This is probably age talking, but as I look around our cluttered pop culture, I see nothing but retreads, meta-retro references, and post-post-you name it. Very few things startle anymore, much less come from nowhere, and this makes me glad that I don't have to write about pop cult for a living (apart from the steady paychecks, that is). What can anyone say that is new? What's more, who really cares? Interest in how art is created, much less where it comes from, keeps shrinking; and given what we are offered, that's probably just as well.
Of course, critics have long bemoaned the lack of originality in art and music: derivative efforts are always in circulation. But now, I believe we've really hit the end of the creative road, at least in the pop sphere, which is where the serious action has always been. Is there anything today that's comparable to the radicalizing effects of ragtime? jazz? rhythm and blues? country western/swing? be-bop? rock? ska? reggae? punk? hip hop/rap? The teen gets Rolling Stone, and when I read about new bands and ask her about them, she shrugs and says that they're ripping off older forms and bands, but composing nothing new or fresh. It's simply market/genre-driven imitation. And from what I've seen and heard, she's right, sadly enough. I mean, all these glam boy bands popping up? The music is stale and trite, and the look was better and more stylishly done by Bowie in '72, or even by Elton John, before he became a Vegas waxwork. Not that the teen listens to any of the new glam shit; she's currently exploring New Order and Nine Inch Nails (she thinks that Trent Reznor is a genius), which makes her old man proud.
The same is true with comedy. Who is rearranging the form, much less blasting it to bits altogether? There are some really good, first-rate comics and humorists around, but no one that I know of is bringing it from deep left field. In the 1970s and early '80s, comedy was wide open, and it was common to see a real variety of styles in the clubs and theatres, as well as on the streets. Now, comedy has been incorporated, and the chief goal is to pry safe laughter from suckers willing to pay to be patronized. Larry the Cable Guy and Dane Cook are perhaps the most prominent, profitable examples of this degradation in the stand-up realm, while "SNL" remains the top showcase of permissible, corporate-friendly "satire."
Even more distressing, as the culture grows meaner and nastier, from "reality" shows to porn, our supposed truthtellers are increasingly timid and unwilling to bash the bashers. Maybe it's a fool's errand, an unwinnable war, but then, this is an age of unwinnable wars, and what's more retro than that? Let's hope that this is simply a down time, and that seeds of a creative revolution are starting to sprout, somewhere. Without that, we're doomed to endure endless plays-upon-plays-upon-plays on expression that has no depth, no soul, and definitely no future. Maybe that's what we deserve, but unlike many other areas of life, I'm still a romantic on this front.