December 14, 2011
One of 2011’s hottest trends is middle-aged pundits announcing that compared to the good old days when they were spry, nothing much is changing anymore. Or at least nothing worth noticing.
Economist Tyler Cowen kick-started this fad of bemoaning stasis by publishing one of those newfangled e-books, The Great Stagnation, in which he lamented today’s lack of technological change. Now, 57-year-old Kurt Andersen, co-founder of Spy magazine back in the 1980s, has announced in Vanity Fair that so far as he can tell, styles are stuck. Practically everything—cars, movies, music, men’s clothes, and haircuts—seems about the same to him as when he was a stripling of 37. Like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, he’s still hip; it’s the times that have gotten square.
As another one of these writers of a certain age who seldom gets out much anymore, I heartily agree. Well, except, of course, for that handful of fields where I actually know a little bit. Those are clearly getting worse.
For example, my neighbors keep buying new cars to remind me of how out-of-date my two 1998 sedans are. My cars were designed in the obsolete “aquarium” mode that let the driver actually see out in most directions. Ever since the revolutionary 2005 Dodge Magnum introduced the concept of the evil-looking station wagon, however, auto designers have severely raked beltlines. The ostensible justification for today’s tiny back and side windows is that you’ll save money on gas through smoother aerodynamics, but that doesn’t factor in the fender-repair bills for all those cars you blindly back into.
Similarly, the movie industry’s brilliant 1976 invention, the autostabilized Steadicam that made handheld camerawork possible without inducing motion sickness in viewers, has apparently been disinvented.
In response to Andersen’s assertion, numerous young men have vehemently responded that styles are changing faster than ever: The places where you are supposed to have the rips in your jeans are totally different these days.