Dunc really didn’t want his lil newsy segment to be named this (despite him being the biggest basketball fan I know), but it was too good of a pun to pass up, so I did it anyway (who’s the editor here???) Dunc is freakishly smart about… most things (I love it the most when he talks about music or media tho), and is also the founder of The Spinoff & host of The Fold, so when you’ve finished reading this, there’s plenty more Dunc out there for you xxx
I recently read a great piece which pointed to the iPhone 4 as the foundation of a whole bunch of global instability – everything from Brexit to Trump to Russia invading Ukraine. Which, maybe?! But I came away thinking about what else the iPhone 4 did, which was begin the end of what is sometimes known as the monoculture.
A quick recap: the iPhone 4 was not just the best-looking iPhone (honestly, still gorge even today), but also introduced the front-facing camera and 4G internet speeds. This accelerated the rise of user-generated video as the dominant mode of online content – the precondition for the rise of platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and eventually TikTok.
While it’s not my thing (newsletters til I die), I am not here to suggest this was good or bad – as someone who grew up being into Britpop when all my peers liked grunge, and loved finding new obscure bands / movies, that would be super hypocritical. The internet is very you do you, and that mostly rules. But it was extremely new and different. It meant that media was radically democratised, and instead of a tiny number of channels we all had to watch/read, it became something utterly unique to each individual.
What does this have to do with the monoculture? And what even is it? Honestly, the monoculture is probably a controversial idea to some. It’s a big world and literally nothing has perfect cut-through. But up until 2010 there were always cultural moments which felt inescapable – that were on every speaker and screen. When the iPhone 4 and the social media algo came and blew that all up, it loosened some of the ties which bound us together as communities – because phenomena which are enormous to you might be invisible to me.
(side note: a lot of the monoculture also happened not because you loved something – mostly the big things sucked – but because limited pipes meant it was unavoidable and you felt connected to it even through hating it. A lot of the best creativity of the monoculture era came from a combo of boredom and feeling alienated from the dominant culture… which is def a weird thing to miss, come to think of it)
I increasingly feel extremely emo about the last remaining remnants of the monoculture. When Taylor announced Midnights it was a reminder that she snuck into the world’s consciousness just before the walls went up, and it’s part of what makes her so compelling as a star. Over the weekend, I danced with a roomful of people to Renaissance, which, even though its streaming numbers are low, had near-perfect visibility due to Beyoncé’s status as a monoculture icon.
In the post-iPhone 4 world it’s near impossible to capture universal attention with anything short of The Slap, which is not something we really want repeating. It also explains why so much modern culture at scale, especially in film and music, is actually recycled pre-2010 culture – everything from Marvel movies to Running Up That Hill. Much as I love Kate Bush, it’s a bummer that the amount of new music consumed is perpetually shrinking
in the TikTok/Spotify era – not because it’s not good, but because it’s essentially impossible to cut through with new.
On some level it’s both basic and even hypocritical of me as a gen x dude raised on magazines to mourn those ubiquitous moments while also being most moved by those which still exist. And there are so many wildly great things about this era for culture that I couldn’t venture an opinion about whether it’s good or bad. It’s just that in an era which feels increasingly fragmented, one in which we all have less and less in common to talk about, I just can’t help but feel something intense for the somehow still burning stars of the last days of the monoculture.
[Luce note: the loss of the monoculture/ huge shared cultural moments is SO fascinating to me (and might also explain why I suck so much at quiz nights… I know niche stuff… just not this stuff…) Anyway, I want to know ALL your thoughts on this!]