In 1992, political theorist Francis Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man, in which he argued the global proliferation of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, signified the final phase in humanity’s sociocultural development.
With the dominance of liberal democratic governance around the world after communism’s fall, Fukuyama suggested we reached the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” Effectively, every other form of government tried by a major power up to that point failed to secure the stability and consistent material prosperity that liberalism offered. Under the international liberal order, man’s rights appeared to be secure and the market met his basic needs.
Across the globe, man’s needs were being met, and he grew comfortable. He got complacent, and his spirit dulled.
The lack of significant ideological struggle — let’s face it, most opposition movements to liberal democracy are intellectual exercises, controlled opposition, crawling with federal agents, or about to implode due to poor central planning (re: CCP) — is reflected in popular culture.
Along with increasing ideological and economic global homogeneity and interdependence came cultural ubiquity that has effectively westernized most economically significant geopolitical entities.
But let’s turn our gaze inward — we live in a stuck culture where, as “LindyMan” Paul Skallas points out, popular culture is still dictated by the trends of decades past.
For the past two decades, American culture has been consumed with milking intellectual property for everything it’s worth. Sequels, spinoffs, cinematic universes, this is the name of the game. Of the 10 highest-grossing movies of all time, eight are sequels to long-running franchises or reboots of previously made films.
Just recently, the internet was lit ablaze with rumors of a potential remake of NBC’s popular, mid-aughts sitcom “The Office.” Naturally, people were annoyed. A beloved series — made in the years when people still casually flung around the word “gay” without fear of incurring bodily harm — might have its legacy tarnished. But perhaps more importantly, rebooting the series in the era of Dylan Mulvaney increases the likelihood of its Bud-Light-ification: corporate shills rip something away from everyday Americans and fill it to the brim with identitarian propaganda before smugly handing it back to the public. This isn’t for you anymore; it’s for us.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a sizable contingent of popular culture that doesn’t follow this trend. Beyond television and cinema (personally, I find the imminent reboot of “Fraiser” the most egregious), the stuck culture phenomenon dictates almost every other aspect of our cultural experience.
According to The Atlantic, “old songs” make up 70 percent of the domestic music market, while “the 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5 percent of total streams.”
Even America’s cities have become so beholden to antiquated zoning laws and nonsensical environmental regulations that updating the decaying architecture from decades past and developing new housing is often too burdensome.
In many regards, we should show more appreciation for the past. Older art is almost always better than newer art, and there isn’t a person alive today who is wiser than Solomon. But in lamenting stuck culture, we lament the woeful state of modernity in which mediocrity and a lack of vision are as ubiquitous as the air we breathe.
Previous decades and past generations were characterized by optimism for the future. Today, people live in a state of material abundance, where they may not need to worry about immediate infringement upon their rights, but the world around them is bleak and uninspiring.
If “The Office” is to be remade, it isn’t the end of the world. But it will be another victory for a superficial liberal world order dominated by the perpetual regurgitation of nostalgia and another glaring indictment of our stuck culture.