Pop Goes the World

I’m sitting here happily bopping my head to the newest Miley Cyrus single, “Can’t Be Tamed,” which I finally found on iTunes. I have wanted it since seeing the video in this post on Tiger Beatdown. Later, I will be playing it loudly in the car, singing along as I drive, thinking about slut shaming. And that, my friends, is the wonder of pop culture, and why I love it so.

The other night I was gchatting with Dan. I mentioned having to explain sexual napalm to a friend who doesn’t keep up with such things, and then had to explain it to him as well. I still don’t get how it grossed him out. I find the whole story hilarious, especially Simpson getting so upset over it. She’s fine with her father discussing her breasts, but cries to Oprah about a man calling her sexually addictive? After disgusting him, I had to try and justify why I know such things, why following celebrity gossip is important to someone like me who works in Hollywood and is trying to work my way towards writing for TV, why you have to be able to drop a perfect zeitgeist joke in a spec, be able to make that joke in an interview. He wanted to talk about a Mother Jones piece on media being kept away from the BP spill in the Gulf. I’d already read about it on Gawker, heard horror stories from my dad about the ineptitude of the training BP is giving clean up workers, and unnatural disasters are something even I can’t do good banter about. I felt a little judged for preferring to discuss something I can laugh about. Besides, BP keeping the media away is bad, discussion over, next topic, please.

But pop culture and gossip, you can jump all over the place, from shallowest topical to the deep meaning behind it, from How It Makes You Feel to What It Means. When I talk about Lindsey Lohan, I’m not just talking about her latest drunken fall outside a club, I’m talking about if Hollywood would care how fucked up she was if she was able to party and still show up and work like Robert Downey Jr. and Keifer Sutherland back in the Brat Pack days. I resent being forced to know who Heidi and Spencer are, but I wonder why they matter, why people buy magazines if they’re on the cover. We didn’t need “Team Sandra,” t-shirts, because what other team was there? In this fractured world, celebrity gossip is a common denominator, low as it may be. We may not know our neighbors, but we know who Cameron Diaz is dating. And why Kate Hudson is pissed about it.

I’m not saying we should all drop our subscriptions to the New York Times and pick up Us Weekly. Too many people have, and that’s why we have Glenn Back and Sarah Palin. But there’s nothing wrong with having interests on both sides of the news, hard and soft. Like Kate Nash says in the awesome “Mansion Song,” “I read The Guardian, and Glamour.” Being intelligent and well-informed shouldn’t mean you’re shamed by friends for knowing about the latest pop star feud as well.

It also shouldn’t mean that you walk around wearing a shirt proclaiming, “Kill Your TV.” If TV rots your brain you’re doing it wrong. Aristotle’s Poetics applies just as much to Lost as Oedipus. I’m sure there’s already someone writing a paper on Jack Shepard as tragic hero. Does a chronic need to fix things count as a tragic flaw? Hubris was always my favorite in class discussions; you could always make a case for hubris. Some of the best storytelling around is being done in television today, with stories that play out over time like chapters in a novel. Anna Karenina? Great big soap opera. Yet it’s taken seriously and Gossip Girl is something you make excuses for watching. The plots can be ridiculous, and Josh Schwartz needs to learn how to build suspense and stop just churning through story, but the characters and dialogue are sharp, and there are moments of brilliance. Usually involving Chuck and/or Blair, but Little J’s story in the season finale was strong, deep and easy to identify with. Supernatural was fantastic this season, riffing on which is better, Peace or Freedom? And doing it with whip smart one liners. (I’ll say it again, so much better than Lost, even though the finale wasn’t as epic as I’d hoped for in a battle against Lucifer). Now that all my fun shows are done for the season, I’m catching up on Breaking Bad. It’s Shakespearean in its level of setting the train on the tracks to tragedy. Walt made the choice to start cooking meth in the pilot, seeing it as a way to make money for his family as he was dying of cancer, and that mistake has set him on a path he cannot leave, taking Jesse and his family with him. It’s dark, epic, weird, and occasionally sickly comic.

And, just like gossip, TV is something that can bring us together. The Lost finale was all over the media this week, with discussions about the show itself to what it meant to the television industry. We may watch a show alone at home on our couch, but we talk about it with our friends at work or on the internet. I used to be deep into the Television Without Pity boards back in the Buffy days, and I had friends from there I never met in real life but who knew more about me than co-workers. I’m FB friends with a friend’s girlfriend, and she and I may not have much in common, but we gab back and forth about Chuck Bass and how much we’re looking forward to True Blood coming back. Societies are brought together and defined by their popular culture, whether it be the cafe society of fin de siecle Vienna, the great novels of 19th century Russia, or the exploits of rich teens on the Upper East Side of New York today. I don’t see anything wrong with that.


May 29, 2010. Tags: , , . Life, the universe, and whatnot, TV Shows.

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