Dork Age: Real Life

  • Apple:
    • Their product range during the tail end of the 1980s and early 1990s had degenerated from the insane greatness of the classic Apple Macintosh to the extraordinarily bland Performa range; although the Powerbooks sold well, and the Power Macs and Quadras got good reviews, none of the company's products were particularly exciting.

      Strapped for cash, Apple even took to licensing clones of the Mac hardware, which raised money in the short term whilst eating into long-term Macintosh sales. The company was in pretty bad shape before Steve Jobs came back in 1997 and the original iMac was released in 1998. And it took them a few more years after that to finally get rid of the mess that the classic Mac OS had become.
    • Some of Apple's more pessimistic fans think it's entering a new Dork Age with OS X 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8. iPad sales are slowing, in part because people don't upgrade tablets nearly as often as they do phones. Nobody seems to know for sure what Apple has in mind for Beats, which it purchased in 2014. Getting a free U2 album? Great. Having it downloaded automatically onto your iTunes library? Not so much.

      Jony Ive's signature flat, Helvetica-soaked design language (replacing a previous, less-harmonized appearance that a lot of people found excessively skeuomorphic on both platforms) has been a Base Breaker since debuting with iOS 7, iOS 8 is buggy (and, according to a class action lawsuit filed at the beginning of 2015, so bloated that it's not leaving enough room for user content), and the biggest thing Yosemite brings to the party is the debut of the Swift programming language, something most users will never write or even see a single line of code in.

      Ironically, those same naysayers generally find Apple's hardware to be the best it's ever been. (That is, unless you're not a fan of the current design of the Mac Pro, a black cylinder the approximate size of a mini-beer keg with a ton of expansion possibility, none of it internal, meaning lots of dongles and breakout boxes to clutter your desk.)
  • In The '80s, Coca-Cola decided to change its secret formula that most of the world had been drinking for the better part of a century. Ironically, the "New Coke", as the media dubbed it, tasted more like Coke's chief rival, Pepsi (part of the whole point, actually). Die-hard Coca-Cola drinkers said "They Changed It, Now It Sucks" and Pepsi drinkers kept on drinking Pepsi. This new formula actually made Pepsi the number-one selling soft drink for a while, partly because most of its advertising during the period was "Hate the New Coke? Drink Pepsi!" Pepsi actually saw the New Coke blunder as such a major win, they gave all their employees a day off in celebration. New Coke was eventually rebranded (quietly) as "Coke II" but faded to its death in the late 1990s and finally perished in the early 2000s. This debacle became a running joke for years. Even in Futurama, the "Slurm" episode poked fun at it.
    • Dave Barry lampooned this in one of his books with a "test your business IQ" question that went something like "You are the world's largest manufacturer of soft drinks. You are using a tested and proven formula that has remained the same for nearly a century. Your product's name is virtually synonymous with 'soft drink' in many areas. You should:" Of the choices, one of them was "Immediately change your formula" (another, aimed at a more or less contemporaneous Pepsi PR disaster, was something like "Set a celebrity on fire").
  • In the early 1990s, Las Vegas was facing stiff competition from not only Atlantic City drawing away gamblers on the East Coast (at its height, AC had over twice as many tourists as Vegas), but the looming threat of Indian casinos, legalized in 1988note , drawing away gamblers from Middle America as well. As a survival mechanism, Las Vegas began its now-infamous attempt to expand its appeal to tourists by rebranding the city as a destination for family vacations. Every Strip hotel built over 1990-93 had at least one theme park-esque attraction – the new MGM Grand had an actual theme park – and theme.

    This backfired badly. Adult tourists who preferred to gamble and party without dodging kids were upset, hotel-casino staffs trained to operate adult-oriented resorts couldn't handle the unique needs of families, cases of parents rushing off to the gaming tables and leaving their kids to fend for themselves made the news – one abandoned child ended up kidnapped and murdered – and the theme parks turned out to be a bomb. (To quote Brian Griffin: "The town of Vegas has got a different face / Because it's a family place / With lots to do. / While in The Fifties a man could mingle with scores / Of all the seediest whores, / Well now his children can too!")

    This age ended with the opening of the Bellagio in 1998, which was explicitly geared towards a very classy and very adult clientele with its fine art gallery, conservatory, resident Cirque du Soleil show, and high-stakes poker tables. While the hotels that opened to serve families are still around, and Vegas still markets itself as being about more than just gambling, said hotels have been progressively de-themed and the city's entertainment mix now mostly excludes families.
    • This was referenced and summed up pretty well at the end of the film Casino.
    Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior's college money on the poker slots.
  • Paul Pressler’s run as president of Disneyland from 1996 to 2000 is a textbook example of someone excelling in one field but completely failing in another. After a very successful stint as the head of The Disney Store (which itself underwent a Dork Age after he left, thanks in part to focusing on films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules that aren't exactly merchandising-friendly), Pressler was promoted to the top position of Disneyland, which at the time was undergoing a radical change. The park was slowly losing new customers, and an attempt to add a second Disney park to the area had failed miserably. He was charged with saving money and enticing new people to the park – which he did by seriously cutting attraction maintenance and operating hours, and by homogenizing merchandise within the park down to only a few major items like T-shirts and plushies, basically turning the park into a glorified Disney Store. He then turned to saving even more money by completely shutting down smaller low-capacity attractions like the Motor Boat Cruise, and helping “trim” the budget to a massive redo of the Tomorrowland area.

    For his “success” at Disneyland he was promoted to the head of the entire theme parks division in 2000, where he oversaw development of the long awaited second theme park in the Disneyland area, Disney’s California Adventure. The park opened to great fanfare in 2001… and very quickly became a spectacular flop. The park itself was accused of being cheap and uninteresting, with more of an emphasis on shops and dining over shows and attractions. After two years of trying and failing to fix California Adventure, Pressler resigned in 2003 to become the head of The Gap, and thankfully taking Disneyland’s Dork Age with him.
  • Jack in the Box (the restaurant) had one between 1980 and 1994. Read more about it on Wikipedia. In short, what happened was originally Jack in the Box had a typical West Coast hamburger stand feel to it: you talked into the clown's mouth to order, and advertising featured an early version of Jack as well as several other characters. But in 1980, the chain ran a series of commercials where Jack was destroyed. New marketing was toward the "affluent yuppies". The menu expanded at an alarming rate of two new items a year. They even tried to rename the restaurant to "Monterey Jack's". Around this point, the chain also withdrew from several markets east of the Mississippi, including New York state, Chicago, and Detroit. After the e. Coli disaster of the early 1990s, the company managed to get back in place and relaunch Jack in 1994. It's been successful since.
  • Hardee's went through a similar dip around the same time. The chain, already taxed by buying out other chains (most prominently Burger Chef and Sandy's), attempted to cut costs buy using frozen instead of charbroiled meat patties. A 1990 buyout/conversion of Roy Rogers restaurants (based in the Northeast, where the Hardee's name was totally unfamiliar) was met with such backlash that most of them were quickly reverted. Issues with quality control and constant menu changes brought the chain to its nadir in 1997, when tons of locations were closed (most of the franchises in Detroit were sold to Wendy's or Canadian chain Tim Hortons, giving the latter its second successful American market), and the remainder was sold to California-based Carl's Jr. For the next six years, Carl's Jr. struggled in attempts to merge the two chains by keeping Hardee's still-successful breakfast menu and Carl's Jr.'s lunch/dinner menu and logo. The change was rough at first, resulting in a schizophrenic mess of stores, with some as late as 2003 still having the pre-1997 menu and orange-and-brown logo. But by the mid-2000s, one last Re Tool of the menu to focus on "Thickburgers" seemed to finally turn things around and re-establish the chain with a more "upscale" image than McDonald's, Burger King, or Wendy's. As of The New Tens, Hardee's/Carl's Jr. has once again been in expansion mode, gradually filling in markets that had been abandoned in the 90s or earlier, such as Chicago.
  • Wendy's went through a similar plunge in The '80s, due mainly to poor upkeep of its stores that created cleanliness issues, as well as a failed attempt to adopt a breakfast menu (unlike McDonald's or Burger King, Wendy's never fully got on board with breakfast, and it was only available at a handful of locations {mostly in 24-hour truckstops} before quietly being dropped in 2014). However, it was not a long-lived or detrimental decline like Hardee's suffered — by The '90s, the chain recovered from its eighties slump, thanks to storewide renovations and a highly popular series of ads featuring founder Dave Thomas. By the mid-90s, Wendy's was considered the best in quality and service among the "big three" burger chains, and despite closing most of its international locations later in the decade, it has been a solid #3 ever since.
  • Remember all those great cars Detroit came out with in The '70s? No? A toxic combination of lack of innovation, Congress relaxing import quotas (allowing foreign automakers to sell and manufacture in the USA), and the Oil Shocks nearly destroyed the industry. It did destroy the city of Detroit itself (and most of Michigan for that matter), and to this day, there are many Americans of a certain age who still refuse to buy domestic. This wasn't limited to the 1970s, either; most 80s domestics were almost as terrible, and while there was some marginal improvement in the 1990s, terrible domestics were still a thing until at least the mid-2000s, when Detroit realized that they were going to completely lose the market to foreigns and upped their game. As of now, there are lots of domestics that are every bit as good as foreigns (and, in many cases, better), but anyone with any sense will be very careful about most used domestics from model years prior to 2009 or so.
  • The Ford Mustang II, 1974-78. Basically a Pinto with a fancier body, no V8 option, and enough mid '70s chrome, vinyl, and fake wood for a much larger car. Ford was returning the car to its roots as basically an economy car with a big engine after the previous car had gotten larger and become decent road racing platform. Sales for the Mustang II were actually much better than the late 60s/early 70s Mustangs, but it alienated enthusiasts. Even after it got a V8, never before or since have so many car guys been so disappointed to see their favorite sports car get lighter and more nimble... Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, the Mustang's rivals, the Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird twins, underwent something of a Golden Age in the '70s. While they too felt the effects of the new standards (they were nearly killed in 1972 due to a UAW strike concerning the new regulations), their performance didn't suffer nearly as badly as the Mustang's, and their bodywork wasn't nearly as garish as other cars during the era. The Camaro and, to a lesser extent, the Firebird outsold the Mustang by 1977, because they were some of the only cars at the time worth getting for sports car/post-muscle car enthusiasts. To this day, the Camaro and Firebird are probably the only American performance cars to not have their legacy stained by WTH engineering/designing departments even during The '70s. The only low point in the Camaro's career was the Iron Duke design of The '80s, but that was a separate model and did rather little to hurt the Camaro's popularity.
  • British cars were far worse during the period, leading to most brands falling under ownership of British Leyland, which eventually collapsed, taking the entire industry with it. Top Gear couldn't find a single bright spot during the era. British Leyland was problematic for many reasons. Having most of the major British car companies under one organization was a good idea in theory. The problem? None of them knew how to work together! Having so many companies under one roof didn't change the fact that many were competing against each other in the market, this resulted in cars being a Suspiciously Similar Substitute of other cars, development of new models was slow, and many models were produced cheaply and quickly. The Morris Marina is widely considered one of the worst cars ever produced by the company, despite the amount of cars sold. Add trade union disputes, oil crises, and the "Three-Day Week"note  and you had the poster child for everything wrong with the industrial problems in Britain in the '70s. The company went bust in 1975. Nowadays, all the major British car manufacturers are owned by foreign organizations, while Rover sadly disappeared in 2005.
  • Food in general took a nose-dive in quality during the early Cold War, with the American diet becoming a giant buffet of artificial chemical garbage loaded with dangerous amounts of sugar and fat with trace amounts of real nutrients.

    Food preservation technologies developed during WWII, combined with the perceived need to stockpile food heavy with preservatives for cold war era fallout shelters, and general public ignorance about the potential health risks of chemical additives spawned a wave of food production emphasizing price and speed over quality. Unsurprisingly, heart attack and cancer rates skyrocketed during The Fifties and The Sixties thanks in no small part to the garbage people where putting in their bodies. In America, this nearly destroyed drip coffee's reputation and spurred the organic and slow food movements as an explicit rejection of the trend. Entire websites like Lileks Gallery of Regrettable Food show some of the awful recipes to come out of this era.
  • Math education in the U.S. (and, to a lesser extent, Europe and Japan) went through a Dork Age in the 1960s with the "New Math" format. It involved teaching students advanced topics like boolean algebra, bases other than 10, abstract algebra, and set theory from an early age instead of emphasizing memorization, word problems, and, well, actual numbers. The idea was to create a generation of engineers, scientists, and mathematical thinkers capable of competing with the USSR, but the results were disastrous. Most children were unable to grasp the concepts because they'd never learned basic arithmetic like the multiplication tablenote . Most teachers didn't fully understand what it was they were teaching. The subjects taught weren't even that useful for their intended engineering/physical science purpose. And an entire generation thought of math as even less useful and relevant than children usually do. Today, New Math is remembered as an utter catastrophe of misguided education reform gone wrong. note 
  • Microsoft's "Internet Explorer" browser, from version 6 to roughly version 9. IE 6 was the browser with the biggest market share in history for years, mostly because it was the standard for many business users who had software developed that worked great with it but it simply wasn't easily ported to something newer. As a result, people kept using IE6, despite it being outdated and insecure. The compatibility requirements put 7 and 8 incredibly behind Chrome and Firefox. IE9 is a return to form, but the bad reputation Internet Explorer earned with 6 is still there. Microsoft would eventually phase out the Internet Explorer themselves, replacing it with Edge in Windows 10.
  • Early on in the new millennium, the otherwise top-of-the-game Intel fell behind an increasingly competitive AMD with the Netburst-based Pentium 4. Promising to eventually break the 10GHz barrier, it instead ran inefficiently and incredibly hot. The company was finally out of the woods mid-decade with the release of the Core 2, a more modernized take on the P6 architecture, along with a steady yearly update schedule allowing for step-by-step refinements, and haven't looked back since.
  • NVIDIA fell into this with the GeForce FX GPU, which used a substandard implementation of DirectX that allowed then competitor ATi (now AMD) to wipe the floor with its GPU. NVIDIA came back the next generation and stumbled a few more times but not nearly as badly as this.
  • Lockheed in the The '70s decided to bribe various government officials and cover up problems with the F-104. As a fighter plane, it was good; as a light bomber, not so much. The scandals almost killed the company.
  • In The New Tens, Boeing was in a right mess – caught in a scandal that sent an Air Force official to prison, caught spying on Airbus, the Troubled Production and Schedule Slip of the 787 "Dreamliner", and the CEO having an affair.
  • The BlackBerry line of smartphones had one around the beginning of The New Tens, due to its obsolescence in the face of the iPhone and Android-based phones, and slowness in developing new models. The latest models based on BlackBerry 10 have been well-received, and the company has returned to profitability.
  • Bodybuilding went into this once competitions lean towards "big muscles > all other factors". For women, the winners eventually became Brawn Hildas instead of Amazonian Beauties, while male winners became freakishly bigger.
  • One can't help but get the impression that architectural schools were infiltrated by the KGB during the Cold War, placing in vogue the Stalinist trend known as Brutalism - which produced ominous, concrete blocks of pure authoritarian coldness. The future seemed bleak for decades, until Postmodernism rode in from the West, kicked out the commies, and saved the day. The legacy of this jarring midcentury trend can be seen today on public urban buildings and state university campuses. The city of Boston, unfortunately, fell victim to Brutalism when a new city hall was commissioned. The chaotic, faded mess that ensued elicits near-universal disgust from visitors, and remains a testament to the failures of The Eastern Bloc, and its Western sympathizers.
  • In the Eastern Bloc itself this Dork Age of architecture lasted until the fall of communism. Even after that new aesthetic influences reach the urban landscape rather slowly, thus the depressing views of endless concrete blocks and boxy, edgy monuments are there to stay. Yet in some former communist states what structures have been built, while decidedly ungainly and undesired (some monuments are known under FanNicknames such as 'seven-winged five-dick' owing to their lack of aesthetics), are now left in a state of decay due to intense corruption after the Hole in Flag revolutions, with no intention to improve or replace them. This has led to a sentiment along the lines of "at least they used to build stuff back then and put some flowers around it" - that the architectural Dork Age was followed by an even bigger Dork Age.
  • Tropicana orange juice went through a bizarre and brief Dork Age when they hired the Arnell Group (the same people who came up with the term "Pepsi gravity") to redesign their packaging. The new design was so ugly that it actually caused a 20% drop in sales. Thankfully, it was reverted after just a few months.
  • Moviegoing in India, especially in Mumbai, became truly oppressive in the 21st Century. In most democracies, you saw loosening of censorship over a period of time, but censorship in Indian cinema and Bollywood is comparable to dictatorships and theocracies in terms of restrictions on political content, showing sexuality or bringing anti-authoritarian sentiments. While the latter three loosened somewhat recently, conservatives decided to combat it by putting anti-smoking and anti-alcohol sentiments, this they did by adding messages that came on the screen in big letters any time a character smoke and drank on-screen. Indeed, Woody Allen removed Blue Jasmine from Indian screens for these very reasons.