Opinions and Rants #29: Everything That Ever Was - Available Forever (ETEWAF)
Patton Oswalt has an article in Wired that is a must read for those interested in pop culture - past and present. In the essay, Oswalt expresses his theory that society is approaching a state of ETEWAF. Where once you had to piecemeal your niche interests together one comic book or VHS cassette at a time, today you can become an expert in any narrow interest in a single weekend! I would tend to agree: things are progressing so fast in that direction, I don't think many of us pop culture addicts have stopped to think about the implications.
When I was a kid, a movie came to the movie theater for a few weeks, then it was gone (you assumed) FOREVER. Think about that for a moment. I had no idea that there would be HBO, VHS, DVDs, Netflix, and (gasp!) torrents! For all I knew, when The Billion Dollar Hobo came to town, that was your one and only chance to catch this movie, ever. For all I knew, that episode of Starsky & Hutch would never air again.... certainly never on demand.
In contrast, now I can be a Starsky & Hutch expert in a weekend. I can watch every single episode whenever I want via Hulu or Netflix, I can watch the Ben Stiller remake, I can read all the information surrounding the show on the Internet (i.e. IMDb, Wikipedia, etc.), and I can probably find a few forums of rabid S&H fans. I can buy David Soul's album on Amazon, watch the special features on the DVD, listen to the commentary, and read past magazine articles about S&H via Google News or back issues of old magazines available online.... while listening to the soundtrack! You get the point. Even the most obscure nooks of the pop culture landscape are available for plunder.
This development is of special interest to me, given that Retrospace is all about plundering less traveled paths in our pop culture past. Patton Oswalt contends that this may not be healthy for our creative output. In other words, we're spending too much time looking in the rear view mirror, and not enough on the road ahead. We are becoming a culture of regurgitated bits from the past; a culture of remakes and lame pop culture references (i.e. Family Guy and VH1 I love the 80's, etc.).
Oswalt believes that when we hit ETEWAF, pop culture will reach its critical mass and implode. When every book ever made is on every Kindle, and every movie ever made is on every TV, and every song ever made is on every mp3 player.... it will all be over. No more frothing at the mouth waiting for the newest Italian giallo to be released on Blu-Ray - it already has. It's ALL available... so what do we do now?
When the Coen Brothers remake of Cannonball Run II in IMAX 3-D spoken entirely in Esperanto hits the theaters, no one will care. It will all be over. We will all start looking forward again. We will stop this mad dash to explore the entire surface of our pop culture past, and be content with what lies ahead.
Or so Patton Oswalt would predict....
I have a slightly different opinion. We are certainly on the road to ETEWAF, no arguments there. But I don't think having an unlimited resource at our fingertips is a bad thing, nor do I think it leads to some sort of pop culture supernova.
Surely, the constant obscure pop references we see on Family Guy will get old (.... or has already become severely old). But having this incredible mine as an inspiration is a good thing - after all, every great burst of creativity has relied on something before it. The Beatles didn't form in a vacuum - they had blues and rockabilly to spark the fire. Indeed, the Renaissance came about because of a rediscovery of Classical Greek and Roman culture. Get my drift?
Furthermore, I don't think we are in any danger of not having an obscure niche to call our own. We may have to plunder a little deeper, but if we dig deep enough there will always be hidden treasures. The topsoil is gone, as Oswalt says, but there will always be plenty of bedrock to keep us happy and inspired to create "the next new thing".