Why Pop Culture?

This year I’ve made a weekly feature of talking – in whole or in part – about something I can nebulously file as ‘media.’ So far that’s been focused on TV and movies, but there’s also been a web show.

I asked myself why I’m doing it – and it started out pretty simply. I wanted to make it weekly just to make sure if I had three or four things to say about a piece, or I wanted to talk about TV shows and media, I needed to space them out. The original purpose of this slot was to make sure I didn’t just go on long tears about TV shows as I netflix binged them and kept me from just making them all shoot-from-the-hip affairs. This formula worked out well and yet, even when I had a lot to say about a series, I could still at least spread it out and maybe do, say, a Theme Week.

At the same time, the question has been going on in my head of: Why do this stuff? Why do I talk about and think about TV shows like this? I started out by mocking Blacklist for its own internal lack of consistency, and how that was at odds with its attempts to present itself as a series about a Secret. Then I looked at ideas that informed the characters of Leverage in an attempt to encourage people to check out that series.

Why bring the tools of critical analysis to bear on this media that is, in many cases, designed to be meaningless? Is it a waste of time or effort? Is it a disservice? And am I just asking this question as a way to throw shade on the friends, often friends involved in doing their own analysese, who try to shut down conversations like this, as if their lack of interest in what I’m doing is, itself, a reason I should stop doing it?

First of all, to answer the first point, media people like is incredibly worthy of critical engagement. There’s this illusion that Things that Matter exist in a different space to Things That People Enjoy, and it just so happens that this tends to be seen as a way to separate Serious People from Not Serious People. This is a huge problem, really: People are left with the idea that ‘worth analysis’ and ‘enjoyable’ are literally at odds with one another. I believe in a world of play – where what we like doing is worth doing, and therefore, the things we like doing are given meaning by dint of being what we like doing.

Second, it’s kind of unhealthy to think that the stuff you like is above being considered. There’s this double standard where people want their things to be above or beyond criticism, want to act as if anyone critical of it can’t possibly know what they’re doing. I love Transformers, but I know it’s dumb. That it’s dumb though doesn’t mean it’s not full of all the same things as other media. It has messages, it has ideology, it has base assumptions. What’s more, we all have stories of ideas and philosophies we framed that we live in our day to day that we can trace back to media, even media that we consumed just for fun.

This year I wrote a – reasonably popular – twitter thread titled DRAGONBALL IS DUMB, and talked about a problem of the scaling in the storytelling. This then got popular enough that I got to watch the exact same argument being made at me, repeatedly, and sometimes including people who retweeted me, which I feel mortified by because the people who retweet me shouldn’t have to suffer this sort of nonsense.

A recurrent theme in the criticisms was:

  • You’re wrong and your criticism doesn’t matter
  • You’re right and your criticism doesn’t matter
Don’t be this doofus

Now look I know I made the twitter thread as a goof. It featured a graph joke for crying out loud… and my starting point was Dragonball is Dumb. And it seemed everyone agreed with me, but really didn’t like that I said that.

I mean, yeah, that’s the internet.

I’m basically against gatekeepering on both sides. I think these things matter and are worth analysing, and that may mean sometimes I point out that the thing You Love is silly or has silly stuff in it. I may point out a silly thing in Dragonball, and just maybe you’re not the Hot Take Squad you think you are when you try and make the same completely pointless unrelated argument about it afterwards.

Also, I like doing it. Especially because when I do these things, so often I find a really sweet optimism in most of the stuff I bother to look at. Examining a character deeply can be engaging and illuminating. It can show us things about ourselves, or what we notice or remember or value.

I do feel I need a term for it like Game Pile for convenient tagging, though. Still gotta work on that.

Anyway, the articles in this series I wrote this year I was most proud of are Iron Fist Week, The two parts on Miraculous, This Exists: BOB, and the stunning retrospective on MASK.

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