Monday, June 6, 2022

Death of Next

Another interesting Real Life piece, this time by Mitch Therieau. It predicts - but also calls for - "the end of the trend piece" and declares that "if the past two years have produced any genuinely new development in the history of the future, it is perhaps a widespread, if faintly felt, consciousness of stagnation; a growing conviction that a sweeping Next Thing is not forthcoming."  

It starts with references to "living through a long crisis of futurity" and the idea that "the future has been 'cancelled': foreclosed, rendered all but impossible to imagine, or at least not in ways that can help us create a better world in the present." 

Then moves to challenge this long established and differently  inflected notion of a "unitary Next Thing: a totally new 'world' where everything is either transfigured, or restored to how it used to be", which has been boosted by speculations about what will transpire post-covid. 

But "it turns out that there is no one future so much as there is a series of ongoing crises smoldering in the background, distributed unevenly at every level", and as a result, "speculation on the Next Thing has become an increasingly tough sell. "

Attention then turns to the pop culture genrescape: 

"If the 2010s introduced -cores and –waves to popular culture, with slightly facetious tags like normcore and vaporwave laying claim to free-floating elements of the zeitgeist, the pandemic years have seen an exponential multiplication of these suffixed “aesthetics,” beyond what any one person could hope to keep up with. ... The styles that have recently risen out of this internet soup and into the sphere of trend pieces have reflected a certain fatigue with the churn of trend itself." Goblincore is cited as evidence of this. 

"Across all these -cores and -waves that have spread like the mushrooms goblincore adherents admire so much, a quiet consensus emerges: there will be no Next Thing. Only detritus — old books, pressed flowers, dirty clothes — piling up in the here and now....  Future vertigo gives way to future fatigue."

Then Allison P. Davis’s “vibe shift” piece is considered. 

Nice bit on the trash heap of promised futures that never transpired: 

"Untold millions of former Next Things languish in dusty magazine archives, cached away on orphaned webpages, buried in a drift of ahistorically sorted content. There is no kitsch quite like the artifacts of a promised future that didn’t pan out... As the junked Next Things continue to pile up around us..., it may be that the realm of online trend is the place where an ambient loss of faith in speculation’s power has found its first vernacular expression....

(Hat tip to genre-spotter Kieran Press-Reynolds for alerting me to this). 

A lot of the micro-genre action in recent years feels unserious to me - not based in a genuine "looking for the new thing" hunger or wanting to propose one's scene-let as a real candidate for Next Next Big Thing status. Rather ,it's more a playful exercise in meta-genre. These jokingly purported genre flaunt their constructedness, their lack of basis in real social energy. They treat genre formation and genre-naming as a daft game. 

Seapunk feels like the first one where it seemed to be spoofing the very idea of genres and scenes, while also seeing how far it could fool people. 

So I don't know if there's really an underlying sadness at stagnation at work, or a frustrated futurism coming up empty. Then again, the flip  attitude could be a terminal syndrome in itself.


Here's another Mitch Therieau piece about vibes and the occult for The Drift

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