Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture – what’s new and old in entertainment.
There’s an anecdote from a 2015 Hollywood Reporter profile on Lorne Michaels, the famed producer of Saturday Night Live, that has always stuck with me. Michaels has been the man in charge of SNL since its inception back in 1975, which means he’s overseen the iconic series through generations of new writers and performers and he’s heard time and again that his show just ain’t what it used to be. Michaels has seen this cycle often enough and in regards to so many different casts that he has reached a simple conclusion: Everyone says the show peaked when they were in high school.
One high school senior’s favorite cast is a disappointment to a bunch of 20-somethings.
This is a tale as old as time. Older generations lament younger generations’ taste in everything. Famously, this is true of music. Older generations despised the music of Elvis, then the Rolling Stones, and now, I guess, Kanye West. In fact, in a similar vein to Michael’s anecdotal discovery, data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes in his book Everybody Lies that Spotify data suggests our favorite music is what we grew up with. Specifically, he says women’s musical taste is formed between 11 and 14, while men’s taste is formed between 13 and 16. Stephens-Davidowitz says for instance, that “Creep” by Radiohead, is the 164th most popular song among men on the cusp of 40, but it doesn’t even rank in the top 300 of men nearing 30 or 50.
We like what we liked in high school.
And I can add to the phenomenon: My favorite movie is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I’ve often said nothing will ever top the experience I had of going to the theater at midnight when I was 15 years old, tagging along with my brother and watching the comic book crime epic unfold and… it turns out, I’m probably right. It’s not necessarily because it’s the best movie of all-time, but it mattered to me the most when my receptors were at their height.
I appreciate new music and new books and new music, and I flock to see new movies. I often love them. Maybe I’ll even watch some Saturday Night Live highlights. But for me, those things all peaked in the late 2000s. For you, they probably peaked when you were 15. And of course, this is all fine. But let’s get along about it. People can like different things, and we should probably try to keep these things in mind and cut younger generations some slack when they say anew movie or a new song is their favorite ever. It’s just human nature.
I’m Evan Rook.
Culture Crash 20-27: Week of July 5, 2020
Last month, director Joel Schumacher passed away. More accurately, Schumacher was a fashion designer turned costume designer turned director. His flair for visual spectacle was a constant in his work.
Schumacher directed St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, Phone Booth, A Time to Kill, the 2004 film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera and plenty of other titles, but what he will probably be most remembered by – for better or worse – are the two Batman films he directed, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
Batman & Robin, Schumacher’s second Batman film, which starred George Clooney, is often remembered as a total disaster, and, well, it was. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a pun-filled Mr. Freeze and the whole thing comes off too campy for its own good. However, the sour memory of Batman & Robin has caused a lot of people to forget Schumacher’s first foray into Gotham, Batman Forever.
That film, starring Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, and Jim Carrey, is a personal favorite of mine. A movie I revered growing up but revisited for the first time in my adult life in the wake of Schumacher’s passing. Maybe it’s driven in part by nostalgia, but I still found a lot to love in the movie, which sees Schumacher testing just how far he can push the boundaries of camp and absurdism – things that were overindulged in Forever’s sequel – in a movie that still garnered massive appeal. It was panned by critics, and you understand why, but it really is a comic book movie through and through. The movie is corny by design, but it does not lose sight of that visual spectacle that was Schumacher’s trademark. One shot, in particular, sees Batman drop off a building as the camera zooms past him, then slows down to allow Batman to zoom past it, as the audience is overwhelmed with a flurry of colors. It really is beautiful to look at.
Batman has two personas: one is the hyper-gritty version that so many people, especially me, prefer. The other, though, is the campy character portrayed by Adam West. To me, that version of Batman peaked with Batman Forever.
Joel Schumacher was 80 years old.
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