We Put The 'Cult' In Culture Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016-04-25 21:00:00 No comments

'Game of Thrones'? More like waste of time - LA Times

Hollywood has been working a long time to herd everyone toward the more predictable tastes of a 14-year-old boy — "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter" and the ongoing plague of super-fantastic-avenging-iron-bat-X-people-movies. "Thrones" only assists Hollywood in further emulating the corporate strategies of Coke and Camel — hook kids when they are young and trap them in a lifetime of addictive regression. ...

Popular culture was meant to be momentarily distracting and entirely disposable, not a cult handed down from parent to child to grandchild and beyond. We already live in a world where there's a company making "Star Trek" diapers and another making "Star Trek" coffins. How many more generations must we lose to this nonsense?

Emphasis mine. Without sounding like I'm coming out on the side of the culture nags, I want to dig into this and see what comes up. (Most of you know by now I'm no fan of Game of Thrones myself -- it appeals to me about as much as the smelly fishbelly skin found under a Band-Aid left on for too long -- but the attack on the show mounted here seems entirely in the wrong spirit.)

The first insight is that popular culture isn't momentary anymore; it never goes away. We work very hard to keep it alive in multiple forms, because it's profitable to do so. A while back when I made the point that all entertainment is art whether or not we like it, this was part of that point. If no book ever goes out of print thanks to digital publishing, if no TV show ever completely disappears from the public consciousness thanks to YouTube and fan wikis and Hollywood remakes, then it stops becoming cheap disposable entertainment by default. Creators have more responsibility than ever to not treat their audiences with contempt, the same way a manufacturer owes it to itself and the world to not poison its world.

But all this aside, the focus of the above jeremiad seems wrong, because it's conflating the merchandising of such things with the appreciation for such things. Or, maybe better to say, assuming the two are inseparable.

Fans are exceptionally good at ripping the things they love free from their commercial moorings and turning them into its own things. This piece totally ignores that process. What's handed down is not so much the thing itself, but the way one goes about appreciating it -- a view or a state of mind that can be applied to any number of other things, popular or not.

Modern fandom of the fantastic is highly transformative, and perhaps that's always been its hallmark. That's the most observable difference between people who are fans of, say, Doctor Who, and people who just avidly watch CSI. The former see it as fuel, material, creative impetus. The latter see it as something to fill in the blanks.

Something in the above critique that is touched on, but not followed through on, is the idea that pop culture drives out every other kind of culture. This, I agree with, since I've made many points in that vein before, but I find I only agree with it up to a point. Not everything presented as "high culture" is in fact "high"; just because something has an ambitious or unassailable subject doesn't mean it can't be just as cloyingly sentimental, as shallow, and as trashy as anything else. It's not where something comes from, but where it ends up, and that's why many Oscar-winners of yore are schmaltzy embarrassments but Shock Corridor and Peeping Tom are Criterion-collection classics. Pop culture is the first draft of tomorrow's high culture; we just can't see it yet.

Tags: creativity culture entertainment fandom