4 Harsh Truths It's Time To Accept About Modern Pop Culture
Simon Pegg recently caught a ton of shit for having the audacity to wonder aloud whether grown-ass men and women deeply devoting their lives to nerdy pursuits is maybe not the best thing. It's not really that controversial of a thing to say, but when the story was picked up by the likes of such formally reputable news outlets as CNN, USA Today, The Guardian, and The Washington Post, all hell broke loose.
What's most frustrating about the story is the people who didn't already know this about modern pop culture. It should have been intuitive. We should all have been born into the pop culture landscape knowing all of this will now and forever be kid stuff. Kid stuff that helps us feel happy and cope with a harsh world, but kid stuff nonetheless. It got me thinking: What else don't people already intuitively understand about pop culture? The short answer is "a lot of things," but if you were interested in brevity, you definitely wouldn't be reading Cracked right now.
So with that in mind, let's begin this educational seminar by laying a little groundwork, and understanding that ...
A Lot Of Modern Pop Culture Is Made For Kids, But You Can Like It, Too
Pegg had a point, and a great one. A lot of modern pop culture is for kids, yet go to a theater on opening day and you'll drown in a sea of adults like me (and everyone else who has ever written anything for this site). We'll all barely be able to contain our glee as we prepare to watch comic book characters deliver the most expensive fake punches in world history. But none of that stuff is really for us. These are children's toys we never gave away. Look no further than Frozen, a Disney movie for kids. Now go to YouTube and watch the thousands of "Let it Go" parodies that adults spent a lot of their adult time producing.
Might as well be lying on the floor next to naked Barbies.
We live in a wonderful age, an age in which no one tells us to put away our childish things. This makes us think these things never stopped being for us. Take the latest Ninja Turtles movie, for example. It was not a movie for the 30-to-35-year-olds who grew up with the '80s cartoon. That's why if you were one of those many thousands of people across the Internet who posted things like, "They ruined my childhood!" after seeing so much as a trailer, well, I'm so, so sorry to break it to you, but that movie has absolutely nothing to do with your childhood. Adult you watched a kids movie and thought it was stupid. A kid will watch it and think it's the most spectacular thing they've ever seen.
Like a head of cabbage wearing old rags.
It's like trying to fit your adult-size-11 foot into a kid-size-5 shoe. You might squeeze in a toe or two, but that shit isn't moving an inch further. A lot of the things you love can be best described by that Mathew McConaughey line from Dazed And Confused: "I get older, they stay the same age." Just, it's more about superheroes and stuff and less about ephebophilia. You can still love it and bask in it, but it's futile to get mad when its sensibilities are geared toward a younger generation, one with a whole different set of cultural influences informing their likes and dislikes. I'll get back to this idea later. For now, let's take another baby step towards understanding that some of your favorite pop cultural franchises aren't made for you anymore by admitting that ...
Your Nostalgia Overshadows The True Quality Of The Things You Love
Let's go back to Ninja Turtles. If you were a fan of the '80s cartoon as a kid, let me ask you: Have you seen it lately? It hasn't aged well. Whatever fond memory of the show you have in your head, don't ruin it by watching this randomly chosen episode:
If you do watch it, you'll notice that it's mostly terrible and run the risk of accidentally stomping all over the rose-colored glasses you wear to make everything from your youth look so much better than it was.
Nostalgia is singlehandedly responsible for most of the big-budget movies and shows we watch today, but it's also the cause of a lot of stupid Internet rage from people who have no firm understanding of how truly awful a lot of things used to be. They only remember the properties they once loved as being paragons of joy because kids don't know shit about quality entertainment, and very few people rewatch the things they loved as kids. I don't care how discerning you think your childhood tastes were; you still used to eat a ton of boogers. Clearly, everything that falls under the banner of "taste" was entirely out of your teeny, tiny grasp.
But that index finger game is strong.
None of this means people should stop liking whatever they like, or that they can't reap every morsel of joy they can from it until they die watching it in a retirement community at age 97. It just means people should be a little more realistic about the past. Be honest with yourself. Be open to the idea that maybe something you liked actually kind of sucks. Not everything ages like Star Wars or Batman: The Animated Series. Test it out yourself. Seek out a cartoon you once loved as a kid -- or a sitcom, or a movie, or a comic book -- and experience it for the first time in decades. Divorce yourself from all nostalgic attachment if you can. Be as clean a slate as possible. Then ask yourself if it's an objectively good thing. If you genuinely believe it's still a good thing, then go apeshit defending it at a nerd debate near you. If it's not, just admit it.
This is all especially true in a time when reboots, remakes, and reimaginings are so prevalent. In this pop culture day and age, we should all try to remember that ...
You Can't Get Mad When Someone Decides To Reboot Something You Loved
You loved it. Other people loved it. That's more than enough reason to keep it going. Some producer or studio exec remembers how popular a franchise was, and is rolling the dice on its popularity not being stuck within a specific era. They're hoping it's a timeless tale. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories are uniquely Victorian, yet the concept works as two separate currently running shows set in the modern day. Studios are always looking for their own Sherlock Holmes, their own James Bond, their own Doctor from Doctor Who.
Something British, white, and male, basically.
Studios want stories and characters with longevity. Shit, even Shakespeare wrote stories and characters that will never, ever die, and will always be reinterpreted -- and that includes reoccurring characters brought back by popular demand. Falstaff was the fat, cocky knight whom Shakespeare wrote into three plays because audiences wanted to see more of him. As the years rolled on, Falstaff became the star of a bunch of non-Shakespearean operas and plays. Five hundred years later, that kind of thing is still happening. The entertainment industry is constantly trying to find a character that will put your asses in the seats, and then your kids' asses, then your grandkids' asses, and their grandkids' asses.
They really like your kids' asses.
All of this is just saying something that Battlestar Galactica (an excellent reboot) once said so succinctly: "All of this happened before, and all of this will happen again." Being mad when someone wants to reboot something is essentially saying, "No one else should get the chance to love the thing I once loved. It was mine, and mine only." The thing is, shows and movies don't belong to just one generation. The originals will always be there for anyone who wants to discover them, but the key to pop culture longevity is a steady adaptation with the times. Which is why our final lesson of the day is about understanding that ...
Times Change, As Should Stories And Characters With Them
The James Bond franchise would not have lasted as long as it has if the movies never adapted to the fun, silly exploitation style of the '70s, or the gritty and brooding origin-story-centric pastiches of the 2000s and 2010s. We're fast approaching the release of the 24th Bond movie in 53 years. By this point, the series shouldn't understand the newfangled poppycock the kids are in to nowadays. But Bond is at the top. Any time there's a stylistic mass extinction, Bond walks away unscathed and blends in with whatever's come to replace it. They've done it through reinvention.
All the gin and cigarette smoke has cured Bond like a deli meat.
The Bond films stopped blazing trails in the '60s. They've been co-opting whatever's in vogue ever since. Batman reached peak camp, and then plummeted down to the depths of seriousness to find salvation. Battlestar Galactica went from silly sci-fi schlock to maybe the best social commentary (with robots) on a post-9/11 world. Did you watch the Jem And The Holograms trailer and think, "No! They've gone and ruined that '80s joint venture between Marvel and Hasbro about a record exec who's secretly an ass-kicking rock star by making it about a YouTube star!"? Well, do you really think a more faithful translation of the original Jem series would be in at all good without modernizing it? I dare you to translate this shit into a good movie without it becoming a piss-poor Hanna Montana with an ass-load more hairspray and mascara:
The shows and movies you love are loaned to you. Eventually, they're given to someone new. Pop culture is a big, expensive Goodwill store. Disney found a near-mint condition Marvel and a slightly beaten Lucasfilm in a pile of old lady blouses. They took them home, bought new replacement parts, gave them new coats of paint, and then sold us even more spectacular versions of their stories than any previous generation of fans could have possibly imagined.
"Spectacular" meaning, "Same as before, but now with a prostate like a grapefruit."
You don't have to embrace the change, but understand it's going to happen -- and it won't happen just to piss off original fans, but to hopefully find whole new legions of them, who may one day go back and try to find the old stuff. Yeah, they won't be into the exact version of the movie/show/comic/whateverthehell you were raised on, but here's the bright side: Other people (possibly of a more appropriate age group) will like what you like. Isn't that nice? Shouldn't that be good enough?
Luis wrote this in his home office, which is decorated with precisely 174 action figures, a large stack of video games, and pile of Nerf guns you can pry from his cold, dead hands. You can find him on Twitter and Tumblr.
For more from Luis, check out 4 Reasons A Termite Infestation Is Absolutely Terrifying and 3 Recipes For The Perfect Last Minute Mother's Day Brunch.
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