Beatlemania officially ended a few days ago when Sir Paul McCartney performed at the Grammy Awards and fully three-quarters of those watching apparently had no idea who he was. The search phrase “who is paul mccartney” trended across social media platforms in the under-30 set so fast it caused a bandwidth spike bigger than the Eiffel Tower. Bad news, boomers… despite the powerful buzz created by your famous youth movement in the 1960’s, the spotlight has moved on. Wings and the Beatles have graduated from “Classic Rock” to “Oldies,” and mass media obsolescence approaches. Happy Valentine’s Day!
No offense intended to sixties radicals; your motives were good. Ultimately you were sold out by the very media you used so deftly to state your case when the pro-establishment powers-that-be (initially caught napping by the plugged-in media-savvy avant garde) sat up and took note of how well you harnessed the new power of TV persuasion. The establishment co-opted those same techniques, using them in sinister Nixonian fashion to paint you all as dangerous traitors and shut down your revolution before things got out of hand. But their efforts have definitely left behind one particularly odious bit of cultural residue: the certain knowledge that focused media is powerful enough to shove any agenda-driven load of bullshit right down the throats of a wide-eyed, hypnotized public via magic glowing boxes-of-all-knowledge.
Don’t fret and angrily shake your canes at we younger folks, though… our own turn in the dust bin of cultural irrelevance is coming. Interestingly enough, when the Foo Fighters performed— led by musical wunderkind and unintentional-hipster-god Dave Grohl— ANOTHER wave of questioning tweets spiked the internet, as a zillion tweens and teens searched “who are the Foo Fighters?”
That’s especially ironic, since Grohl is probably the closest equivalent to Paul McCartney produced by Generation X. Note the parallels: both are massively talented musical songwriting prodigies who play multiple instruments, were members of seminal, groundbreaking rock bands of their respective eras (McCartney: Beatles, Grohl: Nirvana), both outlasted the end of those supergroups and survived the well-publicized demise of a celebrity radical activist former bandmate (McCartney: John Lennon, Grohl: Kurt Cobain), and both went on to work with numerous other bands, producing tons of music with new groups or as solo projects. Both are charismatic spokesmen for progressive causes who have appeared in countless films and television programs, and both are heavy-hitting media bad-asses.
And both will ultimately be eclipsed in the spotlight by younger artists who speak for future generations. So it goes. The cultural relevance of any current media artist depends heavily upon his or her continuing bankability with the paying public… and in that contest, age is definitely a factor.
I recently had a conversation with someone who expressed annoyance at the amount of money and effort (chemical, surgical, and therapeutic) expended by celebrities to maintain their youthful looks. Sure, some would consider spending, say, over a million dollars a year on such efforts to be a wasteful exercise in vanity… except most celebrities who do so are essentially cottage industries unto themselves, earning many millions of dollars for each performance venture. Since much of their appeal and continuing relevance as public icons depends upon their appearance, maybe they ought to pay for the very best treatment available to preserve their bankable good looks. If a movie star’s film career is a 100 million-dollar-a-year business, then spending a scant few million dollars to preserve the viability of that business model suddenly makes perfect sense.
Someday, no one is going to want to glimpse what lies beneath an aging Gaga’s bubble dress or meat bikini. When that happens, the party ends and the money stops flowing. So it makes sense that any artist in that situation would seek to extend their source of income as long as possible.
Businesses can always be counted upon to take whatever action they deem necessary to turn a profit and keep the money rolling in, accusations of vanity or impropriety be damned. Even if it means that the famous symbol of the most American of all games, baseball— the highly-touted authentic Official Major League balls produced by Rawlings— are now hand-stitched by foreign nationals in Costa Rica, where labor is cheaper and workplace protection laws are poorly-enforced. That’s just how the corporate game is played.
The buck never stops, and there’s always a bottom line somewhere, visible or not… even under a bubble dress.