Writers who are funny. Writers who have a sense of
humor about the world and themselves.
Writers who love POP Culture. Or at least acknowledge
its existence in our everyday lives. Writers who do not take the easy
dismissive way out (see
X (Tales For An Accelerated Culture)
1991 St. Martins Press
A Novel by Douglas Coupland
In 1991, Douglas Coupland defined Generation
X as the 20-somethings of that decade. Equation: if you were 20-something
in 1991, you are Generation X. Despite the blanket marketing definition,
we can’t all be Generation X.
This man’s POP Culture references are indeed integral
to his characters in a way your English professors never believed possible.
The Coupland dictionary: margins full of cartoons
and new words take his GenX themes mini-multi-media:
LESSLESSNESS – A philosophy
whereby one reconciles oneself with diminishing expectations of
material wealth: "I’ve given up wanting to make a killing
or be a big shot. I just want to find happiness and maybe open a
little roadside café in Idaho."
MUSICAL HAIRSPLITTING – The
act of classifying music and musicians into pathologically picayune
categories: "The Vienna Franks are a good example of urban
white acid folk revivalism crossed with ska."
TELE-PARABALIZING – Morals
used in everyday life that derive from TV sitcom plots: "That’s
just like the episode where Jan lost her glasses!"
Major Themes & Sample Chapters: Our Parents Had
More; Quit Recycling The Past; I Am Not A Target Market; It Can’t
Last; Shopping Is Not Creating; Monsters Exist; Purchased Experiences
Don’t Count; Why Am I Poor; Celebrities Die; I Am Not Jealous;
Adventure Without Risk Is Disneyland; and more!
OTHER SNIPPETS OF BRILLIANCE
"This world has gotten too big – way beyond
our capacity to tell stories about it, and so all we're stuck with are
these blips and chunks and snippets on bumpers."
"And come spring, after the daffodils and the narcissi
have spoken their delicate little haikus to the world and spilled their
cold, gentle scent, their crinkly beige onion paper remnants inform
us that summer will soon be here and that now it is time to mow the
lawn. Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad ever lasts for
very very long."
Life the Movie: How Entertainment
1998, Alfred A. Knopf
by Neal Gabler
I know quite a lot of people who bemoan the state of television
news magazines, the proliferation of entertainment "news" coverage
and the twisted psychology of celebrity worship. As I am a victim of all
of the above phenomenon, I was quite interested to know that a guy wrote
a whole book about it. Why it all came about, how bad it is, whether or
not there is any hope for us tube-addicted souls. The book was great.
It really rocked my world view. I try to tell people about it whenever
these aforementioned topics arise in our conversations. But alas, no one
wants to hear it. Their eyes glaze over or they change the subject People
want to theorize about their pop-culture pain, they don’t want to
read about it…or even really understand it. And when I first started
to think about writing a review for this book, I wanted to regurgitate
all the wonderful ideas and conclusions Gabler put forth. But I refuse
to make it easy for y’all Read the damn book yourself and if I hear
anyone else complain about any of these topics again, I will stop listening.
Here are the things you will learn if you read this book:
Why the "overriding objective" of every living
American…from performers to housewives to CEOs to poets "is
getting and satisfying an audience."
Why "no other society has ever had as many celebrities
as ours or has revered them as intensely. Not only are celebrities the
protagonists of our news, the subjects or our daily discourse and the
repositories of our values, but they have also embedded themselves so
deeply in our consciousness that many individuals profess feeling closer
to, and more passionate about, them than about their own primary relationships."
Why the tension exists between the "custodians
of culture" and popular entertainment.
The religious, evangelical, middle class, historical roots of entertainment.
About "mid-cult" – the seemingly watered
down ‘compromise’ between entertainment and art: "American
culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries found itself in a
state of turbulence, with the middle class promoting its values by modifying
the popular, the lower classes trying to undermine the middle class
by reenergizing the popular; and what remained of the elites declaring
a pox on both their houses."
Why changes in labor conditions, technology and urbanization
empowered the rise of popular entertainment over ‘culture’
and how entertainment transformed American thinking, giving each one
the idea that they could ‘be anything, do anything, dream anything.’
How we became a nation of constant transformations.
The power of images on our attention; The power of images
Why and how journalists invent and fictionalize the
news. How the press write scripts and how actors perform news in such
shows as The Lewinsky Affair and The Falling of the Berlin Wall. How
the press orchestrates pseudo-events in league with public relations
teams for the likes of movie premiers, award ceremonies, demonstrations,
"events that wouldn’t have existed if someone hadn’t
been seeking publicity and if the media hadn’t been seeking something
to fill their pages….The result is to make society one giant Heisenberg
effect, in which the media are not really reporting what people did;
they are reporting what people did to get media attention."
Why the lives of personalities, like car crashes and
skydiving accidents, have become acceptable entertainments.
Why television news magazines use "musical overlays,
ambush interviews, hidden cameras …lingering on emotional breakdowns"
and how "more and more news reports open the way novels do: by
setting the scene or establishing characters."
How and why every life event is staged for TV.
How the ideals and value of motion pictures can be invoked
in the political systems because they have become so engrained into
our own personal belief systems. How movies have become "the model
for public policy.
How artists' personalities have usurped their work….from
Ernest Hemmingway to Elizabeth Taylor.
Why paintings by celebrities like Tony Bennett sell
more than paintings by artists. Why art is just a means to celebrity.
Why fights are staged on Jerry Springer, Crossfire,
The McLaughlin Group and on wrestling.
Why news has become primarily publicity for entertainment. Why celebrity
is "widely regarded as the most exalted state of human existence."
"It was all about celebrity; it was only about celebrity; there
was nothing worth talking about but celebrity. Celebrity was everything."
Why this leads people to feel valueless without celebrity or to do anything
to attain celebrity. Why people feel sanctified when a television camera
The evolution of the celebrity interview from Edward
R. Murrow to Barbara Walters: including her "interrogator’s
anguish, the cocked head, the gentle prodding, the exaggeratedly chatty
'You know what people are going to say' that preceded the most intrusive
How the terms super and mega and uber are used to structure
a "Orwellian celebrity hierarchy."
What the Zsa Zsa Factor is.
How celebrity has become the new religion with "easy
transcendence, celebrity homilies….icons on their way to apotheosis…pilgrimages
to gravesites, shrines, artifacts as if they were relics and seeking
exegeses of the lives as if they are sacred texts."
How Madonna and P.T. Barnum have conceptualized the
art of promotion and performing. How Michael Jackson gives one "the
sense that there is nothing underneath it all: no emotional interconnect….no
social response mechanism…Jackson is more of a Morbius strip than
a person, a solipsist folded into himself…so thoroughly entertainment
that he has almost ceased being a person altogether."
Why our lives have become all one big show of performing
appearances via fashion, movie-affectations in speech and body language,
and exhibitions of our purchases: "conspicuous consumption, in
which everyone acquired primarily to show everyone else what he or she
had acquired." How Martha Stewart sells the art of ‘performing
And finally, whether our life delusions are helpful
or harmful? Is it fraud or an acceptable strategy for genuine happiness?
Finally, I would like to say that this book had special
resonance for me as a struggling poet…it made it crystal clear to
me why poets have such a hard time getting an audience for their voice,
what historical, cultural and personal forces confront them in their bid
to be heard in America. Gabler speaks of the statistical ‘cocktail
party effect’ where in order to get heard at a party, one must talk
ever more loudly, prompting everyone else to do the same until there is
finally cacophony or meaninglessness. Do you really want your life to
be about that?
By dissecting the early American ideals, class struggles
and most poignantly, our own neurosis about being seen, heard and our
futile attempts to thwart anonymity, I was able to finally clarify my
values, my goals and thereby reclaim my personal identity. All this and
keep watching South Park, too!
Why We Watch: Killing The Gilligan
1996, Simon & Schuster
by teletherapist Dr. Will Miller
Why! Oh, why didn’t I listen to MSAVAR51 on Amazon.com
Customer Comments before adding this item to my shopping cart??? "While
the book offers some fascinating and insightful looks at TV shows, TV
characters and our society in general, one must sift through some overworked
and tired attempts at humor." So true, MSAVAR51. So very true.
Miller is only good in small doses like expert sound-bites
in a newspaper or Nick At Nite commerical blurbs. Paradoxically, he makes
you want more. But more is bad. The problem is that Miller doesn’t
take himself seriously enough, not seriously enough to be helpful and
certainly not seriously enough to be funny. But let’s focus on the
positive, shall we?
Miller’s moments of insight come usually when
dissecting something we, the TV audience, have only subliminally scanned
in our normal TV viewing, such as the issue of why Rob Petrie trips
over the ottoman in the beginning credits of every episode of The
Dick Van Dyke show. "The fact that he trips over the ottoman
on the way into his home betrays a discomfort about himself. Who placed
the ottoman there? Was it Laura, unconsciously angry at Rob’s
devotion at work? Might it have been his son Richie, also wanting more
attention from his Dad? Or is it possible Rob is really tripping himself?"
Miller did make me laugh one or two times, once while
making a half-decent stab at analyzing the complex character of Scoobie
Doo. "This animal is in perpetual terror for his life…
In essence Scoobie is ever crying out, "We will die! I cannot pretend;
I see too much!"
And I must admit Miller did illuminate some subconscious
angst I have been harboring in my heart for over ten years about my
conflict vis a vis Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. I have always secretly
sympathized with Sergeant Carter and despised the goofish Gomer. Never
understanding why, I kept my awful revelations to myself. As it turns
out, I wasn’t alone. Miller says Gomer "is a simpleton who
ruins almost every task assigned to him. While humorous to some degree,
the reality is that Gomer refuses to be accountable for his responsibilities.
A consistent bungler, her forces the system to work around his ineptitude….
Volatile Sergeant Vince Carter has scarce tolerance for Gomer. He rightly
senses that there is something false and manipulative about Gomer’s
famed inadequacy….He suspects that Gomer, behind his shield of
naïve innocence, is actually someone who unconsciously chooses
to fail. And this in not acceptable."
I also kind of believe Millers theory that we are all
three stooges: "We all have three stooges within ourselves. First,
there is the ‘Moe within.’ He is the assertive dimension…compelled
to lash out aggressively…Then there is the ‘Larry within.’
Larry is the often-slapped man, the victim of Moe’s enraged lashing
out…. This is the unconscious voice that blames the self for all
the difficulties we encounter…And we all have a ‘Curly within.’
Curly is the chaotic, out of control man. He represents the psychotic
dimension of the self that cannot manage life…. Each of us fears
this ‘Curly-part.’…. Remember, separately they are
stooges, but collectively, they are a fused, healthy individual."
If only this book was packed with all the juicy, provocative
commentary as above, I could truly recommend it. All I can say is that
if the topics above really intrigue and whet your appetite for more such
illuminating TV psychology, don’t buy this book! You’ll only
be frustrated and disappointed because it just ain’t there.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll
Never Do Again
by David Foster Wallace
Essays! Yes, you, too, can enjoy essays. Be assured,
Wallace takes subjects that would bore Alan Greenspan and instead spins
witty yarns about Tennis and David Lynch.
Contents: Derivative Sport In Tornado Alley (essay on
tennis and tornadoes in the Midwest); E Unibus Pluram: Television and
US Fiction (a must for irreverent Pop Culture writers); Getting Away
From Pretty Much Already Being Pretty Much Away From It All (hilarious
essay about the Illinois State Fair); Greatly Exaggerated (dry bit about
the definitions of authorship but he crosses the line from being engaging
to becoming an academic show-off); David Lynch Keeps His Head (deep,
heavy with obscure Lynch references. Difficult for the Lynchless but
worth it for section 9a.) Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional
Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff About Choice, Freedom, Discipline,
Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness (only lightly touches on the
paradigm stuff, mostly a dry tennis essay); A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll
Never Do Again (witty observations from DFW, the Cruise Ship Expeditioner).
Way too many footnotes, but his are the best in the
He’s superhumanly perceptive with his metaphors
and similes. His sentences are long, fresh and musical.
OTHER SNIPPETS OF BRILLIANCE
(from the David Lynch essay)
"Quentin Tarantino is interested in watching somebody’s ear
getting cut off; David Lynch is interested in the ear."
(from the Cruise Ship essay)
"I have seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have
seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled what
suntan lotion smells like spread over 2100 pounds of hot flesh. I have
been addressed as "Mon" in three different nations. I have
watched 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen
sunsets that looked computer-enhanced and a tropical moon that looked
more like a sort of obscenely large and dangling lemon than like the
good old stony US moon I’m used to."
1990 University of Pittsburgh Press
Poems by David Wojahn
Swell poems in sections one and three but the
second part, nicknamed the rock & roll sonnets, is, well, the centerpiece.
Arresting POP Culture poems. Funny, critical, stirring.
Charmingly, Wojahn shows authentic characters as they navigate through
the funhouse of fame and celebrity.
An example: "At Graceland With A Six-Year
Old, 1985" –
"Like the living room’s wall of mirrors
– rigged immensity,
where Josh makes faces, grinning at me."
Sample of Sonnet Contents:
Woodie Guthrie Visited by Bob Dylan: Brooklyn State
New York, 1961
"Mystery Train": Janis Joplin Leaves Port
Arthur for Points West, 1964
The Assassination of Robert Goulet as Performed
by Elvis Presley:
Turbulence: "Exile on Main Street" Tour,
("It’s the stones in here! The FUCKING
Malcolm McLaren Signs the Sex Pistols, London,
Elvis Moving a Small Cloud: The Desert near Las
Francis Ford Coppola and Anthropologist Interpreter
Teaching Gartewienna Tribesmen to Sing "Light My Fire",
Philippine Jungle, 1978
Sandbox, Manchu Nails: Brian Wilson in His Living
("the opulent fish tank of MTV")
The Assassination of John Lennon as Depicted by
the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum, Niagara Falls, Ontario, 1987
(the first funny poem associated with Lennon’s
death. It’s what he would have wanted.)
As you can see his specialty is dead
rock stars. This can become a little macabre.
No Amy Grant poems here and for that I’m sorry.
Read any good pop culture books lately?
Tell us about 'em.
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