imomus (imomus) wrote,
imomus
imomus

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.
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