This may be my specific corner of the internet, but there are a lot of folks arguing about pop culture. All the time. And while I never think we should attack anyone else (let people like what they like, please), I am here for it; mostly because it feels manageable.
What I mean, is this. Last night while I was struggling to go to sleep I started thinking about that New Yorker story ‘Cat Person’ and how for a few short weeks we were all arguing about it and dissecting it and making parodies until it died and went away. And how weird it was that everyone had an opinion about a (very well written) short story published in The New Yorker, or all places.
Then I started thinking about the discussions, and anticipation, and arguing about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And while that got a little too rude for my taste, for a few short weeks I felt like I understood the world.
That’s because, at least from the nerd perspective, debate is part of the process. Who would win in a fight? What’s better, Star Wars or Star Trek? Which film is the best cult classic of all time? Etc. Arguing about things you love is in the pop culture DNA… It’s always had an undercurrent of vitriol as some “fans” take things too far; but as long as you work to respect and understand the other person’s point of view, it can be fun and fruitful.
Right now, there’s a lot of humongous, terrifying s**t going on that — for someone who has no real power or access to making worldwide change like myself — feels crippling. To use a metaphor from video games, it’s like going on a raid all by yourself. Of course that’s not true — thousands of people are feeling the same, and trying to do the same, every day — but it still sometimes feels in the privacy of my own brain like Bilbo vs. Smaug.
On the other hand, pop culture debates I can handle, mostly because not only do I have a better understanding of the entertainment landscape, but ultimately they’re dismissible. Wade into a gun control debate, and pretty quickly you’re going to have to start ethically weighing the cost of human lives. Debate Karen Gillan’s costume in Jumanji 2, and there are very few stakes.
That’s why, though I’m well aware that pop culture debates can be extremely dangerous particularly for non-white, non-male participants — the stakes are vastly different than for me, your regular old jerk white male — I’ve found retreating into discussing entertainment products is comfort food. Politics, for me, is cliff-diving. Entertainment is a a puddle at the corner of the sidewalk, one I can easily jump over if I like.
I don’t think we should ignore what’s going on in the world, mind you. Things are scary, and we all need to help those who can fight, fight. But while I spent most of last year grinding myself down by focusing on the unkillable beast, this year I need to (to get back to a video game metaphor) grind on creatures below my level, so I can power up enough to attempt that boss battle.
So if you see me engaging about something that seems fluffy, there’s a reason for it: I need to focus on what I love, so I have enough energy to battle what I hate. And sometimes, part of that love involves a little bit of healthy debate.
Let’s get into it.