Here is what’s odd: during these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past—the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s—looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History.
Think about it. Picture it. Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There’s no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972—giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps—with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock ’n’ roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins—again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it and see that the characteristic surfaces and sounds of each historical moment are absolutely distinct from those of 20 years earlier or later: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the advertising—all of it. ...
Now try to spot the big, obvious, defining differences between 2012 and 1992.
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 about what`s going on. Those are clearly getting worse.
Read the whole thing there. I offer a theory for one major fashion phenomenon of recent decades that, while it may not be right, is at least fairly new.