On the Fragmentation of Popular Culture

We now have an official zeitgeisty term for what the Internet brings to advertising/marketing and popular culture, The Long Tail. Where previously all forms of commercial creativity (be it movies, music, advertising, TV, etc.) were aimed at attracting the most people by appealing to the widest audience (the head), the Internet offers the ability to cater to the multifarious niche markets that pervade the periphery of our culture (the tail). In many ways, the traditional limitations of distribution can be done away with altogether: books need never go out of print, obscure movies need no longer gather dust (or get incinerated by savage evildoing behemoths). Ebay is the biggest example of Long Tail thinking – where else would you find a hideously rare Ibanez RB Jem? Only a few hundred were made and probably only a few hundred people would even care.

One of the biggest ramifications of this concept is the potential for breakdown in our popular culture. Not many people are old enough to remember the days before radio and television united us in a shared cultural experience[1]. Culture was previously more regionally derived[2]. Now, perhaps culture will be more individually determined. People with shared interests will be able to connect with each other more easily based on their own likes and dislikes. I’m seeing it even now as I have made new friends based entirely on our connection to this movie. I’m not saying pop culture will die out, but it will likely decline; a best case scenario would be that the stuff that survives will suck far less than the usual crap that’s handed out these days.

1) That statement sits somewhere between generous overstatement and hilarious irony.
2) For better or worse, this is probably why there are fewer barn dances these days.