Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is pop culture reaching a critical mass?

Geek comedian Patton Oswalt thinks so:
...Waiting for the next issue, movie, or album gave you time to reread, rewatch, reabsorb whatever you loved, so you brought your own idiosyncratic love of that thing to your thought-palace... None of that’s necessary anymore. When everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole’s worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we’re all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted. We’re on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever. I know it sounds great, but there’s a danger...
One blogger's rebuttal:
Surely, the constant obscure pop references we see on Family Guy will get old (...or has already become severely old). But having this incredible mine as an inspiration is a good thing - after all, every great burst of creativity has relied on something before it. The Beatles didn't form in a vacuum - they had blues and rockabilly to spark the fire. Indeed, the Renaissance came about because of a rediscovery of Classical Greek and Roman culture. Get my drift?
This is only partially related to film, but it certainly has relevance here. A couple of things: it's been true for a long time, but it's even more true today that the most successful pop culture trends cut across many different forms of media - but this isn't always a good thing. If you don't like something popular, or just plain aren't interested in it, you're out of luck, because multimedia platforms make it harder to ignore these days. I've never read any of the Harry Potter books, but I can still tell you almost all of the basic facts about the character. There's an unspoken implication that to be an "otaku" is to be a fan of most, if not all, aspects of geekdom, and that's simply not true; at least, not in my case. (Yes, I realize I'm probably in the minority in this respect. I'm used to it.) And as long as there are people who don't feel the need to immerse themselves in every new geek trend to come along, I doubt there'll be any danger of a creative vacuum being formed.

Also, it may be true that we've become a society of otakus, but let's be honest: some geeks will always be cooler than others. This has been documented - and this doesn't even take into account aspects of fandom that aren't considered "geeks" in the traditional sense, like sports fans. They're every bit as obsessive, yet they've always been considered more socially acceptable. No one makes fun of someone who knows Derek Jeter's lifetime batting average against left-handed pitchers versus right-handed ones (but then, sports are a more "manly" activity than, say, role-playing games. But let's not go there). Oswalt acknowledges non-traditional geeks in his article.

I think there's some merit to Oswalt's argument on the surface of it, but he overlooks the fact that not all otakus think alike, or regard their avocations, or even each other, with the same degree of seriousness. As long as that distinction exists, there'll always be room for new avenues of creativity.

I'd be very interested in hearing other perspectives on this.

- I called Black Swan ridiculous beyond pure camp. But is it, in fact, campy? (Slate)
- Another Year star Lesley Manville benefits from the film's success. (The Wrap)
- Kevin Smith provides an alternative for doing interviews for his horror movie Red State. (Vulture)
- The lineup for Roger Ebert's revival of At The Movies is set. (MCN)
- Veteran gay actor Richard Chamberlain says other gay actors should stay in the closet. (THR)
- An Austin theater troupe loosely adapts movies for the stage. (Cinematical)
- Old movie palaces find new life as multimedia venues. (NYTimes)

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