(In)validating The Past

Why do we human beings feel the need to bash what came before, in order to make whatever’s out now seem like a big deal? The big marketing beast is ever making a concerted effort to somehow invalidate the past, so the present can become more “valid” in some way.

Case in point number 1:

I read a review of the videogame “Grand Theft Auto 5” the other day which managed to completely piss me off. It seems the reviewer was not so much interested in reviewing the game as a stand-alone product of its own merit; instead, the entire review was one long rant against the previous game in the series, “GTA 4”. The entire way through, the author picked apart GTA 4, feature by feature, in order to show us how “GTA 5 is so much better in every single way”. Now, I’m not necessarily saying he ain’t right. Indeed, when placed side-by-side, GTA 5 is superior in every single way. What I’m arguing, however, is that we shouldn’t make these comparisons in this way, in the first place. When GTA 4 came out in 2008, it became the “best game ever” at that particular time, and as of last month, it was still the highest-rated video game of all time on IGN (I haven’t checked to see if this has changed since GTA 5 came out). So why should we diminish the fact that it’s such a great game, in order to sell the newer version? Why can’t we celebrate both products for the masterpieces they undoubtedly are, and enjoy them side-by-side. Why this pathological need to always compare things, and to desperately try to prove that one is better than the other?

Case in point number 2:

Elton John’s first new solo album in 7 years, “The Diving Board” came out recently. A fantastic album from the aging troubadour, with both Elton John and Bernie Taupin running full steam in creative terms, and still breaking new artistic ground in their late 60’s. A nice throwback to their very earliest work, bringing Taupin’s “always-too-mature-for-his-age” lyrics of those first albums full circle as they are now sung by an older man, and as such, make perfect sense. I read a review of this album, which heralded this album as “Elton’s artistic comeback, his finest effort since the early 1970’s”. Why? Why must we do this? Ever since Elton returned to his trademark piano sound, in 2001, with the album “Songs From The West Coast”, every subsequent album has been heralded as his “true return to form”, which, indirectly, reduces the albums that came before to apparent irrelevance. So, although he’s released 5 excellent albums since 2001, the reviewers insist on hammering the point that he’s only just returning to form, with each new album. When, in fact, he’s returned “to form” in 2001, and has pretty much remained “on form” since then. That’s over a decade of being “back on form”, which is longer than the entire recording career of The Beatles.

It might be better to stop comparing things to other things, and embrace each new thing that comes out. It might be better if we only judged each new thing that comes out, only against its own merits. And then add it to the library of fantastic things that came before, because the masterpieces of the past will never go away just to make way for the latest shiny thing.

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