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new year's revolution
suggestions for pop culture improvement in 2010
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)
1.4.10
pop culture

You know what I loved about TV, movies, magazines, and the interwebs in 2009?

Not much.

Yes, of course, I am a shameless, whole-hearted consumer of all that is Pop, and I'm not saying there was nothing worth consuming. I consumed. I consumed "Top Chef" and "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Mad Men" episodes by the bucketful, and (500) Days of Summer +1 day after its premiere, and all the Entertainment Weekly I could get my hands on.

But all in all, it left me somehow disappointed. And I know we can do better.

So for 2010, here are my hopes. Studios and showrunners and editors-in-chief, take note, wouldja?

Competition shows that celebrate the best. Sunday night on Food Network is billed as "Competition" night, and after last night's White House Garden-themed "Iron Chef America", the network premiered a new show, "Worst Cooks in America". Led by Anne Burrell (a homegrown Food Network talent) and Beau MacMillan (who?), the show trumpeted a parade of absolutely terrible cooks purely for the sake of calling attention to their terribleness. So eventually the show will get around to trying to train them to be better, I guess, but still: who needs to watch this? Who enjoys seeing people pour cans of soup into a bowl and shrug, Eh, this is all I can do? I suspect 90 percent of the competitors on this show are actors anyway, hailing as they do from places like Studio City, CA. Ahem. And that Dita Von Winehouse knockoff from Philly? Honestly, if she hasn't also tried out for 83 other reality shows purely for the sake of getting herself on television, I will eat her hairpiece.

Even Top Chef was disappointing this (last?) year, considering the incredibly strong field -- of the Kevin/Jen/Michael/Bryan top four, in any other season, any one of them could have walked away with the title. I would have been happy just to watch them cook like crazy and see who got beat on whatever particular day. But no. There had to be the Brother Drama and editing that obscured what really happened (both Jen's dishes were oversalted, not just one, in the first part of the finale) and other things that indicated Bravo just didn't think watching greatness compete was interesting enough.

And any show like "American Idol" or "So You Think You Can Dance" devotes a number of episodes to the unsuccessful auditioners. Not just the people who arent quite good enough, but the people who are AWFUL with a capital AWF.

Can we just have a show or two where we get to watch people who are good at the thing we are supposedly watching them compete to be the best at? Please?

Moviemaking in the happy medium between downbeat obscurity and popcorn idiocy. I love a good kiss-kiss-bang-bang movie, don't get me wrong. But it seems like the gulf between Popular Movies and Respected Movies gets wider every year. There are the great big blockbusters with all the noise, like Transformers 2: The Transformening, and then there are the quiet art pics that leave you depressed for days. And come Oscar time we know which one gets the nods. Though this year maybe things will be different: partly because they're nominating 10 movies instead of 5 for Best Picture, and also because I don't remember a single movie I saw this year that I left saying, Now THAT was a Best Picture. Then again, I just didn't see that many movies, largely because of this divergence problem. It made me long for the good old days of 1999. Sigh.

Television shows that attract attention with brilliance and subtlety instead of violence and sexual content. Again, I don't want to pretend I'm someone I'm not, here. Sexual content? Pretty much fine with me. But it becomes such a crutch, doesn't it? Would "True Blood" be such a success if it weren't so... orgasmic? And heaven knows I have gotten sick of watching Don Draper make one foolish sexual choice after another, when nearly every single aspect of that show is more interesting than Who Will Don Do.

Plus, it really bothers me that the most popular shows in America are the types of procedurals that feature dead naked bodies week after week. Doesn't this teach kids that murder with sexual motives is so run-of-the-mill they might as well commit some? Or at least desensitize them to this type of content? Seriously. Now I feel the need to add: get the hell off my lawn.

Anyway.

A rise in magazine and newspaper subscriptions. Okay, here's the thing. I'm sad about the death of Gourmet. It was a great magazine with a storied history. Food journalism is a poorer place now that it's gone. But I had only started subscribing about six months before it folded, so who can I blame for the fact that it got chopped besides me, and people like me? Magazines live and die by advertising, but they can only hook advertisers if they can tout the right subscriber base.

It's like 12 bucks. Subscribe to a magazine you don't want to see die. Okay?

Also, peace on earth. Because it never hurts to ask.

Let's check back in 2011 and see how much of this actually comes to pass. Am I hopeful? Sure. I'm always hopeful. And it doesn't take that much more money or effort to make a good piece of pop culture instead of a bad one.

Or, for that matter, to consume it. So, consume wisely.

Happy 2010!




ABOUT JAEL MCHENRY

Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry

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COMMENTS

adam kraemer
1.4.10 @ 6:17p

Now, is the gulf between best-reviewed movies and best-attended movies the result more of audiences wanting to be entertained, rather than taught? Or the result of critics feeling the need to be pretentious? Or somewhere in between? I've been watching a lot of old movies recently on TCM, many of which were Oscar-nominated films, either for best movie or best actor (or two), and I think that it might actually be more the latter.

Just to point out a few: The Thin Man (1934) was nominated for four Oscars. Father of the Bride (1950) picked up three nominations. Some Like It Hot (1959) garnered six nominations.

I mean, I know these were a while ago, but it's proof that at one point, a good movie could be a popcorn flick, and a feel-good audience favorite could also be considered a good movie.

Or maybe it just has to do with a lack these days of quality feel-good audience favorites.

jael mchenry
1.5.10 @ 1:15p

Adam, it's a good question -- I don't think it's the audiences dictating the gulf, I think it's a decision on the part of the moviemakers/studios, to segment the audience down and take very particular aim. I haven't seen Up in the Air, but I feel like it might be the kind of movie I'm asking for -- not vapid and action-y, not dark and relentless, not straight-from-the-formula romcom, but some sort of happy middle ground where the audience is both entertained and engaged by real emotion. You're right that Hollywood used to be able to do that well. The Philadelphia Story is another great example, and one I'd like to see emulated more often.

The audiences and critics can only respond to the product that's out there, and I remained convinced that vapid blockbusters will do well regardless of how poor in quality they are, just because they open in so many theatres a lot of audience members don't get to choose.

brian anderson
1.6.10 @ 11:39a

I'm going to invoke Sturgeon's Law on the "movies used to be popular AND good." Rather, those are the movies we still remember. For every Casablanca, there's an Abbott and Costello Go to Mars. (Spoiler: they do not actually go to Mars.)

Even back then, there was a divide. The first Academy Awards ceremony gave out an award for "Most Artistic Quality of Production" (Sunrise) and a separate award for "Most Outstanding Production" (Wings). It wasn't until the second ceremony that they combined the art and popularity categories together, and now we get to complain about how Ordinary People beat out Raging Bull.



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