The stagnation of visual style?

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kurt_w
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The stagnation of visual style?

Postby kurt_w » Fri Dec 09, 2011 9:41 am

Kevin Drum has an interesting blog post this morning (well, late last night), in which he comments on a recent article by Kurt Anderson in Vanity Fair.

The observation here is that since the 1980s, visual culture -- everything from movies to advertising to hair styles to corporate logos -- hasn't really changed that much.

This lack of change (if you buy the claim) is itself quite a dramatic change. If you think back, there would be no mistaking the styles of 1912 for 1932, or 1932 for 1952, or 1952 for 1972, or 1972 for 1992. But how much difference, visually, is there between 1992 and 2012? Movies and TV shows filmed in 1992 don't really look much different.

I can think of some counterexamples, areas where there's been some change in style. One is a general trend towards what, for lack of a better term, I'll describe as puffiness -- lots of things, from sofas to cars to running shoes to waistlines seem to have become inflated, or at least more rounded and bulbous.

Compare this (from the 2008 Paris motor show):

Image

to this (introduced at the 1988 show, 20 years earlier):
Image

Still, I think in lots of areas -- clothes, hairstyles, graphic design sensibilities -- the visual changes from 1972 to 1992 feel so much more radical than from 1992 to today.

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby Ned Flanders » Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:49 am

I am pretty shocked when I see ads and personal pictures from the 80s and even the early-mid 90s. So I would have to disagree with the premise.

As for TV, think of Family Ties vs. Two and A Half Men. Even in the early 90s, cable was in its infancy. No HGTV, Fox News, Food Network. Thirtysomething looks very dated.

I built a house in the early 90s and the "norm" was linoleum floors, those fiberglass tub surrounds and laminate countertops. The builder thought we were crazy for wanting hardwood floors in the living room. Try getting away with that now after HGTV has done a number on everyone.

Think about hairstyles and clothing from the early 90s. Can you say double-breasted suits? Pepe jeans and mock Ts? Grunge wear? (although that's making a comeback).

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby kurt_w » Fri Dec 09, 2011 11:58 am

Huh. Okay, there are definitely style differences from the early 1990s to today. I'll concede that.

But are those really comparable to the changes over the previous 20 years -- early 1970s to 1990s? Or, for that matter, to the 20 years before that?

Perhaps "stagnation" isn't the right word. But it sure seems to me that the pace of change in visual style has slowed a lot.

It's also possible that age, occupation, etc. might affect one's perception of how much visual style is changing.

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby ilikebeans » Fri Dec 09, 2011 12:32 pm

Hm, not sure. In some areas, design has been quite radical-- the iPhone, for example. Hair styles don't seem as different from the 90's to today as from the 80's (and before) to 90's though.

I'd like to make a corresponding observation-- exterior passenger car designs these days almost universally suck. Seems like you have to spend beaucoup bucks (on, say, a Porsche 911) to get anything remotely beautiful.

I mean, my god, just look at this:

Image
Image
Image

And, I'm sorry, but while I like the general idea of the enormously popular Prius, it's still one of the ugliest affordable cars on the road.

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby Ned Flanders » Fri Dec 09, 2011 12:33 pm

Kurt, this is a very interesting thread. What it's proving to me is that there's a fine line between style and technonogy. The two are working hand in hand, pushing each other forward.

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby kurt_w » Fri Dec 09, 2011 12:47 pm

Ned Flanders wrote:What it's proving to me is that there's a fine line between style and technonogy. The two are working hand in hand, pushing each other forward.


I was actually wondering whether technology was somewhat impeding the rate of change in visual style. Let me present this argument and you can shoot it down.

Up through the 1980s, most Americans got their cues about "style" (in any sense) from a few sources. They watched the same three TV networks, read the same general range of magazines, etc. Because of this common/shared visual culture, it was relatively easy for visual styles to shift dramatically from decade to decade. Neckties would go from wide to narrow, color palettes from psychedelic to earth-tones, hair from big to ... not so big, etc.

But from the 1990s onward, you first see the proliferation of cable TV channels, and then the rise of the Internet. Now, there are endless sources of visual media all competing for your attention. This fragmentation means that all kinds of new styles are constantly appearing and disappearing ... but none of them has sufficient dominance to sway the entire culture any more. So, paradoxically, the profusion of experiments in style induces a kind of dynamic stasis. Or something like that.

Cars would actually be one exception to that trend, because cars are "old" technology. Their design and production is controlled by a few big companies, which have a financial interest in promoting big swings in fashion from year to year (so people will run out and buy new cars).

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby narcoleptish » Fri Dec 09, 2011 1:05 pm

There are plenty of people, at Woodman's for example, who seem to have experienced a stagnation of any style at all. Dirty sweatpants and flipflops are the norm. I half expect them to be holding a tv remote and an open bag of fritos.

Architecture has changed a bit in that time period. I want to say the early 90's had a lot of faux this & faux that. The hideous Tuscan style came around a few years later. Today we gladly seem to be moving away from that and creating new looks without cheaply copying the past.

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby Igor » Fri Dec 09, 2011 1:21 pm

Ned Flanders wrote:I am pretty shocked when I see ads and personal pictures from the 80s and even the early-mid 90s. So I would have to disagree with the premise.

As for TV, think of Family Ties vs. Two and A Half Men. Even in the early 90s, cable was in its infancy. No HGTV, Fox News, Food Network. Thirtysomething looks very dated.


Not sure if Family Ties really pushed too many boundaries even for that time. However, things certainly have changed when Chuck Lorre is whining on his vanity card about the network censors taking that fifth joke about anal sex out of the script.

Hairstyles are always interesting to me (not individually, but collectively). It seems like long straight hair for girls and young women has been in style for at least the last 15-18 years, which seems like a long time for one thing to remain in fashion.

On the other hand, the last 5 or so years have seen a rise of the women's hairstyle that looks like a bob, but with a sharp angle upwards in back. I think that in most cases it just looks goofy.

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby snoqueen » Fri Dec 09, 2011 4:11 pm

I like some of the new car styles. The good stuff is coming out of Asia now not the US. The last fun car style from here was the PT Cruiser (I'm talking about everyday vehicles not performance cars or concept cars). Now you look to Kia for a lot of this stuff, or Nissan (I think the Cube is a cute, sensible little urban vehicle). The US car makers are trying so hard not to make a misstep or offend anybody their products are vanilla bland. I can't blame them. Trying to repay bailouts takes a lot of care but it doesn't do much for edgy styling.

Look at all the care Chevy is using in rolling out the Volt. They've got zilch margin for error. Hopefully it'll be a well-engineered vehicle -- and that's as it should be considering the times we're in.

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby city2countrygal » Fri Dec 09, 2011 5:33 pm

Concerning car design I immediately think of Barthes’ commentary on the Citroën DS in Mythologies (1957). You want some heady reading on advertising, dig in. My personal car taste is either classic American pre-1980 (my favorite old car to drive was my brother’s Nash Rambler from the 1950s) or current German or Japanese models (for performance/technology and dependability).

My own opinion of recent culture in general is that the 1990s have been a regurgitation of the 1970s, and the 2000s are a revamp of the 1980s, to much (including my own) disdain. I do agree that the proliferation of advertising is the one noticeable element of the upcoming decade (and of which I’m not a fan: billboards, Internet pop-ups, etc.). Has the attempt to grab the attention of the masses lead to a dumbing down of advertising, or maybe it’s due to the marketing to teens and kids that now takes place? Are we headed to a cultural reality like in the movie Idiocracy? It’s rare I see a commercial now that I think is funny.

My favorite recent (2007) film concerning graphic design was the documentary Helvetica: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0847817/

A funny note concerning some people’s stagnation of personal style, a family friend now in her 60s is still rocking the beehive she had from the 1960s. She would be a prime candidate for the now very popular makeover segments on all the daily talk shows.

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby green union terrace chair » Fri Dec 09, 2011 5:40 pm

Very interesting. This thread could easily explode in multiple different directions.

I've thought for awhile now that popular music has really slowed down in its evolution. While there are innovators and striking new acts that break out onto the scene, the last ten years haven't shown that much change.

The biggest change is some more obscure styles become mainstream, but that's a change in awareness, not a musical progression.

To switch gears, clothing is an different area, which is more susceptible to retroism than others. We are currently in a semi-80s revival, with a lot of other contributors.

Have you ever looked at the sequence of presidential portraits from Washington to Obama? Note the following:
- Hair (length, wigs, etc.)
- Beards
- Tie style / width

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby kittenwithawhip » Fri Dec 09, 2011 5:50 pm

ilikebeans wrote:Hm, not sure. In some areas, design has been quite radical-- the iPhone, for example. Hair styles don't seem as different from the 90's to today as from the 80's (and before) to 90's though.

I'd like to make a corresponding observation-- exterior passenger car designs these days almost universally suck. Seems like you have to spend beaucoup bucks (on, say, a Porsche 911) to get anything remotely beautiful.

And, I'm sorry, but while I like the general idea of the enormously popular Prius, it's still one of the ugliest affordable cars on the road.


I should slap you silly with my key fob for that. While I agree that the Prius is a hella ugly car, there are plenty of beautiful cars out there for less than a 911. The Infiniti G37 has beautiful lines, similar to the Nissan 370z. The Lexus IS series is not bad and even Hyundai has an attractive car in their line. And for the environmentally minded there is this:
Image
Mmmmmmm.

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Re: The stagnation of visual style?

Postby city2countrygal » Fri Dec 09, 2011 6:38 pm

Not to turn this thread into one totally on car design, I totally agree with kittenwithawhip. The Prius is ugly, but there are other stylish alternatives than a Porsche. And I cringe when I see a dude driving and old Porsche from the 80s just cause it’s a Porsche.

I second all your examples kitten, and I own an IS, and my next car will be a hybrid IS. I’d add Audi and Acura to the list of stylish, environmentally friendly cars. When almost all car companies are now making hybrid versions of normal cars, why buy an ugly car with design based only on gas mileage and aerodynamics? We’d all be driving crossover bubble vehicles if that were the case! Can we please have a little beauty and design aesthetic added in there too?

Relating to the Nissan Z and my earlier post about revamped style, my parents bought a Datsun 240Z in the 1970s right before they found out they were having me. Bye-bye sports car, hello baby girl! But yea, the 1970s Datsun 240Z changed into the 1999 Nissan Z, and 1970s classic VW bug turned into the 1998 VW new beetle. Am I being too simplistic in my design recycling theme?


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