This got interesting. In my last post I talked about popular culture things that nobody really had expectations for, but which sort of escaped their box and went on to become major cultural landmarks. For fun I ran down a list of some stuff in that vein:
The original 1977Star Wars, and maybe its immediate successors. But everything after that, eh.
The Mad Max films. Yes, all of them. A rare example of a franchise that kept its scrappy underdog feel the whole way through.
The Matrix. Let's not forget Warner Brothers had modest expectations for it.
Maybe Harry Potter, despite my own distaste for the franchise at this point.
(As much as I love stuff like Buckaroo Banzai or Tron, I'm not including them here because those things now have great admiration but weren't big successes at the time. They didn't break wide initially, even if they did seep into our culture over time.)
Now, I didn't get very far with the list because something else crept up.
One problem with applying this formula to more recent things, as I see it, is how we've become far more conscious lately of how "popular" culture actually excludes whole swaths of the populace. It's harder for something to cross over the way things used to, because we're more aware of who used to be left out. Lester Bangs encapsulated this for me perfectly in his essay about the death of Elvis, wherein he walked around his neighborhood (mainly Latinx) and found almost total indifference to Elvis. Elvis was a white thing, and if the 1970s had done anything by that point, it had proven how much of American music culture, especially popular music culture, wasn't white to begin with.
When we talk about something breaking wide, crossing over, becoming a Big Thing, maybe now we can only talk about it being a Big Thing with a given segment of the populace. The idea of the truly universal cultural event never made sense in the way we wanted it to, something that had something for everyone. Not everything is for everyone, nor could it be. But that doesn't mean a few things can't be for a lot of people.