FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Pop Culture Is Warping Our Perception of Space-Time

I'm going to prove this using quantum physics and the Full House reboot.
July 2, 2015, 4:00am

Images via Wiki Commons, composite by Drew Millard.

The Full House reboot is warping the way we perceive space and time.

Well, not the reboot itself, and not even the trend of rebooting everything remotely iconic from the pre-internet era—it's the conditions that create the pressure to bring back Full House, or reboot Fargo, or make a Top Gun sequel, or even loudly trumpet Seinfeld's arrival on Hulu that are altering the way we see space-time.

The conditions in question are the way we consume content in the age of the internet. Universal internet access has meant more stuff to watch and listen to, and more outlets on which to watch and hear it. Increases in technology have given DIY albums and self-produced TV pilots a near-professional level of polish. Every TV channel dabbles in original programming, and now even video websites like YouTube and Vimeo do as well. But the result is more of everything, available all the time, with no end in sight. There is always another self-released mixtape to download, another fresh new BBC America show, another documentary on Netflix.

Advertisement

I'm aware this is a pretty mundane observation in 2015, but it has actual implications on the space-time continuum. I'm going to prove it with basic physics.

Society has a finite amount of attention. While each individual person has a distinct amount of free time and goes through entertainment at a different rate, we are all objectively limited by the number of hours in the day. The amount of available content continues to grow but the attention available is fixed. Slices of the "attention pie" shrink as competition increases; everything matters less.

As culture moves forward it also pushes backward: The new replaces the old with a vengeance, increasing its relevance over the past by a factor proportional to its staying power. An extreme example would be how Nirvana effectively buried dozens of aspiring Bon Jovis with Nevermind. But more broadly, a smaller cultural landscape makes the dominant trends more obvious and makes it easier to notice when they wane. It was easier to reach a consensus on what was played the fuck out.

Conversely, the current era is a dead zone of any kind of judgment. Lil Boosie has been the most popular rapper in at least five flyover states for almost a decade, yet he only reached mainstream recognition last year due to a complicated and prolonged court case. Widely mocked bands maintain devoted quasi-underground fan bases (no matter how much you make fun of them, 311 still has an annual cruise). The obtuse economics of television allow networks to tolerate critical darlings with low ratings; knowing money awaits in syndication, streaming ads, and sales. Meanwhile, in 2014, the most watched shows on TV were The Big Bang Theory and NCIS.

Advertisement

Simply put, the connection between what is ostensibly good, what is popular, and what is financially viable is tenuous at best. This makes it harder to frame anything as directly opposing what came before it: Which rapper did Kendrick Lamar replace? Whose food is True Detective eating?

Since culture today doesn't turn over as violently, it doesn't push back as hard. As the backward force shrinks, the rate of cultural decay decreases as well. The Billboard Hot 100 singles of 1994, 2004, and 2014 provide some good anecdotal evidence: "Timber," by Pitbull and Ke$ha is as far from J-Kwon's "Tipsy" as "Tipsy" is from R. Kelly's "Bump 'n' Grind."

If this seems vague, let's come back to Full House. Today's challenging marketplace, along with the damage internet access did to many of their business models, has made the entertainment industries increasingly risk-adverse. A reboot like Full House (or a decades-late movie sequel, or a repress of an only moderately important album) is a safer bet: It has buzz and press baked in and a familiar audience predisposed to at least pay attention to its existence. So not only is the past becoming the past slower, aspects of the past are being pulled back up in the present day.

So how does this affect the space-time continuum, in a pop-culture sense?

Well, imagine you are sitting in the bed of a Ford F-150 facing the opposite direction of traffic. You are making mental calculations about how fast your cousin is driving based on how long it takes for stationary objects on the side of the road—trees, road signs, Cracker Barrel billboards—to disappear over the horizon. A constant speed means these things recede at a constant rate. When your cousin slows down so you can swing your Louisville Slugger at Old Man Winslow's mailbox, the roadside objects slow down as well.

On Motherboard: The Underfunded, Disorganized Plan to Save Earth from the Next Giant Asteroid

Say your cousin spots a speed trap up ahead and slams on the brakes, and let's assume the brakes are on the front wheels for the sake of simplicity. In real time, the whole truck slows down at a uniform speed. But at the precise moment of braking, the front of the truck decelerates faster than the back of the truck. And in that moment, roadside objects are moving away from your cousin's treasured bright red F-150 slower than incoming objects approach it.

This is kind of where we are, except we are experiencing all of these phenomena at once. Looking forward, we see one speed. Looking back, we see another. The best way to explain this paradox is that the force gravity is rapidly decreasing as we travel forward. It's the opposite of what happens when you cross the event horizon into a black hole and approach infinite gravity: The difference between the pull on your feet and your head turns you into a long string of atoms. (Scientists call it "spaghettification").

We, however, are facing the opposite fate: infinite compression. As long as we keep making any new shit at all, we'll avoid being (metaphorically) squashed into an infinitely dense and stagnant pop culture landscape. But those who trawl the past for content are not just cynically avoiding the challenging work of artistic innovation. They are actively altering the fabric of the universe, and it's going to cause us to all die. Or something.

Follow Skinny on Twitter.