Opinions and Rants #11: When Did Pop Culture Jump the Shark?

Okay, the question of the day is not "How do we solve the crisis in the Middle East?" or "How do we fix the global economy?", but rather "When did popular culture jump the shark for Gilligan?". It's actually a pretty interesting thought - let me map it out for you.

The 1970's
I literally lapped up everything pop culture had to offer.

I loved everything in the theaters: Grease, Star Wars, Smokey and the Bandit, Superman, Escape to Witch Mountain... I loved it all. I was similarly satisfied with TV- I watched everything from In Search of... to Sanford & Son and was begging for more. And don't get me started on the music. Whether it was my dad's Steely Dan in the car, or The Bee Gees on the radio, I was perfectly happy and would have never dreamed of complaining about the state of popular music.

The 1980's
I continue to mindlessly gorge at the pop culture trough without even taking a breath.

For the duration of this decade, I still had no real complaints in terms of what theaters had to offer. I happily went to see Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Friday the 13th Part V, and The Breakfast Club. I adopted the styles without question - I unashamedly wore Swatches, parachute pants, and a big puffy acid washed jeans jacket. I had no beef with the boob tube: Family Ties, Night Court, MTV, and Silver Spoons were A-O-K with me. The music was great too- I went through various phases (heavy metal and new wave) but there was plenty of good stuff in each niche to keep me happy.

The early 1990's
Yes, I'm still devouring pop culture without the slightest hint of dissatisfaction. I loved The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Seinfeld, MST3K, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and Friends. Grunge music and even hip-hop was cool with me.

The mid to late 1990'sKA-BLAM!!

Once Kurt Cobain died, I basically stopped listening to contemporary music. I'm not sure why, it might've happened around this time anyway, but the radio was turned off in April 1994. I hung on to a few musicians, but the thrill was gone. I started rediscovering the 1970's in 1995 and that was all she wrote.

Cheers was cancelled in 1993 and once the X-Files movie came out, it killed my love for the show entirely. Friends started getting lame, and I never got on board with the whole reality show craze. Seinfeld literally became the last show I still could enjoy, and once that was cancelled, the TV went off.

I'm not sure if cinema ever really jumped the shark for me. I certainly much prefer movies from the 1970's to today's selection, but there's still seems to be plenty of good stuff out there.

I think my story is probably similar to a lot of people my age. I certainly wasn't the only kid who gobbled up movies, TV and music in the 70's and 80's like no tomorrow. How many kids do you know who have discerning tastes? None. And I think it's only natural to become a bit more discerning and critical in adulthood. One thing that's not natural, however, is my deep and abiding passion for the 1970s, but that's another story...

One last thing, lest you get the impression I'm just a cranky curmudgeon always bitching about new shows and music. Not in the least - I prefer stuff from the 1970's, but that's not to say I'm not open to new things. For instance, The IT Crowd (2006 -) is one of the most hilarious shows I've ever seen - a perfect example of why it's important to keep yourself open, while at the same time maintaining a love for our pop culture past. Amen.


  1. Bravo Gil.

    This is a topic (as you well know) that I have frequently written about. I too have a desperate, all-consuming desire to go back... I don't know what happened, or perhaps I actually do. We can, if we choose, trace the various ideological lines that begin to converge and ultimately shape and form the phenomena that we are tracking, upset with, and like to blog about.

    To make matters worse Gil, our nostalgic longings are part and parcel to the very problem we write about - mainly, postmodernism taken to a point that is no longer comfortable. Postmodernism as a template for art is merely annoying and almost entirely "surface"satire and parody with no real "bite." I can't relate anymore. And, for Chrissakes, just to go back to a pre cell phone, pre facebook, pre twitter, pre I-phone world - what I wouldn't give. People are more concerned with their tech-tinkering than the world in front of them...

    Well, I'm not doing a very good job of this - it is a momentous political, social, cultural, economic, technological, psychological mess that would take far too long (a book or two) to properly discuss. (in fact, Jameson's "Postmodernism or the cultural logic of late capitalism" is something you should read. At least he paves the road for the mess we're in...

    I wouldn't mind being Tom Hanks in Castaway for a few years... Ya know Gilligan lil' buddy? I mean I'd like to come back to civilization, but I sure as hell would like to get away for awhile... Keep the crabs company.

  2. In my opinion, movies jumped the shark when they remade Psycho (now there's remakes of every movie like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

    T.V. jumped the shark (for me) when the last of the late night horror shows were cancelled, and when they stopped showing Looney Toons on Saturday mornings (political correctness killed that).

  3. I blame reality television....

  4. Chick - Great comment - you and I have been going back and forth on this issue for quite some time now. We're kinda like the Beverly Hillbillies on the set of Blade Runner.

    Atom Kid - I agree. Enough with the remakes. There's lots of books out there still untapped for Hollywood to steal from - why keep remaking things? What's next - a remake of the Halloween remake?

    jbfunky - Reality TV is cheap as dirt to produce and still brings in the audience. Why take a chance on an innovative sitcom or drama when you can just get a bunch of washed up celebs and skank to fight each other for pennies?
    BTW - love your Welk site; who would've thought a Lawrence Welk blog could be so... well, funky? I'll be adding it to my blogs of distinction asap.

  5. Brilliant post, and dead on. I wish pop culture were firing on as many cylinders as you do on a daily basis.

  6. I've never watched a lot of TV, but in the mid-1980s I pretty much quit watching.

    Music tends to go in 5-to-10-year cycles and just when I think I can't stand anymore, something happens that shakes up the biz and we have a few good years. The problem is, we haven't had a good shakeup since 1993.

    Movies now pretty much stink. It's not very often that we find something new that we are interested in watching.

  7. Why take a chance on an innovative sitcom or drama when you can just get a bunch of washed up celebs and skank to fight each other for pennies? Or sit around eating bugs and bickering on some island!

  8. Wow, it sure is amazing how great everything was when you were 12, wasn't it? Stick around, in 20 years people who are now 12 will be saying the same exact things about 2009 and how everything was awesome in 2009 and how here in 2029, pop culture sucks.

    As proof I offer the existence of the baby boomers and their endless attempt to relive their Howdy Doody, Space Patrol, Uncle Miltie, Daisy Red Ryder-filled youth, which - OF COURSE - was the pinnacle of human achievement, according to them.

    Don't get me wrong, I like the stuff I grew up with, but that doesn't stop me from realizing it's mostly junk.

  9. Great post, great comments.

    It's an experience that I think everyone can relate to in some way, at least everyone who reaches 'a certain age' and notices how things have changed.

    Certainly it's a topic/question near and dear to my aging heart, but I'll need to think about this a bit if I want to respond with anything constructive, rather than just flailing with my personal peeves.


  10. I adore the IT Crowd. Since you like that show you may also like another of Graham Linehan's shows, it's called Father Ted.

  11. dguzman - Thanks so much for the compliment. Like Pavlov's dog, I respond well to positive stimuli.

    retrohound - Or music has had a shake up (mp3s? satellite radio?) and we're just too out of touch to have noticed it. Just a thought.

    hairball - Somebody please tell me why I should care week after week which skank Brett Michaels or Flava Flav chooses to lay?... This is not a rhetorical question - why should I care?

    d.merill - You're point is well taken. I somewhat touched on that in my last few paragraphs. This is all a matter of opinion - nothing objective at all about this discussion. One person's junk is another's treasure.

    The In Crowd - Aw, but flailing around with your peeves is much more fun! That's what I do.

    Dr. Monkerstein - Excellent. I will have to check out Father Ted - seems it came on PBS or BBC America at one time or another. Thanks for the recommendation.

  12. Hey Gil. I know what you mean. I was born at the end of 1970. I grew up in the 70's and 80's. I pretty much loved everything in the culture from the movies to tv shows to music. As the 90's rolled around, I started to find myself feeling less and less interested in what was considered hot. I'm even more that way today. I'm not sure if it's just because I'm getting older or what.

  13. I have to blame reality TV, underachieving pop music and psuedo celebritys. I can't watch and entertainment program of any type other than "The Soup".

    I agree with you on "The IT Crowd" I wish all TV were that good and funny. I'd also say "The Venture Brothers" is another thing I honestly look forward to.

  14. Keith - Sounds like we're operating on the same wavelength. Will I ever prefer Lil' Wayne to Run DMC or Paris Hilton to Farrah Fawcett? Not likely. That's why I've got Retrospace and you've got the Dino Lounge I guess.

    plaidstallions - "I have to blame reality TV, underachieving pop music and psuedo celebritys." I don't think I could've summed it up any better. And, yes, I watch The Soup as well - it affirms my disdain on a weekly basis.

  15. I'll grant a shake up (or even revolution) in technology, but not in the music itself. That isn't to say there isn't anyone worth listening to, just that most of what plays on the radio is stale.

  16. Awesome post. You couldve said it any better. I have so many people ask me why Im a 70s/80s pop culture freak and its for the the exact same reasons you posted. And just like you, Im into some stuff now but not like I was back then. I devoured the happy days gang, my wonder woman toys, my saturday night fever trading cards, wanted to be Olivia Newton John in Xanadu, couldnt wait to see Pretty in Pink, had a collection of Swatch watches, lived for Twin Peaks and so on.
    I get my weekly retro fix right here! Thank you! Thank you!

  17. I think i went through pretty much the same thing.for me it happened when I went to college(art major) and became pretentious.I got into artsy farsy movies and Indie bands and later expermental music and started to thumb my nose at anything mainsteam.But the stuff from my childhood was so deeply ingrained in me and my friends psyches that we couldn't let go.Also I think things have changed witht eh internet and the 500 plus channels that are out there.Too much reality t.v. junk.

  18. I have to agree with atom kid.
    When Reagan deregulated the TV industry and all the local stations became network, the "local movie shows" with their character hosts, also stopped. That is when "fun" tv died.

    It may also be an age thing.
    I stopped listening to "new" music in the mid 80s. "Rap" and all its degenerations took over the airwaves and I found myself searching for the "oldies" stations.

    I think all this comes about in your late 20s/ early 30s. I think that is when you stop listening to the "top 40" and find other uses for your time than parties and TV and endless weekend movie runs.

    I think THAT is the time you have lived long enough to develop "nostalgia."

  19. fellow child of the 70s/80s here, from a british perspective, but broadly agree with everything you say. i stay connected to current popular culture through my kids - watching them lap-up everything in the same way we did makes you realise its all a question of personal perspective. but still, i'd love to 'go back' as well and always enjoy your posts here. keep up the good work!
    i do a little blog of my own specializing in vinyl records found in british thrift stores (thriftyvinyl.wordpress.com/)

  20. Great Blog !! As for me ,the shark jump occurred in the 1990's . So many bad things were happening , and so many of the best things were going away !! I was born on February 6th , 1969, and so I grew up in the 1970's and 1980's as well !! Life then was toys , comics , TV , and books !! I had several play areas at my house , and spent Saturday Morning in cartoon worship !! I played outside , with View Masters , Color Forms , and the much loved MEGO figures !! Those were the days !!