The ’90s and now, part 12

Ross also laments the current state of popular culture and entertainment, “…if you prefer a zillion algorithmically-generated Netflix shows and endless Marvel sequels to ‘The Matrix’ and ‘The Sopranos,’ then God bless you,” but, culturally, with the possible exception of late 90′s cinema , which one could argue was a sort of golden era, the quality of entertainment during the ’90s was not that good and it was mostly just sitcoms and such. However, Ross is right that some of the most iconic movies produced in the ’90s were noteworthy for their originality and were maybe only loosely based off a book, such as Forest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Toy Story, Titanic, and Good Will Hunting, to name a handful from varying genres and age appropriateness. When these movies came out, no one had ever seen anything like them, much like how Jaws and later Star Wars came out of nowhere revolutionized cinema in the ’70s and set a standard for blockbusters to follow. The juxtaposition of low-tech with high-tech is further evident in The Strait Story and The Matrix, both released in 1999. But noways everything is a derivative or squeal of a comic book or some earlier franchise.

Many of these ‘great’ productions such as The Sopranos and Breaking Bad are fundamentally Nietzschean at their core, and are fun to watch because they present an alternate reality that is more interesting than our existing one, where traditional rules and morality are subverted by one’s ‘will to power’. However, there’s much more choice on YouTube, Amazon, and Netflix. Due to bigger budgets and overall a larger entertainment industry, and with the help of Amazon and Netflix, there has been a huge surge in big-budget productions that blur the lines between cinema and TV, than in the ’90s, which was mostly dominated by sitcoms, and the only alternative was HBO. In the ’90s, Blockbuster was a huge deal, but the franchise in 2014 shuttered all but one of its locations, having been usurped by superior alternatives such as Netflix and the ability to easily and cheaply stream content online.

From the aforementioned Quillette article:

Equally important, technological innovations allow people to sort culturally. For example, television once offered only a handful of channels. Families, therefore, could choose among a few shows, most of which aimed for the middle of culture, so as not to alienate potential viewers. Now, however, Amazon, Netflix, HBO, and Showtime each offer a dizzying array of entertainment options. No longer required to reach an enormous audience, television shows and movies can appeal to specialized slivers of the populace. This means more choice. And more diversity. And a greater divergence between the entertainment that the highly intelligent and less intelligent consume.

Whereas 90’s consumer culture thrived on conformity and collectivism, entertainment has become smarter, cheaper, and more fragmented, from Wealth, Intellectualism, and Individualism:

Regarding David Foster Wallace again, his critique of consumerist culture was wrong not because TV became less popular among the youth, but because consumerist culture itself began a decline some time in mid-2000, especially since 2013 with the rise of rise of minimalism and MGTOW. In the late 90′s, the youth collectively watched MTV; they all bought the latest boy band, rock, and pop albums (which told tens of millions of copies at $18/CD); they all watched Friends, 90210, Dawson’s Creek (or whatever else was popular at the time). It was very conformist and kinda dumbed-down. Then in 2008 [1] all that changed. Now (today’s) young people are streaming clips on their phones and listening to music on Spotify or iTunes instead of compulsively spending $18 on the latest album, and they are posting introspective stuff on sites such as Tumblr and Medium instead of just zoning-out to MTV. Everything has become smarter and more fragmented.

Music and TV were shared experiences that brought people together under a unifying mono-culture. In the early to mid ’90s songs from such mega-bands such as Metallica and Guns n’ Roses emanated from male college dorms across America. College computer labs, or what were often refereed to as ‘media labs,’ provided many gen-x exposure to the emerging world wide web. But the rise of a la carte services such as Napster in 1999, and in then in early 2000’s, the hugely popular online music store iTunes, which was made possible by MP3 players and high-speed internet, fragmented entertainment from being a shared experience to more of an individual one.

The same for television: the finale of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, in 1992, drew 50 million viewers. By comparison, the finale of Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show, in 2014, only attracted 14.6 million viewers. The finales of The Cosby Show, Dallas, and Star Trek: The Next Generation brought in 44, 33, and 31 million viewers, respectively. By comparison, the finale of the hit TV show The Big bang Theory, in 2019, brought in just 18 million viewers. The difference is even more apparent given that the US population has grown about 20% since the mid-’90s, from 265 million to 330 million.

The pervasiveness of social media and the increasing digitalization and interconnectedness of the world isn’t without its downsides, those being social shaming and ‘outrage culture’, the erosion of individual privacy, and a sort of codependency between the social network and the content creator. Rather than just watching TV, your ‘smart’ TV is also watching you. Your smart phone knows your location even when it’s turned off. Kaczynski was able to elude authorities for decades because by eschewing technology, he left no traces. One of the ironies of digital technology is that although the stream of data itself is ephemeral, data stored on a database has a tendency of being much more permanent than any tangible document that can be burned, misplaced, or erased. By interfacing with such technology, people are inadvertently leaving behind an indestructible, irrevocable digital paper trail.