Why 90% of Everything is Crap (And That’s OK)

The other day I made the mistake of listening to the radio. Not NPR, like I normally do, but an actual music station. I won’t call them out, but you can pretty much pick one at random and get the same experience I had. Half of the songs were absolutely terrible dreck released in the last year, another forty percent were absolutely terrible dreck released sometime in the preceding twenty years (really, how many times a day can you still play Metallica’s “The Unforgiven“?), and about one song in ten was actually worth listening to.

At first I thought this was just a sign of the times. Then I thought I was turning into the grouchy old man down the street (“when I was a kid…”). Then I got home and tried turning on the TV and was almost blinded by a commercial that included some monstrosity named “Honey BooBoo” and I thought the Apocalypse was nigh. After washing my eyes out with salt water and taking a glass of 100 proof consolation, I gave the matter some deep thought. Surely the world hasn’t changed so much from the heyday of my youth, the glorious and wonderful 80’s?

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) I was unable to kid myself for long. The 80s were terrible. Sure, they brought us the death of disco (for which we should all be eternally grateful), but they also brought us parachute pants, breakdancing, MC Hammer, and closed out with Vanilla Ice. TV wasn’t a whole lot better: for every A-Team there was a Manimal; for every Remington Steele there was an After-M*A*S*H. Sure, we had the birth of MTV, but that just meant we were subjected to nonstop playing of hair metal icons like Ratt and Cinderella. And it all seemed like a good idea at the time.

The point I’m trying to make here is that 90% of everything is crap, and that’s okay. The good stuff survives, and the bad stuff is cast aside. Sure, everyone remembers classic albums like The Dark Side of the Moon, but how many people (outside of hardcore Pink Floyd fans) have even heard of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn? While there are those who would argue Piper is a great album, I’m not one of them, but history will decide. As a comparison point, I find it difficult to believe that Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms didn’t have a huge number of contemporaries. Why don’t we hear about more of their works, or know their names? And yet we hear so much about how great classical music is compared to so much of today’s music. The great work survived, and the less great work… didn’t.

And it’s like that in most fields of endeavor. The arts are the most easily recognized for this, but it’s the same way with technology or social movements as well. We try all sorts of things, and the truth is that most of it either doesn’t work or isn’t well-received. Sometimes it takes a while for things to catch on, and some things are slowly recovered from the past (people are notoriously slow to adapt to new ideas), but overall we do a decent job of filtering out the bad stuff from the good stuff; it just takes a while.

Now if I can just get that one station to stop playing Metallica.


8 Comments on “Why 90% of Everything is Crap (And That’s OK)”

  1. Remi Zaidan says:

    That’s true: I used to listen to people of my parents’ generation telling us that what they had when they where young is much better than the crap we listen to today. And I used to believe them and for a good reason: everything I could listen to that predated my birth was actually good!
    Until one day I found at my grand-parents house an old box that contained a collection of tapes that used to belong to my father when he was a teenager… As you say, 90% of it was crap!
    But I have to say that it seems like this concept don’t apply to all aspects of our culture: I wonder for example when religion will join the realm of crap long forgotten by society!

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      I would suggest that if you take a close look at religion you may find that at least 10% of it has something useful and meaningful to offer. For example, most religions include things like respect for others, charity, and a willingness to be a positive force in your community. While I may not agree with 90% of what they espouse, it’s hard to disagree with that much.

  2. i also made the mistake of turning on the radio. there’s a lot of crap that is, very unfortunately, catchy as all get-out. i’ve noticed that a lot of the pop radio sounds are definitely nodding to the 90’s era.

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      Ah yes, the infamous 20 year cycle. I didn’t mind it so much when the 80s started making a comeback (who am I kidding, I still love 80s music), but 90s music wasn’t that big to me when I had to live through it the first time. Maybe because the first time I heard it it sounded too much like 70s music.

  3. Farheen says:

    Why do you hate Metallica? That makes me sad…

    • Bob Bonsall says:

      I’m sorry, Farheen, I should clarify. I don’t hate Metallica, I hate exactly three songs by Metallica: “Enter Sandman”, “The Unforgiven”, and “Nothing Else Matters”. I hate them as I hate Hell, all Capulets, and… oh, sorry, got off on a Shakespeare jag again. As I was saying, I hate them because they are the three songs that I hear every time I turn on That Radio Station, almost without fail. Play me some “Master of Puppets”, “One”, “Of Wolf and Man”, even “Hero of the Day”. I still love these.

      But Iron Maiden is better. 😉

  4. […] that this is supposed to be some of the best culture in history. I’ve written before about how 90% of everything is crap, and that only the good stuff survives. So what does that say about us? What does that say about […]

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