As I said before, History is rife with cultures going through alternating Golden Ages and Dark Ages-- that's why those terms exist. It's cyclic. Right now we happen to be in the trough-- another crest will come someday.
Hyperbole much BTW?!?
Nope. These are just the realities of history.
Most popular art is forgotten. There were hundreds, if not thousands of plays performed at the Dionysia in Athens, but only a handful survived the test of time. And even fewer popular novels are remembered. (Yes, the ancient Greeks had a kind of novel.)
What this tells us is not that popular culture is constantly changing, much less progressing. What this tells us is that popular culture is basically not much good. It tries to his the commercial sweet spot between challenging and overfamiliar. The cheaper productions costs for commercial (aka "popular") art of al kinds means a flood of more mediocrity. Older people who are more familiar with the tricks that commercial art uses tend to value it less. This appears to be the main cause of complaints that standards are lowering, but the increasing mass of mediocrity probably plays a role too. And inexperience tends to lead younger people to overvalue their first exposures.
Incidentally, the generation gap phenomenon is far more about resistance to changes in social mores, rather than directly about art of any kind. Conservatives are more into "kids are rotten" than "kids don't know good art." I don't think anyone here is even tacitly arguing this. I plan on ignoring any such suggestions myself.
The really interesting question is how we could know if standards were really changing. There was not too long ago an effort to objectively study the variety in pop music. As I recall it counted things like types of instruments, changes in key, length of phrases, etc. The results unambiguously indicated that the Sixties were the high point for variety, while the trend since has been for an ever decreasing variety, especially for the most popular songs.
And it is a matter of historical record that people like Ausonius conceived themselves to be artists on par with those of their past. Yes, it is possible for cultural standards to decline. Yes, it is possible for this to be passed off as mere change. No, it is not possible to deride the questioner as a scummy codger who has the temerity to talk as if he weren't innately worthless.
When I was a kid I didn't think I had a right to walk on somebody else's lawn. Reflect.
All very good points, particularly the part about young people overvaluing their early exposures to the arts. We all have stuff from our youth that we love that we now know is garbage-- that's nostalgia. But, as I said, there's no problem with liking something even though it's bad or not liking something even though it's good-- as long as you're aware of the difference.
Also interesting is the part about the study of popular music that confirmed that the 60s were a high point. I wonder how many years or decades the study included, because it is consistent with the 40-year-cycle model. And perhaps the reason that the cycle seemed to be a no-show for the Millennium is related to Pingfah
's point about the availability of the esoteric on the Internet, plus increasing corporate greed and exploitation-- almost the weaponization of pop culture. I think Gibson was right in All Tomorrow's Parties
about the commercialization of counterculture; only instead of the Bridge, we have the Internet.