If you stop and think about it mainstream culture is surprisingly difficult to pin down. You might, for instance, want to dismiss it all as homogenous and bland. But then how do you account for the Beatles? Or peak-era Motown? Or the Spanish football team of the mid-2000s? Sometimes the biggest, most popular thing in mainstream culture is also the best.
And then, of course, times change too. Thankfully. Thirty-odd years ago, alternative comedians rallied against the tired tropes of mainstream comedy: like, the differences between a white ‘us’ and a non-white ‘them,’ and the awful behavior of women, generally, and dread mothers-in-law, especially. All of which begs the question, still, what does mainstream anything look like to those on the outside of it looking in? To people who don’t even want to look in? Or feel in some other way excluded?
It’s a truism that pop music is first and foremost for teenagers, and thereafter rapidly loses its vitality and appeal. But across culture as a whole, age is a long way from being the only possible alienating factor. Oftentimes, the popularity of something is the very thing that counts against it. Ant and Dec? No thanks, this exotic flower can’t just grow in any old flowerbed, you know. Will Ferrell? Yeah, joking aside: no!
So for me, at least, I just don’t sweat it anymore. If I like something, great. If I don’t, well, that’s hardly a hill of beans is it? I’m still young enough to be on polite nodding terms with pop culture, but I’m too old to worry about it. And too busy being a parent, and not sleeping, to chase after the fast, wagging tale of the zeitgeist. Case in point: at a record store last weekend, I noted for next time new albums by Scott Walker and Lucinda Williams. (Whatever the vintage of music-maker, I figure 18 bucks for a new CD is too old-fashioned a price.)
Nonetheless – so much preamble in service to a very basic observation – there is this one thing about pop culture that continues to confound me. A giant, totemic thing that seemingly never changes, no matter which way the wind blows: an obsession with that same-old question, what happens next? For the life of me, I don’t get why everyone else seems to find it so appealing, so much the source of endless fascination.
Reality TV shows might just be the worst offenders. So much so that Bravo champions its dubious wares with the ubiquitous tagline, Watch What Happens. Really, must I? One Real Housewives franchise seems one too many, let alone five. And Vanderpump Rules what exactly? From Bravo’s website I see the answer has something to do with “yet another explosive wave of shocking betrayals.” Ok, if you say so.
But, sure, that’s reality TV, right? Hard to muster any strong feelings about that, either way. It’s the classier thoroughfares of pop culture I’m driving at. What happens next. At what point, I ask, is it socially acceptable not to care?
Is there something in me that’s somehow deficient for giving up on The Walking Dead – because I finally found myself irreversibly bored by the infuriating machinations of its plot? Likewise, Battlestar Galactica, a show venerated to space and back but which, from my couch, soon started to seem the most colossal waste of time, and a load of codswallop. And Lost, which I never even bothered with at all – my god, just hearing people talk about that made me want to run a mile in the opposite direction.
What am I missing? I have an insatiable appetite for sport, so maybe I just scratch the same basic itch someplace else. Or maybe I should just shut up, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.
Finally, though, here’s what got me thinking: Gone Girl. I was looking forward to it. I love going to the movies, and I go so infrequently these days (two little girls put paid to that) that every time I do is simply the biggest, loveliest treat. And yet…. I left Gone Girl with a strange, disquieting notion rattling round my head: the whole thing was completely and utterly pointless.
Yes, intriguing things happened and, yes, I was intrigued by them – but to what end? Take away the instinct to care what happens – propped up, in this instance, by Hollywood, one of its brightest stars, and one of its best directors – and what are you left with? A long, slick film populated by unlikeable characters behaving weirdly and for little discernible reason. What is the point of stuffing us, the audience, so full of plot? Without offering any other kind of nourishment.
Surely: what a waste of so much time and talent. David Fincher, one of the best American filmmakers of his generation, must have spent, what, two years of his professional life on Gone Girl. Why? So we can all go, huh, I didn’t see that coming. And then on the way home, hmmm, doesn’t really add up, does it?
Today’s post soundtracked by: