30 December 2009

Ending the "Decade" Without Decade Ending Lists

I had planned on doing for music, TV, books, and video games what I had done for films, but I can't seem to find a hook or way to parse my impressions of the past ten years in those fields in the same way I could with films.

I think the reason comes down to volume. There are far fewer films than there are other forms of media. I can feel a bit more comfortable being definitive with my impressions of what films had to offer in each year, cause I see a good chunk of what seems interesting.

With those other medias, I know I'm missing vast swathes of entertaining and worthy choices, simply because there's not enough time in the day, and I don't have the resources to sample everything I would hope to sample.

So instead, broad impressions about the 00s in each of those medias.


I think the 00s can be defined as both the decade the industry collapsed, and solidified its position at the same time. It collapsed in the sense that no artist gets broadly listened to, anymore. All artists are niche artists, and the niches are ever narrowing. An album with broad appeal in the USA might appeal at most to 10,000,000 folks, while being purchased by 2,000,000. Great as those numbers are, that means even the most popular musicians are liked by at best 1 in 30 Americans, and except for the rarest of cases, less than 1 in 100 bother to actually spend money on their product, and more often than not, all those buzzworthy artists that get inches of ink (and pixels) at your various cooler than thou magazines and websites, they're liked by less than 1 in 10,000 folks in America.

Yet against that backdrop of less and less commonality of tastes, big label corporate managed pop has made a dramatic comeback in the 00s compared to where it had been in the 90s. Disney leads the way with all the teenyboppers they've foisted on tweens. That's one of the few demographics where you could say that popular acts penetrates a large segment of a given population (I'm just gonna let that sentence hang and marinate a bit, I blame Southpark, profanity, and hilarity at link).

All this is just an excuse for not plowing through the releases from each year of the 00s and figuring out which ones have been stickiest (as in moving from computer to computer and MP3 player to MP3 player, or which songs have managed to keep get putting on playlists). Great music continues to get made, though it all feels a bit iterative rather than innovative, lately. Regina Spektor is great, but she's the latest iteration of pissed off feminine singer songwriter. MGMT is great, but they're the latest iteration of hip underground band with solid musical chops. Neko Case is great, but she's the latest iteration of rootsy with a twist. OutKast were great (I assume they're done), but they were the latest iteration of smartly done hip hop with mass appeal. Nikka Costa is great, but she's the latest iteration of well done blue eyed soul and funk. I think you'd be hard pressed to name an innovative or defining sound that came about in the 00s. MIA might be the closest thing to an innovator that the 00s have seen, but she's just a more exotic mélange of influences than what came before, and in that sense she also was an iteration of pop performer bringing 'world' music sensibilities to a genre that hadn't been infused with that kind of sound before.

My biggest complaint with the 00s musically is that, as good as some of the stuff has been, rarely does it rise to the level that it makes me want to not spin 50s bop, or 60s garage, or 70s prog, or 70s afrobeat, 70s female folksy stuff, or 80s new wave, or 90s grunge, or 90s electronica, or 70s PFunk, or Prince. Could just be me, could just be that the music you listen to from about the ages of 13 to 30 is the music that stays with you your whole life, and music that comes after it pales in comparison in your personal estimation. It's either that, or the 00s have really been derivative musically, I can't step far enough outside myself to determine which is truer.


Plenty of great TV in the 00s. TV has supplanted film as the go to media for complex drama. Listing, ordering, and trying to figure out which season of which show belongs where in relation to the entire output of what was available, that's a task I'm not up for. The good stuff breaks down into a few broad categories, though. You have the premium cable goodness, of the good Sopranos season, all of Deadwood and Rome, for some The Wire (not for me, though). You have the brilliant commercial failures of Freaks and Geeks (ran in 99-00, so just makes it, I guess), Firefly, and Andy Richter Controls the Universe. You have BBC/UK goodness with The Office (original recipe), Extras, Doctor Who relaunch, Torchwood, Sarah Jane Adventures, Being Human, the aforementioned Rome (joint BBC/Rai/HBO production), and Misfits (not yet shown in the USA, but basically what Heroes should have been). The final category is reality shows, which provided some of the best TV moments of the past ten years, even as the glut of these kind of shows has devalued both the experience of watching television, and the meaning of celebrity. Amazing Race deserves the accolades it gets, it's a fine show, though could be better, So You Think You Can Dance gets a lot of things right, and you've got attractive young people doing amazing things in skimpy costumes which never hurts. American Idol is a cultural touchstone, one of the few things that breaks generational barriers in this increasingly atomized culture of ours. Survivor kicked the whole thing off, even though I can't watch as I find the structure of the show unfair and unwatchable. MTV deserves both kudos and a kick in their collective gonads for some of the crap they've unleashed (Jersey Shore, Room Raiders, NEXT, I'm 16 and Pregnant but I'm on TV so Woohoo!, Sweet 16, Cribs, Road Rules/Real World let's all get drunk, use steroids, or large breast implants Challenge).

The good thing about TV now, there's something for everyone, the bad thing about TV, there's something for everyone, and some people have no taste.


Don't read broadly enough to make any recommendations. I read what I read, and I don't read what I don't read. Loved what Peter Hamilton has done this decade, same with Neal Stephenson. Joe Abercrombie's done some interesting things to the fantasy genre, and George RR Martin's big messy, probably never going to see the final few books of The Song of Ice and Fire cycle provided some entertainment. Can't stand the serious books I'm supposed to like, got my fill of that kind of literature in college, and I think authors of 'serious' books are too self consciously writing 'serious' books to actually write books that are entertaining or thought provoking. I could be wrong, there might be some great stuff out there, but everything I've tried sampling has left me unable to care enough about the characters to bother finishing the story.

The other big trend has been the rise of conservative books. Mostly, they're pamphlet lengthed polemics stretched and padded into a length where publishers can feel justified in charging $20. Doesn't mean that it's not a welcome and worthwhile change in reading habits. Don't think it reflects a more conservative nation, I do think these books get bought to be used as totems. Bookshelves aren't about having access to a good book whenever you want, in a lot of homes, what books are in your living room act as a marker as to the tribal affiliations of the people within. I suspect, that for a lot of consumers, hardcover books are bought to be conversation pieces, as they are for something to read. Books to read are bought on a kindle, or in paperback.


Video games are a mature medium now, with an aging demographic of players. The kinds of games getting released reflect that it's not just 15 year old boys 'wasting' their time on video games. Add on top of that the success of Nintendo's 'blue ocean' strategy, as well as the explosion of 'casual gaming', and you have a broad swath of the population enjoying various kinds of video games, but not thinking of themselves as 'gamers'. Some of my favorite games of the decade have been made by PixelJunk, who have three hits, and one clunker (avoid Racers, if you have a PS3, Monsters, Eden, and Shooter are a must download) amongst the four games they've released for PS3. Rhythm games with their living room clogging proliferation of controllers were a big trend in the 00s, but that seems to waning. First person shooters have matured and improved in the 00s, with the latest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare2 being one of the best selling bits of media of all time (over $700M in sales its first week out). Rockstar games defined and refined the 'sandbox' genre with its Grand Theft Auto games. EA dominates sports games, mainly through aggressively pursuing exclusive licenses, but they've also improved their games as they release a new version each year. The Wii brought waggle to the masses, and showed that a successful marketing strategy for gaming wasn't in better graphics, or a deeper and more challenging experience, but in providing an easier to understand, and a more intuitive interface for non-gamers to learn, way in which to interact.


The 00s were a time of increased choice, and increased cultural atomization. There have been a few standouts that managed to cross boundaries and appeal broadly (in music Taylor Swift, sort of, actually in music there aren't any really strong candidates for a cross-cultural standout, in TV American Idol, in books, Dan 'Freakin' Brown for god sakes, in videogames Wii Sports), but for the most part, each consumer has been able to pick and choose from a variety of sources and define their cultural experience of the past decade in a hugely individualistic way.

Vive la différence

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