“The Last of Us” Franchise: Can Video Games Be Cinema? A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast Discussion (#64)

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Brian Hirt, and Erica Spyres all played both The Last of Us, and more recently immersed themselves in the lengthier The Last of Us 2, which has been generating a lot of acclaim but also controversy. Actually, Erica just watches her husband Drew Jackson play these things, but he showed up to this discussion too. Yes, these creations of Neil Druckmann with the Naughty Dog team are groundbreaking, and riveting, but by design not necessarily “fun,” or thereby involving much “playing.”

The franchise is ostensibly about a zombie apocalypse and an immune girl that might be its cure, but it’s really a drawn-out drama about loss, family, and the cycle of revenge… You know, in between running around looking for scraps to craft weapon upgrades and skulking around driving shivs through the necks of numerous monsters and people.

We compare The Last of Us to other zombie media like Walking Dead, address the shifting points of view in the game (playable flashbacks!), representation, fan and critical reaction, the effectiveness of the game’s message, and more.

This conversation should work both for listeners who’ve actually played the games and those who are just curious about what the fuss is about. There are some plot spoilers about the end of the first game and events near the beginning of the second game necessary to discuss the narrative.

Listen to the official Last of Us podcast. For another player perspective, check out the Besties podcast.

Other resources:

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.

What Can Superhero Media Teach Us About Ethics: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast (#63) Discussion with Philosophy Professor Travis Smith

Is there no end to the seemingly endless fascination with superhero media? Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Travis Smith, who teaches political philosophy at Concordia University, to discuss. Travis sees their resonance as a matter of metaphor: How can we do more with the abilities we have? His book Superhero Ethics: 10 Comic Book Heroes, 10 Ways to Save the World, Which One Do We Need Now? matches up heroes like Batman vs. Spider-Man for ethical comparison: Both “act locally,” but Batman would like to actually rule over Gotham, while Spider-Man engages in a more “friendly neighborhood” patrol.  What philosophy should govern the way we try to do good in the world?

Lurking in the background is the current release of season two of the Amazon series The Boys, based on Garth Ennis’ graphic novels, which assumes that power corrupts and asks what regular folks might do in the face of corporate-backed invulnerability. This cynical take is part of a long tradition of asking “what if super-heroes were literally real?” that goes through Watchmen all the way back to Spider-Man himself, who faces financial and other mundane problems that Superman was immune to.

Given Travis’ book, we didn’t really need supplementary articles for this episode, but you can take a look at this interview with him to learn more about his comic book loves and the Canadian heritage that led him to start fighting crime (you know, indirectly, through ethical teaching).

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

Mulan Re-Disneyfied: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast (#62) Discussion with Actor Michael Tow

Is the new Mulan the equivalent for Asian-Americans what Black Panther was for African-Americans? The largest entertainment machine we have featured an all-Asian cast telling a traditional Chinese story aimed at the widest possible audience. Did it work?

Actor Michael Tow joins your hosts Erica Spyres, Mark Linsenmayer, and Brian Hirt to discuss the development, aesthetics, and political controversies surrounding the film. The vision of feminism changed between the original poem from ca. 550 C.E. (“When the two rabbits run side by side, how can you tell the female from the male?”) to the present, and the “just be you” ethic (with your magical chi!) is not the norm for China in any period. Was the project in its very conception doomed to fall short of some of its goals? Was the live-action an improvement over the 1998 animated version?

Read the poem, and watch a reading of the illustrated 1998 Robert San Souci book Fa Mulan that the films were based on. There have been many adaptations of the story in China.

Other sources we read to prepare included:

Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelctow and check out his imdb credits. Michael hosted a Q&A with the Mulan cast shortly after the film’s release.

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

The Philosophy of Photography with Amir Zaki on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #61

Amir Zaki teaches at UC-Riverside and has had his work displayed in numerous galleries, in his recent book California Concrete: A Landscape of Skateparks, and profiled via a short film.

Amir joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to consider this common act that can stretch from the mundane to the sublime. How have our various purposes for photography changed with the advent of digital technology, the introduction of social media, and the ready access to video? What determines what we choose to take pictures of, and how does taking photography more seriously change the way we experience? We touch on iconic and idealized images, capturing the specific vs. the universal, witnessing vs. intervening via photography, and more.

See more of Amir’s work at amirzaki.net.

A few of the articles we looked at to prepare included:

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.

Follow Amir on Instagram @amir_zaki_.

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

A Short Introduction to Manga by Pretty Much Pop #60 with Professor Deborah Shamoon from the National University of Singapore

One of our goals on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast has been to look into not just our favorite creators and genres but into things that get a lot of buzz but which we really don’t know anything about. Manga is a great example of a “look what these crazy kids are into today” kind of area for many (older) Americans.

Deborah Shamoon, an American who teaches Japanese studies at the National University of Singapore and  has loved manga since adolescence, here schools manga noobs Mark Linsenmayer and Brian Hirt–along with Erica Spyres, who also doesn’t read manga but at least has a complicated history with anime. What are the barriers for Americans (whether comics readers or not) to appreciate manga? For some of us, manga is actually easier to appreciate than anime given the latter’s sound and pacing.

We talk about manga’s publication history, how fast to read manga, and its use of iconography to depict sound and movement. Deborah gives us the truth about the famed Osamu Tezuka’s place as “god of comics”; we discuss his Metropolis, Astro Boy and Princess Knight, which is not as you may have been told the first “shojo” manga, meaning aimed at girls. Shojo manga is Deborah’s specialty: She wrote a book called Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls’ Culture in Japan. We discuss The Heart of Thomas, Sailor Moon, and how Tezuka actually copied that big-eye style from Hideko Mizuno’s Silver Petals. Do you need to get a handle on these old classics to appreciate the newer stuff that’s made such a dent in America like Death Note? Probably not, though some Akira wouldn’t hurt you.

A few of the articles we looked at included:

We also looked at some “best of” lists to know what titles to try to look at:

Deborah recommends the Japanese Media and Popular Culture Site from the University of Tokyo for academic writing on manga. She wrote an article on shojo manga for that site that sums up the history conveyed in her book. She’s also been interviewed for the Japan Station and Meiji at 150 podcasts.

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

Conversation with a Swiftie: Pretty Much Pop #58 Addresses the Taylor Swift Phenomenon

Prompted by the release of new album Folklore and the 2020 documentary Miss Americana, your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt speak with guest Amber Padgett about her love of Taylor, ranking the albums/eras, Taylor as songwriter/puppetmaster, why the hate, weird levels of fan engagement, double standards in expectations for female artists, and more. Like all of our discussions, this one is should be interesting to fans, haters, and folks who’re just curious as to what all the fuss is about.

A few of the sources we scanned to prepare:

Amber recommends Taylor’s Tiny Desk Concert. Watch Erica and Drew cover “Exile.” Here’s that album of Ryan Adams’ 1989 covers that Erica mentions. And yes, we’re open to a comparable Beyoncé episode if we can find a guest super-fan and listeners want more of this kind of thing.

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.

Back to the Arena: Battling the Hunger Games Prequel with Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast (#57)

Remember when The Hunger Games was everywhere? Its author Suzanne Collins has decided that young people could benefit from more exploration of Just War Theory through the world of Panem, and so has published The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel covering the early years of future president Coriolanus Snow during the 10th Hunger Games.

Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt give their spoiler-free reviews of the new book and look back on the original book trilogy and its adaptation into four films (and do spoil those, in case you want to go watch them). We talk about what makes these novels “YA,” the function of adapting them to film, and the limits of the franchise’s premise and world-building. Does the work critique yet glorify violence at the same time? Will the film version of the new novel be our next Phantom Menace?

Some articles we looked at included:

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.

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