Why 90% of Everything is Crap (And That’s OK)Posted: February 6, 2013
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.