November 3, 2010

No one dresses up as characters made in low-crime times

Recently I showed that the most enduring characters from new mythological sources (such as comic books, video games, horror movies, etc.) have come from periods when the violence level was shooting up. The public wants a role model to emulate when the world looks like it's about to blow up, so we get better quality heroes. They also want a clearer picture of who's fucking things up, not just a vague sense that there are more bad guys than before, so we get better quality villains and scapegoats.

Even outside the "heroes against villains" framework, the entire culture is just more exciting when times are more violent, so characters that don't fit as good guys or bad guys will also endure longer if they were created in high-crime times.

Sure enough, over the four days or so that I saw people dressing up for Halloween weekend, there was hardly anyone imitating a character created since the 1992 peak in the crime rate. I saw some of the Scream masks for sale, so someone must be buying them, but it wasn't common enough for me to see anyone wearing them in real life. Hell, I saw more adolescents dressed up as Waldo from the late '80s kids books than I saw Scream masks. I did see a girl dressed up as a Pokemon character at a dance club on Saturday, though. And maybe some of the littler kids are dressing up as someone from the Toy Story or Harry Potter movies (though none that I saw).

But for the most part, all of the big characters created over the past 18 years haven't lasted. No more Power Rangers, Darth Maul, or anyone from those dopey Saw movies or Halo video games. Yet they're still dressing up as Transformers, Darth Vader and slave Leia, Freddy Kruger, and characters from the Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda video games, all created 20 to 35 years ago. Then there's Spiderman, Iron Man, etc., who were created in the early-mid 1960s.

Moreover, there's hardly anyone from the previous falling-crime era of 1934 to 1958. No Creature from the Black Lagoon, that robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still, or Howdy Doody. Go back to the previous rising-crime era of at least 1900 to 1933, though, and you find them still being imitated today -- especially Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy. These characters are older, but the particular way that we imagine them and dress up like them today dates back to their portrayals during the 1920s and early '30s.

There are also popular costumes for gangsters and flappers from the Roaring Twenties, hippie chicks and disco dancers, and punks and metalheads. At the supermarket I saw a 4 year-old boy dressed up like one of the guys from KISS. Yet there are no popular costumes for big band, bobby soxers, or beatniks.

Taken together, these patterns show that the popularity of certain older icons is not due to nostalgia but to their being higher quality. If it were nostalgia, then everything in the past would be carried on -- yet it's only the exciting stuff from high-crime times in the past that survives, while the boring stuff made during low-crime times in the past fades away.


  1. Someone previously mentioned that all this blog has become is a tangent about how life was better in your day...which is long past.

    At first I was hesitant to agree, because I have read your blog for years now, and have really enjoyed it. These recent string of posts however have proved the commenter right. It seems as though you have turned into an old curmudgeon complaining about "those kids" and "their wussy" ideas, and how it was oh so much better back in the good ole days.

    This is not meant as a nasty comment, I just thought honesty to be the best policy. :) perhaps you could go back to posting less about the kids, and more about women, diet, etc...

  2. See my response to that comment, or the final paragraph in this post. It's not about kids these days -- it's about the entire culture. Even 20-somethings and 30-somethings make kabuki faces in their Facebook pictures, prefer video games over dance clubs, etc.

    Also not about "my day" vs. today. I became a teenager after the crime rate started plummeting, and was in my 20s during the past decade, so my day is certainly not long past. Just my childhood. If I were writing about how cool things were back when I was a teenager, I'd be praising the '90s, which you can tell are the times I find most repulsive.

    If I thought things were oh so much better back in the good ole days, why do you never read about how cool the mid-'30s through the late '50s were? Those are obviously some of the most boring cultural times in recent memory -- and completely unlike the combustible atmosphere of the fin-de-siecle through the Roaring Twenties.

    Then there are the differences between high and low-crime times throughout the past millennium, which I've detailed extensively, and which are just like the ones we see on a short and recent scale.

    Obviously I was not alive for the 14th C, the Elizabethan / Jacobean period, or the Romantic / Gothic period, so my preference for those cultures over Renaissance Humanism, the Age of Reason, and the Victorian era has nothing to do with nostalgia or present-vs-past etc.

    It almost all comes down to when the violence level is shooting up or plummeting down. That controls about 90% of the differences in the zeitgeist between two periods.


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