Last week, I caught the triumphant return of "Beavis and Butt-Head" to television after a 14-year hiatus. Along with an excellent Out of Bounds sketch comedy show, it helped bookend a transcendent week of comedy. While "Beavis and Butt-Head" was an immature barrel of laughs, the question that struck me was why bring back the show now? Not that I mind bringing back the show, but it seemed symbolic of an American society determined to dredge up anything from the 1990s even tangentially worth salvaging. That is a much more inherently worrisome topic — America as a retread society. The innovative spark that once defined the American psyche seems in desperate need of a recharge.
But one TV show does not make a trend. Beavis and Butt-Head snickering at MTV's ridiculous programming — who knew LMFAO was an uncle-nephew tandem — is just symptomatic of a greater trend. Just turn to the national policy level. Obamacare and the idea of the individual mandate are based directly on a Heritage Foundation concept formed during the 1990s Clinton-era health care battles. Furthermore, the president's people are the same: President Obama's cabinet has slowly but surely morphed into a near replica of the Clinton cabinet. Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was a chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton, and current Chief of Staff Bill Daley served in the same capacity for Clinton.
There is also Hillary Clinton, but I would venture that her experience as first lady was not the chief qualification that the president looked to when he made her secretary of state.
Our societal retread extends back into the entertainment industry. I was torn at the recent news that "Arrested Development" could be potentially picked up after five years for a new season leading into a movie. I wanted to be excited at the prospect of being able to hang out with a gang of my favorite TV characters, but at the same time, what does it say about a TV network that is so helplessly lost that it cannot engineer a new successful show and instead has to turn back to one it already canceled for terrifyingly low ratings.
The movie industry seems to echo this same mentality. The numbers of revivals, remakes and four-quels seem to have reached all time highs, and some of the movies were not even that good or high grossing in the first place. I am looking at you "Paranormal Activity 3."
But let's take a step back for a second. Doesn't it make sense for people to reach into the past for inspiration? Isn't that basically the entire concept behind the phrase, "Learn from the past to improve the future?"
Not exactly. The saying looks better on paper. Forward momentum is necessary in everything. For example, going back to politics, there is a difference between promoting a talented up-and-comer from an old administration and literally taking the same guy and putting him back in his original job. I am not saying the members of the Clinton cabinet are not highly qualified, but at this point there have been more than 10 years to groom new talents. Obama clearly understands the concept: just take Attorney General Eric Holder, a former deputy attorney general under Clinton, or National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, a former assistant secretary of state.
The main reason that stagnancy is all so troubling is that it perfectly dovetails with the national fears of decline. When 69 percent of America thinks the country is declining, the proper move is not to scrounge the recycle bin for something nice that worked 10 years ago. The nation as a whole feels paralyzed, with everyone only venturing down the same path. America is just not acting like the home of the brave.
I get that trying new things is dicey. I get that people run the risk of looking desperate and admitting that there is a problem, but shaking things up at least portrays that you care about the future and are trying to make things better. Put another way, I would rather go out swinging than with a whimper.
So lend me an ear, corporate America, White House and major television networks. Try us. Throw something new out there. Heads do not have to roll, and the wheel does not need to be reinvented. Just stick your head out and go for it. Or you could hire Out of Bounds to make you a sketch comedy show. At least they are original.
Chip Lebovitz '14 is still waiting for Gov. Lincoln Chafee's '75 P'14 response. Don't be a stranger.