Culture Crash 19-11: Do we all have the cultural taste of our 15 year-old selves?

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine 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.

For links to the Hollywood Reporter profile (on Lorne Michaels) and to purchase Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s book (Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are) head to our site

I’m Evan Rook. 

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Culture Crash 18-28: The Dark Knight 10 Years Later

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Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture.  What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a movie that is, at once, a Class-A crime movie, an action thrill-ride, a psychological thriller, and a summer blockbuster. Even more remarkable: the film succeeds on every level. It features some of the most incredible cinematography ever captured in Chicago, a zeitgeisty debate about privacy and security in a post-9/11 world, a perfect showdown between two legendary foes: Batman and The Joker, thrilling action that never seems incessant. And of course: it features Heath Ledger as The Joker, a casting which was originally mocked on the internet, but ended up giving us probably the best villan in the history of cinema.

Immediately, The Dark Knight’s cultural impact was felt. The Joker was the Halloween costume of the year, the phrase “Why so serious?” entered the lexicon, so did “Some men just want to watch the world burn” and so did the final speech from Commissioner Jim Gordon says Batman’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

And at long last, a superhero movie was a serious Oscars contender. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won two, including Heath Ledger’s posthumous award for Best Supporting Actor. Notably absent from its list of nominations was one for Best Picture, a snub seen as so egregious and out-of-touch that the Academy expanded the field of nominees for future ceremonies specifically to avoid similar instances in the future.

It also cemented Christopher Nolan as one of the best directors of our time. After Batman Begins and The Prestige, the world was interested. But delivering a spectacle like The Dark Knight was what clinched it.

And more personally: the movie inspired me to love movies in the first place. I was 15 years old when The Dark Knight hit theaters. I had loved Batman Begins three years earlier, and for the first time, I jumped online and followed a film’s production. Being from the Chicago suburbs, I would see on the news that they shut streets down for filming, which just further fanned the flames of my excitement. My parents agreed that my brother could take me with him to see it at midnight, and I was literally counting down the days. Years of anticipation led to…one of the most memorable nights of my life. There was such a buzz in the theater, people were cheering so loud that at times, it was a struggle to even hear the lines. My  heart stopped when the “sky-hook” extracted Batman from a Hong Kong skyscraper, I watched in awe when a truck was actually flipped over, and I was entranced by the Joker’s final monolog, hanging upside down, explaining his backwards views on the world. Watching the movie in that theater, it all clicked. I understood finally understood how rewarding a trip to the theater could really be.

In 2008, I was heading into my freshman year of high school. The following day at football camp, so  many of us were bleary-eyed from seeing Batman at midnight that our coaches just called it, and let us play flag football for fun instead of running sprints. 10 years later, the movie still brings with it all the excitement for being 15 years old and getting to stay out late to see a movie.
The Dark Knight is a decade old and re-invented the most popular movie genre in the entire world. For 10 years, every movie franchise, from Star Wars and Bond to Marvel and even Batman’s own DC, have tried to incorporate elements of The Dark Knight and aimed to finally top Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. None have succeeded.

I’m Evan Rook.

Culture Crash 17-29: Christopher Nolan

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Christopher Nolan set the box office on fire with his Dark Knight trilogy and made a cultural phenomenon with Inception. We explore his directorial career and what sets him apart.