Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pop Culture: The 10 Year Rule

I have a theory. There is no science to back it up; it’s only my observations from studying trends in pop culture and trying to figure out what it takes to maintain popularity for more than a decade. From what I’ve gathered, the ten year hurdle is a difficult mark to hit before either the quality begins to wane or it’s replaced by the next exciting trend. Is it better to quit while you’re ahead? Do good things only come in short spurts or is it possible to be eternally relevant? Let’s examine.

Generally speaking, the best TV series typically last anywhere from 5-6 seasons or less. (Case in point: Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Wonder Years). And that’s just the ones that ended on their own terms. The scripted shows that go beyond 10 seasons simply can't sustain the same spark that originally made us want to tune in week after week. I think we can all agree that The Simpsons’ best years are behind it. Waaaay behind it.

When it comes to TV, Jerry Seinfeld was the smart one, calling it quits before the show hit double digits while he was still on top. His must-see TV counterparts, Friends and Frasier should have taken note. Ricky Gervais also seems to have the right idea. He's been series hopping since creating and starring in The Office and hasn't looked back. During The US Office's run, Gervais starred in and concluded two more series and has another one that just started streaming on Netflix. Clearly a man who doesn't intend to wear out his welcome, unlike NBC’s Office. At least Steve Carrell knew when to jump ship.

Time to sink or swim without your captain, kids!

Gervais' music equivalent may be Jack White, a musician who manages to juggle multiple projects with apparent ease and demands that his audience keep up with his every move as opposed to becoming predictable and boring. It's a very safe bet that if there is a 10 year curse, that White isn't going to succumb to it anytime soon.

Internal band strife aside, The Beatles knew when to hang it up too and became the ultimate "leave them wanting more" act as a result. They were active from 1960 to 1970, but the majority of their music was written and recorded during a 7 year period which cemented their legacy and ensured that they would never become a nostalgia act. Talk about prolific geniuses!

Since then, countless bands have come and gone having rode a wave of popularity only to wipe out once the talent can no longer support the hype. Many bands rule a decade. Zeppelin in the 70s, Duran Duran in the 80's, Green Day in the 90's. As a result, the band becomes so associated with that period where they broke out and were at the peak of their success, they are then labeled as such. Sure, the Stones just celebrated their 50th anniversary, but they’re still a 60’s band.

However, trends do tend to resurface when studios have run out of ideas and are banking on nostalgia to turn a quick profit, hence why we're in the midst of an 80's revival that seems never ending but will eventually lead to a full blown 90's resurgence. Definitely looking forward to some revamped Disney Adventures toons and Furbies the Movie.

Artists understandably want to keep working and don't want to let a good thing die, especially not on their terms. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and from what the evidence is telling me, the sooner that end comes, the better.

Nobody wants to watch a good show suffer until a network has to pull the plug just to put it, and the audience, out of their misery. We want tight, driven story lines with a satisfying conclusion that made the time we invested into it worth it. Too many shows get off to a strong start only to drag on to the point of self-parody, Dexter being a recent example. Just end already!

Way past due for a curtain call Dex
On the movie front, Pixar had a good run even despite the Cars misstep, but once they caught sequel-itis, I broke my Pixar streak of seeing every movie in theaters (thanks Cars 2) and have yet to see one since Toy Story 3. But just when it looked like they were going the route of Dreamworks, they now have more original content on the way so hopefully they’re on the path for a welcome comeback.

Tastes change from decade to decade, there’s no stopping that. But is it really that hard to stay relevant or is it best to move on to the next phase before your audience does? Because pop culture is constantly shifting it necessitates that creative people should be one step ahead.

Going back to Seinfeld, it seems the majority of artists are afraid to go out on a high note. But in show business, showmanship is crucial if you want to stay in the game. Now let’s end this blog right from someone who said it best.

“Playing it safe is the most popular way to fail.” – Elliott Smith

Alright, that's it for me, goodnight!

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