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There’s something about current pop culture that doesn’t really “pop,” doesn’t seem to engage us unless it’s heavily marketed and promoted. I wonder what can help us find stimulating, challenging work these days.
In fact, what do we want from pop culture beyond entertainment and common ground.
Serdar wrote about what he wanted out of pop culture . He described how really interesting pop culture work isn’t top-down, but feels that it somehow escaped into the so-called mainstream
“I kept coming back to that word, “escaped”. I like it when it feels like some piece of popular culture has gotten away with something. I liked that Blade Runner 2049 was essentially a $200M art film, because we should make more $200M art films, dammit. I liked that David Lynch’s Dune, for all that was wrong with it, also had a lot that was daring and unrepentantly weird.”
This is something I want as well. When I look back on my pop culture interests, I find these things that feel escaped, at that subvert things genuinely really appeal to me. It’s pop culture on fire, that honest lightning that strikes us easily as it’s “pop” and accessible, but also something that twists, advances, or subverts expectation. Good pop culture travels along our common cultural wires, but delivers an unexpected and enlightening shock.
Most of my pop culture tastes tend to this role. My Hero Academia mixtaped American Superheroes and classic Shonen ideas, threw in a liberal dash of body horror, and created a haunted funhouse of action. Farscape was the Adams Family to the Father Knows Best of too much washed out science fiction, subverting tropes while delivering drama with a smirk. One of my most-beloved video games was Dungeonmans, a comedic Roguelike game that deconstructed the tropes of its genre, while delivering an actual good game.
Also those “wow” factors produce social bonding. That sudden, fulminating bond of an escaped wild idea can’t be duplicated.
But a lot of pop culture is pop only in popular, with giant conglomerates churning out cautious product. It’s meant to be popular,its meant to be widespread, but it doesn’t have that jolt, that scruff, that edge that some other projects do. It’s safe on every level, but that also mean’s it’s not challenging. When something big subverts expectations – say Shazam’s embrace of the family idea or Bird’s of Prey’s over the top delivery – we notice.
At some point, I think things are just going to keep grinding away and be less interesting. We’re watching DC capitalize on Snyder Cut mania for . . . well, I don’t know what reasons. In this Pandemic, are we really missing movie theaters and the usual output? Right now our cultural changes are making us massively rethink our media and media choices.
Serdar and I have discussed several times that any big media company who wants to do more needs a skunkworks. You need to try a lot of different things and see which clicks. Hand people low-to-mid budgets and see what you can run with that allows really great and interesting ideas to “escape” from the confines of creators heads – and the current media machines.
But barring that, we creators, we indies, have to be the skunkworks. We’ve got to try wild things. Weve also got to market ourselves and each others. I’m not sure we can count on anyone but us.
(Note: Despite it’s many, many flaws, by I will defend David Lynch’s Dune as being unspeakably, daringly weird and bizarre. People gave him Star Wars money and he made a David Lynch movie.)