Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast — Season One Wrap: What Have We Learned? (#102)

After 101 episodes and a bit over two years, Open­Cul­ture’s first pod­cast offer­ing is mov­ing into a new phase. Here your hosts Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Eri­ca Spyres, and Bri­an hirt reflect on what we’ve learned and set a course for the future.

Our over­ar­ch­ing con­cern with this pod­cast has been how and why we con­sume. We may not have learned a great deal about this issue in a gen­er­al sense, but we’ve cer­tain­ly been shown the appeal of many forms that we might not have con­sid­ered before, and we’ve the­o­rized about why peo­ple like dra­ma or hor­ror, or what makes for com­pelling sci-fi or gam­ing, etc.

We’ve stretched over these episodes into some unex­pect­ed areas for a pop cul­ture pod­cast, like the phi­los­o­phy of pho­tog­ra­phy and why peo­ple obsess over con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. The cur­rent dis­cus­sion takes this on through a re-con­sid­er­a­tion of what pop cul­ture is. Of course, the title of the pod­cast has “pret­ty much” in it, which allows a cer­tain amount of lee­way, but the source of that ambi­gu­i­ty is not just that I want the free­dom to bring in any top­ic that inter­ests me, but because of two points cov­ered in this episode:

  • Func­tion­al­ly, indi­vid­u­als enter­tain them­selves with a vari­ety of things; they are our cul­tur­al food, and can include many obses­sions that have noth­ing to do with man­u­fac­tured media at all. If such fas­ci­na­tions are also used by mul­ti­ple peo­ple to bond over, then that’s cul­ture, and inso­far as bond­ing over that object is com­mon, then it’s pop cul­ture.
  • There’s a con­tin­u­um between cre­ation and spec­tat­ing. Cre­ators are first of all con­sumers and cre­ate large­ly through imi­tat­ing and tweak­ing past works. Though this pod­cast focus­es large­ly on the con­sumer side of the equa­tion, some of audi­ence appre­ci­a­tion is a mat­ter of respect for the craft, which increas­es through under­stand­ing and (at least vic­ar­i­ous) par­tic­i­pa­tion in the activ­i­ty. Though it’s not always the case that we get enjoy­ment through sym­pa­thy with the artis­tic choic­es a cre­ator makes (some­times we just mar­vel uncom­pre­hend­ing­ly), this is a sig­nif­i­cant dynam­ic in fan­dom. View­ers who liked Game of Thrones had many ideas about how it should have end­ed even if they had no oppor­tu­ni­ty or even tal­ent to real­ly pro­vide an alter­na­tive.

It all comes down to the dimen­sions of mime­sis, which means reflec­tion. We enjoy sto­ry­telling large­ly because it reflects us, either how we are, how we might like to be, or how we fear we could be. We get some of our ideas about who we are from these media reflec­tions. Mar­keters guess at who they think we are (again, in part based on media) and cre­ate prod­ucts to mar­ket at us. Artists cre­ate works reflect­ed from oth­er works which attempt to reflect us (or dis­tort us based on knowl­edge of a reflec­tion). Who we are as a cul­ture may be very much sto­ry­telling all the way down. So polit­i­cal myths are an essen­tial part of this, as are sex­u­al mores, ideas about what leisure activ­i­ties (and jobs, for that mat­ter) are respectable, man­ners tak­en more gen­er­al­ly, how we deal with our lega­cies of racism and sex­ism, what we find fun­ny and how that changes over time, and much much more.

Thanks, all, for lis­ten­ing. We’ll be back in a few weeks.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion you can access by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at

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.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.