It’s hard to avoid the barrage of end-of-decade retrospectives this last week of 2009, a decade marked by an interesting combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. But in a decade marked primarily by the expansion of media and the inclusion of every person with an internet connection and an opinion, how does it compare to the 1990s?
You remember the 1990s, don’t you? The Clinton era marked by an economic plateau and a nation’s capital showing signs of the gossip-hungry culture we were becoming. But while names like Turner and Murdoch were criticized for expanding their media empires and outright defiant acts against the corporate world seemed more prevalent, the culture wars were actually won by independent thinkers.
Independent labels like Epitaph, Sub Pop, Victory, and Matador unveiled artists who found massive global audiences while Death Row Records and its enigmatic CEO, Suge Knight, momentarily altered corporate culture. Even Backstreet Boys and NSync, two boy bands that took pop culture in a decidedly less-risky direction, released their first albums on Lou Pearlman’s independent Trans Continental Records. Today, Pearlman is in a federal prison. Knight also spent part of this decade in prison.
Knight and Pearlman wouldn’t be the only 90s impresarios to find trouble in the 00’s. The brother production team of Bob and Harvey Weinstein absolutely owned Hollywood in the 1990s with their independent Miramax films, distributing many of the decade’s most imperative pictrues, including indies like Reservoir Dogs, the Piano, Clerks, and Good Will Hunting. This decade, the brothers Weinstein left Miramax to form the Weinstein Company. Since the split, both companies have struggled.
In the 00’s, the way the internet gave individuals a platform all their own was truly revolutionary. But pop culture hasn’t had the kind of independent imprints made in the 90s. Independent film didn’t make nearly the impact it did in the 90s, particularly at the box office, with the possible exception of 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
The 00’s instead saw an interesting balance between big- and small-business sensibilities as people seemed to accept a more latent corporate approach to media without nearly the outrage that marked the 1990s. 2007 even saw Battle in Seattle, a film telling a fictionalized tale set against the backdrop of the 1999 WTO protests. It bombed as people instead chose to see Transformers.
As for the outlets people have flocked to for expression, they’ve been acquired, at least in part, by established corporate entities. Even Facebook, arguably one of the more grass-roots success stories in history, has been criticized for its approach to business lately. But maybe people are willing to finally accept a balanced approach to big business? Especially coming on the tail end of a decade when capital was at a real premium. Maybe the next decade will answer that question.