The last 30 years of society, explained

To be clear, it's all Reagan's fault. Well, he's the symbol of it, the guy who led the charge. But it's really of course the thousands and thousands of minions and acolytes who made it happen. But this is not a political post, but rather, cultural/fashion. Just don't forget the political background.

My thesis: It has been technology which has driven ALL major societal changes throughout the history of humanity. Fire, stone tools, metal tools, etc. What is new, recently, however, is the pace - we're on the upcurve of an exponential explosion in technology since the Industrial Revolution, but really and for my purposes, kicking in with the arrival of the computer.
The 80's are my focus here, as it is when several trends crystallized and gained strength, and now dominate nearly every aspect of American culture today. Everything 80's is pretty much in the picture above. But let me paint this picture for you - and yes, I spent about a half hour thinking about this, so I'm sure it's 100% correct.

For a long time, American society progressed and changed slowly. You could look at pics of businessmen in the 50's and and 20's and while the fashion's changed, the same air of formality, of tradition, permeated all.

Then came the first stirrings of the counterculture, inspired by jazz and blues and other African American creations, these trends first gained heavy traction in the culture with the Beats - Kerouac, Ginsberg, and all the rest. The Beats helped shaped/became the Hippies in short order, and this was a mainstream development. Again, look at the differences in clothing and behaviors from 1953 to 1963 to see what monumental changes took place at this time. And the key, parallel technology development of this time? The TV. That was the key.

The 1970's continued all of these trends, but now with a corresponding backlash from "conservatives" of every stripe - from sexism to racism to new ageism, here began our continuing war of "Punch the Hippy". It's very much still going on ("SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!" is as succinct a summary of this trend as possible). However, the larger forces of culture and technology continued to move on, with the perfect storm of the 1980's, in general.
Fashionwise, it's easy enough to see the progression from 60's hippies to 70's rhinestones and plaid to 80's day glo and pastels, and even working its way into 90's grunge and hip hop. I think we've stabilized the craziness on the fashion front since the 2000's, but maybe I'm still too close to the time period, and can't see it (Note! I realized in 1993 that fashion is idiotic by looking at pictures of myself from 1984; I vowed to try and dress in a "timeless" fashion from then on, though what is and is not timeless is of course hard to say at the time. My rule of thumb: The plainer the better. Always.)

But it's the technology that's key. Several huge developments in the 70's paved the way for quite an upheaval in American culture: Cable TV, and computers/video games, and portable music players. Each of these new technologies allowed an individual to create a shell - a world they no longer had to leave (or leave rarely). You could find out what kids in California were doing with ease now; you could hear the music that's popular in London overnight; you could play the same game you once played in an arcade (social setting) at home. And thus, the segmentation/fragmentation of culture - which again, is only continuing.

With all specializations - and that's what a segmentation of culture is to me - you have more extremes. Music can be more extreme; fashion, games, everything leads to more extremes, since you have people so focused on the particular topic, AND there's now a nearly real time feedback loop where you can build on the works of others very quickly.

The feedback loop only gets more extreme as well - the Web is the best example of this effect ever invented. And I suspect that too will only continue, as technology will soon allow our brains direct access to a web of other brains, leading no doubt to a cyborg future.

Till then, and only as an observation - I make no value judgments about any of this - we continue on these same paths built for us by poor black  jazz musicians and Jewish poets and a generation of  kids who now have it baked in their bones that the future is always more, faster, bigger, etc.

These trends all congealed around the Reagan Revolution, which led to a MASSIVE increase in the mindset of American consumer culture, leading directly to the outsourcing of most American manufacturing, and the subsequent destruction of economic fundamentals of the country. America exists today as a strip mall, supplied by China, populated by poor people deep in debt, brainwashed to believe their misery will go away if they can only get the newest flat screen tv, or whatever.

Until the dam breaks (external event), might as well enjoy the ride.


l.e.s.ter said...

Does the fashion reflect the times under this rubric? I'll need to ponder on that.

Been wanting to see Louis Malle's documentary "God's Country," filmed just prior to and in the middle of the Reagan Revolution.

It's on YouTube, although I might get it from the local video store, if I can bear the interaction with a clerk and other customers.

Redshirt said...

Of course - you had an intentional futuristic/industrial look in the 1980's, reflecting the dawning of computers, MTV, phones, etc. All that.

The 60's was defined by a back to nature type impulse (among many others) and this is reflected in the near Neolithic tone of much of the fashion. If you get my drift.

The 70's was a weird ass crossroads.

l.e.s.ter said...

And the 90's? And the Naughts, now that they're over? (Jesus, that went fast.) I feel like the last 20 years are much harder to define in terms of fashion, except to say conservative, or at least more wary about inviting longer term embarrassment. Music seems to track with fashion, so you could make very similar statements, particularly about the 70's being a weird ass crossroads. But aside from a few totemic elements, is it possible to really define the last 20 years? Am I too close to it? Should this definition be limited to haircuts?

Redshirt said...

The 90's had some pretty funky widespread fashions till maybe 1996? 1997? Then we entered our current age, and as you say, hard to see up close - many more tattoos and piercings, to be sure. Even though our society has turned far more conservative, certain social groups have become far, far more radical looking on the norm than ever before.

To define the past 20 years: Insanity. We're in the midst of a home grown insurgency (Christian, Southern Right). And the insane seldom dress well.