For the last few years I have looked at our popular culture and been concerned that it has, for all intents and purposes, stopped evolving. Fashion, music and youth trends no longer feel new; everything seems to be a recycled version of something that has come before. I listen to the hip new bands and they sound pretty much exactly like the hip new bands of ten or twenty years ago. The fashions of today seem mostly indistinguishable from fashions of a few years ago, except when they are simply direct lifts of the fashions from twenty years ago. Even the cars of the last decade or so have been so boringly samey looking.
In a lot of ways I’ve felt the 2000s were like the 1890s or the 1900s, which are mostly indistinguishable from the fashions of the decades before. There were, obviously, some changes that would be highly noticeable to those deeply entrenched in fashion, but in a general sense it’s tough to tell if a picture shows a woman in 1895 or 1905 or 1885. Looking at fashions from that time will help you understand why Coco Chanel, for instance, is such a titan of our culture - she really changed the basic, fundamental ways that people dressed.
Anyway, I had begun to think that this vision of a stagnated culture was a result of me being old and being unable to really get into the new stuff. But then I saw Final Destination 5 and suddenly I was completely convinced that I was totally correct.
What follows from here are major spoilers for the end of Final Destination 5, so tread carefully.
At the end of Final Destination 5 our heroes escape Death’s clutches and begin a new life. They’re going away to Paris to begin again, but when they board their flight we suddenly realize they’re on Flight 180, the original disaster from the first Final Destination. The twist is that this whole film is a prequel to the first movie!
Now, I’d have to go back and really scrutinize the film to see if they were cheating on the period details, if a particular modern make of car is snuck into the film, but on first viewing I was totally gobsmacked by the reveal. Yeah, there’s a Lisa Loeb reference in the movie, and one of the characters has a truly shitty clamshell cell phone, but these felt like weird character details as opposed to period details. Assuming that the production was very careful to get all the period details right, Final Destination 5 essentially proves that 2000 is indistinguishable from 2011. What’s strange is that the lack of specific modern details like iPhones or iPads makes the film feel more modern than the remake of Fright Night, where a scene that has Charlie using his smartphone to learn how to pick a lock already feels half dated and gimmicky.
There are, of course, some changes. Computers are different, and we have fancier phones. But the dress and mannerisms and even the slang of the young white people of 2011 is mostly the same as 2000. Imagine if the same twist was being pulled off in a movie made in 1970 - a film that plays as modern but is, at the end, revealed to be set in 1959. You couldn’t do that. Look at George Lucas’ American Graffiti, a movie made in 1973 that is set in 1962. That’s 11 years and the cultural differences between 73 and 62 are astonishing. And hell, we’ve even had our own generation defining tragedy in the years since Final Destination; the 11 years between the setting of American Graffiti and the making of American Graffiti included the death of Kennedy and a long, unpopular war while the 11 years between Final Destinations 1 and 5 saw 9/11 and TWO long, unpopular wars.
Obviously there are always some changes in fashions; weird fads come and go and there are always strange microtrends, but most of those in the last decade have been retro-oriented and not something new. Even the hipsters of today look an awful lot like the hipsters of 2000 (see here for a fairly comprehensive guide to hipster evolution).
So is it just me? Or has our culture ground to a standstill over the last ten years while we’ve all been too busy looking at our phones to notice?