March 23, 2009

Charting My Disengagement from Pop Culture

The chart below was derived using this link, pulling off the top ten song hits from each year. If I recognized the title & artist I counted it as familiar.
It shows the impact of working full-time, the switching over to favoring country music, and likely the function of aging. The carryover of hits of yesteryear seems to be about fifteen years (eight before I was born and seven more to reach the age of reason).

Using this list of the top 100 films of all-time (in terms of box office receipts adjusted for inflation), I separated them by decade and then charted the results. Predictably the familiarity declines less with age than had music. Pop songs are more accessible to the young than movies, at least back in my day, and movies tend to have a longer shelf-life:
However, the films & songs are somewhat apples-to-orange since I'm using the most popular movies of all time and ranking them by decade while with the songs I'm measuring the most popular within a given year. Nevertheless, if we cheat and superimpose charts it would look something like this:
In light blue, the popular music line skews towards my younger demographic. I think my engagement in movies is overrated since I generally see only eight to ten a year and obviously if a movie is doing gangbusters at the box office I'll be more likely to see it.

But there's no question that I was heavily, incredibly involved with pop culture during the '80s. Almost 100% of the top movies and music commanded my attention. It seems impossible to argue that this is other than an entirely age-related phenomenon although I would argue that the '80s music and culture is more accessible. In the '90s came the rise of hip-hop and rap, which is arguably far less ear-friendly than the melodius pop of Michael Jackson or Madonna. (But then that's what every generation says, don't they? :-)

And during the '80s/Reagan era, at least based on the big hit movies, Hollywood was more likely to provide morally unambiguous (though often shallow) offerings like Ghostbusters & Back to the Future instead of the 1970s Rocky Horror Picture Show, Animal House, etc...Cultural products accessible to a large audience are more likely to be indulged in, although I still think it would be going too far to say I didn't leave popular culture, popular culture left me.

It would be interesting to graph the amount of time I spend reading and see to what extent my disengagement in popular culture has resulted in more time spent with books. But I don't have the stats on that...


Enbrethiliel said...


I'm surprised you don't have a list for Top 10 bestsellers, TS! What do you think of popular books? I had an English teacher in high school who made a big deal about not reading bestsellers, but she was a literary snob in that way. I also steer clear of bestsellers, but that's because I usually don't get them anyway. (Well, except Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. There are times when I think I am the only one who did get Twilight--and that's another kind of problem.)

The rest of this is just bias, but when I watch Disney Channel or Nickelodeon with my brothers, it seems to me that pop culture for children was better in the 80s. Okay, so the cartoons I grew up with were basically twenty-minute commercials with the objective of turning children into materialistic consumers. That's not so bad when you consider how children's programming these days is all about giving kids their own seductive subculture.

I might have more thoughts on this later. The 80s are irresistible to me . . .

TS said...

I just could never get into popular books, for whatever reason. Tom Clancy was popular in the '80s, as was Stephen King I think, but I just seem to not have the gene for those, which is odd since I relished all other mass market products back then.

I do share your love for the '80s, as does my 28-yr old stepson. I do think the cultural products were better then, including those for children!

Unrelated, but have you ever read Eliot's "Middlemarch" and if so I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Middlemarch? I read it back in 2002 and remember being incredibly impressed with George Eliot. It's still one of the best "character novels" I've ever read, though I didn't really care for how Dorothea's story ended. While I'm glad she got a happy ending, after all, there's just something unsatisfying about how it all worked out--like how Jo March's story ends in Louise May Alcott's Good Wives.

Another great novel with an ending that just didn't live up to the rest of the text is William Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Middlemarch and Vanity Fair lie close together in my mind.

Betty Duffy said...

I'm glad to know that this newfound interest in country music is possibly a widespread syndrome, and not just me. What's at the root of it? Dispensing with pretention? In the same vein, I don't feel the need I once did to ALWAYS drink my coffee black.

TS said...

Good question, what is the root of it?

I've asked myself the same first I thought it was due to a "slowing metabolism" but it's likely I was searching for consolation. There is something deeply reassuring in the voice and lyrics of a George Strait and a Randy Travis.

Betty Duffy said...

I think you're right. I think it is a search for consolation. I like to know that people can suffer and move on...maybe write a ballad about it rather than some sort of angsty, existential, why me? alterna pop song.