The “Conjuring” Film Universe Digested — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #101

With the release of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark, Erica Spyres and Brian Hirt explore the larger “Conjuring universe” that started with the critically acclaimed 2013 James Wan film depicting the fictionalized supernatural investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). Largely using the plot-generating device of the couple’s storehouse of haunted objects, this series has extended into eight films to date with more planned.

Are these films actually scary? Insofar as these demons and ghosts do frighten us, can we (emotionally) buy into the power of Catholic symbols to keep them at bay? Is it OK to valorize these real-life people who were very likely hucksters?

Is grouping these films together merely a marketing gimmick, or is there real narrative justification for the continuity? Even without a common filmmaker, stars, or plot through-line, there is some value in a brand or franchise, just so you know more or less what you’re getting, but does that actually hold in this case, or have Warren-free stinkers like The Nun (2018) and The Curse of La Llorona (2019) already failed to meet the franchise’s standards?

Some of the articles we reflected on for this episode included:

This episode includes bonus discussion you can access 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.

What’s the Role of a Director in Constructing Comedy? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #100

What makes for a good comedy film or show? Funny people reading (or improvising) funny lines is not enough; an good director needs to capture (or recreate in the editing room) comic timing, construct shots so that the humor comes through and coach the actors to make sure that the tone of the work is consistent.

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Heather Fink to discuss the role of the director in making a comedy (or anything else) actually good. Heather has directed for TV, film, and commercials and spent a lot of time doing sound (a boom operator or sound utility) for productions like Saturday Night Live, Get Out, The Morning Show, and Marvel’s Daredevil.

We talk about maintaining comedy through the tedious process of filming, putting actors through sex scenes and other hardships, not telling them how to say their lines, comedians in dramas, directing improv/prank shows, and more. We touch on include Bad Trip, Barry, and Ted Lasso, and more.

Watch some of Heather’s work:

  • Alleged, a short about dramatizing accusations against Steven Segal
  • Inside You, a film she wrote, directed, and (reluctantly) starred in
  • The Focus Group, a short Heather directed written by and starring Sara Benincasa

We used some articles to bring various directors and techniques to mind:

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access 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.

Do We Outgrow the Music of Our Youth? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #99

What long-term effects do songs that we’re exposed to early have on our adult tastes? As children we (hopefully) learn to love music, but then our critical faculties and peer pressure kick in, and many early influences become unacknowledged or transformed into guilty pleasures. Is the generation gap in musical taste really just due to how styles change over time (and we old folks just don’t get the new sound), or are there more fundamental reasons why it’s easier for younger people to absorb new music?

Today’s panel includes your host Mark Linsenmayer plus Erica Spyres, Brian Hirt, and The Hustle podcast host Jon Lamoreaux. They share their own experiences, songs from yesteryear that they have complicated feelings about now, and get into related topics like the activities of former pop stars and nostalgia in film soundtracks.

A few particular tracks that we mention are Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking,” Jo Boxers’  “Just Got Lucky,” Jethro Tull’s “Songs from the Wood,” and The Cars’ “Magic.” Can a pretty Steve Howe intro redeem this Asia cheesefest?

A few articles we consulted included:

Follow Jon’s podcast @thehustlepod. To get an idea of the formats of The Hustle as compared to Mark’s Nakedly Examined Music, why not take a deep dive on Grand Funk Railroad’s amazing Mark Farner who appeared on both? …NEM, Hustle.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access 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.

Storytelling and Race in Captain America — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #98

What is it for a super-hero to represent America? Though the character created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941 may have been a way to capitalize on WWII patriotism, it has since been used to ask questions about what it really means to be patriotic and how America’s ideals and its reality may conflict. We’re of course talking about race, a theme explored by Sam Wilson, formerly Cap’s side-kick, picking up the shield in the comics and now on TV (and in the forthcoming film).

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica, and Brian are joined by comic super-fan Anthony LeBlanc (returning from our ep.  56 on black nerds) to discuss the recent comic runs by Ta-Nehishi Coates and Nick Spencer and especially Truth: Red, White and Black, Marvel’s 2003 comics mini-series by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker that tells the story of American super-soldier experiments on unknowing black men (reminiscent of the real-life Tuskegee Syphilis Study). This was the source of the “first black Captain America” character Isaiah Bradley featured in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Disney+ show, which we also discuss.

Here are a few articles that fed into our discussion:

The final issue of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Captain America is coming July 7.

We recommend the Captain America Comic Book Fans podcast for more information. Their recent interview with longtime editor Tom Brevoort was illuminating, and they spent eps.  33 and 34 walking through Truth: Red, White & Black.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access 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.

Considering Mare of Easttown — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #97

Insofar as something is a TV hit at all these days, the small-town Pennsylvania murder mystery starring Kate Winslet seems to qualify, but what distinguishes it from the many many other crime dramas on TV? Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt discuss the plot structure, casting, and other creative choices and try to figure out how the show relates to Broadchurch, The Undoing, etc. Should there be a season two?

Here are a few of the articles that fed the discussion:

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access 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.

Modernizing Table-Top Role-Playing Games — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #96

What’s the current status of table-top role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons in pop culture? Thanks to D&D’s recent depiction in Stranger Things and the enormous popularity of fantasy properties like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, interest in elves and magic and such is no longer fodder for Satanic panic, but the idea of actively pretending to be a character in this genre to engage in collaborative story-telling still seems foreign to many.

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Amanda McLoughlin, the host of Join the Party, a beginner-friendly, purposefully inclusive D&D real-play podcast, to go over some D&D basics, the dynamics of playing vs. spectating (by listening to her podcast, for instance), and the racism and imperialism built into the setting (adventure = going into a foreign land to kill often intelligent creatures and take their stuff). What is it to “act out your fantasy” in this way?

Some of the ways of witnessing others playing that we refer to include Critical Role, The Adventure Zone, and Dimension 20.

The Join the Party game master Eric Silver wrote the article “Dungeons & Dragons Has an Antisemitism Problem.” You can also look at Wikipedia’s “Dungeons and Dragons in Popular Culture” entry or get a flavor of the range of options by looking at Dicebreaker’s list of “10 Best Tabletop Roleplaying Games Out Right Now“, this list of “The 12 Best Actual Play Podcasts,” or this video of “Top D&D Channels that Aren’t Critical Role.”

Follow Amanda’s podcast @jointhepartypod on @MultitudeShows. She also hosts the Spirits Podcast about folklore and urban legends.

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access 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.

Stream 160 In-Depth Radio Interviews with Clive James, Pico Iyer, Greil Marcus & Other Luminaries from the Marketplace of Ideas Archive

Would you like to to hear a long-form conversation about the history of the vinyl LP? Or about the history of human rights? About the plight of book reviewing in America? The wild excesses of the art market? The nature of boredom? The true meaning of North Korean propaganda? What it’s like to live in Bangkok? What it’s like to go on a road trip with David Foster Wallace? The answer to all of the above: of course you do. And now you can hear these conversations and many more besides in the complete archive of the public radio show The Marketplace of Ideas, which has just now come available to stream on Youtube.

How, you may wonder, did I get such early word of this interview trove’s availability? Because, in the years before I began writing here on Open Culture, I created, produced, and hosted the show myself. The project grew, in a sense, out of my dissatisfaction with the radio interviews I’d been hearing, the vast bulk of which struck me as too brief, fragmentary, and programmatic to be of any real value.




What’s more, it was often painfully obvious how little interest in the subject under discussion the interviewers had themselves. With The Marketplace of Ideas, I set out to do the opposite of practically everything I’d heard done on the radio before.

Like all worthwhile goals, mine was paradoxical: to conduct interviews of the deepest possible depth as well as the widest possible breadth. On one week the topic might be evolutionary economics, on another the philosophical quarrel between David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on another the history of American film comedy, on another the legacy of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and on another still the ascent of Californian wine over French. (This principle also applied to the political spectrum: I delighted in bringing on, say, the granddaughter of Barry Goldwater as well as a former member of the Weather Underground.) An interesting person is, as they say, an interested person, and throughout the show’s run I trusted my listeners to be interesting people.

The same went for my interviewees, whatever their cultural domain: novelists like Alexander Theroux, Tom McCarthy, Joshua Cohen, and Geoff Dyer; scientists like David P. Barash, Alan Sokal (he of the “Sokal Hoax”), and Sean Carroll; critics like James Wood, Greil Marcus, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Dave Kehr, and J. Hoberman; economists like Tyler Cowen (twice), Robin Hanson, Steven E. Landsburg, and Tim Harford (twice); biographers of Brian Eno, Nick Drake, and Michel de Montaigne;  translators of Jorge Luis Borges, César Aira, and Robert Walser; broadcasters like Peter Sagal, Robert Pogue Harrison (of Entitled Opinions), Jesse Thorn, and Michael Silverblatt; philosophers like Kwame Anthony Appiah and Simon Blackburn; technologists like Steve Wozniak and Kevin Kelly; filmmakers like Ramin Bahrani (director of the existential Werner Herzog-narrated plastic-bag short previously featured here on Open Culture), So Yong Kim, Andrew Bujalski, Aaron Katz; and musicians like Nick Currie, a.k.a Momus (twice), Jack Hues of Wang Chung, and Chaz Bundick of Toro y Moi.

The Marketplace of Ideas aired between 2007 and 2011, and the passage of a decade since the show’s end prompted me to take a look — or rather a listen — back at it. So  did the fact that a fair few of its guests have since shuffled off this mortal coil: Arts & Letters Daily founder Denis Dutton, film critic Peter Brunette, literary scholar Angus Fletcher, documentarian Pepita Ferrari, writer and editor Daniel Menaker, cultural polymath Clive James. That interview with James was a dream fulfilled, due not just to my personal enthusiasm for his writing but the ideal of intellectual omnivorousness he represented — an ideal toward which I strove on the show, and continue to strive in my pursuits today.  Even more than our conversation itself, I fondly remember an exchange after we finished recording but before we hung up the phone. He thanked me for actually reading his book, and I told him I’d thought all interviewers did the same. His response: “That’s the first naïve thing you’ve said all hour.”

Related Content:

The New Studs Terkel Radio Archive Will Let You Hear 5,000+ Recordings Featuring the Great American Broadcaster & Interviewer

Entitled Opinions, the “Life and Literature” Podcast That Refuses to Dumb Things Down

An Archive of 1,000 “Peel Sessions” Available Online: Hear David Bowie, Bob Marley, Elvis Costello & Others Play in the Studio of Legendary BBC DJ John Peel

The 135 Best Podcasts to Enrich Your Mind: An Introduction to Our New List

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #95 Considers Joss Whedon’s The Nevers

Mark, Erica, and Brian discuss the HBO Max show out Victorian-era super-powered feminine outcasts, helmed and now abandoned by the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, etc. It’s jam packed with steampunk gadgets, fisticuffs, social injustice, and far too many characters and plot threads to keep track of. Given that the season was reduced to a half season in light of the pandemic, does it still work? Does knowing the complaints about Joss Whedon affect our consumption of the show? Is this a faux feminism where women must undergo torture to gain strength?

Here are a few articles we considered:

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access 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.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.