Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Out with the old and the TOTALLY NEW, MAN!

I have been taking in the New Year's "Twilight Zone" marathon. Every TV program, but especially those like "TZ" that are attempting to be "socially relevant," can't help but be a time-capsule. Many "Twilight Zone" episodes were preoccupied with nuclear war. Nuclear war never happened. We didn't even have a nuclear skirmish. Still, these nuke-obsessed episodes retain social relevance; not because of any nuclear war reality, but because they reflect how heavily the anxieties of the nuclear age weighed on Americans of the fifties and sixties.

This seems to be inevitable for a lot of artists who try to "push the envelope" on the issues of the day. They end up timestamping their work in a way that makes it painful to behold even a few years after the fact. The message always seems shrill and the language used to make it (dig that, hepcat!) ends up sounding preposterous. Have you read the cutting edge work of New Journalism icon Terry Southern lately? It has about as much staying power as an oyster on the planet Mercury. Meanwhile Tom Wolfe's work from the same era could have been written today. One overindulged in the trappings of the day, one didn't.

Look at music, in this case The Rolling Stones; which holds up better: Beggar's Banquet or Their Satanic Majesties Request? The cover alone should tell you.

Seriously, how much "radical," "socially relevant" sixties fare can you still stomach today? By trying so hard at the time to be epochal, by being too conscious of THIS IS THE NEW THING, MAN!, it actually winds up dating itself far more than the entertainment it was fighting to replace.

In a few years terrorism/homeland security obessesed shows like "24" will also provide us with a time-capsule. This anxiety is not a perfect comparison with the nuclear anxiety seen in "The Twilight Zone" though. Unlike "Islamofascism," the Soviet Union actually posed a threat.


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