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16 articles I’m proud of writing this year

26 Dec

I hardly ever post in this blog anymore, mostly because I’m too busy writing actual articles for work. But in the interest of reflecting on 2015 — and being needlessly self-indulgent — I decided to share the work I’m most proud of this year. These are the stories I spent months reporting and writing. (Along with some I threw together over the course of one productive day.) In many ways they define my year, and while that might sound a little depressing — surely there’s more to life than work! — I have to remind myself that writing is my passion, and I only really write about things I truly love. It’s been a joy covering film, television, and theater: I get to celebrate the art and artists I admire, all while furthering my subversive queer feminist agenda. If I have one regret about the work I did this year, it’s that I didn’t do more of it (hello, poor time management skills). One of my major goals for 2016 is to be more on top of everything so I can produce more. And maybe, every once in a while, get a decent night’s sleep.

1. Eli Roth Thinks Women Will Love His Latest Movie. This year I went to Sundance for the first time, and it was an incredible experience. I saw a lot I loved — and plenty that I hated. Knock Knock fell into the latter category, so it was a pleasure talking to Eli Roth about what I considered a deeply misogynistic film. I was proud of myself for not letting my bias show, because I knew the key here was letting Roth speak for himself.
2. Jeremy Jordan Has Learned From The Mistakes Of Smash. At this point in the year, I had no idea I’d go on to co-create a Smash podcast. I only knew that I wasn’t done talking about my favorite misguided musical drama. With that in mind, I interviewed Jeremy Jordan about The Last Five Years (which I loved), and I got him to be remarkably candid about one of my least favorite TV characters ever.
3. Daniel Franzese Is Still Breaking New Ground 10 Years After Mean GirlsLooking is a series that I feel never got its due, which is why I wrote about it so often. One of my other major passions is writing about size discrimination and fatphobia in the gay male community. I fell in love with Daniel Franzese’s character Eddie, and it was a thrill chatting with Franzese about issues like body positivity and fat acceptance.
4. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Musical Is Not Your Average Disney Production. This year I also expanded my theater coverage. The writing I do on theater never goes as viral as anything I write about film or television — and that’s OK. It remains one of my greatest joys. And as I toy with the idea of leaving Los Angeles for New York, I realize how important this work is to me.
5. The Definitive Ranking Of The Friday The 13th Movies. Another subject I can’t ever seem to write about enough? Horror. (Look for more in-depth pieces on the genre in the coming year.) I love revisiting films that often get overlooked — mediocre horror sequels, for example — and finding a new way to talk about them. And yes, that means I’ve watched a ton of shit, but dissecting garbage is one of the best things about my job.
6. Why Stephen Sondheim Is A Genius, According To The Broadway Stars Who Love Him. This was a project that required very little writing on my part, but it’s something I’m still immensely proud of. Reaching out to icons like Patti and Liza and Barbra, and getting gorgeous responses, was a great reminder to always make that effort, no matter how impossible it seems. And I received a lovely note from Sondheim, which I treasure.
7. What The Heidi Chronicles Gets Right About Feminism And Gay Men. Basically no one read this piece, which was a bummer, but hey, all the more reason to share it again. I was able to get more political than I usually can in my work by articulating it in terms of a play. I can’t be as public with my beliefs as I once was, but if I can remind gay men to be better feminist allies and write about theater, I’m satisfied.
8. Inside The Mind Behind The Most Disgusting Franchise Of All Time. Like Eli Roth, Tom Six is basically a troll. Again, I’m including this because I’m proud of how I’ve grown as an interviewer. When you’re talking to someone as performative as Six, you have to use a lot of restraint and ultimately let him reveal more than he intends to. Given how much I hated this movie, I was delighted by how good the piece came out.
9. Half Of the Team That Changed Horror Is Now Flying Solo. Leigh Whannell, on the other hand, is a horror filmmaker who actually has something to say. This was another one of those interviews that reminded me why I’m so passionate about the genre. I love the ability to analyze something so few people take seriously, and Whannell’s astute observations gave me a lot of hope for the future of horror.
10. The Definitive Ranking Of Walt Disney Animation Studios Films. This was a beast to get through, and I think that shows in the finished product. Rewatching every Disney animated film was a daunting task, to say the least, but what made it worthwhile was being able to engage critically with the films I grew up on. I never want to ruin anyone’s childhood, but I do want to encourage people to rethink their treasured classics.
11. How Catfish Helped Max Joseph Make His Major Film Debut. I wish more people had seen We Are Your Friends, which I liked so much more than I thought I would. I also wish more people that I interviewed were as insightful and honest as Max Joseph. This was me stepping outside of my comfort zone, which is so rewarding. I never thought I’d want to analyze “bro culture,” but here we are.
12. Olivia Wilde Is Taking On A More Active Role To Support Women In Film. You know who is fucking great? Olivia Wilde. This was another one of those interviews I did that made me feel excited about the direction film is headed. It was truly inspiring, and I was so honored to be able to pass Wilde’s message along. If I could just talk to brilliant women in film all the time, I would. It’s such a thrill.
13. The Movie That Taught A Generation Of Misfits To Let Their Freak Flags Fly. Like Drop Dead Gorgeous, another film I wrote an oral history of, Camp was pivotal to my development. This story took me months to get done, and toward the end I pretty much just wanted it to be over. But this is easily the story I’m proudest of writing this year. I wanted to capture a movie that changed my life, and I think I succeeded.
14. All 78 “Treehouse Of Horror” Segments Ranked From Worst To Best. OK, I’ll be honest: I’m mostly including this here because I’m proud of my time management skills on this one. I busted it out in a few days, because I decided I wanted to do it right before Halloween. Anyway, it was a blast and, once again, allowed me to revisit my childhood in a new way. Writing this much about The Simpsons falls under “dream job” territory.
15. How To Be A Broadway Diva, Or At Least How To Fake It. I love writing about people who just aren’t getting that much coverage otherwise. Lesli Margherita is a big name in theater, but not so much to those outside of the community. I was blown away by her humor and sincerity, and I relished the opportunity to share that with a wider audience. I’m going to continue working to force non-theater fans to give a shit.
16. The 18 Best Plays And Musicals Of 2015. And to that end, this is the first list BuzzFeed has done of the best theater of the year. It’s the culmination of my work to broaden our theater coverage, and while it’s still nowhere near my most widely read story this year, I think it’s a major step in the right direction. I can’t wait to return to New York so that I can continue to remind people that Broadway is more relevant than ever.

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38 random things you might not know about me, and probably didn’t need to

7 Jan
  1. My favorite film genre is horror. It wasn’t, until I took a summer course at Berkeley that changed everything for me.
  2. I was an extra in the drag horror comedy All About Evil. I have a close-up and everything.
  3. I’ve read more by Stephen King than by any other author.
  4. The movie that made me realize I was gay, at least to some extent, was The Object of My Affection.
  5. The first person I ever came out to was an older guy from my high school who started chatting with me on AOL and asking me increasingly personal questions about my sexual desires. He was a creep.
  6. The first NC-17 movie I saw in theaters was The Dreamers. I had it bad for Louis Garrel.
  7. I was mugged by five guys when I was 18. They punched me in the back of the head, but I don’t remember any pain.
  8. I’ve had two minor surgeries: wisdom teeth, obviously, and the extraction of a benign bone tumor in my big toe.
  9. I was adopted at birth.
  10. When I was in third grade, I appeared in my Jewish day school play A Symbol of Hanukkah. I really liked being onstage.
  11. In middle school, I went to theater camp, but not the prestigious kind you have to audition for. That’s probably why I got a couple solos. Humblebrag!
  12. I also did choir in eighth grade. And then I suddenly became terrified to perform again until my twenties.
  13. I love storytelling and I think I’m reasonably funny, but I’m afraid of trying stand-up comedy.
  14. I speak Italian, but I’m out of practice. I used to speak Hebrew and Spanish, but I’ve mostly forgotten both. I can still understand a lot of Spanish, because Los Angeles.
  15. I took Italian in college because French was full.
  16. I’ve always lived in California. I was born and raised in LA, went to college in Berkeley and stayed there for a few extra years, then moved back here.
  17. Outside of Los Angeles, the cities I’ve spent the most time in are Manhattan and La Jolla.
  18. My first boyfriend was named Mark. We dated for a few months when I was a freshman in college.
  19. My first kiss happened when I was a senior in high school. It was awkward, and my mom was home at the time.
  20. When I was a kid, I briefly played piano and guitar, both poorly.
  21. I was also forced into tennis, gymnastics, and t-ball. I excelled at none.
  22. I have a serious phobia of flying and take Xanax whenever I have to do it. I have recurring nightmares about getting on planes and forgetting my Xanax at home.
  23. I’m very insecure about my appearance, but I like my lips and my calves.
  24. At one point, I dyed my hair reddish-brown. At another point, I had blonde highlights.
  25. My Bar Mitzvah portion was Noah. I still feel an attachment to the story, if not to Judaism.
  26. My Bar Mitzvah party theme was television. All of the tables were different shows. My table was The Simpsons.
  27. When I was 15, I spilled chocolate milk all over a girl’s bag, and I still feel bad about this.
  28. When I was 17, I said that I didn’t think I was a feminist, and I still feel bad about this.
  29. All of my grandparents are dead.
  30. I can count the number of funerals I’ve been to on one hand. I’ve been to even fewer weddings.
  31. I’m allergic to cats and dogs, but I had a hypoallergenic dog named Lily. She was a Bichon Frisé, and I still miss her.
  32. Other pets I have had: a tortoise, a hamster, hermit crabs, a pair of rats.
  33. I once wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic. It was not erotic.
  34. I have a scar on my left index finger from when I cut it while slicing bread on Ambien. I have told this story before, but it’s too good a useless fact about me to not share.
  35. I sucked my thumb until I was 10. I know.
  36. My nails are usually long because I hate the way that short nails feel. I get chills thinking about it.
  37. Sometimes I write because I don’t know what else to do with my time, and then I feel a little embarrassed about expecting anyone else to read it, but I’m publishing this post, anyway.
  38. I wrote a sex column in college. My mom loved it.

James Holmes and other boogeymen

6 Aug

It’s comforting to think of mass murderers as boogeymen: they’re lurking underneath your bed and in your closet, but if you don’t believe in them, they’ll go away. Don’t use their names. Don’t print their pictures. Don’t talk about them and they cease to exist.

And in a fantasy world, maybe that would work. You’d take a page from Harry Potter and refer to James Holmes as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” denying him power. You’d promise to never say “Wade Michael Page” three times in a dark bathroom, lest he crawl out of the mirror Bloody Mary-style and open fire.

These are superstitions. We don’t create psychopaths by putting them on the front page.

To be fair, there is a rational basis for the correlation — mass murderers are, at times, motivated by a desire for media attention. A shooter could carry out a brutal act of violence with the hope of getting his name in print. He may not be alive to see it, but yes, perhaps his dying wish was to go out in a blaze of 24-hour-news-cycle “glory.”

But it’s naive to think theoretical media coverage is what pushes a person over the edge, as though not printing James Holmes’ name or photo would somehow stay the hand of a white supremacist gun nut like Wade Michael Page. It’s a pleasant thought in some ways, because it allows us to feel we have a modicum of control over unpredictable acts of violence. Don’t give these people attention, and poof, they’re gone.

“You’re making this monster famous,” the internet commenters decry. No, that’s not how it works. You gain infamy by shooting a U.S. congresswoman in the head, or by opening fire on a midnight showing at a movie theater. These acts aren’t soon forgotten, and the perpetrators receive the notoriety assigned to all mass murderers. It’s not a reward — it’s a fact of life. Do something horrible and be remembered for doing something horrible.

These are killers, not Kardashians: not talking about them does nothing to undo what they did, nor does it prevent future mentally unbalanced people from doing the same. It’s also important to note the distinction between infamy and celebrity — to print James Holmes’ picture is not to make him a star. He doesn’t become a style icon. He doesn’t get a reality show. Outside of a few disturbed individuals on Facebook, he’s universally reviled, not a cult hero.

The pearl-clutching “You mustn’t say his name” response comes from fear, but it’s also a self-righteous declaration of moral superiority. It’s a way of letting everyone know that you’re above the news coverage and the media frenzy — the same thing you could accomplish, on a more personal level, by turning off the TV. I won’t pin this all on Aaron Sorkin and The Newsroom, but blaming the “broken media” feels more de rigueur than ever.

“What happened to the good old days of news coverage?” This criticism suggests that we haven’t always sensationalized crimes and expressed a fascination with mass murderers. It also strikes me as weirdly repetitive: blaming the media is only the latest iteration of blaming video games, blaming movies, and blaming TV. It comes from the misguided belief that the depiction of violence creates more violence.

Does a flashy CNN graphic give people like Page ideas? Maybe. So, too, a first-person shooter or a movie about a mass murderer. Psychopaths will find inspiration wherever they can, but the media they consume isn’t what turns them into monsters. We want this to be true, because it’s nice to believe that violence isn’t innate so much as something we’ve inflicted on our culture. But no, acts of terror existed long before the representation of terror.

You can criticize the media for “breeding the next generation of psychopaths,” as one Gawker commenter so absurdly suggested. It won’t change the way we report news, or the fact that terrible people do terrible things. But it’s tough to accept the reality of a mass shooting a mere 16 days after the last one.

Assign blame where you see fit and find comfort in false beliefs: the boogeymen aren’t going anywhere.

Why the right to privacy doesn’t apply to coming out

2 Jul

The more the conversation about coming out changes, the more it stays the same: we’re reduced to the fundamentally opposed sides of “celebrities have a moral imperative to come out” and “celebrities have a right to their privacy.” I’m less concerned with the former — while the world would certainly be a better place if all gay people felt comfortable identifying as such, and while LGBT youth could always use more role models, there’s an element of forced advocacy to suggesting gay people need to be voices for the gay community. Suddenly everything they say or do is viewed through the lens of the cause.

At the same time, the “right to privacy” argument is misguided. It equates sexual identity with sexual behavior — and though the two do go hand in hand, they’re not one in the same. We’re past the point of identifying as “sodomites”: what we do in the bedroom feels secondary to how we carry ourselves in public. Homosexuality may be defined by same-sex attraction, but it’s also cultural. In the same way race may be defined by origin or the amount of melanin in one’s skin, sexuality is based in the biological but not limited to it.

I’m not sure if Anderson Cooper timed his coming out with the New York Times’ debate “Do Gay Celebrities Have The Obligation to Come Out?” I doubt it, but it’s definitely convenient. Cooper is the latest in a group of “open secret” gays to come out matter-of-factly. (He follows Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer, both of whom prompted reactions of, “He wasn’t out already?”) His wording — “The fact is, I’m gay” — actually reflects the point I’m trying to make. Sexuality isn’t a preference so much as an innate characteristic.

(Brief aside: when Cynthia Nixon referred to her sexuality as a “choice” and got shit on by the queer community, I defended her. The difference is, Nixon was expressing her own journey of self-discovery. Everyone has the right to self-define. Moreover, there’s a distinction between arguing that sexual identity is not fundamental, and explaining one’s personal path toward realizing it.)

Publicist Howard Bragman takes the “right to privacy” argument in his debate contribution, “It’s a Personal Choice, Not a Moral One.” When phrased that way, it’s easy to see his point of view, but Bragman’s opening paragraph betrays the bias of this conversation.

If we suggested that gay celebrities have a moral obligation to come out, then any celebrity would have the same responsibility to acknowledge any hidden situation whose disclosure could theoretically help society. The heartbreak of psoriasis? Do a public service announcement. A victim of sexual abuse? You need to go talk about it on “The View.” Going bankrupt? Get ahead of this story and help other Americans in similar situations.

Implicitly or not, he equates sexual identity with psoriasis, sexual abuse, and bankruptcy — all of which, we can agree, are very bad things. I’m not suggesting Bragman is a homophobe: he’s simply articulating the fact that we conflate “things that are hidden” with “things that are wrong.” The right to privacy, no matter how noble a concept in origin, automatically implies some level of guilt, embarrassment, and shame.

Bragman continues, “We’re talking about people’s romantic lives, which are, by definition, notoriously confusing and fickle.” Are we, though? Aside from Cooper’s saying, “I love, and I am loved,” there is nothing in his email to Andrew Sullivan about his boyfriend or his sexual preferences. A celebrity’s right to privacy in terms of whom he or she dates is respectable (regardless of how difficult it is to maintain in an era of TMZ). But coming out doesn’t mean introducing the world to your significant other, or letting everyone know whether you prefer to top or bottom in bed.

Anderson Cooper gets it. From his email:

I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something — something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.

I question his assertion that, “I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something.” What is the act of not disclosing, or deflecting the question when asked, if not hiding? But I’m not going to criticize Cooper for taking his time to come out, not when I’m so glad that he finally did. Obviously I see this as a “the sooner, the better” situation, but the last thing he needs right now is the gay community rejecting him for not coming out sooner.

And that’s not what I’m doing — Anderson Cooper is only a jumping off point for what I’ve long tried to argue. Sexual identity isn’t private. It’s a characteristic as intrinsic as race and should be treated accordingly. Obviously it’s not as simple as that, because we live in a society where a disturbing percentage of people are still ass-backwards enough to view same-sex attraction as an abomination. But catering to bigots isn’t a solution. We don’t tell celebrities of color that they should hide their identity lest racists are turned off to their work.

There’s a difference, of course. You don’t need to come out as a Black man, or a Latina woman. But that’s all the more reason to come out as gay. Unfortunately, not publicly identifying as gay means society sees you as straight — you are essentially “passing.” (Though in the case of the aforementioned Cooper, Bomer, and Parsons, not necessarily well.) That wouldn’t be an issue if we treated sexuality as more of a biological fact: “What color are your eyes?” “How tall are you?” “How do you identify on the spectrum of sexuality?”

I’ll leave the “moral obligation” side of the debate to someone else. (I think Kate Aurthur expresses it well in her debate contribution, “Be a Hero, Not Part of the Problem.”) What I’m advocating is a change in the conversation, a clear distinction between what is and isn’t private. March in the Pride parade or don’t — but accept your sexual identity as a personal characteristic that isn’t going anywhere. The less we talk about it in terms of privacy, the less anyone will care.

Assorted pop culture bitching (5/15/12)

15 May

When I first started this blog, I intended it to be a mix of pop culture musings and the occasional serious business post about feelings. Somehow it became much more of the latter, which is likely because I do enough pop culture writing for actual publications, and because I no longer have a LiveJournal and this is what it sounds like when doves cry.

In the spirit of the former, though, I’m going to try to make “assorted pop culture bitching” a semi-regular feature here. Keep in mind I sometimes go a month or two without blogging. If I manage to churn out one of these posts a year, that probably qualifies as semi-regular.

This particular set of complaints is horror-themed. Boo, etc.

The Paranormal Activity series
I just finished watching Paranormal Activity 3, which was — like the previous installments — annoyingly frightening. Not frightening in the sense that I’m going to have to sleep with the lights on tonight (I always fall asleep to The Golden Girls, anyway), but frightening in that I jumped several times.

“Annoyingly” because these are cheap scares, and they are the same in every Paranormal Activity movie. These films are not without merit: the first was the closest we’ve come to Blair Witch Project since, uh, Blair Witch Project. And there’s something particularly effective about scenes of mundanity (people sleeping, chattering on about bullshit) punctuated with loud bangs and creepy shit happening.

But “effective” doesn’t mean “good.” Once the novelty wears off, we’re left with reiterations of the same concept, and that pisses me off. There was more creativity in the Saw series, which — while often uniquely terrible — at least gave us different deaths each go-around. I keep watching Paranormal Activity movies because I half-expect them to try something new. Will I ever learn?

Probably not. Look, I don’t mind sitting through 90 minutes of people sleeping and occasionally being thrown into walls once a year, but if you want to actually impress me, find something new to do with the found-footage horror genre. At this point, we’re basically over it, because we get how it works. We’ll jump, and then we’ll shrug it off. There is unique work to be done with first-person perspective. It’s just not happening in this series.

Zombie apocalypse guides
Today I got a press release about a new zombie apocalypse guide. I’m not going to link to it, because I refuse to encourage this behavior. This was (or should have been) a single-use idea. Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide is brilliant, because it follows the form of actual survival guides and gives it a fun, supernatural twist.

Treating the horror world with sincerity was a somewhat novel concept at the time, and Brooks’ execution is perfect. It’s hilarious, because you’re reading a how-to guide on an impossible situation, but it’s also a little bit scary — some tiny part of you can’t help thinking, “Wait, but what if…?” Brooks’ novel World War Z works in a similar fashion. I highly recommend both.

But seriously, fuck the knock-offs. We can stop talking about how to survive the zombie apocalypse now. There will never be a zombie apocalypse. I am not sure of most things, but I’m willing to bet on that. If I’m wrong — well, if I’m wrong I’ll be torn apart by the undead, which is at least as bad as hearing you say, “I told you so.” It’s just such an absurd concept to keep milking, and nothing anyone does will stop feeling derivative.

I guess part of me is also annoyed by the way these persistent guides remove the mystery from the supernatural. It’s fun to do every once in a while: tell me how to stop a werewolf, or the best way to ward off vampires. But when you treat this as an actual genre with new, increasingly mechanical installments, you dilute supernatural fiction as a whole. Find a way to make zombies scary again, or move on to mummies.

Horror on television
I would love to see a good horror TV series, but I recognize that’s probably impossible. There are a lot of limitations to the form — on a practical level, a smaller screen size makes it tougher to scare your audience. Also, most shows won’t kill off major characters, so there’s not the same sense of foreboding. And violence, while not essential to all horror, is restricted on non-cable networks.

Still, TV horror could be better. I loved the sequence in the season finale of The Vampire Diaries in which Alaric stalked Rebekah (just smile and nod, non-fans), because it felt like I was watching a slasher movie. On a smaller scale, sure, but the set-up, cinematography, and direction all worked together to give the scene a horror movie feel. More of that, please.

The X-Files used to do it pretty well. But Supernatural is the closest thing we have to The X-Files now, and aside from the fact the current season is awful, it’s just not scary. The pilot was to some extent, so why doesn’t the show try for that anymore? American Horror Story attempted it, but mostly ended up being really gross. I will give the show props for (SPOILER ALERT) killing off essentially every character in the first season. The stakes were high, at least.

One of my silly dreams that I don’t often admit is the creation of a horror anthology series, like Tales From the Crypt. (I’ve seen some episodes of Masters of Horror. Meh.) Perhaps horror doesn’t work episodically: colossal disappointment The River was largely done in by unfortunate pacing and commercial breaks. Anyway, if someone wants to finance Peitzman Presents or whatever, I promise I’ll at least try to creep you out.

Cultural references for dummies

25 Sep

Sometimes I get lazy and tweet a reference to Game of Thrones. People love that shit. And I mean, it’s not always lazy—I often reference Game of Thrones because I love Game of Thrones, but the HBO series (and, to a lesser extent, the books it was adapted from) has become a shortcut to a knowing smile, an appreciative nod, or the kind of instant bonding that only occurs when you’ve both shed tears over Ned Stark. Sorry, spoilers.

I wish I could make a graph, because I’ve made some observations about reference humor on Twitter, and how the hell else am I supposed to express myself? This is why I should have paid attention in AP Stat. Anyway! More obscure references are hit-or-miss: they yield greater joy when people get them, but not everyone has seen Waiting for Guffman enough times to quote it from memory. (To those who haven’t, I just hate you, and I hate your ass-face.) Twitter is a fairly unique audience, though, in that these people tend to be more comedy-savvy—perhaps more pop culture-savvy in general. So you can reference that one scene in Valley of the Dolls, and someone will get it. Probably.

Making references is also a lot less of a gamble online. Worst case scenario, no one stars your tweet (or “likes” your Facebook status, or reblogs your Tumblr post), which, you know, traumatic, but still preferable to in-person blank stares. Reference humor obviously works better on the internet, both because of the audience and thanks to the magic of Google. Comedian Pete Holmes actually has a hilarious bit about how Google has destroyed the sense of mystery in our lives—and he’s totally right. But the act of discreetly Googling something in the privacy of our homes gives us the ability to confirm and thus fully appreciate references. Yes, the “flames on the side of my face” line is from Clue!

But back to Game of Thrones. (Finally, right?) At this point, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve watched it or read the books: talking about Game of Thrones is speaking a common geek language that most everyone on the internet can at least “get.” You might not know all the character names—even if you did watch the show—and you might still be uncertain how to pronounce “Cersei,” but you have some sense of what’s going on. You read a joke about direwolves or winter coming, and you say, “Ohh, Game of Thrones!” And then we all feel a little bit closer, maybe. I don’t know. I feel closer to you.

Maybe these “cultural references for dummies” are cheap, and we should be holding ourselves to a higher standard of reference humor. But I think there’s room for both. I like the idea that there are some things almost all of us grew up with: Star Wars, The Beatles, The Simpsons. (By “all of us,” I mean the people I interact with most on the internet. I bet there are some weirdos out there who only speak Monkees.) Perhaps it does create a false sense of companionship, but what’s the harm in bonding over cultural touchstones?

One interesting side effect, however, is that references reveal how not-unique we are. I guess I’m referring less to the Star Wars talk, because duh, it’s Star Wars. But the ones we thought only a few others would get—the Home Movies quotes we pull out at three in the morning. Obviously you make the reference in the hopes that someone can relate, but isn’t there also delight to be had from relishing in the obscurity? While it’s part that obnoxious hipster notion of being there first, I think there’s a less cynical interpretation—the idea that you are part of a secret club. It’s supposed to be our reward for staying in and watching Daria instead of having a social life.

But I don’t know. There’s also safety in numbers, and I take comfort in the easy references. I mean, thank God you’re not going to grab my arm and ask, “What the fuck are you talking about?” And I’m glad we traffic in both the obscure and the mainstream, because it allows reference humor to be a way of bonding rather than a source of alienation. There are the obvious ones we fall back on, and the ones that engage a more limited audience. It’s also the fact that so many of the mainstream references are to things we’re all really into, things we sincerely believe are great. It’s the anti-snark.

Speaking of, can we talk about Ryan Gosling’s scorpion jacket in Drive? I don’t know if you’ve heard, but that movie is sharper than Valyrian steel.

Inane bullshit

22 Aug

you seem like a good writer, why waste your time writing such inane bullshit?

This is maybe the best backhanded compliment I have ever received. It was a comment on my last post, my (apparently controversial) defense of Kim Kardashian. And while normally I’d let a bitchy remark like that slide, I’d actually like to answer the question. So, “Ben,” you’re in luck! Why do I “waste my time” writing about the Kardashians and vampires and other seemingly useless facets of pop culture?

I’ve encountered various versions of this question over the years. Sometimes it’s not a question so much as a suggestion that I might want to write about something that matters. It usually comes from people who “don’t even own a TV” and only see foreign films and keep the radio perma-tuned to NPR. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to live your life free from pop culture clutter, but just as that’s your prerogative, this is mine. The way some people feel about sports, the way others feel about history—that’s how I feel about mainstream entertainment.

It’s not that I don’t also have an appreciation for the highbrow. (Ask me about Faulkner!) It’s just that I understand the importance of pop culture in our society. I also think that almost anything, however silly or irrelevant you might find it, is worthy of analysis. The Kardashians, for example, strike you as frivolous. A fair assessment, to be sure, but they obviously have a huge effect on the media, television, and angry commenters all over the internet. Doesn’t that make you wonder why? We can probe and expose trends without validating them. We can put our own spin on “inane bullshit.”

Kim K. aside, though, there is plenty of pop culture that I legitimately care about. It’s not all ironic appreciation and musings on popularity. I sincerely care about Buffy comic books and A&E’s Hoarders and the Final Destination series. I don’t necessarily think they’re great, but I do consider them to be worthwhile diversions. To that end, I never worry about wasting my time by indulging in pleasures, guilty or otherwise. As a wise pop musician once said, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”

But am I wasting my time writing about this stuff? Am I wasting your time by suggesting you read it? Of course not. (And if you do think it’s a waste of your time, by all means, don’t read it.) The way I see it, someone has to write seriously about pop culture. It can’t all be E! News briefs and gushy TV Guide reviews. (Which is not to say those outlets are useless either—they just serve a different purpose.) I’ll readily admit that much of my writing has been inspired by the great Chuck Klosterman, who has a broader depth of pop culture knowledge than I could ever hope to attain. I highly recommend you check out his work, even though it’s going to make my blogging look worse in comparison. See, I’m a giver.

Why police what other people are writing, anyway? “Inane bullshit” is a relative concept: one man’s trash is another man’s camp classic. When you tell people to only write about what’s important, you’re ignoring the fact that a writer’s relationship with his subject is likely different than yours. Nothing is inherently a throwaway topic, especially for those of us who relish the opportunity to dig deeper. And luckily for you, Ben, my decision to write about Kim Kardashian doesn’t take away from other writers’ decisions to cover Bachmann’s presidential aspirations or Libya. There’s plenty of room on the internet for all of us.

So, why do I waste my time writing such inane bullshit? Because I’m not wasting my time. Because it’s not inane bullshit to me. But mostly, because I can.