Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Next Big Thing

It's been a bad week for pirates. First there was the Easter Sunday incident in the Gulf of Aden. Then the guys behind the torrent search engine Pirate Bay get sentenced to jail. But piracy powers have actually been in decline for awhile now. Since the heady days of the first couple "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, which also saw a rise in the popularity of the "pirate joke" and "International Talk Like a Pirate Day," the pirate has seen has cultural position hijacked by the vampire, who has taken over the box office and the best seller lists. It's now gotten to the point where the only way pirates can move units anymore is if they combine with vampires.

Of course, pirates should have seen this coming. They should have known their day atop the pop culture mountain would not be a permanent thing. When I was a kid, ninjas were the biggest thing going. Now, kids these days probably don't even know what nunchucks are. So the zeitgeist keeps turning. And we know that our cultural phenomena are destined to relatively short shelf lives, but can we predict what will rise up to replace the current fad du jour?

I believe that we can--if we assume that these phenomena are manifestations of a culture's perception of itself. Chuck Klosterman asserted in 2004 that the "faceless stealth and absolute freedom of the 'rogue ninja' symbolized the last bastions of counterculture within the bloated commercialism of Reagan-era autocracy," while the "pirate renaissance" could be attributed to a paradigm in which "[y]ou are a chump if you pay your taxes, you are a chump if you never lie, and you are a chump if you still pay retail for CDs. This is the new paradigm. And this is why we love pirates: We have to. Our only options are to be 'pro-pirate' or 'pro-chump.'"

But we can only be in latent mental anguish about our lying and cheating ways for so long. At some point, some other psychic concern must rise up. And that is where we are now with the vampire. The vampire obviously thrives on economic crises. Powerful, greedy white-faced (er, white-collar) types have sucked the blood right out of this country.

But this too shall pass. At some point we will either make good on an economic recovery, or get tired of thinking about those who have caused it. And then what will emerge on the pop culture radar? All things being equal, and barring some unforeseen geopolitical upheaval, I'm prepared to make a prediction.

When analyzing ninjas, pirates, and vampires as a single data set, what strikes me first is that mythologies around these groups go back centuries. So no matter how contemporary the social problem, we draw on distant archetypes to address them. With that in mind, I ponder the social issues that might demand some kind of psychic release. And I think of the recent upsurge in attention to environmental issues. And I think of how the tree is used as a type of avatar for environmental health in general. I think of Tolkien's "Ents," which leads me to Wikipedia pages on "talking trees" and "tree mythology."

So here is the prediction: in the next couple of years, we will have books, films, and consumer products based on the concept of anthropomorphic, benevolent, talking trees.


Blogger Jason said...

152 days until talk like a pirate day... Im excited

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Donna said...

Wizard of Oz tried to cover many fantasies that could take off and be a fad. Talking trees were included but though they threw apples I don't think they were benevolent trees.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Danielle Persich said...

I'll have to remember that if I ever get around to writing a fantasy novel. Hope you find this funny: Click on the Menu item "Other Junk" and scroll down to Icons. Its the farthest one to the right.

7:40 PM  

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