07th Mar2011

5 Corners of Pop Culture That I Don’t Understand

by Will

Yeah, so I go around boasting that I know so much about pop culture, but even I have my blind spots. For example, I’m not much of a movie guy. I’ve never been one for going to movies, and I used to just tell myself “I’ll catch it when it comes on TV”. As a result, there are tons of movies that have become modern day classics (Titanic, Shrek, Avatar) that I’ve never seen. So, don’t recruit me for your trivia team if you need a Movie Guy. Outside of movies, though, there are 5 particular areas of pop culture that I just don’t “get”.

Now, I’m not exactly trying to be controversial, but I just know I’m opening the gates for a flame war. That said, I’m not necessarily saying there’s anything wrong with these five things, but they just don’t really hold much meaning for me. If you can think of a way to change my mind, or can point out great aspects that I’ve missed, then I certainly invite you to do so. This isn’t a bash session, but rather a cry for help: help me understand the big deal about these things.

1) The Big Lebowski – I’ve had people tell me “You don’t get The Big Lebowski ’cause you’re black.” Um, OK…That’s never really affected my interpretation of movies before (although Bamboozled did make me hate white people for a day or so). Since college, I’ve had people tell me that Lebowski is the most quotable movie ever, while extolling the virtues of The Dude. It was an entertaining movie, quirky in the vein of Fargo. It’s a fine movie, but I don’t get the *phenomenon*.  I don’t get why there are action figures of crew-cut John Goodman and Jeff Bridges looking like stoner Jesus in a bathrobe. I don’t get the uptick in White Russian consumption.

In terms of pop culture clout, The Big Lebowski has basically become the White Scarface. Scarface has become somewhat inspirational in urban circles, especially to a generation of rappers. Sure, Tony Montana ends up dead, but before that, he came from nothing and ended up having everything. With that, you can kind of understand why he has become the poster child for those who also come from very little. On the flip side, I don’t see anything aspirational about the story of The Dude. They occupy the same levels of pop culture, for different demographics, for different reasons. Maybe those folks were right: I understand Scarface, but I don’t understand The Dude. Maybe it is because I’m black…

2) The Muppets – Don’t get me wrong: I love Muppet Babies, and the Muppets version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is one of my favorite Christmas songs. That said, I just never really got into the movies. In college, I spent time around a sketch comedy group, and that was the first time I learned how much comedy circles revered the Muppets. Maybe I haven’t seen the right movies, and I’m missing out. I just don’t get the appeal. In some ways, I think I may have the same issues with the Muppets that I have with Alvin & The Chipmunks – I can suspend my disbelief, but I have a problem with these “creatures” coexisting with humans. The same way that I’m slightly disgusted by the idea that humans girls have the same kind of crushes on 4 foot singing chipmunks as they would on Justin Bieber, I also can’t really deal with the Muppets gallivanting around the “real world”. Sure, it works for Sesame Street, but I don’t see why adults are entertained by this, unless they’re high. And yes, do understand the irony of this statement coming from the guy who still watches Power Rangers.

3) Jersey Shore – Sorry, folks. Watching the premiere of Jersey Shore felt like a chore. Everyone who knows my love of bad television thought that I’d simply fall in love with the show, but they were wrong. I think I may have a different threshold than others. It seems that Jersey Shore is a guilty pleasure for quite a number of young professionals who love the show, but would never admit to it. It also seems that quite a few educated people love tuning in. That’s great. It’s just not my cup of tea. I LOVED the True Life episodes that spawned the show, but I really found nothing likable or engrossing about the cast of Jersey Shore. I did, however, enjoy watching that guy punch the shit out of Snookie ’cause, really, how often do you see something like that?  Jersey Shore is like going to the zoo – people feel superior as they ogle the “dumb” animals, but that shit eventually gets old and you find yourself looking for the hot dog cart.

4) Harry Potter – They’re cute books. I get that. They’re not, however, a worthy basis of what has become a literary juggernaut. Let’s rewind a bit, though. I missed the genesis of the Harry Potter phenomenon because I was somewhat off the grid. I went to Summer College at Cornell the summer that the first book started picking up steam. Now, if you’re not familiar with Cornell or Ithaca, its almost like its own little world. Generally, you have to really seek out information from the “outside world”, or else you won’t know of anything outside the Ithaca city limits. These were the early days of the internet, and there was no social networking just pushing information at you. When I got back to civilization, I started hearing rumblings of this “Harry Potter” thing, but really didn’t know what folks were talking about.

A big reason that I was resistant to Harry Potter was that I didn’t like the caliber of the early adopters. Sure, everyone reads Harry Potter now, but in the beginning, it was a certain group of people: the kids who weren’t allowed to watch TV, who only played with no-name educational toys from mom & pop stores, whose parents drove hybrids. Mainly, Harry Potter was the entertainment of yuppie children, and I hated all that they stood for. I can’t ignore what the franchise has done for literacy, which has actually been a great by-product of the phenomenon. It truly got people into reading, and that’s the one thing I like about it. That said, I’ve never found it all that original.

I grew up in a Roald Dahl household, so it was quite obvious when I started seeing his ideas popping up in the Harry Potter books. The extent of most people’s knowledge of Dahl is typically Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, and maybe Matilda or James & The Giant Peach. If you’ve more than just those, however, you’ll see what I’m talking about. It angered me that people felt that Rowling’s ideas were so groundbreaking, when I’d seen many of them before. For the people who saw where I was coming from, they still brushed me off with a “Well, nothing’s original anymore” or “Well, Rowling did a great job putting all of those Dahl concepts into one series”. Whatever. Like I said, they’re cute books, but I don’t see why they took the world by storm.

5) Star Wars – Basically, this comes down to the fact that I grew up with the philosophy that “Trekkies Can’t Be Warsies”. I latched onto the late 80s Star Trek revival, and that was where I put my focus. Unlike the other things I’ve mentioned, I “get” Star Wars, but I just don’t have the patience for it, nor do I have the desire to learn.

Star Wars just feels downright inaccessible to me. A few years ago, the only stuff that was “canon” consisted of 3 movies (and a holiday special that no one likes to acknowledge). Later on, there were 3 more movies, which was still manageable, especially since the “real fans” hated the new films and flipflopped on whether they acknowledged the events portrayed in them. Then, however, there was the Clone Wars cartoon, which bothers me because you can’t get attached to any characters, knowing they’re ALL gonna die. Then, there’s all the Expanded Universe stuff (which may not be considered canon, but is still held in high regard amongst the hardcore fans) and don’t get me started on all the comic series. So, at the end of the day, it’s still just 6 movies and some shows, but it feels so much more daunting. In terms of fandom, I like to go ALL IN. You can’t just tell me, “Oh, there are these books, but they don’t count.” If they exist, I’m going to feel like I need to read them and decide for myself if they count. And it’s just too much. The same argument could be made for Star Trek, but I got in early on that stuff, while Star Wars got rolling before I was a gleaming “surprise” in my father’s eye. I know it’s all psychological, but it just feels like being a Star Wars fan requires too much damn legwork. If you’ve got an “Star Wars in 3 Minutes” primer you want to send me, I’m all ears. Otherwise, I don’t think I’m ever gonna have that soft spot for The Force that so many of you seem to have.

So, there you have it. I hope we can all still be friends. I didn’t set out to bash the stuff that people hold dear, but I simply wanted to give my impression of these things. I welcome you to try to convince me otherwise, as I will admit that I do feel a bit left out at times. However, I fear that I’ll just get a bunch of comments like “Ur a fuckin’ moron!” Oh well, at least you’re leaving comments!