While organizing this new blog, I've populated it with content drawn from three different blogging platforms I've used over the years -- CC2K, a pop-culture website I co-founded with some college buddies; The Odds website, a promotional presence for a sci-fi novel I'm self-publishing; and my own personal website, which I revamped into the one you're looking at now.
Over the last 10 years, my critical writing about pop-culture has largely fallen off as I've ramped up my efforts to get a novel (or novels) published. It's been a gradual process. I used to contribute to my pop-culture website CC2K all the time, but as I got deeper and deeper into my creative writing (which has also included some screenwriting), it's been more difficult to find the time to bang out 2,000 words about Iron Man 2, although I've occasionally found the time for that. And to be fair, my professional life -- web development and graphic design -- has also demanded more and more of my time.
But my current situation is this: I feel like my critical faculties have atrophied.
I don't mean entirely atrophied. It's not like I haven't been able to engage with pop-culture, but when I get into discussions with my friends -- a brilliant, brainy bunch -- I find myself gasping for breath, so to speak. I've been consuming a lot of media, but I haven't been writing about it with the regularity or intensity that I have in the past.
The writing included in this blog spans more than 10 years of output online. It shows you a few different sides of me. My personal blog, which I eventually ported over to The Odds blog, is far more professional in tone and focused on specific topics related to novel-writing, self-publishing and self-promotion. By contrast, my early writing on CC2K is far more free-wheeling; i.e. far more profane. In the event that anyone has discovered this blog through my web design job, only to get their sinuses cleared when they encountered a screed like "How to Fix Star Wars," I apologize, although I hope you also enjoyed the read.
Part of me cringes when I look back at those old CC2K essays. That's a function of getting older, I guess. Writing "fuck" 100 times in an essay about Star Wars doesn't make me laugh the way it used to, but all the same, there's an energy, a dexterity of intellect in those old pieces that I haven't tapped in some time. (Crom, at least I hope there is.)
In my defense, I feel like my powers as a creative writer have been expanding at a healthy clip as I've completed more and more works. (Crom, at least I hope so.) But as I organized this blog, I found myself taking an inventory of my virtual headspace. I didn't like everything I saw. A recent piece of top-shelf cultural criticism brought all of these themes into a single clear Venn diagram for me -- "Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. SPOILERS AND THE 4 LEVELS OF HOW WE CONSUME ART."
It's a great piece, and I encourage you to read through the whole thing, but here's the nut graf: We consume media in different ways. Those different modes of interpretation inform how we react to events like last week's mind-blowing Game of Thrones episode. Those modes of interpretation also inform how we react to spoilers to big cultural events -- like that Game of Thrones episode. Film Crit Hulk (an anonymous contributor to Badass Digest, which is another site you should be reading) goes on to argue that TV is one of our last shared cultural experiences; it's one of our last campfires, and we shouldn't let our fear of getting spoiled -- or spoiling others -- prevent us from sitting around that campfire together.
Here's a particularly arresting passage:
IN A SMALL WAY WE HAVE REALLY LOST PART OF SOMETHING HERE. THE FACT THAT WE HAVE LOST THE UNIVERSALITY OF A MOMENT IS SOMETHING THAT HULK THINKS MATTERS. WE'VE LOST THE THING THAT MADE DRAMATICALLY CONSTRUCTED NARRATIVES ON TELEVISION EXACTLY LIKE SPORTS. WE'VE LOST THE PUBLIC MOMENT. WE'VE LOST THE PROVERBIAL CAMPFIRE. AND NOW WE'RE SHIFTING MORE TOWARD EXCLUSIVITY. WORSE, WE’RE LETTING SOMETHING THAT IS BUILT ON CONVENIENCE ALONE DICTATE THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION. WE PUT LARGER CULTURAL CONVERSATIONS ON BECAUSE (IN THE WORDS OF HULK'S FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE LAURA HUDSON), EVERYONE'S “Arbitrary viewing schedules need to be protected like delicate flowers." WHICH HELPS REVEAL THAT THIS ISN'T REALLY ABOUT PROPRIETY.
In the event that you've been reading every word of my blog with bated breath, you may have noticed that I opened a dialogue about spoilers and media consumption the other day. In discussing my article with friends -- my special ladyfriend, especially -- I found myself moving in the direction of a deeper, more involved inquiry, but I didn't come within a nautical mile of the kind of full-body takedown that Film Crit Hulk arrives at.
Part of this is a function of time. I have other demands on my schedule. But it can't all be a function of time, because I'm sure Film Crit Hulk has many demands on his or her schedule, as well. (Smashing another tank platoon commanded by Thunderbolt Ross, I'd wager.)
I'm not writing this entry to elicit compliments or sympathy (or pity), and I don't mean to suggest that I was converging on the hallowed grounds of the fourth level of media consumption that Film Crit Hulk describes. (There's a longer conversation there. Some other time.) Mainly, I've been taking a mental inventory over the last few weeks, and the realization that my critical faculties have atrophied (to some extent) has been on my mind for awhile -- I'm just writing about it publicly to hold myself accountable.
(Oh, what the hell: I'll offer a side note -- I've been feeling a little raw about losing the campfire, even though I feel like there's a place for preserving the childlike wonder Film Crit Hulk describes. As tetchy as this sounds, I've grown frustrated with pop-culture discussions on traditional social-media channels, where just about anything can qualify as a spoiler. I do honestly feel like it's possible to preserve a spoiler-free experience for someone, but let's face it: Do spoilers really spoil the experience? I said the other day that simply being told "Wait for the lawnmower episode of Mad Men" was a spoiler for me, but was I really spoiled? Did knowing about the existence of a lawnmower-related episode really and truly lessen the impact of one of Mad Men's greatest, most infamous scenes? Maybe a little bit, but not really. In the same spirit, back when the first season of Game of Thrones aired, there was no escaping those spoilers online. I had the ending spoiled for me through sheer brute force. But did that lessen the impact of one of George R.R. Martin's best literary choices? Maybe a little bit, but not really.)
Full stop for reality check: Like I've said before -- these concerns are silly first-world problems. "Oh, no. I haven't been dissecting the symbology of Mad Men in exacting enough detail!" Hey, at least I'm putting food on the table.
But all the same, pop-culture occupies a prominent place in my firmament, and I need to do more reps, more sets, more workouts when it comes to analyzing and criticizing pop-culture. I've let my critical writing fall too far to the wayside. (If you look at my last few reviews for CC2K, you'll see that I've only taken the time to talk about the biggest releases: The Avengers, The Hunger Games and the like. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not enough.)
Do you see the image at the top of this entry? That's a shot of Don Draper, sweaty and high as a kite, going through the archives of SCDPSPSP (whatever). I include this image because it's one of my favorite presentations of a virtual headspace I've seen recently. Don descended into a figurative representation of his memory to find an old advertisement he designed. In the process, he connects a few of the dots from his past -- dots that overlay his many, many neuroses with women, sex and manhood. (Side note: If you're not reading Matt Zoller Seitz's recaps of Mad Men, you should start.)
I feel a little like Don, except my mental account has more to do with my relationships with movies, books, television and other media. (Crom, at least I hope so.) If you've read any of my pop-culture writing over the years, or if you've arrived here via other means -- my self-publishing efforts, my web design job -- then I invite you to come with me as I re-learn how to think.