October 21, 2010

NYT catches up to me on recent lack of one-liners

Scroll down this blog and you'll see the observation that since the crime rate started plummeting after 1992, there have been virtually no one-liners from action or horror movies that have gone viral, in contrast to a proliferation of such lines from the high-crime times of 1959 to 1992. For romantic comedies, etc., there have been infectious lines, but nothing for action or horror.

Just a few days ago the NYT featured the same story, though without an awareness of how strongly our perception of violence and danger influences these things. They go digging for one-liners from before 1959, whereas I restricted myself to the most recent wave up and down of crime. The older ones they get are from low-crime times of 1934-1958, but again they're from dramas or romantic comedies, not action or horror.

I'm not so up on movies of Hollywood's golden age and before, but I do know that the action and horror movies of the 1900-1933 high-crime period have more one-liners, while those of 1934-1958 have hardly any.

I am... Draaacula.

Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.


Etc. Again compare to the void of quotes from the '34 to '58 period, when the decline of danger began borifying the culture. So we can rule out the explanations about the recent lack of one-liners which refer to the internet, TV, etc. There was no internet, etc., in the mid-'30s that killed off a previously vibrant action and horror movie culture. Rather, there must be something else that waxes and wanes, and that has a pervasive influence on society -- that is our perception of how violent the world is, which tracks real changes in the crime rate (maybe with a lag of a couple years; data not shown, but in the GSS and BJS data).


  1. A response to the article from an expert is also noteworthy:

    "When I compiled “The Yale Book of Quotations,”... [I found] that great contemporary lines were extremely hard to find... The paucity of movie eloquence nowadays is probably just a subset of a larger phenomenon. I found in compiling my book that there were almost no striking passages in Supreme Court opinions of the last few decades. Current song lyrics are not exactly on the level of Cole Porter or Bob Dylan.

    When your Book Review invited readers to send in quotations from the last 25 years of literature to help me with my next edition, hundreds responded, but few of them supplied any usable quotations.

    The population isn't less intelligent, but this is consistent with a decline in creativity.

    Boom and bust patterns could be quantified with the Yale quotation book.

  2. Not a bad idea... that could reach all the way back into recorded history.

    You'd have to make sure they were choosing based on quality rather than historical coverage, but it sounds like they may do just that.

  3. traveling boho10/23/10, 3:59 PM


    If '38 to '58 was a low crime era, what's your take on the fact that these dates coincide almost precisely with Film Noir's classic period?

  4. On the explosion of film noir and arty crime movies during low-crime times:



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