Friday, March 10, 2023

Happy Deathday

 Aspects of retromaniacal culture seem to wax and wane (my overall feeling is that the R-thing is prominent but not quite as dominant as when the book was writ) but one phenom that seems to have gone into overdrive recently is the commemorative churn.

Two new syndromes I've noticed:

Odd-number anniversaries

 On Facebook and Twitter and probably the other social media that I don't frequent, it is becoming increasingly common to have people announcing or observing that is the 47th birthday of such-and-such a record, or that it's 23 years since a certain event. So not the usual number-ending-in-zero demarcations of elapsed time, or even the half-decade approach (25 years since, 45 years since), now we are getting these arbitrary, untidy anniversaries.  

Update 3/24 - slipped my mind that the previous post was spurred by a Robyn Hitchcock tribute to Syd Barrett on his 77th birthday! Which also fits the next category.... 

Birthdays of the deceased

This seems like an odd development (would you celebrate the birthday of a deceased person in your family or friend circle? Maybe you would, I don't know). But certainly, it feels somewhat.... extraneous to commemorate the birthday of some famous or notable person who's no longer around to bask in the celebratory appreciation. 

I feel like I've also seen a few deathdays being marked, so maybe that is creeping in. 

With a lot of this commemorative churn - and other retro material that is posted or circulated -  I don't think it's necessarily a product of nostalgia or aging demographic cohorts liking to re-mark the significant persons / artifacts / events of their pop consumer life... I mean that is a factor, but it's also a simple function of the churn of social media: the constant need for new material, for "news" (which in thise case is really "olds"). Even in as  busy a time as this (overloaded, over-observed, over-commented) and with as globally plugged-in a mediascape as ours, the present simply doesn't generate enough noteworthy material to keep everybody a-clicking and a-scrolling. 

It's also very easy to do. All it takes to commemorate something is a video clip or an album cover or an old photo, dash off a quick thought or not even that, just simply observe the fact that it's X number of years since ____ 

Then there's the endless lists of favorite movies and records (done by publications like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, but also individuals and fan groups)  Like those challenges that circulate (1000 Records That Meant A Lot To You etc) or the self-surveys  (First Gig, Last Gig, Best Gig, Worst Gig  etc). Again, there is the simple content-generation aspect. But there's also an impulse to  sort through / tie together /  make sense of one's life in loving music / film / books.  Winnow down to the essentials and peaks. Create a  map of a journey through taste;  a consumer-biography.  I can't help sensing a morbid impulse lurking beneath this - almost like getting one's affairs in order in readiness for death. 

But I'm certainly not immune to this impulse -  indeed I'm something of a habitual and compulsive ranker, a list-o-maniac. 


23 comments:

Phil Knight said...

Is a lot of this stuff robot generated though?

Something I've noticed is that every fluff news story today auto-generates Youtube videos that get about six views each. I'm really not sure that contemporary media content is generated by demand, but an attempt to overcome a lack of demand. Especially when you see the stuff that does get watched, which is things like blokes showing off their antique tractors, or that fat bloke who goes around rating kebab shops.

I think there is a something going on here where the corporate media is in barrage mode in order to keep people interested in their shiny hyper-processed curated "content" (which is what we grew up with) while the "consumers" actually want to watch somebody in Barnsley restore a katana or something.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

Possibly, but I feel like I've seen individuals - clearly real people - posting this kind of thing: odd-numbered anniversaries, birthdays of the already-died, etc. But no doubt there is a tremendous amount of auto-generated fluff and nonsense out there, and it'll only get worse with AI.

I have no seen the fat bloke who rates the kebab shops - that seems like a genuine service.

But yeah my kid is on TikTok a lot of the time and the appeal is precisely that is real people doing something goofy or an impressive if pointless feat. Or taking the piss out of some mainstream entertainment thing.

Stylo said...

Good Friday's coming up soon, you know.

Phil Knight said...

Rate my takeaway is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU2ekvPQ4kM

Most bonkers but compelling thing I've seen recently is this middle-aged German couple touring Britain:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltcobrwrbas

About 90% of what I watch ("media I consume") nowadays is made by amateurs/enthusiasts, and I think it is going to be increasingly difficult for the packaged media to compete.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

Good Friday - point taken, but then againthe deathday of Christ and the Resurrection a few days later is the fulcrum around which an entire religion is based.

I'm talking more like, on this day X number of years ago, musician Y or comedian Z died.

I haven't seen that many of those - more striking is the birthday thing. I suppose it's harmless enough, way of keeping beloved entertainers in mind. But it adds to the overall thing of commemoration overdrive - the way that you get 10 years-on looks back at significant albums (or repackagings, deluxe reeditions). I feel like I've even seen a 5-years-on look back at least once!

Stylo said...

Do you remember the BBC lowbrow nostalgia series I Love the 70s? They extended it to the 80s and 90s, which led to the mild absurdity that I love 1999 was broadcast in 2001. So, as part of that show, the BBC had a retrospective lookback at Britney Spears in 2001.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

Yes I do remember it - it was quite enjoyable in its surface skimming way. But they ran through the decades really quick, as you say - and I believe they actually did I Love the Noughties in the middle of the same decade, before it was fully done!

Stylo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stylo said...

So were the last episodes of that series "The Prophecies of Stuart Maconie," where Stuart demonstrates his omniscience by predicting the emergence of Rihanna and Kanye letting Taylor Swift finish?

I've heard occasionally that the internet has fragmented culture, to the extent that the idea of a nationwide culture where broadly everyone understands the key facets has become obsolete. For instance, the soaps no longer command viewing figures in the 10s of millions (Eastenders regularly loses out to the highbrow gameshow Only Connect, on BBC2 at the same time on Mondays). In that mindset, would a series like I Love the 70s even be possible for the 2010s?

I think the case is overstated. It's not as if the last decade has lacked for major sporting events, blockbusters and inescapable songs. I would rather say such fragmentation has given prominence to more niche pursuits, enabling a audience to gather to, say, commemorate odd-numbered anniversaries.

Phil Knight said...

I think the last thing that brings everybody together is media controversies. One of the things that amazed me about the current Lineker furore is that Match of The Day only gets 2 million viewers nowadays. It's telling that current media controversies tend to involve people over the age of 50.

So when a fossil like Jeremy Clarkson says something controversial it activates long-dormant passions and we're briefly back in the 1990's again, when these people actually mattered. Which kinda indicates to me that the legacy media operates to a large extent on inertia, on the infrastructure that was built for it in the 20th Century, and the dwindling audiences that that infrastructure was originally built to serve. We still have movies and pop stars because the movie and pop star manufacturing and delivery conveyor belt is still intact, if less dynamic than it used to be. At a wider level I think this is the situation with all the legacy "big stuff" from the last century, such a car making, banking etc. The industry consolidations and resulting giganticism are attempts to fend off decay.

Part of the reason that the right-wing press can inflate the Lineker thing is because they know that the BBC and the other major channels are structurally weaker than they used to be, and have very much entered the domain of "fair game". Although the right-wing press have their own problems in maintaining structural integrity and a coherent audience, of course.

Matt M said...

Phil - The Murdoch press have always had it in for the BBC (or at least they have since my childhood).

The story of terrestrial TV is of interest to me because I worked for Australia's largest commercial TV network last decade (not in the domain of content but the IT plumbing).
- Owning a TV station used to be a licence to print money. Now Facebook and Google have come for that juicy ad revenue. And the global streaming services offering quality scripted material cheaply and reliably.
- In my induction session, they asked all the new staff members who actually watched Netflix. Lots of hands went up. Who watched "our" TV station. Much less enthusiasm. And the programmer said: "That's right. Our TV station isn't for us. It's for Pauline in Parramatta*. Whatever Pauline likes, we like."
- My wife's 101 year old grandmother is big fan of said TV station and always has it on at deafening** levels whenever we go over.
- That TV station is dependent on its news, sport and reality shows for its ad revenue. But it will be a long time dying. Inertia is, indeed, powerful.

It's probably important to remember that Western societies are ageing - shrinking even. The energy is in places like Asia. Which is why Korea is now the global pop engine and making movies like Parasite, while India is turning out insane blockbusters like RRR.

"She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel"—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband." - 1 Samuel 4:21

*Or Peterborough or Peoria.
**As she is already deaf, this isn't an issue that concerns her.

Phil Knight said...

Matt - South Korea's official TFR is 1.0, and I've even heard that it might now be as low as 0.8. It is in a far worse condition than most Western societies when it comes to ageing. Even India is now only at 2.0 and shrinking. The decline in fertility in the developing world are truly alarming:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNqCRvDbCVI

This is going to be one of the next shocks to Western governments who think that they can plug the gaps in their workforce through immigration - the immigrants just aren't going to be there. This ironically circles back to the Lineker furore which was about alleged "illegal" immigration (actually refugees). A lot of the arguments in the UK are predicated on this idea that there is this endless stream of migrants who are going to change Britain forever, either for the good if you are a progressive, or for the bad if you are a conservative or reactionary. But the stream isn't endless, and once immigrant communities are established, they become subject to the same demographic doom-loop as the host population, only from a much smaller base. So the "diverse" future that people either lustily hope for or deeply dread just isn't going to happen.

Ironically, the fact that South Korea and India have become major cultural producers tends to indicate that a vibrant pop culture may be a negative indicator of a nation's long term health.

Matt M said...

Phil - Fair point about TFR with the provisos that for youth culture, it's the TFR from 10-20 years ago that matters. The baby boom in the UK peaked in 1964. Kpop success is as much about the youth culture of other Asian countries as it is about Korea itself (which has the lowest TFR in the world).

I don't know if the decline in fertility is "alarming" - Bricker says that the results will be mixed. His comments about automation, retirement , and immigration are all absolutely valid. As are his comments about marketing to older people and the growing role of the elderly in popular culture - which arguably is what we are living thru right now.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

Well talking about commemoration and how it's gone on to odd number anniversaries - it slipped my mind that the previous post was triggered by a Robyn Hitchcock tribute to Syd Barrett penned to commemorate Syd's 77th birthday!

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

Which also fits the second category - birthdays of the deceased

Tim 'Space Debris' said...

My mum always remembers her deceased mum on her birthday. Maybe its nicer than remembering the day she died but yeah what's the point of it in pop culture? On instagram I often think "What I thought they were dead? Why am I celebrating their birthday?" Things have become quite strange.

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