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? Email us at email@example.com.
This one’s a tradition:
What’s your pop culture resolution for 2016?
Laura M. Browning
I failed at my resolution last year, which was to focus on breadth and not just automatically binge-watch everything I started. So this year, I figured I would resolve to do something a little more specific and measurable: I’m going to watch every movie A.A. Dowd has graded an A or A- since he started reviewing for The A.V. Club. This is a little harder than you might think, because I have a debilitating fear of the swell of cellos that signals tension—never mind the jump scare that follows, because I’m already curled up in the fetal position—so I may need a support group to get me through It Follows. It’s also exciting, because there are a lot of movies on this list that I’ve been meaning to see but just haven’t made time for yet (probably because I was busy bingeing Jessica Jones and Making A Murderer), like Phoenix and The Look Of Silence. (Admittedly I’ve been putting off the last one, as well as its companion, The Act Of Killing, because of the subject matter.) On the other hand, this should be a pretty reachable goal—it’s not like it’s going to take me that long.
I was overly ambitious last year and decided that in the span of two weeks, I would read the almost 500-page graphic novel Rasl. This book was too big (not because of the page count, but because of its actual dimensions) to take on the train, which was a contributing factor to my failure. I think in an odd way, it’s also one of the reasons I made a lot of bookless commutes throughout 2015—because if stubborn me couldn’t get Rasl on the train without pissing off commuters, I might as well take nothing at all. Sometimes I like to stew in my own misery for longer than necessary. But I can stand the misery no more, and I resolve to use the 25 minutes I’m on the train each morning for reading books instead of checking email or Neko Atsume or any other number of time-sucks that live in my iPhone. Reading suggestions are welcome, just don’t recommend anything I can’t hold with one hand, please. Otherwise, I’m planning to make my way through Esquire’s new list, “80 Books Every Person Should Read,” which finally acknowledges some actual women’s perspectives, updating its previously subpar list that was geared solely toward men.
After reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, I realized most of the books I’d read in 2015, and most of the books on my bookshelf, are written by men. So my pop-culture resolution is to read mainly books by women this year—I’m not going to say “only” books by women, because some book by a man may come out that I want to review and I’d be silly to limit my options in an attempt to widen them. But unless one comes along that I really, really want to review, I’m sticking to female authors, and in preparation I requested specific books for Christmas presents this year. Many of those come from the list of Pulitzer Prize winners and runners-up (a years-old old pop-culture resolution I’m still slowly working on), so I’ve got Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Carol Shields’ The Stone Diaries, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I also now own Marilynne Robinson’s other fiction books, which means Home, Lila, and Housekeeping await. Right now I’m reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Price Of Salt, which was adapted into Carol. And no, I didn’t watch every movie with Jason Statham in it (my 2015 goal), though I did work my way through a decent amount. I’ll complete that resolution someday.
It’s not something I try to talk about that much—and actively try to write about even less—but, in 2015, my band released our first EP. We’d been kicking around for a while in various permutations, working on songs and playing shows here and there. Once our lineup solidified (however briefly), we recorded everything we had in a marathon, one-day session. We rushed through songs live and, as was the case for our nearly 10-minute track, knocked most of them out in single takes. It’s been over a year since we’ve released anything new, and with a batch of songs ready my resolution is to record and release another EP. It’s a small achievement, but one that I’m hoping is doable. Maybe this time around, we’ll even splurge and spend more than a single day recording.
My resolution is simple: Watch fewer reruns in order to leave time for more first-run episodes. I know there’s nothing inherently wrong with revisiting a show, but lately I find myself settling for the familiar laughs (or melodrama!) of an old favorite instead of keeping up with the stuff that’s currently airing. That’s downright unseemly in this era of peak TV—I just finished the second season of Fargo. So, new year, new media.
Mine’s also pretty simple: Watch Twin Peaks. I’ve known for years that I would like it, but for whatever reason, I’ve just never made the commitment to sit down and do it. It’s not even like it’s that big of a commitment! This year, I’m doing it. No excuses! Maybe by the end of 2016 I’ll finally understand all those Log Lady jokes.
Mine is also ostensibly simple, but obviously not, because it hasn’t happened yet: I am finally, finally going to finish The Sopranos. I never watched it when it was on, and it wasn’t until I stumbled into a series-length collection on DVD some years back that I started delving into it. Yes, it’s rich and compelling and all that, but for whatever reason, it never gripped me as tightly as I expected. I petered out around the end of season three and never went back. But it feels like a gaping hole in my television knowledge, and having spent far too much time listening to people debate the merits of that ending, I’ve just gotta bite the bullet and do it. Then I can at long last tell people that yes, I’ve seen it, and no, I still don’t want to discuss that ending with you.
From about 1993 to 1996, I videotaped a lot of rock shows (and made a bunch of dumb/funny videos with my friends) that are currently rotting on VHS and Hi-8 tapes. I have moved them countless times at this point—they, and my VCR, were entombed in a Webvan crate, to give you some context—and my plans to digitize those tapes are older than YouTube. Worse, I’ve had the necessary hardware and software to do this for years. But as we packed up our Christmas decorations last week, I made a bold move: I put the tapes in an easily reachable place, dug up the cords to hook everything up, and proclaimed the Great Digitization imminent. My wife remains skeptical, but I’ll show her! My grainy footage of Superchunk playing Harvey’s Club Deluxe in Houston in 1994 is going to be bigger than Tyler Oakley!
I’ve been working on this one for years, but it’s time to get it down in print, in big bold letters: 2016 is the year I give up on guilt. (Pop-culture-wise, at least; the rest of you are still free from my non-TV-based sociopathic urges.) Guilty pleasures, guilty indulgences, self-apologetic lapses in taste: It’s all going out the window this year, as I let the singular guiding principle of watching and thinking about whatever the hell I want guide me through the world. That doesn’t necessarily mean trash. (Although it probably does mean some trash; does anybody have some good trash to recommend?) Maybe I’ll get over my fear of being seen as yet another white liberal literary dork with a hero-worship fetish and get seriously into David Foster Wallace. Maybe I’ll reignite my teenage love of anime. Maybe I’ll just watch Archer again, for what’s probably the 12th time, instead of seeking out Making A Murderer or something more enriching, because Archer is great and watching it makes me happy. I don’t know yet, and, more importantly, I officially do not care. 2016: Give up!
My TV diet consists primarily of single-camera sitcoms, prestige dramas, topical late-night shows, and my wife’s preferred video wallpaper: HGTV. Frankly, I need to be more omnivorous in my television viewing. I’m skipping much too much of those 400-some scripted series that were produced in the United States last year, not to mention almost everything in the non-scripted realms of reality and competition programming. (And then there’s news and children’s series and every other category I struggle to fill out when I’m making nominations for the Television Critics Association Awards.) There are only so many hours in a day, but there are also only so many reference points I can pull from via my current viewing habits, and that’s a disservice to my POV as a critic. The TV buffet gets longer and stranger by the day, and though I find my current diet to be both nourishing and appetizing, I’ll never know how nourishing and appetizing those shows are if I’m not sampling the ones that are less so—or potentially more so. (And that’s how I recently found myself in a Puerto Rican hotel room trying to make sense of The Bachelor’s latest bizarro season premiere.)
The completist in me has designated 2016 as the year when I finally pick back up with some TV shows I never got around to finishing after trailing off somewhere in the middle. Specifically, I want to finish Mad Men and Fringe, both of which closed out strongly, as I understand it. I never started Mad Men’s sixth season, which I think started out as a desire to crank straight through it rather than wait out the hiatus between its first and second tranches. Then it just became less urgent to me, as is the case with any show once you get enough distance from it. Fringe lost me somewhere in the middle of the radically different fourth season, and learning that the fifth season flashes forward decades into the future didn’t make me eager to jump back in. Both shows have been on my list for a while, but that list will only grow longer and longer, so the longer I take to finish them, the slimmer the odds of finishing at all.
It’s time I finally watched Out 1. Jacques Rivette’s 12-hour magnum opus—restored last year for a rare theatrical run—is one of those cinematic rites of passages, the kind that seems to alter the perspective of even those who don’t end up loving it. My first opportunity to numb my butt at its altar was a few years ago, when the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago diced the hefty thing in half and screened it across a Saturday and Sunday; those of my friends who devoted their weekend to it still speak reverently of this communal experience. I had another opportunity to catch it on the big screen a few months ago and blew that, too. But now that Out 1 is available on Blu-ray, the excuses must stop. Though technically divided into eight chapters—meaning that one could conceivably watch it in manageable chunks, instead of following tradition and splitting it into two marathons—I think I’m going to block out some lazy weekend, dim the lights, and see it as the screening gods intended, like my more diligent cinephile buddies. Except, you know, with more bathroom breaks.
I feel like I’ve pledged to finish writing the same novel several years in a row (guess who didn’t complete his resolution!), so this time I’m going to shoot for something more manageable: catch up on peak TV. Sure, I spent 2015 enjoying Jessica Jones, Broad City, Fargo, Mad Men, Wet Hot American Summer, Orange Is The New Black, Master Of None, Parks And Recreation, Adventure Time, and the less-rapey episodes of Game Of Thrones. But there’s so much on 2015’s must-see list that to finish (or start) watching: Better Call Saul. With Bob And David. And non-Odenkirk-related things like Bob’s Burgers, Steven Universe, Daredevil, Justified, Kimmy Schmidt, Orphan Black, and The Americans. Let’s just make a pact that no one’s allowed to make any great new TV shows in 2016 until I’ve caught up on last year. Deal?
After years in this kooky reviewer game, where the flood of stuff I have to review (not that I’m complaining) invariably turns days and weeks into an undifferentiated wash of flickering entertainment, I have a plan to take control of the remote control. At the end of every year, especially, I find myself casting my mind back fruitlessly over a year’s worth of watching and evaluating, and occasional bewildered cursing, trying to isolate the episodes, moments, even single glances and lines that truly affected me in the past 12 months. So this year, I’m getting organized, with a number of shiny blank folders labeled “quotes,” “episodes,” and “performances” just waiting to be filled with all the TV greatness 2016 can throw at me. Bring it on, 2016—I am Folder Boy.
Last year I picked nine movies from my ever-growing to-watch list and pledged to watch them. Reader, I failed. I hit six out of nine (including Lawrence Of Arabia in 70mm!) and I’ll go ahead and blame the three-movie shortfall on my new daughter. But Big Trouble In Little China and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance have both turned up on new-parent-friendly Netflix, so I feel comfortable expanding this year’s resolution to watch 12 movies I really need to catch up with, including those two and Carnival Of Souls from last year, with the following additions chosen somewhat haphazardly: Marnie, Adam’s Rib, The Thin Man, Seconds, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Paths Of Glory, The Sweet Smell Of Success, Days Of Thunder, and Gaslight. Tune in next year to find out whether I’ve fallen even further behind!
People tend to be mired in the music of their youth, unless music is part of their profession (hey A.V. Club music writers!). I’m certainly guilty of that. I used to be such a voracious music listener, and I’ll still go see pretty much any type of live music for fun. But my playlists revolve around stuff I’ve always loved, and new albums and songs are only added when they’re by the familiar. But in 2016, I want to seek out more new music. Sleater-Kinney’s reunion was great and all but there’s not going to be a No Cities To Love every year. So I need to make the effort to go find and retain this new music, instead of reading about new bands, saying, “Huh, that sounds interesting,” and pressing play on Born To Run one more time.
Ever since I put out You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me about Insane Clown Posse and Phish fandom back in 2013, I’ve made a point of trying to catch at least a few Phish shows every year. This year I saw Insane Clown Posse three times (once at the Gathering Of The Juggalos when I covered it for The A.V Club, once at the Rob Zombie Haunted House in suburban Chicago (where I had the pleasure of meeting A.V Clubber Alex McCown, who did the haunted house thing but inexplicably left before the Clown show) and once at the Masquerade in my new hometown of Atlanta, but I did not see Phish at all. They played Atlanta the day before my family moved there. I would to change that ratio this year, and catch at least three to five Phish shows in addition to my fifth trip to the Gathering Of The Juggalos. I’d also like to spend time mindlessly consuming media on my phone, finish watching Breaking Bad, and finish writing a book about the video game and Uwe Boll movie Postal with my friend Brock Wilbur.
In 2016 I vow to create more pop culture. I’ve been trying my best over the past few years to do exactly this—and I think I’ve made some progress—but there’s so much more I can be accomplishing. I have two new novels written and in various points of revision right now, as well as a non-fiction book proposal that’s making the rounds, and I need to make sure I keep pouring my energy into those. I’m also editing an anthology of science-fiction short stories that will be announced soon. (Oh, and later this year I’ll have a short story of my own in the anthology Swords V. Cthulhu.) I love pop-culture criticism and journalism, and I definitely have no plans to stop; writing about other people’s stuff and writing my own stuff is a great way to stay balanced (and, you know, eating). But for the rest of 2016, I want to keep my eyes on the prize and contribute more stories and books—modest though they may be—to the body of pop culture from which we draw so much.
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya
Recently, a friend ruined my life by introducing me to Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, what comedians Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider refer to as the crown jewel of the Real Housewives franchise. I tore through all five seasons in time to watch the sixth as it airs, and I’ve recently also tackled its Lisa Vanderpump-led spinoff series Vanderpump Rules, which I contend has more in common with Shakespearean drama than it does with most other reality series. It’s safe to say Bravo has its hold on me. While my mother is probably hoping I’m giving up the Real Housewives franchise for my New Year’s resolution, I’m actually aspiring to do the opposite: I want to complete the entire franchise by catching up on every RH city—even the duds, like Real Housewives Of Washington D.C. I don’t think any of the women will topple Kyle Richards as my favorite housewife, but I can’t wait to meet them all.
I’ve already got a headstart on mine: I started reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens back in December, but since I’m barely 200 pages in, I think it still counts. I enjoy Dickens, but I’ve struggled getting into his work in the past—I get bogged down by the sentiment, and the plotting, which at times is less like a clear story than a single incident surrounded by a few thousand digressions. But the older I get, the more I appreciate the latter, and find I can tolerate the former, and there’s so much to love about Dickens’ writing that I think it’s worth the effort. I’m enjoying Bleak House a lot so far. Hopefully I’ll read more this year than I did last year, but for right now, I’m keeping expectations low.
Growing up watching Gilmore Girls imprinted on me the idea that cool people speak in pop-culture references. Few things delight me more than picking up on in-jokes or making them myself, and while I’m pretty proud of the eclectic nature of my pop-culture familiarity (I’m just as likely to quote The Philadelphia Story as I am The Dark Knight), I still have a long way to go if I ever hope to reach Lorelai Gilmore levels of encyclopedic knowledge. So I’d like to watch more iconic movies this year. That fairly broad goal allows me to fill in some of the embarrassing gaps I have when it comes to “important” cinema (I’ve still never seen Chinatown) while also making time to check out cult classics I’ve missed over the years. For instance, I watched Heathers for the first time last night, and now I finally understand why I’ve heard people joke about loving their dead gay sons. Sure, I may never be able to get every cinematic reference, but fuck me gently with a chainsaw, I’m going to try.
As I write this, I’ve read one more short story than there are days in 2016 so far, so I’ve decided to go for it. I’m going to read a short story a day this year. More likely I’ll read a few at a time. Even more likely I’ll fall flat on my face. There’s no way I’ll make 365, but I’m an optimist. And look at the evidence. I’m already one ahead of my goal, having devoured the opening stories in the collected works of Ambrose Bierce, starting with the source for The Twilight Zone’s “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge,” and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti, a horror writer I first heard mentioned as an influence on Nic Pizzolatto during the creepy first season of True Detective. Beyond that my buffet includes Flannery O’Connor, Stefan Zweig, and Eudora Welty, but I welcome recommendations. I’ll have plenty of time to read now that I’ve been introduced to Ligotti and won’t be sleeping any longer.
My resolution is simple this year: I’m going to let myself give up. I’m the person who watches a television show for seasons past its creative expiration date, for no other apparent reason than the fact that I started it. I’m also the person who gives a middling show a full season to see if it finds itself, or maybe two seasons, or even three. In this age of TV gluttony, this is no longer a feasible or even remotely intelligent strategy; for every one middling show, there are 10 better-than-middling to actually good shows out there to take its place on my DVR. I started this resolution early by dropping Gotham at the end of 2015, a show that I actively hated, other than its interesting visuals. There is no more room in my day for the Gothams of the world. Now I’m just going to let myself drop a show as soon as I know it isn’t for me, leaving me more time to watch the things I actually enjoy.
This year I plan to make good on the resolution I’ve had since childhood: Reading The Stand. Growing up devouring Stephen King books in the late ’80s and early ’90s, The Stand was always the “biggie” I planned to read… right after Cujo. Or, immediately after The Dark Half (basically anything less daunting). Granted, it’s not challenging like Infinite Jest or Ulysses, but goddammit, The Stand is still a lot of pages! Whenever I engage in casual King conversations, I’m always hit with, “Oh my God… you’ve never done it? Randall Flagg?!” Besides the word count, I’ve always been gun-shy because “post-apocalyptic” has never excited me. I like my King grounded in reality, where I’m cool with Tommyknockers or vampires, just as long as they’re playing on home field. I don’t do M-O-O-Ns, so to speak. But, with the upcoming Showtime eight-part series and film adaptation helmed by The Fault In Our Stars’ Josh Boone (with rumors of McConaughey playing the iconic Randall Flagg) I plan to spend winter getting better acquainted with an old friend called binge-reading.
Last year, my podcast co-host and I made a concerted effort to be aware of male nudity on television and when and how it was used (#Peen15). HBO and Showtime admittedly made our jobs a bit easier than we anticipated, but keeping an eye out for how the male form was presented, as compared to the female form, impacted my viewing tremendously. This year, I want to double down, watching less TV if necessary, but doing so more thoughtfully. Not only will I be following #Peen16, but I resolve to make sure I’m watching at least one show each week that regularly passes the gender, race, or sexuality Bechdel Test. I firmly believe representation on TV is important, but I’ve never made a concerted effort to make sure the shows I’m watching actually include a wide array of voices. That changes in 2016.