The Death of Soap Operas (Is Greatly Exaggerated) — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #105

Writers Sarahlyn Bruck and Kayla Dreysse join your host Mark Linsenmayer to discuss how this once very popular TV show type has simultaneously become niche, yet has had a tremendous influence on current prestige TV as well as reality shows. We talk about soaps’ story and structure conventions, the demands on soap actors and writers, and how changing market forces and technology have affected the genre. How much of a role does sexism play in the critical dismissal of soaps?

In addition to the daytime soaps like General Hospital and The Bold and the Beautiful, we touch on nighttime soaps like Dallas, teen soaps like Beverly Hills 90210, Downton Abbey, White Orchid, Breaking Bad, 24, Gray’s Anatomy, and more.

Get Sarahlyn’s novel Daytime Drama and follow her at @sarahlynbruck.

We all watched the 2020 documentary The Story of Soaps, which is available on YouTube. A fun podcast Mark listened to some of is A Trip Down Soap Lane.

Other sources that inspired us included:

Sample the Muppets’ fake soap opera that Mark’s intro references.

This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. 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.

King Arthur in Film: Our Most Enduring Popular Entertainment Franchise? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #104

With the recent theatrical release of The Green Knight, your Pretty Much Pop host Mark Linsenmayer, returning host Brian Hirt, plus Den of Geek’s David Crow and the very British Al Baker consider the range of cinematic Arthuriana, including Excalibur (1981), Camelot (1967), King Arthur (2004), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), First Knight (1995), Sword of the Valiant (1983), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1973), and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

Arthuriana encompasses numerous (sometimes contradicting) stories that accrued and evolved for nearly 1000 years after the probable existence of the unknown person who was the historical source for the character before the 14th century poem (author unknown) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and then in the 15th century Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte d’Arthur, which provided the template for well-known modern retellings like T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958).

The length and complexity of this mythology makes a single film problematic, with most settling on the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere leading to Camelot’s downfall. Multiple TV treatments have tried to do it justice, and if Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword had been a box office success, then we’d currently be seeing multiple films in an Arthurian cinematic universe. By picking a smaller story and not trying too hard to tie it to King Arthur (who appears but is not named), The Green Knight is able to be more creative in painting and updating the strange story of Sir Gawain, who in previous cinematic outings (including Sword of the Valiant where Sean Connery played The Green Knight) involved Gawain involved in a series of nonsensical adventures far removed from the events told in the original poem.

We talk through characterization in a mythic story, stylizing the epic (how much violence? how weird?), its status as public domain material (like Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes), and the moral lesson of the original Gawain poem and what director David Lowery did with that for the new film. Is the new film actually enjoyable, or just carefully thought through and artfully shot? Note that we don’t spoil anything significant about The Green Knight until the last ten minutes, so it’s fine if you haven’t seen it (Al hadn’t either).

Here are song articles by David Crow on our topic:

Other articles we used to prep for this included:

The YouTube versions of the source material that Mark listened to are here and here, and the relevant Great Courses offering is here.

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 Is “Queering” in Video Game Design? Naomi Clark on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #103

While LGBTQ+ representation in video games has been improving (as with other media), Naomi Clark (who designed games for LEGO, Gamelab, Fresh Planet, Rebel Monkey, et al) has something more disruptive in mind when arguing for game “queerification.” The prototypical video game includes a more-or-less linear progression through a pre-defined story to a defined win condition, and anything that challenges that tradition to allow more self-expression is a step in the direction of queering. Many popular games now include a sandbox aspect that allows players to make their own decisions, and this gestures at a continuum of freedom in player-game relations, with the extreme being a game that just provides a platform for players to create their own games.

Your host Mark Linsenmayer and guest co-host Tyler Hislop engage Naomi about topics like how games train us, character creation, glitches, speed runs, gamifying  tasks, and economic and industry pressures in game design. Some games we touch on include The Sims, The Last of Us, Cyberpunk, and Mass Effect.

Read Naomi’s presentation on “Queering Human-Game Relations.” Get involved with the NYU Gamecenter where Naomi works. You can also play her early game Sissyfight 2000 free online. A couple of her other creations that come up in our discussion include Wonder City and the card game Consentacle. Read her wisdom on Quora and follow her on Twitter @metasynthie.

Some sources reviewed to prepare for this episode include:

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.

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 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.

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.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.