Think back about the Monkees… Micky, Pete, Mike, and Davy… You haven’t in a little while have you?
They were cool, our own home-grown answer to the Invasion… the Fab Four… or were they? We all know with a wink that this great little rock band was a put-on, a manufactured marketing gag built for American television, but let’s think about how all that’s so very Meta.
First, let’s take a winning concept, and refine the sugar for the American market. Beatles -> Monkees… even down to the cheeky misspelling of a creature’s name. Lets take the Beatles’ “Long Day’s Night” and convert it for American TV…. even down to the album covers. This is a formula that has recently seen success again in the guise of The Office. I’ll leave it to Derek to comment on the musicality, but for now, let’s just think about the imagery…
Four dudes, each with personalities craftily engineered to appeal to the widest demographic. Goofy west-coast anti-establishment vibe (a very different view of the 60s than the Canadian-Club-infused version so very popular in MadMen) The missing fourth wall as Michael Nesmith looks directly at the camera, seemingly to cut through the smarm and invite us to acknowledge the lunacy of it all. We see Jim Halpert do the same today. In fact, it’s been mentioned that the frequent musical acts intertwined with action were the world’s first music videos.
What’s Meta about all that? It’s the transition from the original concept into the final packaged experience that we all hold as cultural memory. Original signal, layered with commonly understood preferences, simmered in years of memory. It’s a nearly 40 year old journey that ends with our feet tapping to the strains of “Last Train to Clarksville” on the Musak in a dying antique mall today.
Our culture is a meat-grinder, making Meta every day.