The reruns at the end of the universe

A rant about rehash culture and the then burgeoning electro-indie-80′s-etc scene from around 2004. I think I wrote it for a magazine or something….can’t quite remember.


“It’s all the same thing, there’s no new tale to tell.” – Love and Rockets, No New Tale to Tell

The screen flickers to life as you distractedly twist off the lid of your alco-pop bottle….

VH1, or is it MTV, is in the middle of their ‘So 90’s’ show. So 90’s??? Wasn’t that just a couple of years ago? Have things really changed enough to have a daily retro-show about the fucking 90’s?

For MTV, of course, it’s just about cheap videos. Crap pop from the mid 90’s doesn’t cost as much as crap pop from 2003. And, of course, there are only so many times you can play the new J-Lo video – MTV itself provides the limit test for that. But the important thing is that MTV’s trend-surfing program schedulers know they can get away with it. After all, our appetite for recapitulation of the past, in ever more diluted and vapid forms, seems insatiable. We’ve rehashed the 80’s twice so far, with an extra lashing of ironic distance the second time round, as if the not-quite-as-silly aloofness of 80’s electro is somehow cooler than the pure cheese-pop rerun that constituted our initial foray into the grab-bag of the recent past. Somehow doubly ironic.

The symptoms of this, of what fatalist-theory mega-cynic Jean Baudrillard calls ‘the end of history’, are in no way subtle: bowling alleys populated with the bourgeois-chic of the jet-set trash kids, the constant apple in the eye of Diesel’s cooler-than-caring ad buffs intent on peddling off overpriced sweatshop wares at fashionably expensive prices. Award hungry media industry trend-whores, accessorising from the simulacra of end-time magazines like the Face and iD, their showroom interiors from Wallpaper, as if they hadn’t watched or understood The Matrix….But perhaps they do. Perhaps it’s obvious to most of us that we’re living in a nihilistic recapitulative fantasy, wound on the ever tightening coil of the past by the young and hyper-fashionable, themselves victims of their own fantastically empty advertising.

Perhaps we want it that way.

See, the future isn’t the white and rounded zen-garden of 70’s future-movies that it used to be. In our overexposed urban sprawls, where every single piece of news, however inane, is transmitted through a hundred different media, decontextualized, sampled and time-stretched to fit the 4/4 beat of the end-time no-time, it’s hard to know how to take what we have and generate something new, take what we have and move on. Actually, it’s hard enough just to breathe amidst the sheer racket of sales-pitches, news-spincasts and ‘reality-tv’ – a phenomenon which triggers the more McLuhanesque amongst us to question just whose reality is being punted through these shows. In Michael Bracewell’s excellent book ‘The 90’s: When Surface was Depth’ he proposes one highly probable reason for this constant immersion in the past: it’s safe.

We were, most of us, young and naïve back then, and the present, past and future all seemed definite, absolute and simple. Fashion evolved at the rate of a couple of accessories a year, music was comfortably honest, and reality was what you saw on the single news broadcast every evening. Suddenly though, without much warning, we were thrown headlong into the interconnected frenzy of globalised media, our decision making abilities indefinitely postponed by the information glut of the world wide web. The future became impossibly probabilistic and fractaline, and early dance musicians The Shamen announced our imminent arrival at ‘Destination Eschaton’. The obvious choice, of course, was regression.

So those of us who suddenly found ourselves in the emergent property we dubbed ‘the industry’, that self-congratulatory mix of creative directors, web designers and pop culture journalists, used our positions to place upon the map of the immediate future the signs and trends of the immediate past. We excused our urges towards second-childhood by sticking our tongues firmly in our cheeks, as if we were new-media anthropologists, sniggering to ourselves about just how fucking banal and primitive the last 15 years had been, even though we were secretly happy that we could dance to Alphaville in public (outside of Boksburg).

Cheese became chic, denim outfits were validated by their Diesel branding, and those amongst us who were having difficulty convincing themselves that the past made a cool future made a cursory turn past post-modernism, where we were informed that authenticity was passé and signification a self-referential and empty art, best used to sell cigarettes in glossy magazines. Trend followed trend, at an ever increasing rate, and we quickly became experts at skimming for trash in the ubiquitous junkyard of our handycam recorded, record shop sale-bin youth.

These days, we’ve got it down to a fine art. A single astute designer with a penchant for denial could probably launch a brand new trawl of the Blunder Years armed solely with a website, a nightclub VIP card and a couple of like-minded friends….New Hair Metal Lite, now with added Irony™….any takers? [Note: clearly this article was originally written before the advent of 'The Darkness'!]

Yet maybe this isn’t it at all. Maybe it has nothing to do with youthful simplicity or hiding from the Armageddon-itch that America’s big-business/politics fraternity just can’t scratch. However complicated and uncertain it may seem, however bizarre it may be that we suddenly have email, cellphones and mp3s, perhaps the truth is even simpler and all we’ve been exploring up until now is yet another excuse for our actions, so profoundly disturbing is the real reason for our entropic rehashing, our desperate sign language from the funeral pyre.

‘Maybe there just isn’t a future’ you muse, as you knock back a Crème-Soda Cooler and the band breaks into an electropunk cover of the Sex Pistols.

Not in the pressing of the big red button sense (hopefully), but in the sense that the very idea of evolving trends and mass-market fashions is an outdated mode, a cultural side-effect of the industrialization process that we’ve just taken aboard as inevitable. When you look at it closely, the very idea that we’re one vast, lumpen proletariat with homogeneously evolving needs and desires reeks of imperialism. It’s fascinating that Coca-Cola has been teaching the world to buy in perfect harmony for decades, yet in our scouring of the trends of the past we’ve become, at the most, only partially literate of the dominator language of commodification, a problem further exacerbated by our denial of depth which is evident in the way we selectively rehash the gorgeous little artifacts of the past, glossing over that same past’s painful little problems and insidious little greed-mongers. But maybe change is in the air. Maybe as our trend-milking becomes ever more desperate, as we realize that there are as many tastes as there are interest-groups on the Internet, that the corporate resampling of the Calvinist idea of progress as the continual sophistication and evolution of trends on a global scale is no more than the lost baggage of primitive utopian ideals….maybe change is in the air.

Perhaps culture is becoming sub-cultural. The splitting of the seed pod of globalisation into a vast array of diverse tastes, dissident explorations and local economies of resources and ideas. The cynics take another look at their po-mo hipster manuals and learn about multiplicity, difference and an end to totalizing rhetoric and hierarchy. The markets downscale in size but increase in number, the clubs stay full and the music gets so much better. We keep in touch but go our own ways. It could be that the only future is no Future. That the only future is ‘futures’. The tribe leaves the global village and splits into a thousand nomadic units, each taking snapshots of the new terrain they’re exploring and uploading it to some global meta-cultural repository. Maybe we should, as Steve Coogan said in 24 Hour Party People, “let a thousand Mancunians bloom”, wherever we are.

Of course, once this overly florid explication of a possible future is skimmed through a second time, it doesn’t seem all too different from where we currently are. Indeed, the difference is a subtle one. It’s not a difference in structure, a difference in technology, a difference in brainpower. It can be summed up in one word, something which, if we honestly evaluated it, would solve a great deal of the post-modern, super-cynical, globalized, relativized confusion of our age. Intention….

The screen goes fuzzy, and you can’t quite make out what song is playing anymore.

You crack open your crème-brulee; the reruns at the end of the universe speed up even more, until there’s just a blur of sound and colour and ugly plastic earrings. The sickly sweetness hurts your teeth and amidst the confusion you can’t even remember what you had for mains. There’s always time for a couple of drinks afterwards though, you think; after all, you’re just watching it all go down, the light entertainment that is the desperate flailing of the end of rehash culture….

….And as the mulleted and moustached house-band finish off their encore, a deadpan electro cover of Enola Gay, you stare down at your empty Cherry Cider Lite and realize that you haven’t yet decided where to go after closing time. You’re far too wired to sleep.

“Those of us who now know the danger, and are aware of it, even we cannot yet make up our minds.” – Einstuerzende Neubauten, Headcleaner