Saturday, September 11, 2010

These Things Matter

"I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like... Books, records, films - these things matter. Call me shallow, but it's the fuckin' truth, and by this measure I was having one of the best dates of my life." -Rob Gordon, High Fidelity

As Chuck Klosterman has bemoaned, many women of my generation think we are in love with John Cusack. When in all actuality we are in love with the fictional Lloyd Dobler. And while I've watched Say Anything a few hundred times, my mature adult love has passed on to the flawed, record store owner Rob Gordon of High Fidelity. That movie is one that I must stop and watch anytime I stubble upon it on TV. I watch it at least once or twice a year. Because it tells the truth. It's more than spastic record store employees, the grungy Cosby sweater and Rob's improbably sexy near mullet, Nick Hornby has written characters who love music, books and films with an abiding focus and passion. Nick Hornby gave me permission to not be embarrassed about my love of pop culture. He gave me permission to be a pop culture snob. And I am. I think Mad Men is the best show on TV. I prefer Wallace Stegner to Dean Koontz. I'd rather listen to Rilo Kiley than Train. But I also get a visceral pleasure from watching The Situation mack on a transsexual lady on Jersey Shore. I never finished Moby Dick, because it was long and boring. I read People magazine online. I've watched Super Bad repeatedly. And I occasionally DVR Bridezillas.  And I don't have to be embarrassed to admit it.

I love movies. I love books. I love TV. And I love music.  These are universal things, I think. Of the four, you probably love at least one. And if you are a close friend of mine, you probably love all four. I will forcefully state that something is seriously quirky, ok just wrong, with you if you don't love at least one of the four. Do these people even exist? Or are they urban legends like Big Foot or the escaped mental patient with a hook hand who stalks teenagers making out in parked cars? Which was probably a story spread by parents to keep daughters from driving out to the woods and getting felt up. Didn't work, did it? Anyway, sorry, sidetracked myself. I could throw in visual art to the group of four, but that generally doesn't fit with the "pop culture" category. Unless you like Thomas Kinkaid or Nagel (and not in the hipster kitschy way,) and I refuse to discuss that Kinkaid guy as "art."

These things: books, movies, music and TV add color and vibrancy to our lives. We escape. We see the world through someone elses' eyes. We laugh. We learn valuable quotes that somehow become the language of our families (my family isn't the only one that does this, I assume?) We relate to other people, understand their stories and somehow understand ourselves better. Sometimes we even learn. And the laughing again, that's key. The artists, shows, and movies you choose to spend time with say something about who you are and how you view and interact in the world. Not everything about you. I'm not trying to postulate that your enjoyment of Wipe Out! says all there is to know about you as a person. I hope you are more complex than that.  But your pop culture passions reveal some key things about who you are. No, this isn't a Cosmo quiz. But frankly, it might determine whether we are ever going to the movies together. This isn't an exact science. I wouldn't dare put everyone who likes Dr. Who into a group and then guarantee they will be or act a certain way. I wouldn't say that everyone who likes According to Jim is a moron, but you might have to prove me wrong. Does anyone actually watch that show?

Instead of mocking you because you enjoy watching daytime soap operas so much that you refer to Ridge and Thorn as close family friends, I'll mock myself instead. That's nicer, right?

So in honor of High Fidelity, here are my top-seven (sorry, Rob, five wasn't quite enough) pop culture loves and hates and what I think they say about me as a person:

 1. Love-Thursday Night Shows on NBC: I am loyal and committed to shows once I start watching. If I've watched you for a season, I'm in for the long haul. It takes a lot for me to give up on a show. I want to know what happens next. Even if it's ER and you know that a helicopter is going to crash land on Dr. Romano and that is insane and I will be yelling at the TV while watching. I can't give up. In fact, ER is one of the rare few where I eventually said, "Who are all these new characters?" and "Is that really a tank driving up the middle of this Chicago street?" and I stopped watching. I am so faithful that since the era of the Cosby's and Keaton's, I have been an avid viewer of the NBC Thursday night line up. Through many horrible shows like that Cristina Applegate thing or the Jonathan Silverman retread, I lock in and keep watching. 30 Rock and The Office haven't been quite up to par the last season or two, but have I given up? Nope, can't do it. I keep thinking, the next episode will be better, it has to be, and sometimes it is. Though I did stop watching Private Practice after two seasons. But that's ABC so it doesn't count. I believe this indicates that I am a loyal and steadfast person, but I will loudly criticize those I love, and I talk to the TV too much.

 2. Hate-These Songs: Back to the Hotel, Word Up, What's Up: I hate that repetitive jazzy sax solo in Back to the Hotel by N2Deep and I can't stand the computerized voice of Cameo in Word Up (though points for using LeVar Burton and rocking a red shiny codpiece in the video.) These songs make me cringe and change the station immediately. They actually hurt my ears. What's Up by 4 Non Blondes is even worse, my ears bleed a little if I hear more than the first two bars of that song. And the top hat and dreadlocks, ugh. Even finding the YouTube link for What's Up pained me.  I believe that this indicates that I am a, yeah, I got nothing on this one, I just hate these songs, a lot, but on the plus side who doesn't find plastic codpieces amusing in a modern context?  Maybe that says something about me as a person.

 3. Love-Indie Sad Bastard Music that isn't that indie, except to maybe my parents: I like introspection and quirkiness and pain and sorrow and inside references and killer lyrics and am very nearly goth except for my sunny disposition and happy marriage and pink lip gloss. I like discovering non radio hits. I like my new music dealer, Jon Sands. I like oom-pa-pa music mixed with angsty yearning, I like songs about change and struggle and love and family strife. I love a solid pop riff, but I like a little substance in my music. Substance and story, and creativity and something new that makes me linger and think and wonder, what does it mean? what does life mean? and is this song actually about what I think it's about? I also like to feel slightly superior to you when I mention my favorite band and you have no idea who I'm talking about. I am not very cool, but for that split second, right before I feel like a smug old hipster, I feel cool, at least cooler than you. I believe this indicates that I still have a complex about being too straight laced and rule following to ever have been cool. So I make lame jokes about how uncool I am, in hopes that that makes me slightly cooler.  I am jealous that you don't care that you aren't cool. I wish I didn't care. Maybe I'll grow out of it.

 4. Love-The Royal Tennenbaums, Amelie and An Education: These movies are perfectly crafted. They have lovely costumes, every inch of each scene has been painstakingly hand crafted into set pieces that support and explain the characters. These movies are witty and different and not totally mainstream. One has subtitles, one has an illicit romance, one has gypsy cabs and a 375th St. YMCA. They all cleverly combined love, pain, and growth, and each of the main characters came out changed in the end. I believe that this indicates that I like independent films, but not the really dark difficult foreign ones, unless they are whimsical and French. And that I hope I am at least a little witty and can actually change my bad habits in under two hours.

 5. Love-East of Eden and Little Bee: I like to read. I probably average a book a week. And of the 38 or so books I've read this year, the two stand outs are East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Little Bee by Chris Cleave. I read East of Eden my freshman year in college. I remember liking the language and the story. But rereading it as an adult I got so much more out of it. I'm not a big crier, but for some reason this book just made me feel raw with my emotions constantly on the surface. I felt exhausted when I finished reading it, exhausted and sad but satisfied. Little Bee was much the same way. And they were both beautifully written by two authors with masterful control of language and character development. I believe this indicates that I am a book nerd with a serious case of the introspections.

 6. Love and Hate-Anne Rice books, love, until she turned all religious, hate: In high school and college, I  devoured every Anne Rice book I could get my hands on. The Witching Hour is still one of my favorite books. The gothic drama, the velvet and vampires, the overheated lusty revenge,the supernatural, glamorous European and Southern settings, Anne Rice was a skilled writer in her genre. Compelling, engaging and a bit  fluffy. But then she wrote a book from the perspective of Jesus as an adolescent and she lost me. Honestly she lost me a little earlier with Violin, but that Jesus book did it for me. She had always written about morality and often included a lot of religious aspects to her novels, but when religion became the main subject in her books, I couldn't enjoy her anymore. I felt like she was trying to convert me through her fiction, and a poorly executed conversion at that. How could a woman who seemed to understand and often embrace the dark side of humanity suddenly turn conservative? How could someone who writes graphic S&M erotica turn her back on decades of her own work? Is it bad that when I heard she had left Christianity last month I was thrilled? Because I thought, hey maybe she'll write something good again. I believe this indicates that I am too judgmental about other people's religious beliefs. As long as you don't try to convert me it's really none of my business, but if it takes over your writing, I'm not buying your books anymore. Now Jesus as a vampire, I might read that book.

 7. Hate-Megan Fox : Every time I see Megan Fox I gag a little bit. She is hot, but seems utterly stupid. She says idiotic things in interviews. She can't act, even when given such wonderful scripts like the Transformers movies. She is very popular simply for being attractive. She, like Sarah Palin, helps reinforce negative stereotypes about women by playing the "I'm not that educated or analytical and that makes me a more real person, not some elitist snob" card. I believe this indicates, that while I am not hot, I am at least a lot smarter than Megan Fox and Sarah Palin, and this makes me feel better about the not as hot part. And being educated and introspective doesn't make me any more or less real than you. Did that just reinforce negative lady stereotypes? Probably.

So what are your pop culture loves? What do you DVR and watch while drinking wine after the kids are in bed? What was the last song you bought on iTunes? And I promise not to make any guesses as to what these choices say about you as a person, you tell me! Personally, I love Kathleen Turner Overdrive, but that may just be me.


Erin said...

I am devoid of pop culture. But my overarching goal now that I am finishing grad school is to have hobbies and read. I will check back with you in a year and hopefully I am more interesting. I have always LOVED that 4 Non-Blondes song. Except I like to voice over "What's Going on" with "F&^*ing A!"


Mary Jo said...

did you know that tom used to play golf as a 12-14 year old w/ wallace stegner? tom claims he cheated and the others called him "two ball stegner." now lives in CA.
i too love ER and have been known to watch junk tv, usually after tom is asleep. i consider the kardashians, dog the bounty hunter and lifetime movies in that category.

kassie lou said...

Erin, I think your version of What's Going on is a serious improvement.

Mary Jo, that is so cool that Tom played with cheatin' Wallace Stegner. Combine that with your mother's Frank Lloyd Wright story and you've made Joe and I both laugh at artists we love! Hilarious.

Shannon M. said...

Pop culture loves...I'm currently watching Mad Men thanks to you. The last song I bought on itunes was either Gladys Knight and the Pips Midnight Train to Georgia or something by Beyonce, who I would definitely call my pop culture love. She makes me run faster. Sex and the City and West Wing might be my all time favorite TV shows. Books...I started telling you about that Tom Wolfe book. I finally finished. If you don't plan on reading it I'll tell you about the end. Its ridiculous.

bethany actually said...

I find it hilarious how little I have in common with most of my good friends when it comes to pop culture, with the possible exception of Dr. Horrible. I don't have particularly strong feelings one way or the other about ANY of the things you listed! I do like the movie The Royal Tenenbaums, but I don't know that I could say I loved it in the way you do.

It's not just you, either. Erin and I have long known that if one of us LOVES a movie, the other one is likely to DESPISE it. We like a lot of the same movies, but we tend to feel strongly about movies in opposite directions.

The one line from your post that resonated with me was about how you like a little substance with your pop music. It made me think of how and why I love love love Barenaked Ladies. Their songs are like a combination of folk music and pop, in that they often tell interesting stories. Sometimes they're about love or longing, like many other pop songs; but just as often they're about a fatal car crash from the perspective of the victim, or a botched bank robbery, or what it's like to be a washed-up boy band member. And they use words like "remuneration" in their lyrics which delights me to no end.

I won't list my DVR line-up for you; I think you're pretty well aware of my love of Chuck, Castle, Bones, Burn Notice, etc. Basically all the geeky spy/cop shows. :-)

(My verification word is "happio!" That made me laugh.)