4 Pop Culture Staples (And The Goofy Reasons They Exist)
There are certain unspoken truths that we take for granted: there will always be a new Marvel movie, Taylor Swift will always hate Katy Perry, and Adam Sandler will always talk like a weirder fictional version of Adam Sandler.
Some things that seem like pop culture staples, though, have some pretty strange reasons for existing, such as ...
We Have Obvious Auto-Tune Because Cher Stormed Out Of The Studio
Believe it or not, Auto-Tune wasn't invented to make you sound like a sexy robot. When used as intended, it's undetectable; you only get that mechanical quality when you set the rate of pitch changes to the literally inhuman speed of zero. It's known as the "Cher effect" because it was popularized by Sonny Bono's taller half with the 1998 pride anthem "Believe," but it only happened because Cher hated the song as much as we did by the end of that year.
From the start, "Believe" was a "nightmare" to record. Cher didn't want to make a "dance album" to begin with, preferring to sing "real songs," but her previous album flopped and label executives were determined make a cynical cash grab at her gay fanbase (which you can't argue wasn't successful). They brought her "Believe" to prove that dance songs could be "real," but it wasn't even close to finished—they had actually "taken it away" from its original writer because he'd "done no justice to own song"—and went through more songwriters than Xanax and espresso combined before it was deemed "good enough to begin working on." Cher couldn't even let herself relax in the bath without rewriting it, providing the line "I've had time to think it through, and maybe I'm too good for you" straight from that sanctuary of nudity.
Even once it had theoretically come together, Cher got so frustrated trying to breathe life into the "lifeless" song that she stormed out of the studio, refusing to sing it any more. Producer Mark Taylor decided to use the opportunity to tool around with this newfangled pitch correction software he'd just received to smooth out the only vocals he was going to get and, in the process of playing around with the speed settings, realized it sounded pretty cool when it was set to zero. Messing with Cher's vocals is probably punishable by death or at least exile to Margaritaville in the music industry, but luckily, Cher had already suggested adding a mechanical element to the song. They were still worried about her reaction, but she either loved it or just pretended to so she wouldn't have to sing that song again, and that's how we got T-Pain.
Netflix Movies Look Weird Because Of The Cameras They Use
Did you notice when you were holed up this last year, watching the Manking of Citizen Kane and Black Widow and Kylo Ren scream at each other, that Netflix original movies look … weird somehow? It might be hard to put your finger on it, but it's almost too clear. Not to be a Goldilocks here, in this world of "don't squint and you'll miss it" Westerosi battlefields, but it's so sharp that it ends up looking completely flat, even if you don't have one of those TVs that makes everything look like a soap opera. What's going on?
It turns out Netflix has a strict policy of which cameras its original productions are allowed to use, or else they'll throw you in a pit with nothing but a GameBoy to entertain yourself. They control everything from the maximum percentage of the total runtime that a production may be granted some cinematographic flexibility (10%) to an extensive list of specific approved cameras. Most relevantly, the camera must be equipped with a "true 4K" ultra high-definition sensor, because what's the point of listening to a movie while you're playing Candy Crush if it's not displayed in several thousand pixels?
That's kind of the problem: Most of us are watching in our underwear on tiny iPhones and Chromebooks, so a huge number of pixels that look great on the big screen get compressed until all the depth gets sucked out of them. It's such a problem that there's a whole industry of businesses that specialize in adding graininess to films to make them look more film-like. It's hard enough that most of us spend each day navigating the haze of our own existential crises; now they're doing it to our movies.
New Media Is Released On Tuesdays Because Stores Are Lazy
Ah, Tuesday. Has there ever been a less exciting day? Is that why new DVDs, CDs, video games, and books are traditionally released on Tuesday—to spice up such an otherwise Tuesday kind of day? No, but the excitingness of other days does factor into it. You might have heard that it's because the record charts and bestseller lists begin their weeks on Tuesdays, but not only is that not entirely true—the New York Times records book sales from Sundays to Saturdays, and until recently, Nielson recorded from Monday to Sunday—it's mostly because no one wants to spend their weekends stocking stuff.
To be fair, when record executives all got together to declare Tuesday the official music release day in the late '80s, it was largely due to variations in shipping times that meant a store might not receive their product until after they opened on Monday, losing them sales. It was just an added bonus that they didn't have to pay the extra employees who didn't want to come in over the weekend anyway to make sure the shelves were all stocked and shiny.
The rest of the media landscape just kind of followed suit, although in 1992, Sega also promoted the new Sonic the Hedgehog game by declaring its release date "Sonic 2sday," so if the video game industry's hands were previously at large, they were subsequently solidly tied. There was still a problem, though: Because different countries used different release days (the U.K., which continued releasing new music on Mondays, apparently has no problem with the Sunday shift), international customers could leak new releases to the internet before they were available in the U.S., leading the music industry to agree to global New Music Fridays in 2015.
The MPAA Needed A Whole New Rating Because Of Porn
For as long as you can remember—hell, probably for as long as your parents can remember—the term "X-rated" has been synonymous with "obscene," right? For about 20 years following the creation of the rating in 1968, though, such respectable films as Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris carried the same rating as Thirsty Prison Sluts 23. An X rating simply meant the movie in question was decidedly not for kids, even big ones with driver's licenses and acne scars.
Then porn happened, to put it mildly. It would be more accurate to say that, in the '70s and '80s, the porn industry exploded all over America's face. No longer relegated to magazines sold inside paper bags and rickety basement projectors, pornographic movies were openly screened in theaters indistinguishable from the ones where you saw the latest blockbuster save for the fine layer of flop sweat coating every surface. But porn peddlers have morals, too, so to warn off any unsuspecting families of missionaries who misread the title of Goldfingerer, they needed a rating for their films. And the MPAA had neglected to copyright their X.
By the end of the '80s, the X rating had become so firmly associated with porn that no respectable media outlet or movie theater wanted to advertise or screen an X-rated movie, no matter how prestigious. The last straw was Henry & June, a 1990 biopic of the extremely horny Henry Miller whose studio didn't appreciate being categorized as porn. That year, the MPAA created (and copyrighted) the NC-17 rating to differentiate films that were graphically mature but not like that, which is why you can continue to insist that Showgirls is high art.
Top image: Warner Bros.