Friday, February 12, 2010

Repackaged Popular Culture?

"We are clear-cutting the pop cultural past a lot faster than we are reforesting it. . . . Now we're getting to the point where some of the most distinctive and memorable culture is repackaged culture." - Syracuse University professor of pop culture Robert Thompson, quoted in this piece by Andrew Grossman of Reuters, in January of 2004, six years ago.

Is this of concern? So rapidly is Hollywood producing what can be called popular culture, so quickly is that product being thereafter released on disc, so easily accessible for multiple viewings, and now, so rapidly are we becoming nostalgic for that which came before, that overload is inevitable. As Jackson astutely observed, now, the product that is being released so quickly is a repackaging of the pop culture of an earlier era. Is the advance of popular culture like that of technology, the faster that it is developed, the more it builds upon itself and its early growth begins to move at a more exponential rate? Certainly, the inundation of programming, and our obsession it, explains the rise of postmodernism and self-referentialism in contemporary cinema and television. But again, is this healthy? Should a nostalgic blogger who writes chiefly about the 1980s and 1990s really be throwing stones on this issue?

I emailed Thompson in late 2009 to ask him what he now thinks of the quote he offered in 2004. His response is as follows:
When referring to shared mass culture, this 2004 statement seems more true today than ever. The only real growth areas in popular culture shared by everyone seem to be celebrity and breaking news (e.g.Balloon Boy, Tiger Woods) and cultural retreads. Popular culture of course has become popular cultures in the plural: the most interesting stuff going on today is going on in niche cultural environments.

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