Virtual Vitriol: The Decline of Substance in Entertainment or, Another Reason I Hate Gen Z

Wednesday, December 02

By Ash Haslett Cuff

The older and more cantankerous I get, the more I hate the Internet. Yes, the very means I am using to vent my frustration is the object of my fervent loathing. What bitter irony this is for me. Today, in particular, we’ll be looking at the many ways the Internet is killing entertainment.

For all of human history there have been strange, often gruesome forms of popular amusement and while inane videos of teenagers in parking lots may be less harmful than the public removal of a Venetian whore’s nose, I still fear the consequences of the former. I can’t help but wonder what these new forms of popular entertainment on platforms such as TikTok is doing to my generation’s frame of reference. I can’t help but despair for a future where examples of classic media may include a six second video of a dour Scottish teenager announcing their current location as being, and I quote ‘in me mum’s car.’ 

I was talking to someone the other day and they described the plot of a book they had just read as ‘Lynchean’, and that got me thinking; how on earth do you apply such terms to internet creators, is that even possible? That seems to be this generation’s main frame of reference so is it at all possible to distill it and apply it to other content? I assume you could never compare one TikTok with the oeuvre of another. Our changing frame and points of reference have morphed into a place where the very nature of reference has transformed. Can you homage an internet video in terms of visual or audial motif in the same way you can with a film or piece of music? And if not, what are we doing to this generation’s powers of creation? Not only is our speed and depth of consumption being whittled away, but also perhaps our capacity and need for creation. Sure, we all know an art kid who saw one Wes Anderson film, got themselves a 35mm Kodak and never looked back, but what impact will the rising popularity of short form entertainment have on the future of the film and television industry? Let alone live theatre (though with Covid, that already seems like an impossible dream). 

And even beyond references in relation to other works, what about conversation? Now, believe it or not, I do have friends who I am able to have perfectly entertaining, funny, intelligent conversations with, I know there are other topics of conversation to be had, but on this theme, let’s consider internet entertainment in terms of conversation value. There are many ways to discuss long form entertainment, whether from aesthetic or technical views, or just chatting about whether or not you liked or disliked it, you have options. Does internet entertainment provide the same fodder for discussion? Can it become an ice breaker for an awkward party where you’re desperately trying to ease the tension by meeting at a common point of reference? And if so, how? I’m unsure if even our rapidly evolving language has stretched to encompass rewarding dialogues about TikToks or even YouTube videos. Some may still be name dropping Bukowski or Kerouac but others, I fear, are stuck in the rut of references with no cultural impact beyond their own echo chambers of instant gratification and rapid consumption.

 This is the plight of every generation with the rising media of the next (the printing press was once thought to sully the value of the written word and I am sure Moses questioned the aesthetic values of his golden plates) so am I just being alarmist? Perhaps I am just railing against changes I don’t understand in a world primed to leave me alone with my DVD boxed sets and Instagram I haven’t updated since 2015. We have no way of telling right now, obviously, what the future of entertainment holds, but looking around the vacantly smiling, glassy eyed, socially distanced, expressions of my contemporaries, sometimes I fear for the future of not only entertainment, but of dinner table conversation and all the ways for my generation to look (and sound) like idiots.

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