Tuesday, May 26, 2009

POP CULTURE?


Though I no longer participate in the weekly RR circus I do usually scan through it and I particularly look forward to the off-topic themes that always develop, usually about noonish Sunday and they run through the week. It's the best part of the entire slog and I feel a kinship with many of the posters, and of course most of them live here also. This weeks discussion re. sci-fi lit; leading to Vonnegut, leading to Desden and WW2 with insightful contributions from gremlin,webcore and others relating pop music to Vonnegut et al.
This gave me an idea for a topic here..
I don't view the Spill as exclusively a music blog, for me it's a window into pop culture and contemporary life outside the US, there's much more here than pop music. I used to teach, my wife also teaches, world history to high school students, and she frequently brings specialty speakers to her classroom to give the students a wider understanding of the topics.
An aside, she was recently in trouble with the local muslim community, or at least with one member because they didn't approve of the Palestinian speaker she'd invited and in the past has had similar problems with the Jewish community also related to her inviting Palestinians.
But that's neither here nor there, back to pop culture, my idea was that were I a teacher in this, our hypothetical internet classroom,and I was teaching on the subject of popular culture past and present to adolescent students and I issued an invitation to any and all of you to be guest lecturers, giving you a total free hand to interpret 'pop culture' in anyway you choose and to discuss anything you wish on that topic: what would you choose to do? What to you reflects popular culture in all it's manifestations and what's worth talking about and how would you illustrate it?
Our hypothetical classroom is fully equipped with all media mod cons, you may use any format you choose to both present and illustrate your topic. You have one hour. We will need a theme, a rough outline and a list of the materials you would use. Anybody want to play this game and generate a bit of discussion?

30 comments:

steenbeck said...

An interesting question, Goneforeign. I'll play, but I have to give it a bit of a think. Back later. And thanks for the Island Records link. I haven't had time to listen yet, but I'll find some.

DarceysDad said...

I'd invite all of the heads of the major record companies, along with their copyright lawyers, along to a "Music as a commodity - Sharing vs Selling" seminar, with my advance literature obtusely (but not actually) indicating sympathies with those poor, hard-working (*snort!*) suits. The draw to them would be the speaker ...

In the meantime, around a month in advance, the SAS ('Spill Air Service) would have kidnapped a certain individual, and deposited him in a country hideaway populated entirely by musicians, fanzine bloggers, 'Spillharmonic shareholders, and a small number of fine cooks & vintners.

Then, on the day of the seminar, our guest would be released to give his address.

Fingers crossed, Tom Peters would then work the same magic over the Sony/Warner/EMI dinosaurs that I'm always enthralled to watch whenever I get the chance ...

tincanman said...

Well as you know I'm a big fan of the Playing for Change project, so I would use that as a base for a travelogue discussion of these places in the world and their geographic, political and economic challenges.

(I'm not a fan of 'globalization is bad' 'corporations are evil' type slogans. I think issues are a little more complex than that)

tincanman said...

love the idea, btw

goneforeign said...

Lets eliminate that 1 hour bit, it can be open ended.
! hour doesn't allow much use of film or video.

ToffeeBoy said...

How about an illustrated history of British culture (and the media perception of British culture), since the 1960s told through popular British sitcoms?

Abahachi said...

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Series 1-5) and the Cultures of Modernity". Not only is BtVS a superb example of popular culture at its best, it also offers a fascinating commentary upon popular culture and insights into a whole range of aspects of the nature of late modernity. And jokes. Building on my earlier work on conceptions of history and historicity in the series...

Japanther said...

great idea GF.

I'd love to tackle the subject of the impact the ability to upload has had on music/media/news etc.

Downloading was a revolution to be sure but it was still a one-way street and we were still passive consumers. But with the advent of uploading, the whole process of making/listening to music or reporting on news has been turned on it's head. It's a true people's revolution. I'm convinced "they" will find a way of restricting and regulating it in due course and we should be grateful that we are living in halcyon days and should take full advantage!

snadfrod said...

GF - I've given this a bit of thought and I'm going for a course/seminar called:

'Pop will eat itself; Scrubs and the intertextuality of modern culture.'

Its a bit of a mouthful but basically I will use the sitcom Scrubs as an exemplar of the way that pop culture has now become so saturated with self-reference that it must, out of necessity, become cannibalistic by design.

I've chosen Scrubs as being by far the most scattershot and clever in it's pop references (after, of course, The Simpsons, but that seemed an easy target) and will begin my course with a complex reading of the episode in which JD suspects that the janitor may have appeared in Harrison Ford's The Fugitive. This is true, of course, in that the ACTOR playing the janitor WAS in The Fugitive, but the fact is used to cleverly add a layer of trust and understanding to the relationship between Janitor and JD.

It is a very clever breaking of the typical sitcom conventions and shows just how much it is necessary for pop culture to feedback on itself if it is to stay sharp, relevant and beyond the modern. Where this logically takes us, I fear, is some kind of arch-ironic limbo, but exploring the route there should be fun!!

P.S. Can I sign up for Aba and Panther's classes, please?

steenbeck said...

I've thought about it a lot, and I'd like to do a history of American Independent Cinema. It would be the story of people working outside the system. So the first step would be to define the system and show how it took hold and what shaped it. Then I'd like to talk about very early filmmakers who found a voice despite being outside of the current that lead to Hollywood...For instance the all-black owned and operated production companies of the tens and twenties, or experimental filmmakers like Maya Deren. Then I'd like to look at people who found a way to say something subversive from within the system, like Dorothy Arzner, a lesbian who directed Hollywood films from the twenties to the early forties. She made conventional films but found a way to work some subtext into them. This would also be the place to examine pre- and post-code differences in films. For the sixties I'd talk about how American film fit into the New Wave movements occurring in cinema throughout the world. You could have a segment comparing independent film in the 70s and early 80s to the punk scene in NYC. And of course I'd end it all by explaining how people like Tarantino and Kevin Smith have killed independent cinema. And then examine places where it's coming back--Mexican American cinema maybe. Or maybe on the internet.

I have a lot of other ideas about this, but I've probably gone on too long already. It really has got me thinking, though. So thanks, GF.

ejaydee said...

Wow, that sounds really interesting Steenbeck, seriously, you should do it. And I'd want to do the correspondence course.

ToffeeBoy said...

Look guys - this is all getting too highbrow. My presentation will include clips from On The Buses, Love Thy Neighbour, Are You Being Served?, 'Allo, 'Allo*, The Liver Birds, Man About The House and much, much more!

How can you possibly choose to listen to steenbeck, Abahachi and japanther's intellectual nonsense when you could join me in the main auditorium and laugh your head off at jokes about Mrs Slocombe's pussy!

* note the leading apostrophes - sorry, diacritics.

treefrogdemon said...

@Abahachi: I did once give a paper about food and its symbolism in BtVS (or something) at an academic Buffy conference.

tincanman said...

I think those are apostrophes

Toffee, do you not check emails? Shall I have to put a pox on your team? I can you know. I have the power.

steenbeck said...

Thank you, Ejaydee. It's made me happy thinking about all the different angles one could approach it from. Maybe I could write a book--and that would justify all my hours guardian blogging because a lot of these ideas were provoked by Clip Joint. You should clip joint, ejay, it's a nice community. You too, goneforeign. Everyone else, too, of course.

ANd I'm loving the K'naan album. Thank you.

ejaydee said...

There was this time I thought a good one, but I didn't find a clip for it, it was something from Pierrot Le Fou. I might join one day, you know how it starts: you intrigued by a mention on the main page, you read the comments without joining in, and then one day you have something that you really really have to share.
But wait, you can't do a word search on iTunes!

steenbeck said...

Do it, Ejay, do it!! I know I've nominated films I saw because you suggested them! And yeah, we all start by reading along, thinking, I might have a good one, but, whatever...

Then the months pass and you're hooked.

It is time consuming finding clips sometimes, and lordy knows RR is time consuming enough. But it's nice to revisit films you've liked, too.

steenbeck said...

Um, no pressure, obviously.

Chris said...

er, TB, there's a programme filling up some time on ITV3 at the moment called Beyond A Joke, described as a 'Series looking at how British sitcoms have reflected what was happening in the UK during the 20th century. Actors, writers, producers and directors discuss the ways in which their popular shows, including Only Fools and Horses, George and Mildred and The Young Ones have responded to issues in society'
Is this your complete audio-visual course?

goneforeign said...

That's in part the sort of thing I was thinking about but it's such a complex issue, that just touches it.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ Chris - you know, I think I must have been subliminally aware of this - it does kinda ring a bell. But I'm sure it will still be too high brow for me. My course will have a whole module focussing on the rise and fall of Wendy Richard's cleavage.

Abahachi said...

@treefrogdemon: really? It wasn't in East Anglia, by any chance? If so, it's the conference I didn't manage to get to due to illness, so never got to deliver my paper...

goneforeign said...

Great responses one and all and thank you all.
When I posted this I was not clear in my mind, I still am not, what pop culture is, it's one of those things you can't define but you know it when you see it. I see it here all the time in it's different guises but I still can't put my finger on it. Is it the AOTW or is it the random comments re. favorite films that Chris or Gremlin post? It's both and much more.
I view it from a possibly different perspective than most, mine is that of a long time expat who's generally out of touch with what's happening, my main source of news is the Guardian and the Spill, I don't watch TV and there's not much in the way of popular radio here, it's a problem with the mountains 'twixt me and the transmitters.
Here's some of the things I've thought about recently:
I was awed by the recent publication of the line up at Glastonbury, just unbelievable, ever so slightly excessive? More so because of the photos of past events: Swimming in mud! How does that reflect pop culture?
I'm at a loss to understand the passion for football, or any sport for that matter. It's changed dramatically since my day in UK, I recently watched a game, I think it was Liverpool and the announcer said that only one person on the team spoke English? It used to be that to play for Liverpool you were born there.
And language, that's also changed, as language constantly does; but I'm appalled by the level of the comments on such sites as youtube, but I also see similar on the G's blogs and the SF Chronicle's. What a decline in the level of basic communication. It's not language that's at fault here, it's the level, or lack of of, common courtesy.
BBC used to be the world standard for TV, it no longer is, it's mostly rubbish and mainly why I don't watch much TV any more. The US fare is a joke, BBC's not far behind.
Music: A lot of what's posted here I find hard to listen to, I try, I even get the lyrics to read along but I often don't make to the end of a cut. I'm intrigued by the number of times someone says on RR "Lovely song, but I've no idea what it's all about" In the 50's I was listening to typical BBC offerings, Billy Cotton, Mantovani. Forces Favorites, Housewives Choice etc. and then along came the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan et al; I loved it, it was fantastic, the songs had meaning and were creatively and musically light years away from Billy Cotton et al; but somehow that all seems to have changed. I was overwhelmed by the changes that the Beatles introduced into music, I thought they were the most imaginative and creative band anywhere and others followed. Am I missing something? does that level of creativity still flourish? Why is it so hard for me to listen to your postings?
Jazz & Blues: They once reflected pop culture, perhaps much more so here than in the UK, now I think they're a smallish in-group that talks to itself, similarly reggae. In the black community jazz has been replaced by hip-hop. It's interesting how musical genres emerge, dominate and then decline. How many musical forms have done this? Where's 'folk music' now? once a dominant force in pop culture.
I don't know if all this is a result of age, I really am interested in the topic but I find myself continually wondering about where society's at and where it's heading and how all these elements interact. I'm not yearning for 'the good old days', just querying where we're at as a species.

Chris said...

I perceive one of the major issues that has changed the notion of 'popular culture' irretrievably is the global communication revolution.
I, too, remember The Billy Cotton Band Show. It was dreadful but it was undeniably 'British'. Other countries had their own cultures which were all protected to a large degree by isolation from from outside influence. That no longer happens: popular culture is global. And whilst that is so good in bringing different things to our attention (e.g. the expansion of World Music - formerly Folk Music - for example), it also tends to homogenise and diminish. The film Slumdog Millionaire was a fantastic example of how culture-blending can produce something of value but that is a rarity.
We can't turn the wheel back, so all we can do is look for the gems of originality. For starters, gf, get a subscription to HBO and watch The Wire, an unparalleled examination of modern society. If you can't get HBO, buy the box set.

goneforeign said...

Chris: I've seen every episode of the wire, the best TV ever made. HBO is the obvious exception to my comments about the awful state of TV. Let me suggest that you read the book by David Simon - Homicide; A year on the killing streets, it's where all the ideas for the Wire started, it's a great read.

Chris said...

There ya go, then! There are still nuggets around. You've just got to keep your eyes and ears peeled.

treefrogdemon said...

@Abahachi: yes, it was at UEA. I was a student there at the time and thought I might as well go to the conference and have a chat with my supervisor while I was at it. What was your paper about?

Abahachi said...

"History as Nightmare in BtVS". I was rather annoyed that they never got the proceedings published, as I thought my piece was actually quite good; my plan is now to become sufficiently eminent that someone will want to publish my Collected Papers, at which point I can slip this one in (and the one on cannibalism that appears to be completely unpublishable; at any rate at least five journals - I've lost count of exactly how many - had rejected it by the time I gave up trying). In the meantime, I'm always happy to force copies onto people...

treefrogdemon said...

Well, let's see it then...joc at treefrog.demon.co.uk (omit spaces)

Abahachi said...

If you insist...