On Jan. 20, the iconic blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll singer Etta James passed away at the age of 73. And to be honest, nobody really said that much.
James lived through a time of transition incomparable to any other in the United States. Born in 1938, James experienced post-war, civil-rights and information-age America.
She moved among music styles because she had to. Her changing sound was a reflection of an American culture that had only one constant: regular upheaval.
In the tumultuous decades of James’ career, America’s zeitgeist changed every 10 years. From the 1920s to the 1980s, each one was characterized by a new cultural concept. Fads, trends and artistic styles came and went with previously unseen speed.
We garnered an incredible variety of art from these mini-eras. But as a result of such great change in so many short periods of time, it seems that now all we can do is reflect and reinterpret — or can we?
In a recent article by cultural critic Kurt Andersen that appeared in the January 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, the writer contends that in the period between the 1990s and today, there has been almost no stylistic or aesthetic change in the cultural world.
The technological boom is indisputably a phenomenon, but it’s all virtual. After such rapid-fire shifts, jumps and ideas, it appears we’ve stalled slightly.
Sure, the mediums and capaciousness for art and style have expanded exponentially, but the actual substance of what is being produced is, well, less than progressive.
According to The New York Times, the top seven box office successes of 2011 were all sequels. Likewise, many of them were technological and visual triumphs; the list included the last “Harry Potter” film, the latest “Transformers” installment and the computer-animated “Cars 2”.