years before the end of WWI (when the public found out just how bad the debacle in the trenches was, and how many were lost).

For the most part, these men were men of the Nineteenth Century, not the Twentieth. It showed in the movies they made. More leisurely, with more adult content, less desire to use shock to cover up lack of ideas, and a focus on making films for all ages, older (past 20, anyway) and young alike. Remember, back in the era of 1935-54, as Ed Driscoll points out, men were supposed to act (in public at least) like adults. Not overgrown boys. And women, well acted like women. Not overgrown girls.

Therefore, even men of 21 were expected to conduct themselves as adult men. Not as lightly supervised boys. It's hard for people to understand, that in that era, it was common for men to wear hats, and jacket and suit pants, for nearly everything at hand save hard manual labor. Women wore dresses unless out on some picnic or working at manual labor. This included young men and women as well those in their forties.

While some might quibble with a name or two, in the list above, I think it's fairly representative. There are one-hit wonders (but what a wonder) like Charles Laughton's "Night of the Hunter" and those who churned out film after film, like Howard Hawks or John Ford.

Compare with those of today:

PersonAge in 2008Year of Birth
JJ Abrams421964
Joss Whedon441964
Steve Soderberg451963
Jerry Bruckheimer631945
Josh Schwartz321976
Chris Nolan381970
Sam Raimi491959
Alan Ball511957
Seth Rogen261982
Judd Apatow411967
Kevin Williamson431965
John Hughes58 1950
George Lucas621946
Steven Spielberg641944
Tim Burton501958

An average of nine years younger, and the birth age of 1969. Instead of the formative years in the Nineteenth Century, today's movie and television producers and directors and writers came of age in the 1970's and 1980's. Is it any wonder that the attitudes of those eras still persist.

In some ways, it's not always 1968. It's always 1979. Carter, Disco, and the depressing "certainties" of the late 1970's reign supreme. In film, the collective efforts of the men above seem mostly to want to remake "the China Syndrome" or "All the Presidents Men" instead of creating something new, or at least adult and mature. Middle aged men avoid risk, and that these men largely do. Without, sadly, making entertainment that is truly adult. There is nothing more pathetic than powerful and middle aged men engaging in posturing against the man when they are, in fact, the man.

The creative class of today, if the table above is any use at all, is neither adult and mature enough to create timeless entertainment, for adults of all ages, nor young enough to challenge the status quo and create something exciting and new. Instead movies and television recycle the entertainment of their youth. Which wasn't new then, and has gotten more dated since. If past history is any guide, we're in for at least ten to fifteen more years of this rot. Until the above group is simply too old to make movies and television any more.

Thus, the reasons why it's always 1968. Or perhaps, 1979.


Gloria said...

Very interesting.

Since you mention Laughton (and since he is a very favourite subject, check my blog), i'd like to point that it is considered that he took film direction surprisingly late, considering that he had made the grade in films as an actor by 1932 (being 33 years of age) and was a film producer in 1937 (when he was 38 years of age). I think he could have directed (had he chosen to) much earlier... Blame it on his trade-mark insecurity, but he certainly had in his thirties the talent to have made it (though by 1950 he had learned to feel more secure about his talent, LOL)

Though it is true that Simon Callow's statement, in his Laughton biography, that Charles was born under the reign of Queen Victoria, and he would live under the shade of Victorianism for the rest of his life. There's an interesting moment in that book, when the author describes the moment in which Laughton -understudying Johnny Sullivan-, introduced Elvis Presley to the audience, and the new-world/old-world clash it meant: Laughton is essentially a shy Edwardian boy, while Elvis comes as the harbinger of a more sexually-open era.

Though in the end, I'd rather root for Charles: even when he played bums he had a dignity you can't find in the clownish antics of the 60-something pop stars of today, still dressing and behaving like teens in a concert, LOL

Hum, there's one more thing I'd like to point about your post, but I'd rather send it to you through e-mail.

Moshea bat Abraham said...

Awesome post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Interesting hypothesis.

Here in the UK the BBC recently screened a series on "classic" albums. Back in he late 70's when I was a Punk I would have classified all of them as music by and for Boring Old Farts. One of Punk's aims was to break the grip of the 60's on pop. It failed, and your theory offers an explanation - we were outnumbered by boring old fart Boomers

Whiskey said...

Anon -- yes that's probably why Punk did fail. Sheer numbers. Sigh.

Whiskey said...

Gloria -- thanks for the info on Laughton. A great actor and a talent sadly not used by Hollywood.

Anonymous said...

I share your view.

Today's 'creative culture' time warp could be politically infused specifically as the result of Marxism. There is no "change" really in hell, but stagnation. His true believers are the 'creative culture' rank and file, not just their leaders. And that they never really grew up is painfully obvious.

But this too will pass.

A new generation from a different culture always comes to the fore as life can not be completely destroyed as it somehow survives, someway, somewhere.

I would share a parallel from Western Civilization's cultural ascent of "serious" musical style and compositional development. By the 19th Century, when the world was determining to crush revolutionary idealism as well as the older ingenious experimental scientific methods, converting all into empiricism, music underwent the same thing as you discuss in "1968" (or 1979). The exploration and exploitation of tonality came to an abrupt halt after being recognized and touted as a Christian achievement.

1. Serious 19th century composers and their musical critics reveled in European musical achievements as the result of Christianity. (Even Wagner wrote the same commentary to his music.)

2. Following WWI, Arnold Schoenberg and the 2nd Viennese School of Music effectively banned tonality. They claimed it took its course and died meeting its conclusive end. They experimented with various "atonal" methods before settling on Serialism. Serial music scatters the 12 tones into an order without repetition, and without allowing any familiar perfect 5ths or 4ths, and even avoiding the interval distance of a 3rd. There was NO TOLERANCE FOR CONSONANCE or any reminiscence of "Bach's" tonality.

Apologies for that explanatory build up simply to make the parallel point.

Schoenberg failed to find a new way to use tonality. (Originality was foremost important to being "great".) So he banned tonality. He invents serial music that is supposed to last forever. And following WWII, Schoenberg's serialism was absolutely enforced in music schools world wide. That is, until it expired, literally. It's permutations were exhausted within 30 years. Finally Boulez wrote the article, "Schoenberg Is Dead" sealing the long gone composer's musical legacy into its cold, dank time capsule encased in the tomb of history.

It took most of a century to get over him. And during all of those years, students were forced to emulate him, and no scholarships or grants or performances were awarded without total compliance.

But being "cultivated" and starving finally changed values. As did the popularization of "culture", movie scores providing great wealth.

maverick muse

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