Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
Think for a minute about the clothes you wore, car you drove, and music you listened to 10 or even 20 years ago. Were they radically different from what you donned, drove or rocked out to today? Odds are that you’re experiencing a kind of “cultural deja vu” — and writer and Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen is concerned. Kojo talks with Anderson about whether pop culture is stuck on repeat.
- Kurt Andersen host and co-creator, Studio 360; author,'Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America' (Random House Publishing Group, 2009); journalist
Andrew Keen talks chats with Kurt Andersen about his new book on why he thinks culture hasn’t changed much in the past 20 years:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. One person's wistful nostalgia could be old-fashioned smulch to another. Writer Kurt Anderson thinks we're in the midst of a cultural moment when everything old is new again. Well, not new exactly but recycled, mashed up or just the same as it was two decades ago. So, what does a lack of significant change in the realms of design and entertainment say about a culture? It could mean we're on the verge of an era that will bring spectacular innovation or maybe the beginning of the decline of Western civilization.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIKurt Anderson joins us from studios of WNYC in New York. He's the co-creator and host of "Studio 360." He's also a writer, a journalist whose books include "Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America" and a new novel, "True Believers," out later this year. Kurt Anderson, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. KURT ANDERSENHappy to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIOur audience may think of you first as the host of "Studio 360." but you're also a prolific writer. In January, you wrote a piece for Vanity Fair on the influence nostalgia have on pop culture in which you lay out what you called the two great paradoxes of contemporary cultural history. What's the first great paradox?
ANDERSENI'd have to remember my piece in detail to tell you that. But there are several here, and it's interest -- and I guess the first great paradox or a great paradox is that at this time of incredible change and flux in so many ways, obviously in terms of technology, but also geopolitics, America's place in the world, all of these incredible changes that there is this stasis in, as you say, cultural and design realms unlike certainly any in my lifetime.
ANDERSENAnd I argue in the piece, unlike in the century that we are -- sure, people have always been nostalgic in various moments and revive musical forms or fashions and the rest, not like this in such a kind of lockdown way, as we've seen in the last 20 years. If you look in what this begin with just the observation that looking in the last 20 years and the way people look, dress, the way cars looked, the way music sounds, all of it, has changed. I'm not saying not at all in the last 20 years, but significantly -- and I would say inarguably less in the last 20 years than in any previous 20-year period.
NNAMDIIs that what makes this period different? You point to traces of Victorian during the 1960s as one such example because, you know, designers, for instance, often draw on inspiration from past eras. What makes what's happening now different?
ANDERSENThat it is so thorough going, I would say. I mean, yes, and I raised those points that this isn't in that case of, you know, the Beatles dressing up in Victorian outfits and hippies liking Victorian houses in San Francisco and so forth. But it wasn't really until beginning in the 1970s and then accelerating for the next 40 years really that filmmakers, musicians, fashion designers, product designers, writers and more are really more and more and more began looking backward for their, not just inspiration, but for, you know, copying forms.
ANDERSENAnd then what we now call the mash up culture, which has been more than ever enabled by the availability of every sound, image, film, everything, thanks to the Internet, it's just been reinforced. And I think there are lots of reasons for it. And I hazard some guesses. I think one of the reasons that this has been so comfortable for both consumers and creators of culture is the incredible discombobulating flux of the rest of the world, of how we communicate, of industries being disrupted and destroyed by technology.
ANDERSENAnd all the rest, you know, it feels good to cling to the familiar and to wear the same jeans you're wearing 20 years ago, and the same sneakers and to have your children, your teenage children think that the music you listened to is cool and all the rest of it. It's a kind of comforting haven in an otherwise kind of riotous storm of change. But change -- and this is the point that is under the hood most -- I mean, yes, we didn't have cell phones to the extent we do today 20 years ago.
ANDERSENBut mostly the big change is more invisible. And that's why -- and again, I just challenge the listeners to look at pictures of your -- of a, you know, of a family reunion, a family portrait from 20 years ago and tell me it's not a lot less dated than a portrait from 1970, would have 1990 or 1950 and 1970. It's -- something has changed.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Kurt Anderson, co-creator and host of "Studio 360." We're talking about a kind of cultural deja vu that we are now experiencing and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think aspects of our culture have become stagnant? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. You can send a tweet @kojoshow. Email to email@example.com or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Kurt, this is a fairly metaproposition, but is recycled culture a culture onto itself?
ANDERSENWell, that is a metaproposition. And it's -- and, again, that is the argument. And, again, this piece has struck a lot of nerves, positively and negatively and it upsets people. They don't sometimes know quite why it upsets them. And some of my -- the people I've had conversations with, by email and otherwise, strangers, argue that, no, the mash-up culture is what it's all about now. Okay. And I have nothing -- I don't disapprove of looking backward, of taking a bit from the 1940s and a bit from the 1970s and maybe ancient Rome and seeing what you get. That's fine.
ANDERSENI don't -- there's nothing wrong with it. It's just -- it's strange to me and interesting and worth observing and noting and trying to figure out why that so dominates so much of culture. And, again, I want to say that. So, yeah, it's a culture. It is its own culture, but it is -- it's so big and so dominant, one wonders if there's room really or appetite for the truly and shockingly new to develop and emerge. And, again, I don't want to say that there isn't excellence ongoing.
ANDERSENI mean, the rate of great design, great art, great whatever is probably the same as it ever was. It's just looking at the whole from sort of 30,000 feet at the whole culture and style and design from the way people look to the way music sounds that the -- in the aggregate, it's just strikingly less different today versus 20 years ago than was the case in the past.
NNAMDIKurt, before we start getting angry calls from the artists...
NNAMDI...and the designers in our audience, we should clarify that you're not saying there's nothing innovative out there. What are some of the exceptions that prove the rule?
ANDERSENWell, I do a big carve out at the beginning of this essay saying, technology aside, which as I've admitted is sort of like saying, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? Because technology obviously is a huge thing and it is the center of culture, discourse, everything, in terms of what's new. So, obviously video games, for instance, aren't entirely new and incredibly consequential form that is emerging.
ANDERSENSo, and again, I've seen plays. I hear musical performers, individual innovators. But the, you know, there is simply -- there is much less of a general mood, eagerness to prize and privilege and embrace the strange and new as for instance there was most notably in the 1960s.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you mentioned technology because technology plays such a huge role in our ability to access and to recycle culture. But has technology changed so much so fast over the last 20 years that we are so exhausted from trying to keep up with it that we find it difficult to find the energy to be innovative elsewhere?
ANDERSENWell, I think there's two questions there. They're good questions, which is, are we as consumers as people so exhausted by, you know, trying to figure out the new app and what is the new etiquette for whether you take cell phone calls here or there? All that stuff. The small and the banal and the large and the consequential, so there's that. There's also, I think, something that's probably gone on, and I've had this conversation with people after the piece came out.
ANDERSENIs that, you know, in the last 15 years a large fraction of the time and energy of our cultural creators, authors, filmmakers, smart people, creative people have gone into technology. So, there's simply -- if there's a given pie of cultural creative energy in our culture, which, you know, stands to reason there is. You know, a larger piece of that has gone over the last 20 years to figuring out cool apps and all the rest of the technology. And less of it is therefore available for, you know, fashion, movies, music, all of the 20th century forms of cultural expression.
NNAMDII'm too consumed trying to get better at Angry Birds and Temple Run to create anything at this point.
ANDERSENSomething like that, yeah.
NNAMDIHere is Dan in Silver Spring, MD. Dan, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
DANHi. Yeah, this is -- I'm an architect and this idea of what's new and fresh and what's recycled is actually very current for us. And I think the idea that things always have to be changing literally is actually a sort of an offshoot of modernism. Because if you look before then, the sort of the evolutionary change of having an apprenticeship with a master and things sort of incrementally changed, I think there's -- we're sort of revisiting that and saying maybe that's better. What do you think about that?
ANDERSENI think that's a great point. And, you know, I wasn't alive in the 19th century so I don't know if it is strictly a modernist 20th and 21st century kind of this accelerated -- style that did change. But I -- it definitely goes in hand in hand with it. And -- your listener, caller is an architect, which is interesting since architecture of course -- and I talk about this in the piece -- in the last 1970s and '80s, the great rediscovery of old forms, what was then called post-modernism in architecture was a big part of this turning backward and saying, hey, what was there before that is still interesting that the modernists banned essentially.
ANDERSENAnd so that was a big part of this shift that occurred over the last, you know, several decades. And, again, there is, you know, as ever, there's probably a Goldilocks middle way between, you know, new, new, new, new every instant. And nothing's changed much in 25 years. But I think that's a very good point. And to people who are disconcerted by this fact, there is a, you know, it can be understood in a more benign way as no incremental change rather than radical shape shifting every few years.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Dan. We move on to Kathleen in Alexandria, VA. Kathleen, your turn.
KATHLEENHi, Mr. Nnamdi. I just was really struck by something you said about an exhaustion. And I really do feel like there has been somewhat of a complete paradigm shift in the way our world works technologically. I was born in '86 and just thinking of the great minds that expanded the way we communicate, the way business works, the way our culture operates is just dramatically changed. Also, I do think there is a breathing period required.
KATHLEENI also think that there is time for acceptance of social norms (unintelligible) a picture, you know, 20 years might look relatively similar, but there's more acceptance of the total parts of the picture. There's been great change in the way we address and look at various ideas, artistically as well.
NNAMDIAnd the point you're making about all of that, Kathleen, is that because we have changed the way in which we are able to access these things, the way in which we are able to look at them, we don't need to see them change as much?
KATHLEENYes, I think that there's a better dedication artistically now and socially we have to, I mean, just look at the whole instead of just the parts that we had before.
NNAMDIKurt Andersen, how do you feel about this? I'm not quite sure I understand it.
ANDERSENWell, there -- I think there are two things I'd say. One, is that your caller who is only a little older than my daughter, so I've grown up in a household with young people who interestingly, of course, in the context of this conversation have only lived consciously in an era where I believe nothing much changes. So it's like a, you know, a fish to imagine what it's like to live outside of water. But I think she makes a good point in that without the access, the pre-Internet age where, yes, we could buy books and look at pictures of the way things used to be and listen to old records, but that is exponentially radically different given the Internet access.
ANDERSENSo in addition to what the previous caller talked about, the modernist idea -- part of the modernist idea in all of the arts was about, you know, denying and subverting and ignoring and hating the past, the ever-receding past. That's part of what we're talking -- what happened, I think, in the 20th century and we're now sort of compensating a little bit. The pendulum has swung back a little bit, but this...
NNAMDIYou get exactly because I think one of the points that Kathleen wanted to make is that we've gotten tired of the constant change of the 20th century. Is that correct, Kathleen?
KATHLEENYes, I feel like it's -- we have to absorb all that we have access to now. I don't know if this relevant, I think it is, but Marina Abramovic's "The Artist Is Present," was, I mean, kind of a huge (unintelligible) and there are many people who didn't like it because they felt that it was, you know, obnoxious or pretentious but I think the idea of presence, understanding or absorbing a moment is what we're -- is now very little occurred in the exhibition but it was incredible for anyone (unintelligible) across from her.
NNAMDIOkay. Well, I was not sitting across from her so I don't know. I don't know if Kurt can speak to that at all.
ANDERSENWell, it is -- and that's a good example of something one could talk about, the precedence that existed before, doing what she's doing in this incredible performance piece she did at the Museum of Modern in New York and elsewhere. But that's an example of -- I would grant that status as an inventive and new, no question, so again, what I'm saying is this isn't a totalitarian phenomenon where there's nothing new. That's a good example, Marina Abamovic is a good example of something that was new.
ANDERSENBut, again, to this point of we are still pretty new 10, 15 years in to having web-digital access to this incredible degree of granular pass. it's as though we've just discovered this amazing attic in our house and so we're still kind of mesmerized by it, rifling through all this stuff and maybe at this -- part of my thinking of how this won't last forever perhaps, is that okay we've had our heyday of looking at all this stuff in the attic, all this old stuff in our culture and well, you know, in another 10 or 15 years or maybe sooner we'll sort of say okay let's move on and create some amazing new stuff.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation on cultural deja vu with Kurt Andersen, co-creator and host of "Studio 360." We are still taking your calls at 800-433-8850. I see all the lines are busy so if you'd like to communicate with us, go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. Send us a tweet at kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Kurt Andersen, co-creator and host of "Studio 360" about why we seem to be recycling our culture at such a rapid rate. Kurt joins us from studios of WYNC in New York. He's also a writer and journalist. His books include "Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America" and a new novel, "True Believers," that's out later this year. If you'd like join the conversation, go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us an email to email@example.com or a tweet at kojoshow.
ANDERSENKurt, before I return to the phones, Hollywood loves remakes. Recent or upcoming reboots include "Hawaii 5-0," "Get Smart," "21 Jump Street," "Bewitched," "90210," "The A-Team," "Police Academy," yet another "Spiderman." I could go on and on and on and movies like "Doubting Abby," "Madmen," "The Artist and the Iron Lady," evoke bygone eras when it comes to movies and TV. Is it nostalgia or the bottom line that's driving this trend?
ANDERSENWell, they are mutually reinforcing and not just in movies and television, but in, you know, retailing. You know, we didn't, for instance, have 30 years ago this giant, what I call style-industrial complex, composed of the Ikeas and Gaps and Targets of the world. Those were small and, in some cases, nonexistent businesses and now it is, you know, it's not just the boutique hero or cute little, you know, housewares store there. It is this big business that, yes, wants to keep making the billions that they're making by selling us stuff that is familiar and, you know, and selling it to everyone. So, of course, it's the bottom line.
ANDERSENWhat's interesting about movies in particular is, yes, there are -- this last year, there were probably more remakes, reboots, superhero franchise part five films than in any other year. So this week we saw the Oscar nominations, none of those movies, by and large at all, got nominated for best pictures but the ones that did were as you say, kind of glimpses romantic longing glimpses of the past, like "Hugo," or "The Artist." So there is simultaneously a kind of, you know, artistic cultural backward looking impulse that's going on.
ANDERSENAnd, you know, when it can make money it makes money but, again, even, you know, "Hugo," Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" is not about making a sure-fire blockbuster. It's him and the audience that loves that movie, wanting to wallow in some fantasy version of the 1930's, same with "The Artist." Again, that's hasn't made a lot of money at all so it's not the bottom line it's coming from this backward looking longing that really permeates so much of the culture right now.
NNAMDISo many of our listeners would like to join this conversation that I will step back and give way to Paul, in Arlington, Va. Paul, your turn.
PAULHi, I had two points I wanted to make. One, when I was a young teenager in the early '70s, my attitude was perfection has now been achieved in hairstyles and clothes and architecture. There'll be no need to change from now on. Obviously, that was wrong. But in recent years, I've wondered if maybe we've achieved something close to a temporary perfection in clothing and architecture, maybe hairstyles too, and that, you know, even if it's not the final word on those things maybe it's good enough to last for quite until maybe, I don't know, maybe some huge technological developments or something force us to move on.
PAULThe second point I wanted to make...
NNAMDIWell, Paul, let's deal with one at a time because you've introduced me to a new phrase which I'll pass onto Kurt, a temporary perfection, Kurt?
ANDERSENAll perfection is temporary, I think. But, you know, maybe although I think there are a lot of people throughout history who've said, no, progress, we've gotten there. We don't need any more inventions. We've discovered everything there is to discover and I think while that looks foolish if you've said it about physics in 1895, which people did. You know, I -- unless we are at a permanent stasis, which is possible, I think if we played what you just said for you, 10 or 20 years hence you'd go, oh, my gosh, how could I have said such a thing?
NNAMDIPaul, thank you very much for your call. Onto to Tom, in Arlington, Va. Tom, your turn.
TOMHi, my comment concerns reruns in cable TV. I grew up in the '70s without cable and I found that by the time I was about 25 years old, my younger relatives who were watching cable TV were more familiar with the shows that I grew up with than I was myself. And now that I'm in my 40s, I still find that my youngest relatives can repeat things from "The Brady Bunch" and "Gillian's Island" that I, you know, never would be able to remember.
TOMAnd also sort of following on that another point, I've heard that the series on TV, the sitcoms that play well to reruns, for financial reasons, are no longer being made the way they once were. So I wonder if we're, in some ways, doomed to a world in which it's sort of, our culture sort of ends with "Cheers" and "Seinfeld" as a last race (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIKurt, we have so much more to mash up.
ANDERSENExactly. Those are excellent points and actually another point that I hadn't thought of occurred to me as a result of the first point your caller made, which is the way that people of various generations can now talk about "The Brady Bunch" or "Gillian's Island" or, you know, that the mass culture now extends over generations, which is interesting since, of course, one of the most important features of current contemporary culture that it's so fractured, only tiny audiences see any given thing or hear any given song unlike the way it used to be before we had a million cable channels and a zillion online channels.
ANDERSENSo what's happened as we are all fractured into our little silos listening to what only we listen to or watching only, the 2 million of us who watch "Madmen" or whatever, at the same time there's this new mass audience that can partake of stuff from 10, 20, 40, 50 years ago. So that may, I mean, it's almost as if there's some kind of law of culture of thermo dynamics going on that says if you can't all be one culture in the present moment at least you can be one culture that embraces stuff from the past together.
NNAMDITom, thank you very much for your call. Kurt, a woman in a shapeless but flashy flapper dress from the '20s would look strange next to a woman in Dior's new look of nipped waists and full skirts from the '40s or another in the bellbottoms of the '70s. Fashion may be the realm of pop culture we think of as the most changeable, the most cyclical. Is that no longer the case?
ANDERSENI would say that is, again, I don't want to say no longer the case forever or that there's nothing new, but absolutely, you know, and I make that point in the piece. I mean, look at the way hairstyles are and the way clothing is, you know, think of any 20 year period, 1930 versus 1950, totally different. '50 versus '70, totally different, '70 versus '90, totally different. '92 versus 2012, not so much. So, yes, fashion was that place because it was cheap and easy to make and make the new and make the new again that changed rapidly, let alone hairstyles, which had no capital investment to change.
ANDERSENThose have changed less too so that's really the first germ, the very smallest germ, of this what became a big argument was that, just that observation that fashion has changed less. And then I've heard from lots of fashion people who say, yeah, I've been thinking about this too. you know, it used -- revivals happened but never again, never as kind of compulsively and totally as they began to do in the 1980s through today.
NNAMDIYou know, here's a piece from "The New York Times" by Cathy Horyn, Today in which she's talking about a Giorgio Armani prive show in which she says, and I'm quoting here, "Yet despite the technique and bold snake motifs the clothes were not inspiring to me. The experience was not at all that different from watching a very good, ready-to-wear show a decade ago." This underscores the point that you're making.
ANDERSENWell, exactly and Cathy Horyn, whom I don't know, wrote a very nice call-out when this piece first appeared. So, again, the great fashion arbiter of "The New York Times" and therefore a great fashion arbiter has the same sensation that, what's happened? Why are we on pause?
NNAMDIOn now to Andrew, in Washington D.C. Andrew, you're on the air, go ahead please.
ANDREWHi, Kojo. You know I always wish I could call into your show on Saturday until I realize that Studio 360 doesn't have a line to call in on.
NNAMDIThat's why we made Kurt available for you today.
ANDREWI have two quick points to make and they both feed into this nostalgia or false nostalgia and anything that goes in with it. The first one is, I had an argument with a friend of mine a few weeks ago about the Beatles and we were wondering if there's anybody who just didn't like the Beatles. And the argument eventually ended into if there are we can't find them. And the other one is, he ended up saying in that conversation that I really wish, you know, we would have somebody that would've replaced the Beatles.
ANDREWWhich I made the argument for current world status, how popular they are, number of fans and money that U2 on paper is the exact equivalent of the Beatles. But for some strange reason especially in American society, a lot of the younger generation has been disenfranchised with what would basically be classified as the Beatles replacement really. That's the first point, which would be that the youth have this weird disenfranchisement with modern culture and then the second thing is, and I noticed this over the Christmas holidays and a lot of people that even wound up on the web in an article.
ANDREWWhich is, has anyone ever noticed that Christmas carols that get played are from like the '50s and '60s and at the very latest the '70s? Which means that we are trying to market Christmas towards the Baby Boomer generation, which is, incidentally, usually the generation that over the past few decades has had the money to spend. I think a lot of those rehashing of culture is purely economic because with nostalgia comes people's willingness to buy.
NNAMDIYour turn, Kurt.
ANDERSENAll good points and, in fact, I make an economic possible argument in this piece that there is, you know, there is a real economic incentive to not have things change and simply recycle what exists. I mean, imagine if blue jeans suddenly went out of style the giant Old Navy Company would be in trouble. If interior design fashions changed radically quickly the 11,000 Starbucks that look a certain way, a certain '90s groovy way, would be in big trouble as well.
ANDERSENThe U2 thing versus the Beatles is interesting because it's a proxy for the larger conversation of all the music essentially, all the pop music, that has followed the kind of great crucible of the 1960s and early '70s. And except until hip-hop, I would argue there wasn't this gigantic big-bang moment since. So U2, fine, you know, if you like U2 great. They certainly have endured, they're certainly huge. They're from the same little islands as the Beatles were. But were they ever extraordinary in terms of their changing the way you think about music, about bands? No.
ANDERSENThey were simply an inheritor of a kind of idea, a rock and roll trope that had been invented in the 1960s. And then with this whole conversation, it gets into -- as I get into, uh, are the baby boomers responsible for this kind of ice age, and also, of course baby boomers can be incredibly insufferably annoying and saying, as I'm kind of implicitly saying is, ah, nothing ever new happened after I was young, so that is a kind of a part of this conversation as well.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Andrew. Speaking of baby boomers, Kurt, society has in a lot of ways become less formal than it was in earlier eras with members of older generations today dressing and behaving much like younger ones. What role does that loss of formality play in this. It's my understanding that you couldn't see your own father at your age prancing around in blue jeans and sneakers and going to see movies with aliens.
ANDERSENUnthinkable. No. A piece that I -- that is a connected phenomenon. I wrote about this a decade ago -- more than a decade ago in The New Yorker, called -- a piece called "Kids Are Us." Just again, observing that, that essentially starting with my generation, talking 'bout my generation, the baby boomers, we -- as we became adults, didn't quite become -- refused to become adults in the way that adults previously had, i.e., you wear grown up clothes, you don't wear sneakers all the time, you don't wear jeans and sweatshirts, you don't eat, you know, you don't gorge on ice cream and cookies and go see movies about UFOs and all that.
ANDERSENThat's what kids did. All that stuff was kids' stuff. You don't listen to rock and roll anymore. That's kids' stuff. Well, that changed about 40 years ago where adulthood lost so many of the old grown up signifiers and so there's -- just as we don't want things to change, or maybe -- or things aren't changing so much in the way we're talking about, so too we never quite want to leave being 18 years old.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation with Kurt Andersen. He's the co-creator and host of Studio 360. We're talking about the kind of era of cultural recycling in which we now live. We do have a phone line or two open, so you can call us at 800-433-8850. When that closes up, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIOur guest is Studio 360 host and co-creator, Kurt Andersen. Kurt's also a writer and journalist. His books include "Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America," and he's got a new novel coming out later this year. It's called "True Believers." Kurt, I'd like to share with you two emails. One we got from Norris who says, "Innovation in the arts in this country is down because this country has systematically eliminated arts education from schools.
NNAMDIWhen I went to school, every child learned an instrument. If you do not expose people to the arts at a young age, you miss an opportunity to develop their creativity and the long term cost to the culture is beginning to show up." And this we got from Wendy on Capitol Hill. "I hate to say this, but over the next 10 to 15 years, there will be a mass die-off of most of the baby boomer musicians and artists that have been with us since the '60s. Once musicians like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Robert Plant, Paul McCartney and so on aren't around anymore, culture will open up in a whole new way." To what say you, Kurt Andersen?
ANDERSENWell, those are both interesting points, and while I share the first writer's deep concern and unhappiness over the cutbacks in arts education, maybe. I guess I'm not persuaded that that's a big part of what we're talking about, but whether it is or not, that's a bad thing. I agree with that. In terms of whether I guess the second email is making the argument that all these giant great oak trees of my youth like Eric Clapton are crowding out and preventing the saplings from growing, it'll be a loss when that generation of people die, no doubt. Whether that's -- whether their die off will then allow a new forest to bloom, you know, it would be pretty to think so, and I hope it does.
NNAMDIWell, Kurt, it was one considered boring and unoriginal, downright lame, to use someone else's music in your own song, but with hip hop came sampling. Do you think efforts to create and enforce stricter copyright laws could boost us out of this recycling phase we're now in?
ANDERSENYou mean, the United States Congress will correct this huge...
ANDERSEN...50 years in the making...
NNAMDIHere comes SOPA.
ANDERSENYeah. Whatever -- I mean, again, there, I mean, that was -- it looks like a hand fisted, poorly conceived law that, you know, the back of whose head we saw in the last few days, that aside, I think there probably is -- there does need to be some grand new paradigm for how intellectual property is used, not stolen, all the rest. Will anything the Congress of the United States will do, any law passed change this?
ANDERSENI -- again, I don't want to say absolutely not, never in a million years, but no, never in a million years. I don't think the government of the United States, or any individual jurisdictional government has much power to affect the bigger cultural sensibility shifts and waves that we're talking about here.
NNAMDINot gonna happen. Here is Martha in Rockville, Md. Martha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARTHAHi. Gosh, I just wanted to say I'm so delighted that somebody else has noticed this phenomenon. I've felt like I was just like silently observing it, and I was going silently a little nuts or something. But -- so thank you for that. And just to give you an idea of my culture, I was, you know, American and born in 1965, and I just wanted to pose my experience of this phenomenon has been not so much nostalgia as just like sort of a movement toward personal freedom, and I'd say personally in the area of clothing, because that's what I'm, you know, very interested in.
MARTHAAnd what it's -- the experience has been for me is that it's kind of like, um, we got to this place where, you know, hemlines just quit going up or down, and I loved it...
MARTHA...and it was like this is so cool. I can pick and choose whatever I want, and what that allowed, because I've been wearing cloche hats and, you know, box pleated skirts and, you know, things that look Edwardian and further back in '20s and whatever, for ages. And now, I don't have to feel like such a weirdo, and it's not -- and it's -- and frankly, it's kind of nice not to feel like a weirdo. Same with hairstyles. So for me, it's kind of like an explosion of self expression, and I just wanted to get in there and say I love it.
NNAMDIKurt, in the final analysis, you see, this allows people to not feel like weirdoes.
ANDERSENAnd we -- or make everyone realize that we each, all of us, are weirdoes. I think this is a wonderful point, and this -- this is the upside of the thing I'm talking about, which is that, you know, we -- what we listen to, what we -- how we dress, all of it, is no longer governed by the idea of, oh, all this stuff is dated and strange. You can't like that, and that we are now free to pick and choose from decades, centuries before us of what we like and what we can choose.
ANDERSENAbsolutely. There is absolutely this empowering sense of freedom, and again, it's true in the higher arts as well. I mean, architects now can choose to be a modernist -- revive a '20s modern style, revive a '60s modern style, revive a 17th Century style or try to create something new. So the pluralism in all realms that this allows is all to the good. I don't deny that. So there's definitely, you know, a good side as well.
NNAMDIMartha, thank you very much for your call. Your focus, Kurt, is mainly on American culture, but we're part of an increasingly global society. Is this something you've observed on your travels in other countries as well?
ANDERSENI mean, I'm hesitant to say oh, yes, it's true all over the world, because yes, I traveled, but I don't live in other places. But yeah, I would say in the rich world, of which the United States is a part, I don't see any big differences in, you know, Western Europe and Japan in these senses. I mean, each place has its own version of what it's culturally recycling and so forth. And since I've published this piece, I've gotten lots of emails from Dutch people and Germans and people all over saying, absolutely.
ANDERSENJust -- as your caller just said, I've been observing this, and wondered when somebody else would talk about it. So, yeah. I -- I don't think we are unique in this, and I think, you know, again, we have our own flavors. I mean, 1950s nostalgia in the United States is no doubt different than 1950s nostalgia in France, but I think it's a cross-cultural phenomenon going on.
NNAMDIWe have a caller, Tanya in Gaithersburg, Md., that might be able to provide some insight on this. Tanya, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TANYAHi, this is Tanya from Gaithersburg, and I'm very interested in the subject since I am (unintelligible) working in exactly that era between here and United States and Europe. And I noticed that two of the previous caller, and I'm in mid-'50s, now, my kids and I are wearing the same clothes and listen to same music. That never, ever happened in previous times. Now, if you look at TV, "Desperate Housewives" remind you of "Peyton Town" (sic) and "Pan Am" we have. Now kids are listening to laptops as much as we listened to Radio Luxembourg at that time.
TANYAI believe at that point in Belgrade, which was Yugoslavia, you know. I grew up with Disneyland, watching and reading Little Golden Books, and I was -- and I moved here about 25 years ago. My kids were most educated kids in American culture. Because I grew up with that -- the parents from '60s didn't know that. And I'm an older parent, of course. So the people in United States, I took my graduate studies at night at University of Maryland, and my professor says, you know more about America than anybody else.
TANYANow, my question to the author -- and so I absolutely agree. There is something (unintelligible) in Paris and all that was just stuff you always the time to go back. Now, I'm living in the time that I grew up in which is kind of a circle and spiral. My question to the author, and is it he finds some similarities with Niall Ferguson's "Civilization" where he argues like, okay, now it's a shifting of the power, and immediately followed in a shifting in culture. And does author as we (unintelligible) music field see the renewal or a new wave in like world music, as let's think about...
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have Kurt Andersen answer in ten words or less. Kurt?
ANDERSENYou have -- first of all, not to pander it, you have really smart listeners. Second of all, you know, again, I am thinking we could go either way. Either this is like previous empires like the Ottomans a hundred years ago, we're just fagged out and about to expire, or we will gin up a sense of renewal and the rest of the 21 century will be full of the startling new. I don't know.
NNAMDITanya, thank you very much for your call. Kurt, you wrote the article on Time magazine's person of 2011, the protestor. Protesting had largely fallen out of fashion if you will, and it's come back in a big way. Does that give you hope that we're about to snap out of our cultural stasis?
ANDERSENIt does, indeed. And it was interesting to write that piece, really just based on the facts of 2011, just after I had finished this piece we've been talking about in the hour so far, and it's really like a potentially next chapter. I mean, whatever the Occupy movement does or doesn't morph into in this year and in years hence, what we've seen globally in terms of protests not only being quote unquote "fashionable" but effective and important and consequential, that is a new thing, and it's taking new forms.
ANDERSENI mean, the setting up camp and occupying thing, that's a new form. So yeah, I am -- this -- apart from its desire and its expression of a critique of the American political economy with which in many respects I agree, it just as a thing that is has gotten this tremendous global traction in refuting this and sort of seeming to break out of this frozen time, I do find hopeful, absolutely.
NNAMDIAnd this email we got from Alicia. "This conversation is making me smile as I remember an outburst a few years ago from my daughter who is now 21 upon realizing that I knew yet another one of her songs, she exclaimed, my generation stinks. We couldn't invent something new to save our lives." Care to comment, Kurt?
ANDERSENWell, it's funny. I have children about that age now, two daughters, and as a parent, it has made me very happy to be able to go to the same concerts, and the girls like to wear my wife's old clothes. It's a lovely weird new family dynamic that exists, and I have found myself not seriously, but wondering like hey, when are they are gonna really rebel? When are they really gonna listen to music and dress in ways that I really can't understand and can't stand. Hasn't happened, and I'm of two minds about that, mostly of the mind, great, I had no generation gap.
NNAMDIAnd finally, there's this. We got a tweet from PJ. "I think so-called recycled culture is a product of skepticism toward marketing and the associate rise of irony which gives us the hipster."
ANDERSENAh, I mean, certainly we have the associated rise of irony, another subject I've written about over the years, and all that certainly -- but -- and there is skepticism of marketing and all that built in. Kids today I would say are kind of pre-disillusioned that -- just like jeans are prewashed, but I don't -- if there was a skepticism that had some real edge and mistrust of marketing that had some real edge, I would argue maybe it would break out of the oh, yeah, the old is great, let's just do some more old things and mash them up in new ways. If it were kind of turbo charged, it would lead us to a world of the truly new.
NNAMDIKurt Andersen, thank you so much for joining us.
ANDERSENOh, it's my pleasure.
NNAMDIKurt Andersen is the co-creator and host of "Studio 360." He's also a writer and journalist. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
An exhibit opening this week at the Newseum explores how the media reported the country’s first televised war.
A pair of children staying in the D.C. General Hospital homeless shelter recently tested positive for lead. While it remains unclear whether they were exposed at the shelter, this news comes on the heels of revelations about the role lead paint exposure had in the life of Freddie Gray, the young man who recently died after a violent interaction with Baltimore police. We find out why the problem of exposure persists and what strides have been made in cleaning up homes over the last few decades.
A WAMU investigative report probes arrests for assaulting a police officer in D.C. We look at why most of those arrested are black and why critics say the law defining assault is too broad.