In Defense of Pop Culture

Sometimes, mainstream culture gets it right. Yes, films like The Backup Plan will continue to be made and will continue to make a shit ton of money, and Eyes Wide Shut will be a box office failure. But every once in a while Hollywood produces a film that deserves to be loved and everyone loves. Like The Godfather. Or Jurassic Park, Die Hard, Rocky, The Wizard of Oz. All films that we, as critics and scholars and hipsters and whoever else feels they’re above the mainstream, tend to gloss over as populist fare. But they’re awesome! They’re bold and over the top and polished and they’re really really great films.

Same goes with music, I think. There are some bands that are just good and most everyone can agree. The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones.

The hard part is, discerning which pop music and Hollywood films coming out right now will pass the test of time. Because, notice, none of those movies came out this past decade, and all of those musicians came on the scene long before that. I think as a reaction against all that is terrible about current pop culture, a lot of us throw away what’s popular now as a passing fad. We’re erring on the safe side with Lady GaGa, The Black Eyed Peas, 30 Seconds to Mars, and searching out something we know we won’t be embarrassed about in 10 years because no one will have ever heard of them. The more obscure, the safer you are as far as others’ opinions go. (Obviously that’s not to say that the obscure isn’t worth seeking out. But couldn’t there be some kind of balance?)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject as I’ve been considering my favorite film from last year: Where the Wild Things Are. Brian and I had a conversation on this blog about how the Arcade Fire song “Wake Up” was used in the marketing campaign of the film to capture a hipster crowd who would immediately register those giant puppets as “retro” and the Arcade Fire as “poignant”…the perfect combination for any self-satisfied hipster. Which is probably true, to an extent. But I also think the use of “Wake Up” was a brilliant combination of themes and mood perfect for what both pieces were trying to get across.

Here is a stanza from the song:
If the children don’t grow up
Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up
We’re just a million little gods causing rainstorms
Turning every good thing to rust
I guess we’ll just have to adjust

To me, that explains the main feelings behind Where the Wild Things Are.

And then the mood of the song seems to fit with the look and feel of the film as well. I don’t know much about music at all, but that high chorus flows over the song and seems to put it into a bit of a dream (or post-death) state. Angelic, maybe? And here is Max creating his own little dream world/afterlife where he can explore all of the most disastrous parts of growing older.

What I’m saying is, I think those big, bad, evil marketers in Hollywood might have gotten this one right. I think Spike Jonze, a fairly mainstream director, made an amazing film about the dangers of growing up, losing your innocence, disillusionment with adult finality, becoming familiar with the adult world, and, finally, coming to terms with reality. And I think The Arcade Fire is a great pop band writing about similar themes. But, as with all pop culture phenomena, we’ll probably have to wait and see.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “In Defense of Pop Culture

  1. BJT

    Thanks for the reminder – just downloaded the song.

    And WTWTA was my top film from 2009 too.

  2. Heather C.

    I don’t think “Wake Up” was necessarily used as a marketing ploy to get hipsters to see the film. A movie directed by Spike Jonze and a screenplay by Jonze and Dave Eggers was already going to attract that crowd (no more hipster marketing needed. You already sold ’em on it). And then it’s just a cherry on top that the soundtrack was by Karen O. I think probably Spike Jonze just loved the song, thought the lyrics fit, and thought the song (especially the re-recording of it) just seemed perfect for a trailer. It has that almost epic sound to it, it has all those strings, and a good build-up. I agree with you that the song was perfect for the theme/mood of the movie.

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  4. i didn’t think the movie was too hipster or too cool or too retro. but i did think it was too boring/long. can we still be in a movie club?

    • Yes, we can still be in a movie club. We can still be in a Best Friends movie club! But I am going to make you watch that movie again someday, I think.

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