The Defining Culture of the Naughties? | January 8, 2008

So another year has gone and we’ve only got a couple left till the end of the “naughties” and the start of a new decade. Ever since the second world war, each decade has been typified by it’s own unique culture, usually a combination of the music and fashion of the day. These cultural movements start small and localised, but the popular ones thrive and get transported round the world via movies, radio, magazines and TV. Prior to the war, cultural movements did exist. They just were more localised and look longer to propagate due to the lack of mass media.

Sat chatting with a few friends on New Years Eve, we started pondering what cultural movements defined the “naughties”. In the 60s you had the Mods and Rockers, the 70s saw the rise of Disco, while the late 80s saw birth of Rave culture. The 90s, while not typified by any particular fashion style, saw the whole era of BritPop. However try as we might, we struggled to think of this decades defining culture. Sure there were subcultures like “emo” or “chav”, although the latter is more slur than pop culture.

Simon Wilison postulated that the “naughties” were defined by Internet culture, and while the idea was attractive, it didn’t hold up to scrutiny. After all, their isn’t really a single Internet culture, but multifarious ones. And then Simon said something that really struck a chord. He suggested that the “naughties” were the decade of the “long-tail”. That essentially the democratisation of mass media had led to one big melting-pot of individual cultures rather than a few tightly defined one.

Rather than people dividing themselves into groups defined by the music they listen to or the cloths they wear, the people of the “naughties” define themselves on a much more atomic level, by a particular artist or item of clothing. Looking from a great height, popular culture seems very homogenised. However if you look at people under a microscope, everybody is minutely different to everybody else in such a way as to damped emergent patterns.

So what does this mean? Does this mean that the “naughties” are the end of popular culture movements as everybody truly becomes and individual? Does it mean that when our children look back on these days they won’t be rifling through our wardrobes looking for that “naughties” look, because they’ll still pretty much look the same?

I’ve always harboured the fantasy that in 40 years time all the OAPs will be wearing the same scruffy t-shirts and baggy pants their children and grandchildren will be wearing, travelling around of skateboards and buying the same music. Surely if this happens the yoof will be forced to rebel and go even further back in time. Who knows, maybe when we’re all retired the kids of tomorrow will be wearing ridiculously big ruffs and listening to Elizabethan revival music? God I hope not!

Posted at January 8, 2008 5:00 PM


Relly said on January 15, 2008 6:17 PM

See, I would argue that the defining culture of the 80s was the stockbroker yuppie vs the underclass.
Raves were what came out of the punk rebellion, which rebelled against new romanticism.
The 90s were britpop vs dance music.
The 00s is probably social action vs social disenfranchisement. Gown vs Town on a cultural landscape level.

Music and fashion are not defining cultures anymore because the high street availabilty has largely done away with individuality. That’s why there is a sudden resurgence in the interest of making things personal, unique, crafting things.

Home made mulled wine, cupcakes and a CD of your friend’s band vs WKD in a Wetherspoons before going to an R’n’B club. They aren’t mutually exclusive but there is still a glass barrier there as much as there ever was between mods and rocker, or yuppies and the working classes.

wayne said on January 15, 2008 6:54 PM

There was an intersting(ish) program on tv this morning discussing the fact that big media, trend spotters and the likes, need to take on board the fact that there are now no big fads, big chunks of people that are defined by a common interest. Music is a good example, it’s now defined by so many genres that big music companies struggle (and fail) to keep up. People these days prefer to think that there’s more sophisticated definitions painting their picture.

There are generic themes that bind our attentions but they’re not valuable in terms of definition and what you cn do with that.

I don’t think we’ll see another big explosion like punk or rave again. I’m pretty sure that in my younger days I would have seen that as “the establishment has won” - they’ve managed to control popular culture, we’re now at the beck and call of their marketing fantasies” - but as it turns out - it’s the opposite.

It’s funny that as our ability to map and analyse demographics and trends have grown more sophisticated, so have those trends and demographics. Food for thought.


Tom Hume said on January 15, 2008 9:32 PM

Andy, I suspect that you and I are just too old to know what’s going on, particularly in youth culture. For a nice-looking overview of youth cultures and subcultures today, take a look at the Channel 4 Tribes site:

Don’t ask me how accurate it is, mind. Those young people just scare me, with their ketamine and their hoodies.

Outside of youth culture, defining this decade so far… increasing environmental concerns (and a growing acceptance of them; a move towards (or flirtation with) single-issue politics (e.g. Greens, BNP, Respect); growth in niche communities, aided by the internet (I have a few non-techie friends who’ve gotten into Proper Photography thanks to Flickr)?

I’d disagree with Wayne, I absolutely think we will see another movement like punk or rave. Drum and bass, for instance, rose out of pirate radio in the comparatively recent early 90s: very punk in terms of its DIY approach to production, very referential of earlier music cultures whilst still marking out its own ground.

/me, for one, welcomes our new clownstep overlords

David Airey said on January 16, 2008 10:31 AM

I also disagree with Wayne, agreeing with Tom’s view that we will see another punk-like movement. How can we rule one out? Many things will happen that we can’t yet comprehend.

David Airey said on January 16, 2008 10:32 AM

I also disagree with Wayne, agreeing with Tom’s view that we will see another punk-like movement. How can we rule one out? Many things will happen that we can’t yet comprehend.

wayne said on January 16, 2008 10:46 AM

OK!! that probably came out a bit more pesamistic than it should have. The point I was making was something like: Take the internet for instance, as a defining feature of the naughties. Now, just saying that the internet was a defining attribute actually means not a lot because it’s too generic. Being more sophisticated about that might help: Semantic use of the web, social networking etc might be more accurate. Blogging might be a defining attribute. So, there might be explosions of popular culture ahead, but, I don’t think it’s going to be black and white - and this is a good thing. It’s going to be more complex than that to map, more sharded.

But, at the end of the day, who knows. I certainly don’t. I lost the ability to access this information when I passed 30 last year. I now have no idea what is cool and what is not - plus the fact I’m a software developer - I’m in deficit of cool…

I’m just glad R&B was never the kind of explosive popularist past time we’re discussing ;)


David Airey said on January 16, 2008 11:31 AM

I hear you on the R&B front.

Give me The Doors or Nick Drake any day.

James McEwan said on January 16, 2008 12:27 PM

I’m inclined to think that the 2000s will be remembered as that time when folks were completely obsessed with being a celebrity regardless of talent.

In fact I really hope it means reality tv is confined to this decade.

Steve Heyes said on January 19, 2008 7:47 PM

I think the ‘naughtiness’ will be remembered for two things: Community and Consumerism.

Community in the form of Facebook and MySpace (arguably made popular by the ‘emo’ sub-genre [ and AOL chatrooms]) and also Flickr, Twitter and various blogs. You are always part of a certain ‘community’ either defined by age, location or profession.

Sociologist say (so I’ve been told/read) that the current generation, named either ‘Generation Y’ or ‘Millenials’ but basically anyone born after the 80’s, their identity is based upon their consumerism. As said above, there is such a mishmash or subgenres and that all comes down to what music you listen to, clothes you buy, what OS you use and generally what you have.

Thats my two pennies worth. As for an big boom such as punk/rave etc, who knows? However, I am getting into a bit of the ol’ ‘Green Sleeves’!

Tim Reader said on January 21, 2008 3:59 PM

“wearing ridiculously big ruffs and listening to Elizabethan revival music”

I’d love that!

nathan said on January 22, 2008 1:58 AM

If you want to see the culture of the 90s and the 00s, it’s really simple: Watch I-pod commercials.