“In fact, pop-cultural references have become such potent metaphors in U.S. fiction not only because of how united Americans are in our exposure to mass images but also because of our guilty indulgent psychology with respect to that exposure. Put simply, the pop reference works so well in contemporary fiction because (1) we all recognize such a reference, and (2) we’re all a little uneasy about how we all recognize such a reference.”
― David Foster Wallace
Kittens, leaving aside news for a moment, there is too much pop culture at the moment and it can be bizarrely anxiety-inducing. At the moment I’m catching up on The Handmaid’s Tale and American Gods, I have three audiobooks and a two week backlog of podcasts on my phone, and have five books checked out from the library. I’m following along the new season of Game of Thrones, and eagerly anticipating a bunch of films and new Netflix series. It’s a lot to keep up with.
A few weeks ago I found myself in a familiar situation: I had reached my limit on both checkouts and holds from my library and was nearing the end of my check out period on several books. I read fast and normally have at least two books going at any one time, but this time I was behind on my reading and I actually felt stressed at the prospect of not finishing books before I had to return them. Not only that, I had been on a waiting list for many of these books for weeks and if I didn’t finish them now, I’d have to wait weeks again before I could get my hands on them. Consequently, stress. Stupid stress, yes, but stress nonetheless.
I’m a finisher, almost constitutionally incapable of leaving a book, TV show, or movie only partially consumed. This doesn’t always serve me well as it means that I’ve struggled through pop culture that I have rushed too much to enjoy, wasn’t quite to my taste, and even downright hated all with the aim of just finishing it. For example, Jeff made me watch Twin Peaks with him, a show that I completely missed in its original run and knew only through casual references. Sacrilegious as it may be to say for some, I didn’t like it at all. It simply wasn’t for me. And yet, almost every night for a couple of months, I grudgingly insisted that we sit down and watch an episode just so I could say I had finished the damn thing.
This is, of course, ridiculous. Nevertheless, to solve my book backlog, I signed out of most social media and didn’t log in to Netflix or YouTube for a week so I could finish five books back to back, which made me feel quite cultured and au courant…until I noticed I’d nearly reached my storage limit on my phone because I had not kept up with my podcast feed.
I hear and read everywhere that we are living in a moment of “peak TV,” but you could also insert any other media platform into that statement quite comfortably. This weekend alone several trailers for upcoming films or TV shows that I’m genuinely excited about dropped. We are downright spoiled for choice when it comes to entertainment. Not only that, new technology and disruptive new platforms means that we have an almost constant stream of new ways to consume media, as well as very often whole new types of media itself.
Part of me thinks this is fantastic as there is so much stuff out there, you are bound to find a program, book, show, podcast, vlog, or feed that seems tailor made to cater to your personal interests and likes. On the other hand, it’s very easy want to consume everything and feel disappointed or frustrated when you can’t. It’s also not nice to feel like you’re out of the loop when friends or people you enjoy talking all things media with are in the know about something you’ve never heard of. The positive upside to this moment of peak pop culture, though, may be the fact that there is so much out there that it is impossible to even attempt to consume everything. Meaning that consumers can find what they actually like and disregard what they don’t.
This is the tack I have taken at least. I’ve given myself permission to not finish books I don’t like, drop shows that don’t appeal to me, and just tap out of pop culture I don’t care about. It’s such a dinky thing, but it’s been weirdly liberating to “give up” on media rather than slog through it or race to catch up with the rest of society.
Is there any pop culture out there that you genuinely love? What about something that you’ve given a total miss because you just aren’t interested? Have you ever felt guilty for not being able to keep up, or is this a weirdly C-specific problem?