Monday, November 2, 2009

A LITTLE OLDIE CALLED 'JACK AND DIANE': First in an occasional series of posers inspired by Chuck Klosterman's new nonfiction book Eating the Dinosaur -- Klosterman notes that in 1985's Back to the Future, Marty McFly goes back to 1955 and calls "Johnny B. Goode," a 1958 recording, "an oldie where I come from" though it was recorded only twenty-seven years earlier. That's almost the same amount of time, Klosterman notes, between today and Back to the Future's own release, "Yet nobody would ever refer to Back to the Future as an 'oldie,' even if he or she were born in the 1990s." He posits:
What seems to be happening is a dramatic increase in cultural memory. As culture accelerates, the distance between historical events feels smaller. The gap between 2010 and 2000 will seem far smaller than the gap between 1980 and 1970, which already seemed far smaller than the gap between 1950 and 1940. This, I suppose, is society's own version of time travel (assuming this trend continues for eternity. (p. 58, n. 3)
Now, I think Klosterman's wrong, or at least is on one key particular. In our cultural language, the term "oldie" does not refer to a particular period of time after a music's release but rather has been reified to encapsulate a specific time frame of music -- music from the formative days of rock and roll, from "Rock Around the Clock" through doo-wop, Elvis, Motown and the British invasion, including early Beatles/Stones, with mid-1960s and after being classified as beginning of the "classic rock" era instead. No amount of time's passage will allow us to call early-1980s new wave as "oldies" to us, in the same way that no amount of TNT's referring to a mix of 1980s films as The New Classics will alter our definition of the Classic Film Era as something which closed before the end of the 1960s.

So, a two-part question: how do you classify a song as an "oldie"; and regardless of whether that makes Klosterman wrong on that specific, is he nevertheless right about the whole acceleration of cultural memory thing? Is it just that (and even incorporating 9/11 into this analysis) our world has changed a lot less from 1999 to 2009 than it did between 1980 and 1990, or contrarily that we won't recognize how much different today is from a decade ago until much more time has passed?

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