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By Rich Collins

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  As you may have heard by now, this is the Information Age. More media are created around the world in an hour than one person could watch, read or listen to in a lifetime. There were more new books published this fall than in any other season. There are more cable and satellite channels offering more movies and other original fare than ever before. The Internet has provided an endless sea of "new media" to tempt surfers.

Despite all the options, consumers of pop culture are frequently disappointed with their menu. The new stuff is mostly garbage, it seems. And, even worse, old standbys eventually lose their flavor.

Football fans blame free agency for reducing the quality of crunching in the NFL. Devotees of vampire novelist Anne Rice are screaming for blood as their patron saint drifts further into outer space. Rock music aficionados decry the era of electronica and other shrimpy styles.

Two graphic examples of fallen glory are provided by America's No. 1 sitcom, Seinfeld, and one of the world's most successful rock bands, U2 (which appears Friday at the Superdome).

For eight seasons, Jerry Seinfeld and collaborators amused fans with their "show about nothing," but now, several episodes into Seinfeld's ninth season, critics are complaining that the sitcom has finally lived up to its premise (despite remaining at the top of the ratings). The characters of Kramer, Elaine, George and Jerry have devolved into cartoons of cartoonish New Yorkers, they say. And the tangle of plotlines that used to be so charming is now just a tangle of plotlines.

It's rare to find a Seinfeld viewer who's neutral on the issue. Most people have either joined the backlash or are on the defensive. Newspapers, magazine and the Net are all abuzz with the topic. The "Seinfeld sucks" juggernaut has started rolling in earnest, and there doesn't seem to be much that will reverse the process.

Seinfeld isn't the first entertainer to find himself in this grim scenario, of course. If there's anyone who knows how the guy feels, in fact, it would have to be the members of an Irish rock quartet that took the world by storm in the 1980s and has been "taking it" from the world ever since.

After they joined forces in Dublin in 1977, Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton have carried the torch of Celtic rock around the world, earning heaps of praise that peaked in 1985 when Rolling Stone magazine described the group as "the only band that matters." On three consecutive recorded masterpieces -- War (1983), The Unforgettable Fire (1984) and The Joshua Tree (1987) -- the group excelled at a crystalline, supercharged style that used digital technology to bring the sound of traditional Irish music into the rock era. The Edge played the chiming guitar, Mullen and Clayton supplied giant, friendly rhythms, and Bono howled above it all with a combination of choirboy innocence and Jim Morrison cool.

A quick dip into your old music collection demonstrates how much U2's sound has changed since those days. The U2 of 1997 doesn't seem to matter much at all anymore -- even to longtime fans. A string of increasingly slick -- and decreasingly entertaining -- discs preceded the group's disastrous spring release, Pop, which slid from the top of the charts and left the group without support for its enormous "Pop Mart" tour (see p. 37). The cross-country trek has been drawing smaller-then-expected crowds throughout the South.

The "U2 sucks" juggernaut is well under way.

Unlike the new batch of Seinfeld deserters, the legions of ex-U2 fans out there have had time to work through their stages of disappointment. The coping stages of anger, denial, bargaining and acceptance were nearly perfectly synchronized with the release of Rattle and Hum (1988), Achtung Baby (1991), Zooropa (1994) and Pop. Still, as the band arrives in town this week to stage its post-modern medicine show at the Dome, you can spot the fans grappling with their feelings.

It's easy to understand the frustration of the Bono disciples who have decided to boycott the show. It's also understandable that many of these fans will ultimately decide to attend the concert just in case there's a bit of the old fire still left in Dublin's most famous rock export.

After all, one of the disappointed U2 fan's defining characteristics is irrational hope -- a quality he shares with the Seinfeld detractor who will keep tuning in week after week looking for that fondly remembered "summer of George."


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