Past Their Prime

A Rundown of Trends That Defined Arts in the Aughts For the Worse

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Past Their Prime

Five writers discuss more irksome trends in the last decade of film and music.

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Torture Porn

At some point during the last decade, film academics began using the term "torture porn" to describe a specific cinematic trend-in this case, modern filmmakers' preference for exploitation-driven, faux-philosophical gorefests. Inspired by the success of foreign provocateurs such as Takashi Miike and Gaspar Noe, directors like Eli Roth ("Hostel"), Greg McLean ("Wolf Creek") and Darren Lynn Bousman ("Saw II-IV") made films that pushed the boundaries of sadism, debauchery and human endurance.

Call it taboo-breaking if you want: it wasn't long before the novelty wore out and the aesthetic value vanished. Backed by tacky color schemes and lurid music video-inspired montages, the films and their moral inclinations (or lack thereof) came to embody the current malaise of American commercial film like no other cinematic movement.

-David Liu

Hand-Held Camera Work

It was cool when "The Blair Witch Project" gave some young actors only a few hand-held cameras to film themselves improvising in the wilderness, but the hand-held trend got old fast. Hell, it got sickening fast–as in motion sickening. If you saw any of the "Bourne" movies in theaters and were stuck in the front rows, you were lucky if you didn't walk out with whiplash or car sickness trying to follow some of the more intense chase and fight scenes.

Today's special effects and CGI have jaded us to the point where we laugh at the ones that shocked people 20 years ago. But are we now really at the point where technology has gotten so good that the only way to make movies more realistic is by running around with shaky cameras to try and make you feel like you're actually running and following the action?

-Camden Andrews


While unnecessary remakes have long plagued film history - see Brad Silberling's cringe-worthy "City of Angels" - the trend escalated to an unbearable crescendo in the aughts, often to the point of self-parody. In the context of the decade, it seems like nostalgia took over, resulting in poorly received and unnecessary reboots of many an old favorite. For example: did anyone expect Steve Martin to make a better Inspector Clouseau than Peter Sellers? Moreover, how did 2006's disastrously received "The Pink Panther" actually earn a sequel? Ah, life's mysteries.

As the international film market opened up and standout foreign films began receiving wider stateside distributions, it seemed as if Hollywood chose to borrow their concepts instead of tapping into its own reservoir of creativity. Take Cameron Crowe's "Vanilla Sky," which delivered just a shadow of the Spanish-language thriller "Abre Los Ojos," or Takashi Shimizu's inept American remake of his own J-Horror hit "Ju-on: The Grudge."

None of these, however, were as unbearable as the influx of uninspired horror reconfigurations bearing the MTV stamp of trashy audience pandering. Starting with 2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," the trend continued on with such forgettable duds as 2005's "The Amityville Horror," 2007's "The Hitcher" and 2006's "The Wicker Man," the latter featuring a Nicolas Cage performance for the ages. Noteworthy exceptions aside, the time-worn adage rings true here: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

-David Liu

Excessively Long Films

Two hours and 38 minutes. That's the running time for "2012." "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"? Two and a half hours. We know that some movies call for longer running times, like the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, because they're incredibly epic. But these are more like mini-series than feature films. Perhaps studio heads reason that they're giving audiences more bang for their buck with excessively long films; after all, theater prices have sky-rocketed. However, excessive running times are usually a consequence of subpar filmmaking. We need the brevity back in our theater-going experience. When we pay $11.50 for a ticket at a local theater, we understandably want–nay, demand–to witness quality filmmaking bundled into a tidy package. And if a film is total shit, then at the very least it shouldn't consume a quarter of the day. Now excuse me... the Internet calls.

-Max Siegel

Sword and Sandal Revival

"Are you not entertained?" Those were the defiant words spoken by Maximus as he addressed the feisty Roman crowd in Ridley Scott's 2000 "Gladiator." In retrospect they sound prophetic: Moviegoers developed an incessant hunger for costume epics that attempted to recreate glorious moments in history, and studios responded with swift gusto. As the critical and commercial success of "Gladiator" resurrected the long-dormant sword-and-sandal genre, it also ushered in a whole era of historical epics of all shapes and sizes, many of them glossy celebrity vehicles created on immense budgets.

If a common thread existed between films such as "The Last Samurai," "King Arthur" and "300," it was that visual splendor can only do so much to patch up banal characterizations and insipid narratives. And even a handful of established helmsmen eventually fell victim to the curse: Zhang Yimou spun a pair of atrocities ("House of Flying Daggers," "Curse of the Golden Flower") and Oliver Stone, with the incredulous "Alexander," managed to slap both history and the cinematic epic in the face. Enough of this. We have been entertained, and now it's time to move on.

-David Liu

Fauxminist Films

A troubling aspect of films like "Sex and the City" is that people mistake them for portraits of empowered women. At some point in the last decade, an increased acceptance of females as sexual beings has been misinterpreted as liberation. This trend portrays women as vapid, materialistic damsels in distress waiting for Prince Charming to rescue them. These ladies shop and complain about the lack of marriageable males, even though cheating, lying and disrespectful men still get the girls in the end. The pioneers of women's liberation must be rolling in their graves.

Of course people will pay to see the clothes and the predictable Carrie/Big saga in the "Sex and the City" sequel. But these vacuous characterizations need to die away. Hopefully, they'll be replaced by women who find independence more desirable than over-priced Louboutins.

-Jennafer McCabe


Auto-Tune Obsession

Popularized by perennial guest vocalist T-Pain, the voice-processing software known as Auto-Tune became an inescapable part of hip-hop music in the last half decade. When first used to create robotic vocal distortion, Auto-Tune was no doubt distinctive. It reached its ridiculous apotheosis with Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak, where he abandoned rap for Auto-Tuned crooning.

Auto-Tune has its share of detractors, including Jay-Z who denounced the technique's supposed inauthenticity on his song "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)."

But the real problem is not with Auto-Tune's sound so much as it is with the fixation on production politics that's now endemic in hip-hop. As with all popular music, following trends is a commercial necessity, but evolution depends on artistic innovation. Even Jigga seems more proud of shirking the status quo than actually creating something new. It's time for rappers to stop worrying how people think they sound, and worry about sounding good, whether Auto-Tuned or au naturel.

-Sam Stander

Demise of the Record Store

It's fairly clear that music distribution will never be the same. Music has gone digital, and you're not likely to find many young music collectors complaining about the increased availability of diverse recordings. Outlets both legal and illegal are providing unprecedented access to rare as well as popular sounds, with one tragic side effect: the death of the record store.

Tower Records stores disappeared in 2006. Scads of independent shops have followed suit. But visiting the record store is a ritual in any self-respecting music geek's life-those fascinating little conversations with your cashier are invaluable, and it's intoxicating having LP and CD covers all around.

The Internet may help us find more music we like, but it hasn't found a way to replace the social element of music shopping. Until it does, I wish it would stop killing record stores.

-Sam Stander

Ridiculous Niche Genres

With more access to different sounds and wider audiences thanks to the Internet, artists used their newfound freedom to experiment, blending genres and creating ones of their own.

But while the experimental mind-set produced some cool hybrid genres like dubstep (a mix of British hip-hop and electronica), some fusions just weren't meant to be. Take Crunkcore for example: an un-ironic blend of party rap, trashy techno, and screamo music. Sound terrible? It is. The result is akin to the "teenage wasteland" the Who sang about in "Baba O'Reily." Watching the video for the song "Freaxxx" by the band Brokencyde, one of the genre's front-runners, it's pretty tough not to cry.

It's hard to complain about innovation. What lines will be blurred next? Let's hope this decade won't see the creation of funky-polka-trance-core.

-Camden Andrews

Retro Music

Musicians have always built off styles from the past. However, in the last ten years artists have really begun to unabashedly wear era-fetishes on their sleeves. Some have veered dangerously close to outright plagiarism. Whether it was Amy Winehouse or Duffy imitating '60s soul, Zooey Deschanel living in a musical world where the Beach Boys still top the charts, or the Killers and Franz Ferdinand basing their shticks on '80s dance-rock a la New Order and Duran Duran, musicians have embraced retro aesthetics like never before. This posturing is truly ironic in that the artists they're impersonating were often ground-breaking in their own time.

Aside from their flower-era fetishes and eighties obsessions, many of these artists produce enjoyable music. But they need to come to terms with today's date-it just isn't '66 or '83 anymore.

-David Wagner


Laugh Tracks

A good sign that something isn't funny is when someone needs to convince you that it is. Laugh tracks are the ultimate form of peer pressure. They seem to say, "C'mon, everyone else is laughing; why aren't you?" They're not a innovation unique to the aughts, but it's time for their (hopefully swift) death.

It's no coincidence that some of the most critically acclaimed sitcoms in recent memory have been sans recorded laughs. They're often considered highbrow, intellectual television. But there isn't anything sophisticated about a noxious smell on Michael's carpet on "The Office" or Tobias' homosexual innuendo on "Arrested Development." Not that there's anything wrong with that! If I stop laughing at poop jokes, build me a coffin-I'm already dead.

I'm not claiming that you could save a steamer like "According To Jim" by removing the laughs, or that their inclusion automatically disqualifies a show from greatness (lookin' at you, "Seinfeld"), but why risk it?

-Bryan Gerhart

Really Reality TV

Ever since someone got the gall to call "Survivor" reality, "reality" television has become a worldwide phenomenon. But what really made "Survivor" addictive? It wasn't that people were interested in Richard Hatch's life. It was the drama of competition-that average people could transcend their normality by doing interesting stuff. Reality TV that's not driven by competition is just bad for society. Sure, one episode of "A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila" may be more soul-suckingly fame whorish than all the bitchy gossip from an entire season of "The Hills," but Tila's suitors have to slap fight in the Jacuzzi to win their maiden's heart. They have a purpose; that's what makes it worth watching. Spencer Pratt only acted like an asshole to win celebrity. TV viewers need to grow self-respect, and force the Kardashians to get real jobs.

-Jill Cowan


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