Maybe I’m following the wrong people on social media, but has the word “overlooked” lost all meaning as it pertains to culture? It seems to me that when we’re still printing spoiler alerts for ten-year-old TV shows that “overlooked” has lost all explanatory power. Now when I see that word in a review, I roll my eyes. Chances are the reviews are just as overlooked as the culture they describe, if not moreso.
Sure, within your niche the new records from Vampire Weekend or the National may be on everyone’s lips, but it’s a safe bet that the word of mouth outpaces actual consumption of that particular cultural artifact. You may perceive that those records have gone mainstream, but the reality is your neighbor has never heard either band.
There’s definitely a bright side to this; with this shift, it appears to me at least that snobbery loses in the bargain. The on demand nature of culture now enables anyone curious enough to bookmark those things mentally and narrows the gap between the expert and the novice. Moreover, we’ve done away with the cultural monoliths that once dominated the pop cultural landscape that allow us to gather around real and imagined water coolers for discussion and debate.
But how do critics describe this shift as the pace of cultural creation plows under what came before? Blink and you could miss the next cultural epicycle. Has culture been marginalized or personalized? Can anything be described as ephemeral, or were we just always talking to ourselves, the myth of monoculture just another imagined community peopled exclusively by elites?
Freedom will be remembered as a story that captures a very strange chapter in American history. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but the mood of the last decade is something Franzen nails. His characters represent the amoral fugue state we drifted off into collectively after 2003. I’m not even sure his hollowed out characters could realistically course correct, yet they do, and for that reason I was somewhat disappointed in the novel.
Equally terrifying, alt-country act Walnut Surprise represented one of the worst musical movements of the decade. We have only ourselves to blame.
Matthew Ingram’s fantastic Woebot blog was an inspiration to me as a critic. His voracious appetite for and catholic taste in music pushed me to expand my palate and listen to music others may have dismissed as lesser works. In short, Woebot had big ears and it didn’t hurt that he could write.
I’m finally reading his ebook, 100 Lost Rock Albums from the 1970s and it’s bringing back lots of memories. This is the music I fell in love with around the time Stephen Malkmus released Pig Lib and even name checked the Groundhogs on tour. Some of the ground Ingram covers is familiar, but what makes the book so rewarding are the impossible to find albums that rekindle my love for crate digging.
If you’re looking for a place to begin, check out this companion playlist on Spotify.
Remember when you used to evaluate prospective friends by the books they read, the movies they watched and the music they listened to? Feels like a long time ago, right?
Less than 10 years ago I would still scurry to bookstores and record shops, or spend beyond my means on DVD sales online. Then that suddenly stopped.
Now, as I try to make sense of my home without being overrun by my toddler’s toys, I find myself wishing I’d made better use of the library. Where’d all this stuff come from? When did I ever think I’d read all the books I bought on whims, or watch all the DVDs I hoarded. Let’s not even talk about the music that accreted in my apartments over the years.
Since things started going digital in one form or other I’ve been reluctant to go all in. For those of us who’ve had physical media all our lives, a hard copy is a reassuring thing. Now I wish I’d taken the plunge sooner.
This is all to say I’m purging vast swaths of my cultural collections. If you’re someone who still likes these things, be in touch. You get dibs.
When I was growing up, I always dreamt of working at a record store. Whether I was in Kutztown, NYC or Philly, I’d always drop off an application and say a prayer for a few hours a week at a cool shop, mostly to subsidize my record habit.
Now those gigs, along with similar ones at book and movie rental shops, are disappearing. What’s a geeky kid to do for those jobs we take on summer break, or those we take after, say, getting out of grad school?
Sure, you can always sign on at a temp staffing firm, but where’s the fun in that? I know plenty of people who’d sooner take a job that paid less at a cool shop. What those gigs don’t have in pay, they make up in prestige. How can one do underemployment in style these days?