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What's over? - click opera
February 2010
 
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Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 08:58 am
What's over?

I've always been a rather extreme and judgemental person, someone who pays more attention to change than to continuity. One result is that I have very firm opinions on what's essentially over. Things that have, for other people, centuries of validity stretching in front of them are, for me, already dead as dodos. They may cling on for decades, they may peter out slowly. But as far as I'm concerned, they're over. They no longer warrant serious attention. They're basically retro. This is useful, because it frees me up to concentrate on the things I think aren't over. Today I thought I'd list the things I feel, instinctively, are over now. And the things that -- in some cases surprisingly -- aren't.



Rock Music: I decided rock music was over in about 1983. Which is odd, since that's the year classic-format rock music "came back" (U2's chiming chords obliterated the New Romantics with their synths, the Human League made a record about Lebanon with guitars in it, Eno ditched ambient to become a rock producer). But I was right. Basic-format rock music has been "coming back" since then at regular intervals (The Strokes, The White Stripes, Lightning Bolt). That doesn't mean it isn't over. It just means it's stubborn. People playing guitars, and other people thinking that's incredibly important, is over. You can tell that when you watch the highly viral YouTube videos of StSanders. I first saw these on Rhodri's page, then Toog's. StSanders has removed the original sound from concerts and substituted his own plausible yet pathetic sounds -- Ozzy Osbourne clapping, Jake E. Lee twangling impotently on an unamplified guitar. Watching them, you feel like someone who's woken up from a foolish adolescent dream. You feel like the gatefold emperor is finally naked. And you feel like the digital age (editing, YouTube, viral memes) is poking fun at another era, one it's entirely supplanted.

Popular Music: Okay, rock music is over and the internet dances on its cheesecloth grave, crying with mirth. But what about popular music in general? I'm not quite so sure about this, but I think it's over too. For a start, young people aren't interested in music CDs now. Manning a market stall this summer, trying to flog old CDs I no longer had any use for, I found that it wasn't just me; nobody had any use for them. There was interest in the DVDs and computer games, but not in the music CDs. And especially not from anyone under 30. CDs (and vinyl albums more charismatically before them) were us, but they aren't any more. As for mp3s, well, ubiquity is the abyss. Look at this artistically, too. There's been a brain drain. No longer will the most talented creative brains of their generation be headhunted by popular music, as might have been the case thirty years ago. My nephew -- who's remarkably similar to a 90s-born me -- wants to make computer games, not pop records.

Television: When did I first notice that television is over? Six or seven years ago, on a trip back to my hometown of Edinburgh. I was walking at night along the Georgian terraces, looking in people's astragaled windows. When I actually lived in Edinburgh and walked around at night, I'd see people sitting at home watching TV. But since the turn of the century what I see is people sitting at their computers. Because I don't go back home often, it just seemed to happen overnight. Bang! People switched off TV and switched on computers. Personally, I watch almost no television now. When I do watch it I find it completely unbearable. Most of it is the fast-edit promo fluff they run between shows, and the edits get faster all the time. You'll see 80 or 90 fast-edited ultra-dramatic moments packed into a few seconds, people getting axes through their heads or breaking up their relationships, and this is meant to draw you in. In fact it does the opposite. It sends you to the internet, which by and large gives you what you want when you want it. Television, in the age of interactivity, feels like a bully's bludgeon. And the bully is all the worse for knowing he's essentially over.



Telephones: I realise that not many people will agree with me here, but as far as I'm concerned telephones are totally over. The basic flaw in the telephone (which probably seemed like a good idea at the time) is that it interrupts you (and everybody else in range). It's an interrupting machine. It allows people to talk to you without their bodies being present, but doesn't allow you to do much about when and where they interrupt. Sure, calls can be recorded, screened, put on hold. But if you're doing all that, why not deal with voice traffic, or communication in general, via the internet? Telephones of all kinds are amazingly annoying, and telephone companies are horrible. The telephone is over. I ditched my last mobile in 2003. I only have a landline now because it comes free with my internet subscription.

Cars: Yet another monster of the 20th century that, as far as I'm concerned, has bitten the dust. Cars are possibly the most evil thing man has ever invented. They destroy all the places they touch by making everywhere irrelevant scenery on a transit corridor. We now realize they're destroying the planet too, melting the polar ice caps with their emissions. They cause oil wars. They magnify selfishness and make anyone who drives them into a snappy asshole. They clog up cities and show us, when we drive, only the ugliest bits of them. They've added to the sum of human misanthropy. They kill wildlife, turning it into roadkill. Their effect on urban planning has been appalling -- suburbs and malls and sprawl. Traffic in cities now moves as slowly as horses did. There's no point taking your car because you'll get all stressed, won't be able to read on the way, and won't find a place to park when you arrive. Use public transport; cars are over. What's more, they know they're over. You can tell this because, although they're still everywhere, cars want to be invisible. They all have the same design. Where once they came in vivid colours and represented "freedom", now they come in metallic non-colours (and, occasionally, red) and the ads for them try, pathetically, guiltily, to invoke ethics and the environment. Which, of course, is like a Borgia stressing religious duty and the need to be kind.



Democracy: Sadly, democracy is basically over. It's been replaced by shopping, travel, art -- everything, really. It's melted away. I haven't voted in a national election since the 80s. And if I had, would a thing have changed? When you can't really slip a cigarette paper between the parties? (Which reminds me, smoking is over too. Somebody tell Tokyoites and Berliners!) When you can't trust the Diebold voting machines (they count backwards in some counties)? When votable politics is all about the managerial allocation of budget and the enabling of commerce, ie terribly dull and (g)local? When you can hop onto a plane and be, within minutes, in a completely different political environment which is essentially exactly the same as the one you left (because they too have to deal with multinational companies and multinational individuals like yourself)? When what happens in Europe depends on what happens in America, and we Europeans can't vote there or, it seems, do much to change the American psyche? When undemocratic China seems set to be the 21st century's dominant power? I don't say -- at all -- that we should cease to be political. I'm an intensely political person. It's just that voting once every few years is such a pathetic expression of the political that it's laughable. I'm doing something much more political right now when I tell you what I think is over.

What else is over? America is basically over, as an evangelical template for the rest of the world. America in the future will be a place, a flavour, an accent, rather than "a destination for all of mankind". It will be specific rather than universal, off to the side rather than in the middle, a possible destination for some rather than an inevitable one for all. Books are basically over -- and I say this as someone who's only now got around to writing one. Nobody has the time to read books. There just isn't that much silence in the world, that much freedom from distraction. Wildlife is over; species are dying off at an alarming rate. We need to preserve the DNA of every living thing, at the very least. But living wild, unaffected by humans -- forget it. You're in a zoo or you're extinct. What's more, nobody seems to care. Winter is over -- there's no more snow on the Alps, no more cold snaps, the major powers rush to claim the mineral resources of the Arctic and Antarctic because soon -- much sooner than we predicted -- they'll just be rock. Fresh water passages open up from the Atlantic to the Pacific, over the pole.

What isn't over? There are things you think ought to be over, if cars, democracy, telephones and television are. And yet they survive and even thrive. For instance, rock and pop music may be over, but live concerts aren't. In an age where we want and need pretexts to come face-to-face with other human beings, concerts and conferences, sports events and art biennials provide the perfect excuse. And, while cars may be finished, planes aren't. Planes cover the kind of distances that matter increasingly as the world shrinks. Bicycles also aren't over: our bodies need them. Our legs will wither away if we don't use them. And there are few things more exhilarating than zooming along just above the ground on a bicycle frame. Television may be over save a billion YouTube retro glimpses at its best moments, but radio isn't; it's a medium that talks to you as you walk around the house, tells you things in a reassuring voice even when you're alone. Newspapers are over as paper things, but not as "viewspapers" -- clusters of opinion and analysis. Video looked like it might replace still photography in the early 90s, but, for my money, it's still photography which will win, because memories are much better represented by a still image than a jerky video sequence that sort of pans and zooms ineptly across something. Video formats come and go, but photographs endure. Unique one-off handmade stuff made by artists, potters, architects and amateurs may seem threatened by mass manufacturing and digital artifacts, but the replicable, in fact, only enhances the unique; one-off handmade stuff will continue to increase in value. Communism and socialism (not necessarily in "democratic" forms) looked like they died at the end of the 80s, but they'll be back because they embody the antidote to concentrations of wealth, which certainly aren't over. And religion, which should have been over centuries ago, won't go away any time soon. As long as pain, perplexity and death persist, so will the names of gods.

104CommentReply

microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 08:04 am (UTC)

"Ozzy Osborn"? Don't you mean "Ozzy Osbourne"? Clearly you think he's too retro for you.


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microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 08:08 am (UTC)

For a start, young people aren't interested in music CDs now.

You keep overgeneralizing things over and over again. Most of the albums of yours that I have have been bought. There was a study that said downloading music frequently increases album sales. Stop to think, "does microworlds do this?" because the things you're overgeneralizing about don't apply to me AT ALL, yet you assume they do because of my age, my nationality, etc.


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blackmoth
KARI ALTMANN
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 08:09 am (UTC)

Agreeing on almost all fronts, the dead discs are my obsession at the moment, I may have to qualify the video vs. photo thing though with the fact that once video gets there I think it still has a chance. When vid cameras are small enough and good enough to truly capture things the way a creative eye and ear and physical being desires, and are affordable and lovable enough...they have a chance. HD is a step...


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eeuuugh
eeuuugh
eeuuugh
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 08:27 am (UTC)

This is my favorite thing you've written. Living in a city in America, my largest hope is that cars and America are over.

-drinking alone in Portland


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 08:45 am (UTC)

I can't see how radio is not over. Does Berlin have such great local radio channels? All I get a few dozen kilometres away are either ten channels playing me the 'best of the 80s, 90s and of today' over and over again or a channel with the added suffix "culture" in its name, which plays Schlager classics and an occasional orchestral piece - that makes it the best radio channel I get (internet radio stations left aside, of course), but doesn't save the medium from being very passé.

What's definitely not over are podcasts, though.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 08:54 am (UTC)

Yeah, broadcast radio is over. I'm talking about radio on the internet. I realize that by the same criteria television is not over either -- I watch tons of YouTube, as we all do. But there does seem to be a difference, and it's to do with economic models of production. YouTube is mostly a retro-feast, the Napster of television. Digital radio, though, is mostly new content, cheaply produced, self-sustainable. You simply cannot produce great TV -- the kind we're all consuming on YouTube -- with the sort of small budgets internet traffic generates. It's too expensive, as this Charlie Brooker show demonstrates with admirable clarity.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
ankh156
ankh156
ankh
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 08:54 am (UTC)
Good essay

I agree with just about all of it.


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jwm
jwm
Angry Monkey
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 09:05 am (UTC)

Newsgroups are over. In fact they've been over for so long it's like talking about the horse and cart, but email's over for the same reason — it's too much of a nuisance to filter out the spam.

Microsoft is over, too. Not just because they released Vista to widespread indifference, but because kids founding startups expect to be bought by Google and Yahoo. The future of the desktop is going to be opensource chasing Apple's tail lights. While the desktop still has a future, at any rate.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 09:13 am (UTC)

Good call! I'd totally forgotten about newsgroups. There used to be a Momus one -- alt.fan.momus. I wonder if anybody's still there?

And yes, Microsoft. It's amazing, you can be the world's biggest company and still be over, like a tree that someone's already chopped down, but that still takes a decade to teeter and crash.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 09:15 am (UTC)

Really, really great post. Like you I think Rock has been creatively over for at least 20 years. But for some reason that tedious distorted bar chord refuses to go away. Let's hope StSanders can kill it off.

Here in England Radio One is trying to force us to like a new set of crap bands who base themselves on the lyrical and musical style of Jilted John. Reverend and The Makers are probably the worst.
The problem is, none of them realise that Graham Fellows' character was a comic creation, like Alan Partridge or David Brent. It's rather like those touring rock bands who saw Spinal Tap in the tourbus and took it at face value.


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ezhux
ezhux
ezhux
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 09:21 am (UTC)

i think this is one of the best posts you ever wrote :)


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xishimarux
xishimarux
ishimaru
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 09:22 am (UTC)

.. and the old man keeps shaking his cane until I turn old and he passes it on to me.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 10:13 am (UTC)

It's just that voting once every few years is such a pathetic expression of the political that it's laughable.

Such a view, which quite probably everyone holds at some point in their adolescence, sounded much more convincing in times where the choice wasn't between Gore and Bush.

("But he got the majority, and still didn't get to be president. See, I'm right." -- "So you say that if he had gotten a bigger majority this would still have happened?" -- "I don't know. I am always right. I like pithy statements. I don't like details.")

der.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 11:26 am (UTC)
Re: Democracy?

Parties regularly vote against things while in opposition then keep them once they get into power. The Tories have no plans to scrap tax credits or the minimum wage, just as New Labour haven't scrapped the Tories' regressive tax policies, privitisation drive or anti-Union laws. Sure, they shuffle a few quid around differently at the edges, but there's absolutely no ideological divide between the two main parties in the UK.

Socialist policies? How about a progressive income tax; closing tax loopholes for city fatcats; comprehensive (non-religious) education; free university places; decent benefits rather than tax credits; scrapping nuclear weapons, renationalising rail...Brown's Labour won't deliver any of those in a million years and voting for them, believing oneself to part of a Good vs Evil struggle makes you part of the problem.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 10:17 am (UTC)

The 14 word summary: What's hot? Everything I like. What's not? Everything I don't like.

der.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 10:23 am (UTC)

Except that, in condeming popular music, I've flung the whole of my life's work into the sea, haven't I, Der? Why would I do that, if what's hot is me-me-me and what's not isn't?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand



(Anonymous)
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 10:23 am (UTC)

Rock may be over (although I don't agree with your 1983 cut-off point: that was the year New Order definitively became a synth-dance group instead of a Stooges/Velvets inspired rock group). But retro definitely isn't over. Which means rock lives on, albeit in some Zombiefied form, and in a certain way isn't "over" at all, because Zombified art forms define our era.

Which leads me to wonder what you mean by "over", and whether your definition of it is in fact "over" itself. You seem to have this romantic/modernist notion that something is only relevant if it's challenging, dynamically changing, "now", etc. Maybe that way of seeing things is itself dead: after all it's a very historical-specific notion, isn't it? The neo-classicists didn't see things that way.

And since you situate yourself in pop music and, latterly, literature, is Momus now "over" as well? (You're involved in the art world too of course, but you seem in permanent denial about the "overness" and essential retroness of that scene too.)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 10:31 am (UTC)

Every time I make a record now I feel that it essentially doesn't matter, it's just one more. Whereas when I started every record was going to change the world (and my life). So, yes, although it's the most important thing I do, Momus music is also "over". (Actually, blogging is probably the most important thing I now do. And that's very much not over, and I'm not over it... yet.)

I don't agree that the concept of "over" is over, or that we could make now = then because "zombiefied artforms define our era". That's the sort of sophistry people accuse me of, and it's doomed to failure, because "now = then" and "the new = the old" and "the original = the hackneyed" quickly form recursive circles, debasing the terms of debate, and finally language itself.

I also don't think the art world is remotely over. It's booming financially, and even someone condeming New York's current cultural scene is forced to condemn its current art scene least of all.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 11:21 am (UTC)

I did add, right after the sentence you quote, "Sure, calls can be recorded, screened, put on hold."

As for television, the way to watch it selectively -- just like the way to answer communications in the time you allocate, not the time somebody else chooses -- is on the internet.


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ohayo_sakura
ohayo_sakura
sleepy chan
Tue, Nov. 6th, 2007 11:28 am (UTC)

thanks for the food for thought.
ahhhhhhhh every time i post a comment on your blog, i look at the tatami mat background and my mind goes:
ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (good / relaxing ahhh )


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