What Makes a “Cult” Band? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #107

What makes for a “cult band”? Not just a small audience, because Grateful Dead fans are an archetypical cult. Not just a devoted, emotionally invested audience; no volume of Swifties make Taylor Swift qualify as a cult act. Does the music have to be somehow inaccessible, or the fans snobby?

Your host Mark Linsenmayer and three other musicians try to figure it out:

A few of the names that come up for consideration are Tom Waits, The Cure, XTC, Big Star, Brian Wilson, Lou Reed, Guided by Voices, David Bowie, R.E.M., The Residents, Os Mutantes, Tony Owens, Phil Judd, Mike “Sport” Murphy, and many more.

We talk about how the Internet has affected fandom and the music business, the power of musicians lauding each other, and how music fandom relates to other fandom.

Listen to Tim on Nakedly Examined Music and The Partially Examined Life. Read his blog 5-star-songs. Read his article “Hopelessly Devote: Cult Bands.” Follow him @tbquirk.

Listen to Aaron talking about his songs on Nakedly Examined Music, on Pretty Much Pop last year (talking about Borat), and as part of a Partially Examined Life audioplay (also featuring PMP favorite Erica Spyres and cult actress Lucy Lawless). Listen to the song he mentions that resulted from a Tik-Tok collaboration with cult artist Emma Freeman. Follow him on Facebook.

Read Chris’ post-mortem on cult artist Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger.

A couple of articles that fed into this included:

Just to explain one of Mark’s comments, there really was a playset for “the hatch” for the TV show Lost.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.