By Charles Hugh Smith
Source: Of Two Minds
Here’s what denormalization means: there was no “New Normal” for the dinosaurs.
Everyone talks about the “New Normal,” as if there’s a guarantee that life will return to normal. But the “New Normal” is De-Normalization, which I define as everything that was normal is gone and will not be replaced with some new normal. In other words, normal is gone, done, over: old normal, new normal, doesn’t matter: normal is history.
Denormalization is currently used to describe a database optimization process, but it’s too valuable a concept to be limited to a narrow geekspeak term.
What I mean by Denormalization is the complete dismantling of what was taken for granted as normal and the loss of any future version of normal. Consider sports as an example. We all know the Old Normal that millions hope will magically return: $100 million player contracts, millions in TV ad revenues, pro franchises worth billions of dollars, NCAA playoffs, etc.: a dominant kingdom in the nation’s media and mindshare.
The dirty little secret that troubled the kingdom long before Covid-19 was a steady erosion in attendance at live games and in the viewing audience. Younger generations have relatively little interest in all the trappings and habits of Boomer sports manias. They’d rather watch the 3-minute highlight video on their phones than blow half a day watching games that are generally lacking in drama and are largely replaceable with some other game.
What few seem to notice is that the Old Normal had become insanely expensive, irksome and boring, activities that were habits coasting on momentum. Those embedded in the Old Normal acclimatized to the absurdly overpriced seats, snacks, beer, parking, etc. of live events and the insanely long commutes required to get to the venue and then back home, as their happy memories of $5 seats decades ago is the anchor of their lifelong devotion and habits.
The old fans coasting on ritual habituated to the cookie-cutter nature of the games, while those who never acquired the habit look with amazement at the seemingly endless dull progression of hundreds of interchangeable sporting events.
Advertisers will eventually notice that younger generations never acquired the habit of worshipping sports and so there is nothing to stem the collapse of the Old Normal but older fans, some percentage of whom will find they don’t miss it once they fall out of the habit.
Some other percentage will find they can no longer afford to attend live games, or they’ll realize they no longer feel it’s worth it to grind through traffic or public transit just to sit for additional hours and then repeat the entire slog back home.
Another percentage will suddenly awaken to the artifice of the whole thing; they will simply lose interest. Others will finally realize the corporate machine (which includes college sports) has long since lost any connection to the era that they remember so fondly.
This same Denormalization will dismantle fast food, dining out, air travel, healthcare, higher education and innumerable other iterations of normal that have become unaffordable even as the returns on the lavish investments of time and money required diminish sharply.
How many of you deeply miss air travel? You’re joking, right? Only certifiably insane people would miss the irksome hassle and discomfort, from the endless delays due to mechanical problems (don’t you people keep any spare parts, or is it all just in time like every other broken system in America?), the seats that keep getting smaller as the passengers keep getting larger, the fetid terminals, and so on.
Like all the other iterations of normal, the entire experience has been going downhill for decades, but we all habituated to the decline because we were stuck with it.
What few seem to understand is all the Old Normal systems can’t restabilize at some modestly lower level of diminishing returns; their only possible future is collapse. Just as fine-dining restaurants cannot survive at 50% capacity because their cost structure is so astronomical, the same is true of sports, airports, airlines, cruise lines, fast food, movie theaters, healthcare, higher education, local government services and all the rest of the incredibly fragile and unaffordable Old Normal.
None of these systems can operate at anything less than about 80% of full capacity and customers paying 80% of full pop, i.e. full retail. Since their fixed cost structures are so high, and their buffers so thin, there’s nothing below the 80% level but air, i.e. a quick plummet to extinction.
Here’s what denormalization means: there was no New Normal for the dinosaurs. A few winged species survived and evolved into the birds of today, but that is by no stretch of the imagination a New Normal that included all the other dinosaur species. For them, denormalization meant extinction.
De-Normalization: everything that was normal is gone and will not be replaced with some new normal. Normal is gone, done, over: goodbye to all that.