Monday, November 30, 2009

The Most Horrifying Pop Culture Trends of the 2000s

The 2000s decade is almost in the books, so it seems like now is a fitting time to take a look back at some of the events that shaped our time. Perhaps the biggest change in culture came in the form of pop culture: the rapid innovation in media and the internet brought widespread change to how media was delivered, and it now saturates our society than it ever has before. Of course, with all this media saturation, it was inevitable that there would be some obnoxious trends that developed that would drive me (and possibly only me) insane. These are some of the pop culture phenomenons from the last decade that I would rather forget:

5. The Rapid Decline of "SportsCenter"

Did any TV show this decade start out as must-see TV and devolve into unwatchable I-want-to-stab-my-eyes-out garbage faster than "SportsCenter"? Possibly Heroes, but other than that I'm stuck. "SportsCenter" began the decade as a must see show for me and has rapidly declined into a typical sports media screaming fest devoid of any real sports content.

It's hard to tell what caused the precipitous decline of "SportsCenter". It's possible that as I grew older, I just got tired of the catch-phrasey shtick of most of the anchors and was able to notice their spotty analysis easier. Perhaps it was caused by overexposure, since "SportsCenter" is on at least 11 times a day. While these are both potential causes, I think it's pretty clear that the show went way downhill through the decade.

For one thing, does "SportsCenter" even show highlights anymore? The original point of the show was to catch you up on all of the sports happenings of the day, usual via well edited highlight packages. The anchor would throw in their personality a bit but for the most part, the show was about the sports.

"SportsCenter", despite its name, is no longer about the sports now. It's merely a platform for annoying personalities to be... annoying. Any sports content from the highlight packages are now drowned in an intolerable deluge of catch phrases ("BOO YA! HE JUST RAMSHACKALACKA'D THAT PLAYA HATA WHEN HE SAW HIM ON THE STREET. COOL AS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PILLOW!"). Any semblance of analysis has been replaced by idiotic former players yelling at each other about things they don't know anything about, and you can count on basically any sports story being handled in the most reactionary and moronic way possible. Real analysis is generally considered not good enough for TV and replaced by empty suits like Trent Dilfer.

"SportsCenter" went from being about the glory of sports to being a second rate CNN that reminds us of everything bad about sports. Attempting to watch a highlight now is like trying to enjoy a live sporting event while a drunk idiot constantly yells and attention-whores behind you. Thankfully most of us can get our sports news from the internet now.

4. Disney Channel Stars Crossing Over Into the Mainstream

For the first part of the decade, the Disney channel and I had a pretty solid, understanding relationship: you keep your business to yourself, and I'll keep mine to myself.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the road, Disney decided to break the code. "Stars" like Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers began appearing on my television programs and interfering with my way of life. Everything was going so well between us, but Disney just couldn't help themselves.

Now I'm not normally one to hate on music or movies that I am clearly not the target demographic for, but at some point one has to take the stand. When the Jonas Brothers began appearing on "The Tonight Show" and "Saturday Night Live" as if they're actual rock stars and not Disney manufactured mannequins; when "High School Musical" started getting released in theaters and actually becoming extremely popular as something other than campy pre-teen garbage; when Hannah Montana somehow became one of the biggest stars in America despite not having a shred of talent. These were all signs that the line had been crossed. These formerly untouchable Disney products now deserved all the hate they got.

However, even worse than all of these, Disney is also at least partially responsible for the frankly disturbing rise to super-stardom of Shia LaBeouf. Who is this idiot, and why is he suddenly on TV all the time? Does it really take a whole lot of star power and charisma to play the main character in a Michael Bay vehicle about transforming robots? Why is he in that Indiana Jones movie? These were questions that I and many others pondered as Shia inexplicably rose to stardom. One can only hope he is a flash in the pan, but given his future IMDB credits, it looks like we're not going to be safe for quite some time.

3. Increased Popularity of 24 Hour News Networks

Possibly the most influential form of media in the last decade were the 24 hours news networks. While CNN existed for a long time, the emergence of Fox News brought their popularity and influence to an all time high in the 2000s.

Normally competition is good for quality, but in the case of CNN and Fox News the opposite somehow seems to be true. When faced with their competitors, the channels instead chose to see who could yell the loudest and provide the most noise to grab the viewer. When covering live events, any kind of journalistic integrity was thrown out the window in favor of loud, attention seeking television.

If you're somehow in need of evidence, all one has to do is look at the balloon boy scandal from a few weeks ago. The family decides to run a huge publicity stunt by throwing up the balloon, and the news networks are all too happy to indulge them. We get interviews with the family, Wolf Blitzer proclaiming that he "saw the boy fall out of the balloon", and then embarrassingly not noticing when the kid throws his family under the bus on live television.

The question on everyone's mind of course was "why would this family pull a hoax like this?" The answer? 24 hour news networks. For anyone seeking publicity, all you have to do is a stunt like this and you will be on the news every hour of every day. While they end up facing charges, the family still got exactly what they wanted. Their name is out there now, and it always will be, all made possible by these networks.

While these news channels may serve a purpose, it is too frequently lost under layers of noise, stupid graphic overlays and scrolls, and poor reporting by the anchors. I don't think anyone really needs 24 hours of news a day, and if they do they can get it on the internet. All these news networks do is play the same tired stories ad nauseam and put a scare into the entire country.

2. The Death of Originality in Television

Television has admittedly not ever been the most original medium, but it seemed like this decade in particular was spectacularly bad. With the multitude of CSI and Law and Order shows along with their knockoffs, the 2000s was a great decade for unoriginality.

Most of the unoriginality comes from CBS, "America's Number One Network." "JAG" became "NCIS" which became "NCIS: Los Angeles", "CSI" became "CSI: New York" which became "CSI: Miami". Even their shows that aren't blatant spinoffs are unoriginal in their own right (just take a look at their cliche-fest Monday night sitcom lineup).

It's particularly amazing to me how seemingly every show is either about someone from the police/detective force or a doctor. Does America really need 30 shows about tough cops trying to solve difficult cases? It seems like despite the length it has been around, there's still a lot of ground left uncovered for TV series.

Unfortunately (and predictably), the graveyard of TV shows from this decade is littered with originality. Shows like "Freaks and Geeks", "Arrested Development", and "Pushing Daisies" were canceled fairly quickly. The sad truth is that unoriginality works, and the CBS studio executives are smart enough to know it. A spinoff of NCIS is far more likely to succeed than whatever original idea they put in its place.

Fortunately, some original shows managed to find audiences and take off. Most of them are on premium channels like HBO and Showtime, but a show like "Lost" with convoluted science-fiction elements was able to find a home on a major network, perhaps giving hope to original TV in the future (as long as it has a massive budget).

1. Wussy "Rock" Music

As anyone who has seen "School of Rock" knows, rock music is first and foremost about stickin' it to the man. Even former mainstream acts stuck it to the man with great vigor, and the tradition generally held form even into the 90s with bands like Nirvana and Radiohead finding mainstream success with challenging and innovative music.

Unfortunately, the mainstream "rock" (I put it in quotation marks because I refuse to equate this drivel with actual rock music) of the 2000s was basically the opposite of what our rock pioneers imagined. This was the decade where rock music turned from stickin' it to the man to being the man.

The primary culprits of this were Nickelback. Nickelback gets a lot of hate already, but it's really difficult to overstate how much of a blight they are to music in general. Inexplicably they've churned out hit after hit this decade, despite having little musical ability and relying on an odd combination of misogyny and mawkish sentimentality in their lyrics. The fact that Nickelback passes themselves off as a rock group while singing a song called "If Everyone Cared" basically tells the entire story here.

Nickelback's unoriginal, bland music was only the beginning though. After this we've been stuck with Nickelback imitators. Ripping off a band that doesn't have a shred of originality in them is a difficult task, but bands like Daughtry and Hinder were eager to take up the challenge. "Lips of an Angel" attempted to sound like a macho rock song while having lyrics that could easily be mistaken for the latest Hannah Montana song. Daughtry took a similar route, making a huge hit out of the insanely bland "It's Not Over" with the same type of little girl lyrics. When did everything get so soft? Don't any rock groups party all day and do tons of hard drugs anymore?

Sadly enough, these are some of the most successful "rock" groups/songs of the decade. What happened? Even as recently as the 90s it seemed like real rock groups were having the success they deserved. Now the only place to find actual rock music is on college radio stations or (god forbid) buying CDs. The even scarier part is that Nickelback isn't really showing any signs of going away. For whatever reason, the public just loves these unoriginal horse-faced Canadians.

My end of decade writing spree is only beginning, so stay tuned for more! Next one will probably be something more positive.


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