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Do You Have An Abusive Relationship With Pop Culture?

Illustration for article titled Do You Have An Abusive Relationship With Pop Culture?

What if Iron Man 2 sucks? Or the finale of Lost leaves us cold? Why do you care so much about things that don't care about you? It's possible that you're in an abusive relationship with pop culture.



Our relationship with entertainment — in the blockbuster age, anyway — is not one that's based on quality. No, the engine that drives the movie, television, book, music industries is anticipation. It's the most important question that gets asked before anything gets greenlit: Can we sell this? Can we make people want to go see it? Can we make people need to make it a part of their lives?


So that anticipation is stoked, fed like a coal fire. Posters begin to leak. Trailers pop up online. Authors do secret (or not-so-secret) readings. Bands slip a new song or two into a set. If managed well, that Anticipatory Surge can be all encompassing. For my money, no one did it better than the marketers behind Tim Burton's Batman. The entire country wanted, needed to see that movie. We bought the t-shirts, videotaped Entertainment Tonight to instant-replay the trailer's premiere, got Batman-logo tattoos. Then again, almost everything was easier before the internet.

Falling in love with the Thing

We, as an audience, are made — sometimes skillfully, sometimes hamfistedly — to fall in love with a Thing. And that love is pure, and urgent, and chaste because all we've seen of the Thing we're in love with is a flash of lace, or a tensed forearm, or an unbuttoned button.

Then comes the Night with the Thing. When the anticipation is uncorked like a bottle of the good scotch in a bar that's a little too hot. And then....

And then.

What do we do when our pop culture lets us down?

Illustration for article titled Do You Have An Abusive Relationship With Pop Culture?

We build up this image of what the Thing will be once we finally get to experience it, and when we do? Sometimes it's bliss. Sometimes it's the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin, or Star Trek, or The Matrix. But then, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes, it's the Battlestar Galactica finale, or Ang Lee's Hulk, or most of Heroes, or The Matrix Reloaded. Sometimes, we get exactly what we want. But all too often, we don't.

Suck leads to blame - blame leads to cynicism

And, after we've been in the darkened room with the Thing, and find that it kind of sucks, what's our recourse? Rather than examine the reasons why we allowed ourselves to get sucked in — especially a geek audience, as our online lives make us particularly susceptible — we blame. We blame Hollywood for making shitty product. We blame the internet for having no sense of taste. We blame our friends for making us go/read/watch/listen in the first place. We blame the voices in our head that we neglected to drown with hooch.


That blame eventually hardens into a jaded cynicism. (I'm sure you know what it looks like: just visit the web. Anywhere will do.) So, in attempt to prevent that disappointment from seeping in again, you start to treat everything with the same level of knee-jerk detachment. You can't be hurt if you never love.

Illustration for article titled Do You Have An Abusive Relationship With Pop Culture?

But at the end of the day, that jaded cynicism only keeps you from finding the awesome. If you're afraid everything will suck, then you'll never see anything. Yes, it's clear that Fox will destroy whatever genre show they program, but wouldn't you be just sad if you never watched Firefly or Dollhouse or Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles because you knew it'd eventually get canceled right out from under you?

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." The Dread Pirate Westley is right: Disappointment is a part of life that marketers would have you forget every time they've a Thing they want you to pay for.


But then again, sometimes the Thing is awesome. Sometimes pop culture delivers. Sure, it's possible that Iron Man 2 will just be "more and louder" and the Lost finale won't clear up a damned thing. But it's just as possible that we'll get what we didn't even know we wanted.

Maybe we'll be...surprised.

And so the cycle begins again.


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Annalee Newitz

I would just like to point out that Marc has inadvertently explained the Lacanian "big object" with his discussion of the capital-t phantasmagoric Thing we all desire.

/theory geekgasm