We Are All Squares Now - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
We Are All Squares Now

Billboard, which debuted its first songs-sales chart 77 years ago this week, more recently debuted a concert-sales chart that shows the average age of the top ten draws as 51. Senior-citizen stars — Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, James Taylor, and Rod Stewart — constitute half of the list.

We’re a nation of squares. And like most squares, we don’t dare glimpse around the boring, straight line’s corner (hint: another boring, straight line) to grasp, gasp, that we are all squares now.

Speaking of lines, the ones at the box office tend to grow long when the attraction comes from long ago. Consider the summer blockbusters of 2017. They include films based on the last amusement ride overseen by Walt Disney before his 1966 death, a 1984 Hasbro toy resembling a Tonka toy released the year prior, and a comic-book heroine dropped on the world shortly before Japan dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor.

That’s what’s so now.

Nine of the top ten best-selling films of this summer derive from earlier movies, comic book characters, and ancient pop-culture flotsam and jetsam washing upon 2017’s shores. Even Baby Driver, the only purely original film to crack the season’s top ten, takes its title from a 47-year-old Simon & Garfunkel song.

The stage appears as a particularly eager responder to yesteryear’s curb alerts. Wicked, a Wizard of Oz spinoff, revivals of Cats, Hello Dolly, and Chicago, and stage reboots of animated screen classics such as The Lion King greet Broadway ticket buyers.

There’s safety in numbers (as in Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, etc.). Unimaginative people marketing movies prevail on the ostensibly imaginative people creating them. The same goes for plays, music, and much else. Producers bankroll what worked in the past. A dumbed-down market, attracted to simplistic brands rather than the more complicated work of discovering something altogether original, keeps paying for the same product. So, the familiar steamrolls the fresh.

Capitalism and creativity don’t always play well together.

The local consignment shop always bested Ikea for furniture. But culture obsessively recycling the old is something new. A Beatles greatest hits package outselling every other album in the millennium’s first decade first signaled something withered this way comes. Perhaps futuristic technology catalyzed the present’s obsessions with the past. YouTube, Hulu, iTunes, and much else deliver yesteryear at the click of a button. But America living off the cultural fumes of past Americas likely reflects decline in other areas. Our economy, for instance, exceeded the average annual postwar 20th-century GDP growth in just one year of the 21st century. As one one-named singer currently touring on his band’s best-selling, thirty-year-old album once put it, “You glorify the past when the future dries up.”

Regarding the future, how will they identify this present once past? Long hair, disco, hijackings, bell bottoms, CB radios, and fascination with kung fu marked the seventies. The eighties, a bit like the 1970s after a bath and a haircut, did aerobics, synthesizers, video games, MTV, Nikes, yuppies, cocaine, optimism, and much else. What screams today? U2 touring on 1987’s Joshua Tree? A third sequel to the second reboot of the Planet of the Apes film franchise? Hipsters spinning vinyl, growing nineteenth-century beards, and wearing old trucker hats, concert t-shirts, and Chuck Taylor, Vans, and Onitsuka Tiger sneakers?

It’s hip to be square. It’s enough to make a real square go hip.

The years of the latter half of the 20th century should file a collection-action lawsuit against 2017 for intellectual theft. The latter half of the 21st century surely harbors grievances, too. So much today punts on the present and leaves little for the future to take inspiration from, which may, with any luck, force posterity to rediscover creativity.

How bad is the copycatism? Even this column reads as a rehashed ripoff of this writer’s periodic plaintive pleas for originality. Alas, a culture attuned to repetition tunes out the echo heard here.


Daniel J. Flynn
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website, www.flynnfiles.com.   
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