It seems pretty pointless to try and quantify rates of social change over time, but every now and again I’m reminded just how much the world has changed (at least, the rich democratic world) in the last two decades. I think you see it most forcefully watching film and television from the early Nineties. The clothes are not recognisably outlandish (fashion, interestingly, has changed more and more slowly as the Sixties recede from us), people are using things like spot cream and hair product in a way they don’t in Top of the Pops repeats from the Seventies, the hip attitudes to society and media are all there.
So it’s a recognisable world. But it’s also a completely alien one. I watched Terry Zwigoff’s film version of Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World last night. It’s a fantastic movie, as is the original comic, but it’s also oddly unsettling, because although everyone in it is resolutely modern, they’re also curiously unconnected to any kind of technical network. There are no home computers, no mobile phones. Characters screen calls through answering machines. People get stood up on dates, and can lose track of each other for days and weeks on ends.
None of this is possible anymore.
The really odd thing about this is that Zwigoff’s film was made in 2001, when much of the digital world was already commonplace. Clowes started his comic in 1993 – right in the spot I’m talking about, in other words – and wrote it through to 1997, when the current technological settlement was coming into being. Was it a deliberate choice by Zwigoff to set his film at the same time? It certainly works as an alienating technique. It’s sometimes like watching one of those old Star Trek episodes when they stumble on a parallel Earth which has developed at a different pace.
A final thought: Thora Birch is exceptional in Ghost World. Why isn’t she in everything?