The big problem with this post, opining that Stephen King basically invented cultural weirdness, is that the only comparison this writer is REALLY making is their own assumptions about, say, their own experiences growing up (and how King seems weird to HIM based on what he’d seen before) or perhaps some idea that the Eisenhower era really was what it looked like on Happy Days or something and that the whole world before it was a drab and colorless fantasy of Victorian purity and boredom.
Stephen King’s breakthrough was Carrie, in 1973.
Life and the pop cultural landscape before 1973 just were not a bounteous, homogenized world of normalcy. Sorry, folks.
Colin Smith linked this piece, and here is my comment from his blog:
Looking at the article, I am just not persuaded he’s that *fundamental* a force, culturally speaking. A great force, yes – but this writer clearly hasn’t sampled a wide variety of entertainment before the 1980s. The name Rod Serling leaps nimbly, if not actually aggressively, to mind here. The Outer Limits. Heck, even The Monkees, Lost in Space, and the Batman television show were cradles of pop cultural weirdness, and even a certain kind of horror, especially the latter. Torture was the order of the day in that cartoonish, camp outing. Even in the article itself, King’s own citations of his inspirations – which the writer clearly has not actually read – display plentiful weirdness and off-kilter obsessions.
I’m always annoyed at the idea that any given cultural/social construct was invented recently. The 20th century is particularly rife with illusions of recency, and it’s all predicated on the idea that (a) humanity actually changes and (b) evolution itself is heading toward some sort of Whig-historical idea of greatness.
People have been bizarre since we’ve been people. The weirdness of our psyches is plain to see going back thousands of years, with even a casual acquaintance with history and the arts.
It's hard to think of anyone who has injected so much strangeness into the pop culture consciousness, and no one else has done it this long.
Again: Rod Serling.
Noël Carroll writes that for King, "the horror story is always a contest between the normal and the abnormal such that the normal is reinstated and, therefore, affirmed."
So: anti-weird, in the end?
The truth is, if we look at pop culture and weirdness, frankly we’re a lot LESS weird now, especially in cinema and in music, than 40 years ago. Some of what came out of Hollywood before I was even born, and through the 1970s, would never be made today, because: corporatization and money. Take a look at major studio productions like Tommy (you want weird? Two words: baked beans), Myra Breckenridge, Zardoz … even 2001, which was not presented as any sort of oddity, features as its centerpiece an extended, trippy stretch of special effects and curious philosophical imagery the like of which really has not been matched since. Kubrick’s first film, by the way, came in 1951, and he wasn’t waiting around on Stephen King to get weird.
The literature inspiring many films predates them by decades, in some cases. Some literature, too, going back to the eighteenth century, easily gives King a run for his money. Oh wait, and did I mention millennia? Yeah, read some ancient mythology for human eyes on death in the most stunningly … hey, *human* way.
In music, the 1960s gave birth to progressive rock, an experimental form borrowing from its own predecessor, jazz, and frankly from a lot of heavy drug use (also not invented in the 20th century; read a little bit of Louisa May Alcott’s lesser-known ouvre for some serious looks into tripped-out drug use and supreme weirdness
Ever heard of the Grand Guignol? Look it up, kids.
Sensation novels? Well, see above; their seeds go back three centuries previous to this one. Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus was an eye-popper in the weird and horror departments, both (and Julie Taymor’s adaptation is a shocker featuring Alan Cumming AND Harry Lennix, whom I admire to little bits all over the floor. Greek and Roman drama are filled with the most stunning human behavior.
“We live in increasingly bizarre times,” the blogger says.
Only if you have never studied anything about the past.