"Before "Housewives," it was the goofiness of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie flaunting their financial excesses in front of regular people. Given the current environment, watching someone spend without a care has lost its appeal."
This is exactly what I was referring to a few weeks ago. We are now looking at a tremendous cultural shift. I believe it will be somewhat similar to what took place around 1979-80.
If you remember the 70s, you'll know that culture focused on "the people." Television featured working class, regular folks contending with their daily lives in the face of a crazy bureaucracy. Barney Miller, for instance, showed cops who battled the system to do what they knew in their hearts was right. Their actions weren't held up as heroic. Instead, these characters were just common people doing what they knew was right.
For example, in an episode called "Asylum," Wojo takes on the State Department to grant asylum to a Soviet defector who happens to be gay. The bureaucratic regulations are nonsensical and it is up to Wojo and Barney to figure out a way around the rules. Inept government, bonding with others and breaking rules for humane purposes were common themes in that decade.
The Reagan Revolution changed all that. Suddenly there was a belief in American society that common folks could become upper class. Reagan's trickle down theory put the emphasis on the rich. Television, in turn, focused on how they lived. Shows such as Dynasty and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous became commonplace. The cops in Miami Vice displayed wealth and style as they fought violent crime. Sitcoms such as Golden Girls and Growing Pains returned to domesticity. Rarely did these shows venture outside of their small, insular world.
We can now look forward to mainstream culture embracing very different themes. The following thoughts are my predictions on what our culture might look like soon. I'm going to provide the following thoughts with one caveat: no one truly knows for certain right now how this economic crisis will wind up. If it leads to other, more disastrous consequences such as civil unrest, then these themes will change.
1) A focus on "regular people." The average, working stiff will begin to dominate storylines again. Some mainstream stories will attempt to pacify the deep rage which people are feeling about the economy, the bailout and the lack of consequences felt by Wall Street.
2) Traditional values will be recast. Previously, the words "traditional values" served as code words for conservatives. Either these words will take on new meaning, or there will be a new phrase to describe values such as personal responsibility, community, and courage. Teamwork will also be emphasized strongly. What you bring to your immediate community will have more value than ever before.
3) Tangibility. In direct contrast to an ethereal economy, it will be important to have tangible assets and strengths. In an environment where there is a growing lack of trust, you will either have to "put up or shut up." Think of it this way: Cash or credit. Which will be more valuable and trustworthy?
4) Escapism. People will want to take an hour or two away from troubles. However, they will not want to escape into a land where there are no challenges. Instead, we will see common folks overcoming tremendous odds and coming away victorious. Comedy will also play an important role. Instead of focusing on our own foibles, there will be plenty of satire and poking fun at authority. Needless to say, there will be a huge upsurge in comedy.
5) Globalism. This theme is a toss-up. A portion of our society will want to look towards globalism to save us and another will believe that globalism is the idea that got us into this mess. Either way, look for more discussion of the concept and themes on how "we're all in this together." There will also be a push to study history more closely, to look for clues to our current crisis.
6) Stories and ideas that search for a deeper meaning. People in religious communities will begin to concentrate on more esoteric aspects of their religions. Society's discussions of religion in the past have never really gotten past the "how many times do you go to church" question. Now, people who are religiously inclined will be forced to go deeper within themselves.
7) Frugality and "poverty chic" will be in style. Homesteading will become fashionable. (I guess moving to a country farm puts me ahead of the curve.)
8) You might think that rage and meanness will become commonplace, but I believe that this turn will also bring out a more gentle side of people. When they realize that everyone is feeling the effect of this downturn, there will be no need to blame your neighbor. But that doesn't mean people won't look for a scapegoat.
I think audio plays and local theater will become more popular, as people look for a more personal connection with culture. People will now look for an accurate mirror to their own life experiences. The key word here is "accurate." Since our mainstream culture has functioned like a fun house mirror maze, it will undoubtedly be difficult for some artists, writers and producers to make the shift. Look for new people to come to the forefront culturally. Like the 30s, those with unconventional theories will find a window to present their ideas on how to heal society.
The "sound" of the next few years may become quieter, as people look to create sanctuaries away from roar of their problems.
Again, much of this depends upon the idea that it's just an economic depression that we are facing. If something along the lines of civil unrest occurs, then these themes will undoubtedly change. In that case, we might be looking at the culture of 1968 again, with its loud volume and over-the-top absurdism.
These are just some of my thoughts on what this cultural shift might look like. If you have thoughts, I'd love to hear them.