Saturday, March 14, 2015

Tsk, tsk, tsk: The allure of the scolding pop culture editorial

That thing you enjoy? Well, you shouldn't. Shame on you!

I think I have discovered the truest gauge of success in  America today. You know that your movie, TV show, book, album, game, or podcast is a hit when someone is inspired to write a scolding, humorless pop culture editorial (or SHPCE for short) about it. You'll recognize it instantly when it happens, because the article will be called "The Problem With ______" or "The Trouble With ____." Generally, the objections will be one or more of the following.

  • The thing isn't as good as it used to be. This used to be a much more common complaint, but it has waned in recent years. Why? Well, it requires someone to actually wait a few years, rather than a few weeks, before writing a SHPCE. Where's the fun in that? If you want to get on your high horse and complain about something, you don't want to actually wait around and accumulate years worth of actual evidence, do you? Hell, no! By that time, hundreds of other TV shows, movies, books, and podcasts have already come along and stolen the national spotlight away. The choice, then, is clear. You have to write your SHPCE while the PC in question is still hot. If, by some chance, the PC object in question is still at peak popularity after several years, then you can write this kind of story if you really insist on it. It's an Internet classic, after all.
  • The thing is just derivative of some other, better thing that came before. Now, this takes a little more research, but it can be quite satisfying if you have enough evidence to support your thesis statement. Of course, you can apply this to TV shows or movies or whatever you'd like, since everybody's always copying everyone else anyway, but it really works best for music. Pop music does a lot of the work for you, since much of it is really derivative and lazy. As evidenced by the the recent "Blurred Lines" lawsuit, pop musicians don't really even try that hard to keep their influences hidden. It's not difficult to take whatever's at the top of the charts currently and find something from ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago which sounds just like it. I mean, have you heard "Uptown Funk" a few dozen times yet?
  • The thing has some logical loopholes or plot inconsistencies, rendering it worthless. I'm not sure why, but this seems to be the especial domain of and about half a million different hyperactive YouTubers. An army of Comic Book Guy wannabes (except slimmer and better groomed), Cracked's ever-snarky writers seem genuinely outraged when fantasy films with completely impossible plots somehow fail to conform to rigorous fact-checking and logical scrutiny. Time travel doesn't work that way, they tell us! Elves would never say something like that, they want us to know! Even if the central premise of a work is complete, made-up bullshit involving magic and super powers, the plot needs to be airtight. Or so the angry nerds of the Internet would have us believe.
  • The thing may seem good now but will have problems in the future. Oh, this is just perfect for first-season TV shows. If a show is just starting to gain momentum, here's how to let the air out of the tires pronto. What are they going to do when so-and-so grows up, for instance? Huh? What then? And that running joke seems hilarious now, but will it seem hilarious after 40 or 50 episodes? Can the show possibly keep all its narrative plates spinning? Probably not. And it'll probably get cancelled before they've resolved everything anyway. You might as well just give up on this show now.
  • (by far the most popular and definitely the one you should use) The thing is somehow sexist, racist, classist, ageist, homophobic, xenophobic, or in some other way prejudicial (often in a sly, non-obvious way) and will, therefore, cause any viewer, listener, or reader to become prejudiced as well. Ah, now we're cookin'. This right here is the heart of any good SHPCE in 2015. There is no horse higher than this one. Netflix's The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is deeply offensive to Native Americans. The podcast Serial promoted stereotypes about immigrants. And Mike Judge's Idiocracy? Well, buddy, if you've ever even watched that movie, you've more or less endorsed Hitler's final solution, because that's what that movie was really all about. I learned all of these things through deeply-impassioned, progressive-minded SHPCEs. Thank god, right? I mean, without the guidance of these enlightened editorial writers, I might have been swayed by the evils of popular culture and become a gay-bashing, woman-abusing Nazi plantation owner. It's a good thing I clicked on that BuzzFeed link, huh? That was a close one!
And there you have it. You may think of the pop culture you consume as mere entertainment. Your favorite TV show or game or whatever may just be a little day-brightener for you. But the authors of SHPCEs know better. It's racist and derivative and just all around evil. In short, you should not be enjoying that thing you enjoy. And, frankly, you should feel ashamed of yourself for ever having enjoyed it in the first place. There. Now don't you feel just terrible about yourself? Good. Mission accomplished. Once again, the Internet has saved the goddamned day.

And now, I'll conclude this little post with a completely chauvinist, reactionary, regressive, repressive song. Shame on me.