Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nobody likes a golden age

If ideas spread like viruses, pop-culture is like those freezers that the CDC keeps full of plague bacteria. The past is full of interesting sights and sounds... most of the time. Some of the most information-rich stuff is camp material, but not for the reasons you might think. Camp material is bizarre, which means that it's novel -- and novelty, you should remember, is information. But, camp is unique in that it's bizarre now but wasn't bizarre when it was most popular. Camp is full of information that was once relatively ubiquitous but has since been lost to time; it grows organically out of the most volatile and virile ideas, and represents a snapshot of a mutation of normalcy.

When you look at any 'golden age', you'll see some of its ideas all around you. That's why it's golden: it had an inordinate quantity of good (or at least sustainable) ideas. Golden ages also tend to be (or tend to portray themselves as being, or tend to be portrayed as being) happy times. All together, this makes golden ages boring. There is no camp; there is merely an overflow of kitsch and cheese. Camp is spontaneously creative as a baseline; like the flu, it conquers half the population regardless of immunizations, disappears after a few weeks, and then comes back in a nearly unrecognizable new strain the following year. Cheese, on the other hand, lacks the soul and vitality; it is merely dated kitsch, and ages far slower. Happy (or rather, contented) people don't feel the need to replace their stable status quo with the kind of destructive fashions that mutate into camp. While some 'golden ages' have, due to historical events causing sudden shifts in the perception of acceptability attributed to the ideas from which they sprung, become camp material (the golden age of science fiction in the 1930s comes to mind, as does the golden age of comics), as a rule they become as boring as the reign of Augustus.

Is it worth it? People are happy (or, at least, content). Things are stable.

But, in addition to boring the living hell out of whoever is reading about them, golden ages typically bring bunkum to the table aside from new (for the period) status quos and zombie-twinkie-kitsch that won't die. The creation of a system that isn't replaced for a thousand years can be interpreted as the creation of a good, stable system that 'just works', or it can be interpreted as the creation of a system that, regardless of how good it is, manages to stifle competition and brings a thousand years of stagnation in that area when ten will do.

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