Monday, May 16, 2016

Cultural Stagnation

Yesterday I saw a tweet that said it was the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys' album Pet Sounds. (I remember how much I made fun of a student who said he got his news from Twitter. I stand corrected.) The author of the tweet suggested a listen, and predicted listeners would still find the album fresh and innovative today.

So I listened to it last night while falling asleep. I'm not here to criticize Pet Sounds; it still sounds great. If it were released today, it would probably be exactly what it already is: a commercial failure that is critically praised for generations. But I began to wonder about the culture that has progressed so little that something 50 years old is still avant-garde. When Pet Sounds was released in 1966, was there anything from 1916 that people were still praising as progressive and interesting? What does it say about us that the great touchstones of our culture are aging and not being replaced?

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