Why Do I Keep Saying the Culture is Stagnating?
We live in an age of innovation, so how can I claim otherwise?
At my age, I’m supposed to grow nostalgic over the songs of my youth. I’m also expected to reminisce about the good old days, when actors were cooler and actresses hotter. Newspapers were a lot thicker, and I was a lot thinner.
Everybody tells me that was the golden age—at least everybody with silver in their hair. Peace and happiness spread over the land.
All those things might be true. But I’m still worried that our society has grown too fond of the past, especially in creative pursuits.
The old songs are great, they totally rock—but we also deserve exciting new songs. The old films may really have been bigger, much like the screens we watched them on, but we deserve new movies that aren’t just reboots, spin-offs, and sequels.
The Honest Broker is a reader-supported guide to music, books, media & culture. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.
The data here is ominous:
I’ve written repeatedly about music fans choosing old songs instead of new ones. But this trend has gotten more extreme since I first covered it. According to the latest figures, only 27% of tracks streamed are new or recent.
The same things is happening in video games, where consumers’ favorite brands are increasingly old standbys—with Minecraft (launched in 2011), Call of Duty (2003), Grand Theft Auto (1997), Madden NFL (1988), and Super Mario Bros (1985) showing tremendous staying power. We will soon enter an era when children will play versions of the same games that their grandparents once enjoyed.
The $15 billion market for comic books is driven by the same brand franchises that were dominant in the 1960s and 1970s—except that they are a half-century older. Every one of the top 20 sellers is from either Marvel (founded in 1939) or DC Comics (founded in 1934).
The top grossing shows on Broadway in 2023 are also retreads from the last century. The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King boast the highest weekly gross revenues this year, and the only thing that keeps up-to-date in the world of musicals is the ticket price.
83% of Hollywood revenues now come from franchise films featuring familiar characters from the past—and they drive the entire economic model for the industry.
The number of movies featuring old stars is greater than at any point in the history of Hollywood.
That’s clearly a sign of cultural stagnation. But the story gets worse.