What is with the weird relationship we Americans have with our pets? Many of us treat them as our babies, yet of course they’re our captives. Dog trainer Hannah Branigan joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to talk about pets as entertainment, as hobby, and as pandemic companions. How can we make this relationship as beneficial as possible for all involved, and how can learning to be a better pet owner inform our treatment of other people? Plus, what do we want out of TV talking animals, dog training TV, and the abomination that is Pooch Perfect.
Marshall McLuhan famously said “The medium is the message,” by which he meant that when we receive information, its effect on us is determined as much by the form of that information as by the actual content.
The result is much more philosophical context than you’d get in a typical Pretty Much Pop discussion. Plato, for example, argued (through the character of Socrates) in the Phaedrus against writing, which he said amounts to off-loading thought to this inert thing, when it should be lively in our minds and our direct conversations. Postman’s book describes the Age of Print as highly congenial toward lengthy, abstract reasoning. High literacy rates, particularly in America, conditioned people to expect that this is how information is to be received, and as such they were, for instance, prepared to listen raptly to the Lincoln-Douglas debates in which the speakers provided lawyerly speeches that might span multiple hours.
Postman, an educational theorist, described television as not just providing a no-context experience whose high level of visual and auditory stimulation beats its spectators into thoughtless passivity, but that its popularity positively infects all the other communication channels available. Of course there is still in-person teaching, but television shortens attention spans such that teachers now feel the need to constantly entertain instead of forcing students to make the effort required to attend carefully to what they have to teach. Of course there are still books, but they are less read, and the competition of television for our time has changed the presentation within books so that they must be as immediately and consistently appealing as television.
McLuhan described television as a “hot” medium due to its high level of stimulation, where a “cool” one like a textbook requires more active participation of the recipient. We discuss how Postman’s critique fares in the Age of the Internet, which interestingly mixes things up, with more interactivity (in that sense cooler) yet even more possibility for sensory distraction (in that perhaps more important sense hotter). To supplement Postman, we also consulted a widely read article from The Atlantic written by Nicholas Carr in 2008 called “Is Google Making Us Stupid.”
What’s the meaning behind the continued international popularity of kaiju media in which giant creatures stomp on cities and beat each other up? Is this just pro wrestling drama with special effects, or does it relate to deep-seated feelings of helplessness in the face of natural disasters? Perhaps both?
Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt reflect on the MonsterVerse films: Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), and chiefly Godzilla vs. Kong (2021). We also go into the history of Godzilla in Japan from the 1954 original to 2016’s award-winning Shin Godzilla. Do we care at all about the humans in these films? Are King Kong films too sad? Is there any legitimate sci-fi or political commentary in this genre? We touch on Pacific Rim, The Host, Cloverfield, Colossal, When a Monster Calls, Rampage, giant video game bosses, and more.
In lieu of an Oscars episode, the Pretty Much Pop podcast this week considers one of the nominated films, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and the career of its writer/director, Aaron Sorkin, which started with A Few Good Men through four TV series (most notably The West Wing), and films like The Social Network, Steve Jobs, and Molly’s Game.
Your hosts Brian Hirt, Erica Spyres, and Mark Linsenmayer consider Sorkin’s stock recurring characters and their political diatribes, plots often based on true events, and how his writing creates drama. Do we feel uplifted or vaguely dirty after a Sorkin bath? It’s great to have characters that aren’t stupid, but are they actually smart or just designed to seem that way? Are the deviations from fact just good use of dramatic license or positively harmful? We touch on virtually all of Sorkin’s productions (well, except for the plays; he actually considers himself natively a playwright) and still have energy for a few Oscars musings and reflections about including real locations or news events in fiction.
Here are some articles we used to prepare ourselves:
In the perennial conflict between art and our corporate entertainment machine, animation seems designed to be mechanized, given how labor-intensive it is, and yes, most of our animation comes aimed at children (or naughty adults) from a few behemoths (like, say, Disney).
Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Benjamin Goldman to discuss doing animation on your own, with only faint hope of “the cavalry” (e.g. Netfilx money or the Pixar fleet of animators) coming to help you realize (and distribute and generate revenue from) your vision. As an adult viewer, what are we looking for from this medium?
We talk about what exactly constitutes “indie,” shorts vs. features, how the image relates to the narration, realism or its avoidance, and more. Watch Benjamin’s film with Daniel Gamburg, “Eight Nights.”
The buddy comedy is a staple of American film, but using this to explore female friendship is still fresh ground. Erica, Mark, Brian, and Erica’s long-time friend Micah Greene (actor and nurse) discuss tropes and dynamics within this kind of film, focusing primarily on Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, the 2021 release written and starring Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo as a couple of middle aged near-twin oddballs expanding their horizons in a surrealistic, gag-filled tropical venue.
While male pairings of this sort (Cheech and Chong, Bob and Doug McKenzie, Beavis and Butthead et al) stick to silly jokes, Barb and Star base their antics around their evolving relationship toward each other. As with the 2019 film Booksmart and many TV shows including Dead to Me, PEN15, and Grace and Frankie, the trend is toward dramedy as the dynamics of friendship are taken seriously. We also touch on Bridesmaids, Sisters, The Heat, BAPS, I Love You Man, and more.
There’s been an explosion of rock and roll autobiographies in recent years, with pretty much every music legend (and many others) being invited by some publisher or other to write or dictate their story. What’s the particular appeal of this kind of recounting, what’s the connection between writing and reading these books on the one hand and producing and listening to the actual music on the other? Do we get a roughly equivalent benefit from a biography, documentary, or film depiction of the person’s life?
Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt along with guest Laura Davis-Chanin, author of her own music memoir, each picked a book, covering Elvis Costello, Carrie Brownstein, Ozzy Osbourne, and Debbie Harry respectively. Reflecting on these reading experiences we compare the author’s purposes in writing the book, how confessional or drug-addled or twisted the story is, what is emphasized and what’s not, and what resonated in the story beyond the idiosyncratic recounting of that person’s life.
At least 20% of us have some sort of disability, yet such conditions are reflected by only tiny portion of TV and film characterizations, and what characters are portrayed typically get played by non-disabled actors. Depictions often focus on what it’s like to live with the condition. This can of course be socially beneficial, but we don’t want to essentialize people as their conditions, so it’s even more useful to feature disabled actors and characters when the plot is not about their disability.
Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by playwright Kayla Dryesse to talk about hurdles to representation, disability culture, whether “disability” is even the right word, negative stereotypes (no less than five James Bond villains are in wheelchairs!), and issues in portraying disability related to theater, comedy, horror, and superheroes. Some shows mentioned include Speechless, Atypical, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Breaking Bad, Glee, The Stand, The Witches, and The Great British Bake-Off.
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