Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
Do you have any New Year’s pop-culture resolutions? Is there a genre you finally intend to get into, an artist you want to explore, a book you haven’t read yet but plan to, a movie or filmmaker or movement you’re overdue to experience?
Know what I resolved last year when we asked this same question? To read Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress Of Solitude. Know what I didn’t do? That. But in 2010, I did do a marginally better job of reading the new contemporary literature of note—I even got to Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom within a month of its release—and I was really pleased both with what’s out there, and with the chance to discuss it with people. So (like about half of us last year) I’m headed into 2011 resolved to read more, and pay more attention to new and notable book releases. Also, to finally get around to acquiring and watching the second season of Dollhouse, and to finally read, watch, and return all the stuff I’ve borrowed from friends and held onto larger than is remotely conscionable.
Having spent 2010 completely catching up on Mad Men and Breaking Bad, plus seeing Lost draw to a close, I’ll be turning my sights on a show I’ve heard nothing but good things about, but haven’t seen one minute of so far: the Battlestar Galactica reboot. While I’ve spent the past few years concerned with the antics of Don Draper, Benjamin Linus, and the Smoke Monster, it’s finally time to delve into BG and see what all the fuss over Cylons is about. Here’s hoping it lives up to the hype. And because my life isn’t busy and complicated enough, I’m going to plow through 2666, because Infinite Jest is so 2009.
There are so many shows that I mean to try but just don’t have time for—the one I’m increasingly ashamed I haven’t checked out is Modern Family, so I’ll give that a go. That’s the easy pop-culture resolution. The harder one is finishing writing another novel. That isn’t really an official New Year’s resolution of mine, since that just puts extra pressure on an endeavor that’s already rife with self-doubt, but it sure would be nice if in 2011, I could quit dicking around getting distracted, and finish off one of the proto-books I have floating around. I also realized that I need to spend less time on Facebook. Not only is it a time-waster in terms of work I should be doing (especially creative work: I rarely feel full of ideas after trolling around on Facebook) but I think it brings out some of the less-awesome aspects of my personality. I start getting jealous or angry or slightly obsessive based on what other people are up to, and that’s not how I want to be. I often tell myself that it’s okay for me to be on Facebook a lot, since it’s sort of part of my job to be plugged in, but if I can significantly cut down, maybe just go on once a day, I think I'll not only be a better writer, but a happier person.
Seeing as how I wound up reading almost none of the books I vowed I would in my 2010 pop-culture resolution, I’ll reach for some lower-hanging fruit: listening to local music. I live in Denver, and I have to say, the music scene around here lately has left me a little cold. Once, I could at least appreciate most local punk and indie-rock bands on the level of sheer oddball underdog-ism. But the Denver scene has copped a strange, snotty, self-entitled attitude lately, one that’s trickled down to the music itself. Folks, trust me: There are a lot of really, really shitty bands in Denver, many of which play styles of music that should otherwise be at least marginally listenable. (Then again, when you live in the same metropolitan area that hatched 3OH!3, it’s hard to have any kind of pride whatsoever.) That said, there are some truly amazing bands in Denver right now—Adai, The Nervous, Accordion Crimes, Hot White, and Night Of Joy, just to name a random handful—that totally rock me. There’s also the little fact that I actually play in a couple bands myself, so I really have no excuse not to get out and engage more, even if I am a bitter, crusty old grump who’s asleep by 10 most nights. So, yeah, my resolution for 2011: See more local shows, play more local shows, listen to more local music. That is, local music that doesn’t reek of Ke$ha.
Does food count as pop culture? For the purposes of this AVQA, I’m gonna say yes. Anyway, this answer is about a book! The book is The Michelin Guide: Chicago Restaurants 2011. Our incredible restaurant city finally got its own Michelin guide this year—the process is respected, but somewhat controversial, and the buildup was pretty entertaining to watch. Anyway, 23 restaurants in the city received Michelin stars, and only two got the coveted three-star rating. You see where this is going. I’ve been to seven of them, and I’d like to hit the rest in 2011. It’s a lofty, expensive goal, and I probably won’t make it. But I know I won’t start/finish Infinite Jest, so I’m not even gonna say that.
I’d like to spend as much of 2011 as possible correcting pop-culture blind spots. The biggest is probably my ignorance of a lot of modern videogames. I played a lot when I was younger, and have been keeping up with the industry ever since, but I only now have access to every system, and have been blowing through PS2 games for a while. Next up: BioShock and other Xbox 360 titles. There are also a few TV shows that keep coming up in conversation that I’ve never seen: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Dr. Who being some of the ones at the top of my list. Mostly, and perhaps counter to everything I’ve just said, I feel like too much of my time is spent in front of a computer screen, TV screen, iPhone screen—really, any screen of any kind. I’d like to carve out more time each day and spend it off-the-grid, so to speak: writing in notebooks, reading print publications, taking more music lessons… I’m having trouble thinking of many more. I really live my life as a slave to the screen.
Most of my 2011 resolutions revolve around wrestling some of my life back from television. Granted, that’s hard to do when there’s so much of it to watch and I make a point of watching just about anything any network will send me a screener of (next up: TV Guide Channel’s Nail Files!), but I’d like to go out and support our lovely little art theater here more often. I’d like to see more stage shows, especially since the Los Angeles independent theater scene is growing in renown. I’d like to finish a big, giant, classic novel, something I haven’t had much time for since college. And I’d like to finally finish one of the videogames I’ve had piling up since 2005 or so. I used to love gaming, but I haven’t had time for it in years. It’s time to stop watching TV and start playing videogames! (Somewhere, my mother is quietly weeping.)
Seeing as how I failed to follow through on nearly every resolution I made last year, I probably shouldn’t be trusted to make any new ones. (In my defense, I did read some Don DeLillo; White Noise instead of Underworld, and I didn’t care for it much, but that’s better than nothing.) Thankfully, I have no shame, so I feel no compunction about adding to my sins. I’m going to keep this small, though. There’s a ton of television I’d like to watch, there are books that have been sitting unread on my shelf for years, and videogames that remain unfinished, but I’m going to focus in on one thing only: getting caught up with Fringe. I watched the uneven first season, enjoyed where the series was headed, but lost track of it in season two, due to a overload of Thursday-night programming. And now the show is well into its third season, and everything I hear about it says it’s turned into one of the best science-fiction shows on TV. That’s a conversation I want to be part of again. Sure, I’d also like to read more and get out to see movies in the theater, and maybe check out the local museums more than just once in an ever, but that can wait. Right now, I need more John Noble, Anna Torv, and Joshua Jackson in my life.
My pop-culture New Year’s resolutions tend to be the same every year. This year, I’d like to be unplugged a whole lot more. I spend way too much of my time online, indulging my compulsions, so I think it would be lovely, if quixotic, to try to spend as much time away from my Apple Overlord as possible. Also, I’d like to fill in some of my pop-culture blind spots, namely reading fiction, going to plays and reading poetry.
In 2011, I resolve to watch more TV. That may sound strange, but consider that I don’t own one (cable’s too expensive and I’m too easily distracted anyway) and that more and more of the conversations of people I know (especially film writers) are dominated by television literacy, it no longer seems possible to (for lack of a less pretentious phrase) keep up with the cultural conversation without being familiar with at least some of the more Internet-popular programs. I started watching Deadwood in November, and though I didn’t get past the (awesome, Walter Hill-directed) pilot, I expect great things when I actually buckle down and watch the rest of it. The other show I’m working on regularly is The A-Team, which—as made available by Netflix Instant—is incredibly soothing. I missed this as a kid entirely, and so far, the guest stars in season one have included Dean Stockwell and Sid Haig. (Sporadically, I also check into the dense Yes, Minister and Saturday Night Live, which will presumably take forever.) My hope is that someday I’ll have seen more shows in their entirety than just The Wire, Twin Peaks, and The Prisoner.
I’ve got enough trouble keeping real New Year’s resolutions without throwing culture into the mix. But let’s try one on for size. The open secret of writing about popular culture is finding a way to make your obsessions pay off. Been meaning to finally catch up with The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Maybe there’s an article in it. That’s exponentially true for freelance writers, for whom every minute you aren’t on assignment is a minute you aren’t getting paid. Even so, I’d like to spend more time watching, reading, and listening to things for no reason at all. I’d love to get through a few novels, watch movies that aren’t new, on DVD or otherwise, and give a listen to some of my far-too-many unlistened-to CDs, for no greater reason than to follow my passions and expand my horizons. I’d like to have more cultural experiences that aren’t conditioned by release dates, to treat as new anything I haven’t experienced before. Maybe there’s a column in it.
Every year, I think I need to keep better track of the charts. I don’t just mean pop, either—I also mean R&B and country. (Not the dance charts. That’s where my snobbery kicks in hard.) There is something necessarily systematic about doing that, and systematic is something I’m only good for for short periods. I do pay attention—I write about singles for a few places—and I don’t necessarily feel I missed a ton in 2010, especially given how busy dance music and indie rock both were. But it’s nice to feel tapped into pop as an ongoing thing—there’s plenty of stuff I’d probably learn from that I haven’t encountered yet. That goes for country and R&B, too—maybe more so, since I’m not necessarily those genres’ target. I spent 2008 tracking down as many new entries on Billboard’s country Top 60 as I could find, and while the ratio was about what I expected (about a fifth, just like the hardest-drinkin’ music on earth), and I wouldn’t mind doing it again. I’ve never done that with the R&B list, which goes to 100 and is always crowded at the bottom with odd-looking one-shots on nowhere indie labels. If you love music in part for the hunt, you can see the appeal. (I should also tip my hat to my friend Robert Myers, for the entertaining Hot 100 Roundups on his blog. He reviews all the new entries except—after enduring them for a year—songs from Glee.)
A few years ago, I resolved to stop listening to new music altogether for one year, and instead to listen to my entire music collection in iTunes’ alphabetical order. And so I did. (I even wrote about the whole experience.) This year, I want to do something similar, but on a smaller scale, and without the writing part. I want to spend a little less time trying to keep up with and review what’s coming out each week, and a little more time organizing my archives and catching up with some artists I’ve neglected over the years. I still want to write record reviews, but only if I come across something I really like, or that I feel passionate about in some way. I’ve said before that record reviewing is more of a young person’s game. It’s the people under 30 who have the energy and inclination to go out to clubs, attend festivals, scour record shops, and pick through blogs. (To be dedicated music-lovers, in other words.) I still love music, but I find my tastes ossifying and my curiosity waning now that I’ve crossed the threshold of 40. So it’s time for me to ease my way out. No one needs a timid old man making references to Hugo Largo and Game Theory in the 2010s.
Looking at my resolutions for 2010, things didn’t pan out as I’d expected: My book fell through, I missed going on tour with my friends’ band, and I gave up on Infinite Jest after 250 pages. But my summer resolution to drink a lot of margaritas has carried its overwhelming success into the winter, so that’s something. Meanwhile, my goals for this upcoming year haven’t changed much: I have another book idea, and after a two-year layoff, I may start up another band. I need to make a dent in the giant stack of magazines and books waiting to be read at my house. If I add another David Foster Wallace book to that stack, I think I’ll go for the non-fiction this time.
My resolution for 2010? Follow the example of A.V. Club parents Noel Murray, Scott Tobias, Donna Bowman, Sam Adams, and Josh Modell by continuing to stay plugged into pop culture after the birth of the child my wife and I are expecting in June. I’m picturing middle-of-the-night sessions holding a sleeping baby in one arm and an iPad in the other. Or wait… Is that a scene of terrible neglect? I think I still have a lot to learn about this.