4 Terrible Parts of Pop Culture (With Weird Bright Sides)
Everything is terrible. You know it, I know it, so let's have a scotch. But these things -- terrible though they might be -- sometimes actually have a pretty encouraging silver lining. Like a tire fire that provides temporary warmth to a passing deer and her fawn. Or a broken picture of your father that you're able to use to bludgeon a burglar into submission. Or a broken scotch glass that still has just a little bit of scotch in it, and you're gonna cut your lips sipping, but it's worth it because it's scotch.
That's what pop culture is these days: a bloody mouth full of Lagavulin. Savor it. Close your eyes. And for Christ's sake try not to salivate, it throws off the flavor profile.
Big-Budget Franchise Movies Are All Mediocre At Best
Anyone who reads my column regularly knows that I'm an unapologetic Marvel fanboy. And I also, like every red-blooded American, enjoy myself a good Star War. But even I know that aside from a few standouts (Iron Man, The Avengers, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back), most of these movies are pretty mediocre. This review of Captain America: Civil War gets right to the heart of it: These movies are fun, but they can never be great because the franchise itself limits their ambition.
I enjoyed Rogue One, because I like clapping at things I recognize. But I also realized that it was pretty flat. Sure, some of the characters were pretty cool, and there were some funny moments, but it wasn't as good as the first two Star Wars movies. It didn't show me anything I hadn't seen before, it just remixed things I already knew existed.
Which has really been a problem with Star Wars since Empire -- every single iconic part of that franchise is in those first two movies. The rest has been riding the wave of that radness.
So that's a bummer, right? Why can't Hollywood just learn to make consistently great movies?
The Bright Side
Because making a good movie -- or anything cool -- is sort of magic. There are several articles on this very site about how weird the conditions that made Star Wars were, or the fact that tons of the most iconic parts of pop culture popped up through sheer luck. And luck is pretty much the only thing money can't buy. So when the studio is obsessively controlling every aspect of how a movie is made -- like what is happening in Star Wars and all the Marvel movies -- then a certain floor of quality is guaranteed. But that control means they're also removing the chance for the strange alchemy of luck and magic that you need to make something really important and cool.
So, basically, nobody knows how to corporatize art. Nobody has captured and bottled that particular part of the human brain. There is still magic in the world, and Disney has no idea how to use it.
This New Product Doesn't Have A Feature I Like!
When the iPhone 7 came out, everyone lost their goddamn minds because the 3.5 mm headphone jack had been removed.
And anyone could see why, right? All those headphones everyone already owns are about to become completely obsolete, and they're going to have to buy all new hardware ...
The Bright Side:
... right after they buy their $650 new phone. Right? OK, listen: It'd be one thing if people were complaining about the lack of headphone jacks if Apple were forcing them to buy their new product, but even in that case, I think the bigger complaint would be that we live in a totalitarian state controlled by a corporation. We'd probably want to revolt and smash the porcelain statue of Steve Jobs down at the city center. Then we'd want to burn everything, just all of it, and dance in the ashes, smearing our naked bodies in the blood of our slain overlords. Sorry, I get carried away when I think about revolution.
I'm not shitting on Apple users. I'm typing this on a Mac right now. But the rest of us do realize there are competing phones, right? That do exactly the same thing and still have headphone jacks? This is literally the point of the free market. And it's why I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note ... OK, bad example, but the point is that when we're talking about a company that tortures its employees almost to death, I think releasing a product that isn't going to already work with your Beats by Dre is probably the least of their crimes.
Seriously, though, there are like so many other phones.
Comedians Are Forced To Delete Their Tweets!
After the tragic loss of Carrie Fisher last month, the internet reared its ugly head to punish people who sought to pay tribute to their friend by calling those tributes "offensive." After Steve Martin put up this tweet ...
... he was forced to delete it by the ravenous mob of the easily offended.
The Bright Side
Do you really think that Steve Martin, the 70-year-old comedy legend who recorded A Wild And Crazy Guy and starred in Planes, Trains And Automobiles was reduced to tears by some angry Twitter comments? Can you picture him now, curled up on his couch in his Hollywood Hills mansion, sobbing as he scrolls through all the "ur a sexist!" tweets in his mentions?
Why do you think Steve Martin is such a wimpy piece of shit? Have more respect for Steve "Bowfinger" Martin, man. This is Steve "The Three Amigos!" Martin we're talking about. He's been in the comedy writing business for 40 years. He's probably better at brushing off criticism than I am at brushing my teeth, and I rule at brushing my teeth. You're talking to the cleanest set of gums on the West Coast, hands down.
I don't know that Steve Martin has told anyone exactly why he deleted the Carrie Fisher tweet. He probably never will. But I think the far more likely explanation is that he saw some criticism, realized he agreed with it, and deleted the tweet for that reason. Doesn't mean you have to agree with him. Doesn't mean he's oversensitive, or a wuss, or that we're all being controlled by the most easily offended. It just means he deleted a tweet he wrote. So ... you kinda got the chance to see inside the creative process of Steve "Bringing Down The House OK Maybe Not The Best Movie To Reference But Still He's Had A Long Career There Are Bound To Be A Couple Stinkers In There" Martin!
This Next Generation Sucks (Or The Last Generation Is Too Mean To Me)
Baby boomers think millennials are lazy and entitled. They think that our colleges are coddling us, and that we're oversensitive, and that we don't understand police violence, and that we're not able to contextualize the information we're given because modern technology moves too quickly for our stupid brains. In essence, we're a big pile of screaming, naked, mud-covered babies that need to be dealt with in whatever manner is appropriate for such a pile.
Except I didn't get those criticisms from articles about millennials. I got them from this book:
The Bright Side
You probably assumed that every generation complained about the next generation, but what you might not know is that it's the exact same damn complaints. Technology is moving too quickly?
"Television, data-processing, and documentary film techniques bombard with events happening simultaneously the world around -- but they have no context in which to place these events. They have no perspective."
That's word for word what somebody might say about Twitter. Or how about college kids taking things out of proportion:
"Many universities closed down in the spring of 1970 to register protest over the escalation of the war into Cambodia and express grief over the deaths of the four Kent State students killed in a riot ... suppose universities begin closing down in the name of various causes? Suppose, for instance, as was originally planned for the fall of 1970, universities shut down all over America so that the student body could actively participate in the election process?"
Requests for "safe spaces" don't seem so bad when they're compared to entire campus shutdowns. And then he talks about protesters encountering the police:
"One account highly critical of the police, reported that 'the police used their nightsticks freely' (I would hope so; what were they supposed to use, rubber tomahawks?)."
Keep in mind, this guy isn't particularly conservative or some reactionary. He had a Ph.D. from UCLA and was director of the Montana Historical Society. My point isn't that old people are grumpy, because the truth is Toole had a lot of compliments for boomers that I think equally apply to millennials:
"While the young do not recognize the swift diminution of their opportunities in their own personal lives (one has to live that), they seem to have an almost uncanny understanding of today's deepening acceleration of time. ... My generation, bearing its years and its scars and accomplishments, finds it impossible to believe we are living in a time of 'revolution.'"
Different generations don't, and will never, get each other. And we'll always be disproportionately blaming each other for whatever crap is going on, because a generational difference is, by nature, a shift in power, and shifts in power are tough. (Remember when Trump was elected? What a crazy couple days that was.)
But we've always managed to figure it out in the past. So we'll continue to figure it out. Or we'll blow each other up.
JF Sargent is a senior editor for Cracked and had a big drunken argument with his mom about prisons over Christmas. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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