Pop Goes The Culture

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

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.)

Steven Savage

Her Eternal Moonlight Is Here!

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Her Eternal Moonlight,” the look at female fans of Sailor Moon that my co-author Bonnie have been working on for 16 months is out. Available in both ebook and physical format! You’ve been hearing about it – now it’s done and it’s something I’m proud of!  Seriously, take a look at this cover by the amazing Jennifer Cox.


Yes, it’s finished! After interviews, writing, rewriting, editing, and more this “psychological travelogue” of how Sailor Moon affected her female fans in North America is finished. So now it’s time to let the world know (and by the way, you can help with that, start sharing the links)

This was a pretty amazing experience; interviewing people, understanding their stories, looking for patterns, weaving it into a whole. It was also a humbling one as the Sailor Moon media phenomena changed lives – and the whole 90’s DiC dub was far more life-altering than I’d expected. Doing a book on how a TV show changed others changed me, to be frank.

So it’s done. Bonnie and I will be looking to speak on it at various events, depending on our schedules – and we’ve already got an idea for another pop culture impact book. We just won’t start that one until 2017 because we’ve got this one, and I kinda need a rest . . .

– Steve

Leonard Nimoy, Pop Culture

Leonard Nimoy passed away February 27th, 2015.

You could watch the world react on the internet, in posts, on Twitter, on Facebook. You could feel the pain, the loss, the appreciation, the respect. The impact of his life was on display in the impact of his passing on people.

I spent hours almost crying, starting and stopping.

Nimoy was a fascinating person. Actor, director, photographer, poet, artist, and all around decent person. He’s remembered, of course, for his portrayal of Spock, the man who made the human alien and the alien human, but he was a man of great depths.

“The internet’s grandfather” as I heard i put several times.

But in the end, Spock.

Spock the geek icon before we had a word for it. The unexpected sex symbol of Star Trek, to judge by man tweets I’ve seen and conversations I had. Spock the half-alien, bridge between worlds, part of neither, yet an observer with clever insights.

He’s a reminder. Pop culture is important. It matters. He mattered.

Pop Culture Maters

Pop culture matters. Star Trek didn’t just break ethnic and racial boundaries, even if carefully or half-heartedly at times, it also presented different heroes. Sure there was Kirk, the smart but cocky guy. There was Bones, the emotional and dedicated doctor. Scotty had a passion for machines that bordered on romantic.

Spock gave us the idea of intellectual hero; second in command (and in a few cases it seemed the power behind the chair), scientist, philosopher, and warrior when needed. The nuance of his halfbreed character was powerful and deep.

You could see the internet mourn, and read stories of people inspired by this character.

And all this came from a show that lasted three seasons that many would have written off. A show that had ambition, but probably seemed silly to many when it began.

Nimoy mattered. Because Spock mattered. Because pop culture can touch us like anything else and make us better people.

The Galaxy Quest Phenomena

The movie Galaxy Quest embodied this importance better than anything else. If you haven’t seen it, essentially the cast of a Trek-like show discovers they inspired an entire alien civilization. At first it seems ridiculous, but then at time you realize how much this inspiration matters to people in the real world.

Found a whole civilization on Star Trek? How many of our dreams of space travel and a better world come from Trek, or related and similar tales. How many ideas have to be dreamed up before they become real?

Sure I’m not going to lionize much of pop culture. It’s often shallow, disposable, pandering, or stupid. Now admittedly there’s a time for those things, but it’s not often deep, and at times is deliberately shallow.

Of course, how may classics of the past were seen as throwaways or just done to make a quick buck? Classic may be pop culture once we’ve had a time out.

Pop culture, that weird, shallow, strange, casual thing also seems to spawn greatness. Maybe it’s because there’s so much of it, or because freed of the constraints of what we think is good, we sometimes make the great. Or maybe it’s just the monkeys and typewriters things.

And because pop culture is popular, broad, wide, it’s something we can all share. It’s something we can relate to. It’s something we can use, be inspired by, and communicate with. All flaws aside, it has its use.

Tell anyone fifty years ago that the world would mourn an actor who played a half-human alien on a TV series with a questionable future in the 60’s and they probably wouldn’t believe it.

Pop culture’s power is often . . . “well, you never know.”

It matters.

Taking It Seriously The Right Way

In the end, pop culture is something I think we treat with extremes. Heated rivalries and outright personal wars over games and shows. Brushing off attempts to explore real issues. Writing off talented people as one-shots. Creating elaborate plans that remove the soul of the property.

But when I saw the reaction to Leonard Nimoy passing, the power he had, it reminded me that Pop culture, like anything else is a tool. Use it right, it’s powerful.

It is broad and accessible.

It often lacks pretension to greatness which removes pressure.

It has churn, so greatness may arise.

It lets people make money, even if crazy budgets are worrying me.

I’m all for great literature and serious in-depth works. I want more of it. But let’s remember what pop culture can do.

That way when we create it, we create it with eyes open,to maximize what is good.

That way when we consume it we approach it appropriately.

That way we can have fun and think deeply – often at the same time. Trust me, I’ve been inspired by utter crap.

Let’s remember what Trek did, what Spock meant, what Leonard achieved. Every tear is a reminder of what pop culture can do.

Even now in his passing, I’m learning something from him. And as I type this I’m holding back tears.


– Steven Savage