Magazine article The Spectator

Culture Crash

Magazine article The Spectator

Culture Crash

Article excerpt

Back in the day, we seemed to suck with one mouth. Spangles. Space Dust. Refreshers. Every kid's gob of the Seventies and Eighties knew the cloying sugarshock of a Sherbet Dib Dab.

Regardless of class or postcode, we knew, too, who shot JR, the theme tune of Fame, the actions to 'Y.M.C.A.' and how to build a useless desk tidy from two Fairy Liquid bottles and a yard of sticky-backed plastic. We knew because we'd all watched the previous evening's instalment of Blue Peter -- all of us, en masse, a great, turbulent plurality of youth doing the same sorts of things at the same sort of time.

Later, much later, the concept of the water-cooler conversation emerged, a place to zero in on the topic of the day. Early Harry Potter.

Jill Dando's killer. Whether or not Jennifer Aniston's nose had been done. But something momentous has happened to our shared culture in the past few years -- it has fragmented into a million little pieces, our common ground shattered into random preference and infinite, overwhelming choice.

By way of illustration, there's a shop up the road from me which sells 34 different kinds of olive oil. Just this morning, I came across a website selling 25 flavours -- almond, mascarpone, cherry -- of rice pudding. Rice pudding! In step with this new niche craze, Lego now encourages my four-year-old daughter to create her very own design and order the pieces online, so she will be in possession of an exclusive edifice of bricks, unique thus far in the history of the world. Today's teens, when they're not examining their own fascinating navels on MySpace, can take their pick from a smorgasbord of magazines and dedicated satellite TV stations. We adults, meanwhile, have swapped three TV channels for three hundred -- so we can watch the Bundesliga or Bollywood or back-to-back episodes of On The Buses. We've taken to drinking bizarre coffees and specialist teas flavoured with hibiscus or kumquat -- because that's our little fetish, our thing.

BusinessWeek has already dubbed the phenomenon 'the Vanishing Mass Market'. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, a current bestseller in the States, explores our new niche-pocked society, devoted as it is to finickety speciality interests. …

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