Is It Rude to Talk Over a Film? MST3K’s Mary Jo Pehl on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #45

We live in a commentary culture with much appreciation for camp and snark, but something special happened in the early '90s when Mystery Science Theater 3000 popularized this additive form of comedy, where jokes are made during a full-length or short film. Mary Jo Pehl was a writer and performer on MST3K and has since riffed with fellow MST3K alums for Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic.

Mark, Erica, and Brian briefly debate the ethics of talking over someone else's art and then interview Mary Jo about how riffs get written, developing a riffing style and a character that the audience can connect with (do you need to include skits to establish a premise for why riffing is happening?), riffing films you love vs. old garbage, the degree to which riffing has gone beyond just MST3K-associated comedians, VH-1's Pop-Up Video, and more.

Follow Mary Jo @MaryJoPehl.

Here are a some links to get you watching riffing:

Different teams have different styles of riffing, so if you hate MST3K, you might want to see if you just hate those guys or hate the art form as a whole. The alums themselves currently work as:

Here are a few relevant articles:

Also, PROJECT: RIFF is the website/database we talk about where a guy named Andrew figured out how many riffs per minute are in each MST3K episode, which character made the joke, and other stuff.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Hyperland: The “Fantasy Documentary” in Which Douglas Adams and Doctor Who‘s Tom Baker Imagine the World Wide Web (1990)

Thirty years ago, the internet we use today would have looked like science fiction. Now as then, we spend a great deal of time staring at streams of video, but the high-tech 21st century has endowed us with the ability to customize those streams as never before. No longer do we have to settle for traditional television and the tyranny of "what's on"; we can follow our curiosity wherever it leads through vast, ever-expanding realms of image, sound, and text. No less a science-fiction writer than Douglas Adams dreams of just such realms in Hyperland, a 1990 BBC "fantasy documentary" that opens to find him fast asleep amid the mindless sound and fury spouted unceasingly by his television set — so unceasingly, in fact, that it keeps on spouting even when Adams gets up and tosses it into a junkyard.

Amid the scrap heaps Adams meets a ghost of technology's future: his "agent," a digital figure played by Doctor Who star Tom Baker. "I have the honor to provide instant access to every piece of information stored digitally anywhere in the world," says Baker's Virgil to Adams' Dante. "Any picture or film, any sound, any book, any statistic, any fact — any connection between anything you care to think of."




Adams' fans know how much the notion must have appealed to him, unexpected connections between disparate aspects of reality being a running theme in his fiction. It became especially prominent in the Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency Series, whose wide range of references includes Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan — one of the many pieces of information Adams has his agent pull up in Hyperland.

Adams' journey along this proto-Information Superhighway also includes stops at Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Picasso's Guernica, and Kurt Vonnegut's theory of the shape of all stories. Such a pathway will feel familiar to anyone who regularly goes down "rabbit holes" on the internet today, a pursuit — or perhaps compulsion — enabled by hypertext. Already that term sounds old fashioned, but at the dawn of the 1990s actively following "links" from one piece of information, so common now as to require no introduction or explanation, struck many as a mind-bending novelty. Thus the program's segments on the history of the relevant technologies, beginning with U.S. government scientist Vannevar Bush and the theoretical "Memex" system he came up with at the end of World War II — and first described in an Atlantic Monthly article you can, thanks to hypertext, easily read right now.

Though to an extent required to stand for the contemporary viewer, Adams was hardly a technological neophyte. An ardent early adopter, he purchased the very first Apple Macintosh computer ever sold in Europe. "I happen to know you've written interactive fiction yourself," says Baker, referring to the adventure games Adams designed for Infocom, one of them based on his beloved Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels. Though Adams' considerable tech savvy makes all this look amusingly prescient, he couldn't have known just then how connected everyone and everything was about to become. "While Douglas was creating Hyperland," says his official web site, "a student at CERN in Switzerland was working on a little hypertext project he called the World Wide Web." And despite his early death, the man who dreamed of an electronic "guidebook" containing and connecting all the knowledge in the universe lived long enough to see that such a thing would one day become a reality.

Related Content:

Play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Video Game Free Online, Designed by Douglas Adams in 1984

In 1999, David Bowie Predicts the Good and Bad of the Internet: “We’re on the Cusp of Something Exhilarating and Terrifying”

John Turturro Introduces America to the World Wide Web in 1999: Watch A Beginner’s Guide To The Internet

Pioneering Sci-Fi Author William Gibson Predicts in 1997 How the Internet Will Change Our World

Sci-Fi Author J.G. Ballard Predicts the Rise of Social Media (1977)

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Internet & PC in 1974

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Star Trek: World-Building Over Generations—Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #42

The world-wide Tribble infestation and Star Trek: Picard dropping make this an apt time to address our most philosophical sci-fi franchise. 44 years of thought experiments (with photon torpedoes!) about what it is to be human should have taught us something, and Brian Hirt, Erica Spyres, and Mark Linsenmayer along with Drew Jackson (Erica's husband) reflect on what makes a Star Trek story, world building over generations in Gene Roddenberry's land, canon you don't remember vs. something that just hasn't been shown on screen, Trek vs. Wars, and step-children like The Orville and Galaxy Quest.

We have gathered a heap of articles for further cogitation:

For some suggested episodes to catch up on, there are lists online recommending those from the original series and from the franchise overall. There are also fan creations like these original series episodes, a Star Trek musical, and of course the Improvised Star Trek podcast. For some relevant words from Rod Roddenberry, check out episode 55 of the Mission Log podcast.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

 

Soundtrack Composer Craig Wedren (Zoey’s Playlist, Glow, Shrill) Joins Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #41 on TV Musicals

Craig was the front-man of the brainy punk band Shudder to Think from the mid-'80s through the '90s and has created music for many TV shows and films. He joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt due to his involvement with the current NBC musical dramedy Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, which along with Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Nashville, Rise, etc. represents a new era of musicals as mainstream TV.

Why are shows like this being created at this point in our cultural history? These shows all use some narrative explanation for why there's singing (i.e. the songs are diagetic) instead of just having the characters sing as in a classic musical or a film like The Greatest Showman or La La Land. Most of these also make heavy use of cover tunes and/or parodies in a way that stage musicals usually don't. And of course there's often a heavy use of autotune and more star-based casting than is the norm for stage productions.

Some articles to provide an overview of the topic:

Note that Craig doesn't create the actual songs that the cast members sing for Zoey's, just the interstitial music, but he's written heaps of songs and is in a great position to talk with us about everything from Cop Rock to Mama Mia. We also touch on musical episodes in Community and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bohemian Rhapsody, karaoke in film, Adam Schlesinger, Stop Making Sense (also see David Byrne's mobile band on Colbert) and a weird Netflix lip-sync drama called Soundtrack,

Listen to Craig talk about his own tunes on Nakedly Examined Music and watch his daily Sabbath Sessions at facebook.com/craigwedrenmusic or on YouTube. Hear the song he wrote for School of Rock.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #40 on #MeToo Depictions in TV and Film


These stories are all heavily watched, which means they're entertaining: The 2019 film Bombshell (about the predations of Roger Ailes), Apple TV's The Morning Show (about a disgraced anchor), and Netflix's Unbelievable (about reporting rape) and 13 Reasons Why (about teen suicide resulting from sexual assault). But what's "entertaining" about sexual assault and harassment? What makes for a sensitive as opposed to a sensationalized portrayal?

Erica, Mark, and Brian consider which stories work and why. How much divergence from true events is allowable in Bombshell or Confirmation (about Anita Hill)? By having characters interpret their situations (Erica gives an example from the show Sex Education), are writers essentially telling audiences how to feel about their own experiences? Should certain depictions be ruled out as potentially triggering, or is it good to "bring to light" whatever terrible things actually happen in the world? Should shows delve into the psychology of the perpetrator (maybe even treating him as a protagonist), or must the message be wholly and unambiguously about the victim? 

Art is about risk-taking and capturing difficult ambiguities; this doesn't sound much like a public service message. So what responsibility to do show creators have to consult professionals about how to present difficult topics like this?

We drew on some articles to help us look at these questions:

Here's that weird scene where Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup sing on The Morning Show.

If this topic is too depressing, check out our episode #39 from last week about what to watch on TV during quarantine:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

HBO Is Streaming 500 Hours of Shows for Free: The Sopranos, The Wire, and More

We live, one often hears, in a golden age of television. But when did this age begin? Scholars of prestige TV drama — a field that, for both professionals and amateurs, has expanded in recent years — tend to point to The Sopranos, which premiered in 1999. In its eight-year run, David Chase's series about a depressed New Jersey mafia boss, a protagonist analyzed in the Behind the Curtain video essay above, set new standards in its medium for craft and complexity. To understand how much of a departure The Sopranos marked from everything else on television, simply compare it to what was airing on major broadcast networks in the 1990s, most of which now looks unwatchably simplistic and repetitive.

Of course, The Sopranos didn't air on a major broadcast network: it aired on HBO. Originally launched as "Home Box Office" in 1972, the oldest premium cable channel of them all has long since expanded its mandate from airing second-run movies to creating original programming of its own.




Its mid-1990s slogan "It's Not TV. It's HBO" reflects an intent to go beyond what was possible on conventional television networks, an enterprise whose promise The Sopranos signaled to the world. Critics lavished even more praise on The Wire, David Simon's dramatic examination and indictment of American institutions that ran on HBO from 2002 to 2008. In the video essay just above, Thomas Flight explains what makes The Wire, whose fans include everyone from Barack Obama to Slavoj Žižek, "one of the most brilliant TV shows ever."

If you haven't seen these or the other acclaimed HBO shows that have done so much to gild this televisual age, now's your chance to catch up. That's true not just for the obvious reason — the threat of the coronavirus pandemic keeping so many shut in at home — but also because HBO will make 500 hours of its programming free to stream on its HBO Now and HBO Go platforms. If you're in the United States or another area served by HBO online, you can watch not just The Sopranos and The Wire in their entirety, but the vampire-themed True Blood, the undertaking-themed Six Feet Under, and such comedic takes on American business and politics as Silicon Valley and Veep, a video essay from The Take on whose "satire in the age of Trump" appears above. Of all the ways we can define HBO-style prestige television, isn't "TV shows good enough to inspire video essays" the most apt? Get started here.

Related Content:

The Wire as Great Victorian Novel

The Wire Breaks Down The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Classic Criticism of America (NSFW)

David Chase Reveals the Philosophical Meaning of The Sopranos' Final Scene

The Nine Minute Sopranos

Watch Curated Playlists of Experimental Videos & Films to Get You Through COVID-19: Miranda July, Jan Švankmajer, Guy Maddin & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Stream All 18 Hours of Ken Burns’ Baseball for Free on What Would Have Been Opening Day

Baseball season won't start today, on what would have been Open Day. So here's your next best bet. As Sam Barsanti writes at AV Club, "PBS and the world’s preeminent director of extremely watchable and extremely long documentaries have a special treat: The entirety of Ken Burns’ Baseball—over 18 hours—is now available to stream for free on the PBS website and all of its related apps."

It's no coincidence that Burns' documentary becomes free during COVID-19. On Twitter, Burns adds: "With events canceled & so much closed, I asked @PBS to stream BASEBALL for free so we can participate in the national pastime together. Watch at the link below or on any streaming device. And please look out for those with greater needs. Play ball."

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