Every decade has its political scandals, its civil unrest, and its fair share of world health issues, but the way art processes them seems to swing back and forth, negative to positive.
In the 1990s, a dissatisfaction and depression bled through the arts and media. You saw it in films, television, music, paintings, all the way down to the expressions worn on the faces of models. Men and women embodied the depression. Think of Chloë Sevigny in Kids, Ice Cube’s lyrics for N.W.A., David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Richard Linklater’s Slacker. Even the stand-up comedy, dark and alternative. Even on Seinfeld. They didn’t really want their problems solved, they wanted to poke and prod what they’d deemed a broken society and put forth joke recovery methods.
Now, twenty years gone, the method of processing society in the negative has given over to the positive. Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl, once members of bands synonymous with 1990s’ dissatisfaction, have become decorated, fulfilled godfathers of modern rock. Obsession with television doesn’t spell the end of the world, it’s an acknowledgement of the fastest growing, most notable artistic medium of the last decade and a half. Print sales are on the rise. Popular music spends most of its time serving beach parties, sentiments of progressive change, and perfect romance. Taylor Swift, a young, pleasant musician with a penchant for oversharing, has become our decade’s poster girl. In the 1990s it was Kurt Cobain.
Cynicism still exists in the 2010s, it’s just embedded in us rather than worn on our sleeves. Artists don’t have to constantly prove how anti-commercial they are because it’s so deeply ingrained that commercialism is wrong. It would be redundant to denounce it. A bigger statement would be if an artist came out in favour of commercialism, that they’d love to give their song over to McDonald’s for a handsome sum of money. Modern artists don’t fear popularity, or turn their noses up at the slightest scent of enthusiasm. That’s what the Internet is for: 4chan comment sections, subReddit threads.
Modern progressive art is more about the celebration of body and mind rather than the condemnation of those that don’t get on board with change. It’s achieving the same thing by way of positivity.
If the 1990s’ dissatisfaction with the status quo is what opened up the possibility for transgender people, gay people, or any other minority to step into the centre of the arts, the upswing into positivity in the 21st century is what allowed them to stay there, keep balance, and flourish.
What I will acknowledge, however, is our positivity is more aggressive than it has been previously. Maybe we’re on our way to a balance of the extremes.