The Dead End State of Pop Culture

Author JD Cowan offers a grim prognosis on the fate of pop culture based on Hollywood's manifest inability to connect with its audience.
The Predator is a shallow, spiritually dead movie of stolen imagination and rehashed ideas with a message that could only have been thought up by someone too pathetic to grow up beyond adolescence. And it was written by someone who was there when the original film was being made. And not a talentless man, either. He wrote the original two (and best) Lethal Weapon films as well as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He knows action and how to give the audience what they want.
And yet not only is this film completely out of joint with the franchise, it is completely out of tone with the genre it is supposed to be. It doesn't give the audience what it wants, and it doesn't do so on a scale that is as impressive as it is inept.
Which sums up the dead end state of pop culture as it is right now.
I didn't expect to write a post about this movie, but I had to do so after recent events involving bad decisions by Marvel. The fact of the matter is that the MCU has peaked. There will never be another film like the original Avengers' impact on the genre, and there will never be another Infinity War of building up around a decade of work to one event. It will never happen again.
So we begin our downhill slide of the company telling audiences what they want and cramming uninteresting characters into their own films to replace beloved ones. The MCU has passed its peak with these two new Avengers movies, like every other trend, and will never be the same again.
And that's fine. Trends come and go all the time. Superheroes first hit it big with X-Men and Spiderman back in the early 00s and we're nearing two decades. Just like westerns, action films, noir, and fantasy films, we're nearing the end. But there is a problem.
The difference this time? There is no trend coming.
The brimming treasury of cultural capital built up by the West has been ransacked and squandered by the entryists who converged our institutions. We're rapidly devolving into a mass of atomized consumers that have little or nothing in common with the man next door. Many people, especially in the teeming cities, go months or years without saying a word to their neighbors.

It's a vicious cycle that erodes a people's ability to create and share cultural touchstones. I'm becoming more convinced each day that decentralizing the overconcentrated urban population into more scaled-down, homogeneous, and tightly knit communities would go a long way toward resolving our current ills.

In the meantime, there are those of us who keep telling stories--first and foremost for entertainment, but also in the hope of contributing one brick; one mosaic tile; one dab of paint to the new and now-gestating culture. JD himself has a new contribution in the latest issue of Story Hack. Check it out!

Story Hack


  1. It's a kind of frustrating dynamic at the moment. Due to the ease of Kindle Publishing, we are getting all kinds of interesting stories, but everything else is stalled, or in a rut.

    Music has made no progress, despite things like youtube, spotify, etc to share music.

    Film and TV being at a dead end due to production costs and distribution is understandable. As is videogames. It's just odd that we are seeing the death throes of traditional mass media, and only books seem to have a viable alternative model.

    1. "Music has made no progress, despite things like youtube, spotify, etc to share music."

      Thereby refuting the Modern conceit that better media necessarily means better content. Instead it's garbage in, garbage out--just on a global scale.

    2. Retrowave has become so popular I heard the local modern pop station playing song after new songs filled with tenor saxophone, old synth, and 80s toms.

      This one obscure scene has more fresh ideas than any of the major labels do. The mainstream has nothing left.

  2. Seems to be a lot of that going on right now. The death of pop culture, the death of morality, the death of democracy, our republic.....

    1. The spiritual death of a people is a hell of a drug.

  3. I know cultural death is a result of spiritual death, but I am at a lost to describe it well. Brian, you've mentioned it before, but have you specifically elaborated on the connection in a post? Heroism comes from the spiritual, as do exploration, aspiration, pursuit and daring (should purpose be added to that list?). What is it about the spiritual that animates these desires?

    1. I think acedia is the word. It's a spiritual malaise caused by a nihilistic ennui.
      the opposite is a realization that we're called to be more. That more is what drives the heroism


    2. I've touched on the spiritual origins of culture in a number of posts. John C. Wright said it best when he wrote that a truly, purely materialist society would have only newspapers because fiction is predicated on transcendent aspirations.

      A people's myths and legends let them explain their culture to themselves. Culture is spirituality expressed concretely whereas religion is spirituality expressed ritually. Culture is religion in another medium.

      Debased and twisted culture didn't make us lose faith in religion. Abandoning Christ cut us off from the wellspring of Western culture.

    3. “A people's myths and legends let them explain their culture to themselves. Culture is spirituality expressed concretely whereas religion is spirituality expressed ritually. Culture is religion in another medium.”

      That’s what I was looking for, thank you

  4. Thank you for the link! Excellent post, as always.

    Fascinating idea to disassemble overpopulated and dirty urban centers. As someone who has floated between rural, suburban, and urban areas, it has always been the third that has the least empathy or understanding of the other two. The artificial world they have built for themselves allows only a narrow path of life.

    There are more people in cities, yes, but so few of them ever communicate with each other or will look a stranger in the eyes when talking to them. One can spend years living and working in the city and never speak with a neighbor.

    How does that foster healthy communities? Stale hippie boomer ideals and slogans from a rotting academia is all that unite them. How could they possibly speak to, or for, those who live elsewhere when their own communities are so empty?

    It's not the rural and suburbanites that need to understand the city dwellers. They already do. That's why they don't live in the city. Hence why they never vote like them.

    Who knows what will happen, but I would definitely be for cities getting a taste of what the mainstream media is currently suffering from.

    1. JD
      The wrath of gnon twitter page has some rather interesting opinions on urbanism and community.

      a solution would be to break down the big cities back to their historic neighbourhoods like Barcelona. Then have celebrations like the Merce where neighbour's get together and have fun


    2. Thank you for your compliments and for providing the original impetus for this post.

      A hallmark of thought leaders on our side of the culture war is that each has his own master theory that supposedly explains all of society's ills. The alpha-beta hierarchy, Persuasion, evo-psych--all have their champions.

      The guys at MPC broke from the pack a bit by insisting that the real source of the rot besetting the West is the problem of scale. The theory goes that human beings are not naturally equipped to live in megacities teeming with strangers. The fact that a given individual can only sustain meaningful relationships with about 250 people--not coincidentally the size of a small village--is cited as evidence.

      I don't know if scale is the real culprit, but I'm willing to make the experiment to find out.

    3. Brian,

      The notion of scale is a constant theme by an urbanist named Leon Krier. Aristotle also advocated small cities.
      Perhaps radically decentralzing cities is a future issue

    4. The 250 number is called Dunbar’s number.

      Worst cities I ever lived in were 3 large east coast cities here in the states. Even before smart phones, the places were designed to alienate.

      Best city I ever lived in was my ancestral home city in the mountains of Italy. Neighborhoods were still owned, occupied and run by the families that have lived there for 500+ years. Most people bought their food for the day in the very large, morning local farmers market in the large piazzas throughout. At night, people would leave their homes to chit chat in said piazzas, a daily ritual before heading off to bed.

      It still had issues that all cities have, that sense of too many people so you check out a bit, but there still was a sense of community or rather, local friendly communities. But this was a city of 50,000 compared to say NYC with it’s 8-20 million.

    5. SCALE theory is a lot closer to the mark than many other explanations. We're alienated, not only from reality, which is ultimately divine and therefore suffused with meaning, but also from one another.

      The great lie of globalism is that tribalism=hatred of the Other. The truth is that tribalism=love of one Another. The attitude toward the Other can be loving also, though not of the Leftist, traitorous, hatred-of-countrymen kind. Christ teaches us the way.

      One fascinating book on the subject of closeness vs. loneliness is Sebastian Junger's Tribe, which is an excellent short read. He explains, among other things, why soldiers miss war, why mental illness went down during the Blitz, and why there was a new feeling in the air directly after 9/11. Highly recommended.

    6. @Durandel
      My father's family hails from Calascio, L'Aquila in Abruzzo, Italy. Our cousins make return visits there semi-regularly. Mom and Dad have facetiously mentioned moving to Italy as their current neighborhood deteriorates. I've heartily encouraged them to do so.

      Well said. Thanks for the recommendation.

    7. Scale is why nations, neighbourhoods, churches, fraternities, etc., exist. It's the benign form of identity politics; I know this guy is X (Catholic, say) and I know MY group goals align broadly with HIS group goals for now, so we can get along.

      That's why identity, stereotype, and so on aren't actually evil. But our culture is insistent on destroying all of that cultural/cognitive infrastructure, to be replaced by the computationally impossible task of understanding each and every individual for who they TRULY ARE.

      Of course, this would all be simplified no end if almost all of society fit into 2-3 identity groups. The fractal fragmentation of identity is another issue, but i feel that it amounts to social competition in an environment where there's a huge identity vacuum and no real benefit to any given identity; except that there's a political sweet-spot where you're big enough to wield influence and small enough to beg special treatment, and all identity groups are trying to converge on that sweet spot.

      Come to think of it, identity and status being the be-all and end-all and the basis for competition would be symptomatic of a post-scarcity society or gift economy. Only ours has no cultural rules for deciding status, trying to shoe-horn the new reality into an industrial-era idea of scarcity, charity, and social "good".

      Hmmm. Just a thought.

    8. And a compelling thought it is.

      Whenever somebody decries stereotypes, I ask what he does when a black and white car with flashing lights and a blaring siren drives up behind him. Invariably he says, "I pull over."

      At that point I ask, "Why? You don't personally know the other driver."