Pop Culture Addict FAQS   Leave a comment

Periodically I post my FAQS and periodically they get lost in the shuffle. Here they are below. I will also try to put them in a more logical place.

Since I started sharing my pop culture addiction with you all, my fellow Pop Culture Addicts, I’ve gathered some interesting and surprising FAQs.

Why am I so into POP CULTURE?

What I’m going to tell you next is truly my philosophy and the explanation for why I put so much effort into sharing my observations and reactions. Let me expound briefly on why I think art is important, why the movies, music, books, tv shows, magazines and websites I like so much are relevant to everyone. It’s all about the universality of the human experience. Art and more specifically, pop culture, is an expression of and a way to experience our shared struggles, endeavors, emotions, desires, accomplishments and disappointments. It’s important to go outside of your own existence for a while and enjoy something that gives you a boost. It is restorative and it connects us in a collective experience.

What is the definition of POP CULTURE?

Note: This is a long response so click here if you want to know about “a pound of flesh”, “bonfire of the vanities”, “Occum’s Razor”, Veronica Mars theme song or John Frusciante’s Stuff.

Definition: Before I get started, I will give my personal definition of “pop culture” so you know what you’re in for. This is not an academic definition. It’s informal and an amalgam of what I remember reading here and there. For those seeking more formal definitions, I refer you to, what else, the Oxford English Dictionary. This is a stream-of-consciousness response so forgive the inconsistencies and run-on sentences: I know the obvious, “pop culture” is a shortened form of “popular culture” which is also known as “mass culture.” “Mass culture” is also known as “consumer culture.” Anyway,

    what a group of people seem to find particularly interesting or to their liking, enough to “consume,” out of the various information and entertainment available to most via all forms of media – books, websites, music, movies, etc. typically at a particular time, is what I think of as “pop culture.”

I am including subcultural references here, too. Like you, I just like what I like. If you want to correct me I won’t be offended. In short, here are brief impressions of books, movies, albums and tv shows I enjoy along with pictures of nature, special screenings and such.

Note: I have written much more on this topic. I will post it at the end. Click here to continue reading about the definition of POP CULTURE.

What is the origin of “a pound of flesh”?

Origin of “a pound of flesh” 
Here is a more thorough explanation of the origin of the phrase “a pound of flesh” which may be traced back to the Merchant of Venice which was written in the late 1500’s. Shakespeare was thought to have based Merchant partly on a parable about a creditor (with issues) who demands a pound of flesh as payment.

Antonio is the merchant in question who is, at the beginning of the tale, awaiting his ships to return full of merchandise. He is also quick to lend money to his friend Bassanio whenever asked. So, to help Bassanio get the girl of his dreams, Portia, Antonio gets a loan from Shylock knowing that shortly his ships will return and he’ll be flush again. Shylock does not like Antonio because he has not been kind or respectful to him in the past (Antonio has spit at Shylock and called him “dog”) and they are sort of business rivals. Both lend out money but Shylock lends money with high interest while Antonio doesn’t ask for any interest at all. So, Shylock will only lend him the dough with the condition that if it is not paid back in time, Antonio will owe him, Shylock, a pound of flesh.

Shylock says, “…if he should break this day, what should I gain by the exaction of the forfeiture? A pound of man’s flesh, taken from a man, is not so estimable, nor profitable neither, as the flesh of mutton or beef. I say, to buy his favour I offer this friendship: if he will take it, so; if not, adieu.”

Of course, it turns out that Antonio’s business goes bust and Shylock demands his pound of flesh. Even when Bassanio offers to pay back the debt, Shylock insists on Antonio fulfilling the debt himself. There is a trial, and Portia, disguised as a man, acts as Antonio’s lawyer. She is able to lessen the debt to a pound of flesh as long as there’s no blood taken – an impossibility. Also, it is determined that a pound of flesh could not be taken without taking Antonio’s life so Shylock is charged with attempted murder. He gets off but not without having to convert religions (from Judaism to Christianity) and give away all of his money.

So that leaves us once again with the phrase “a pound of flesh” referring to the heavy price of something and also thinking about how both Shylock and Antonio are flawed. But that’s a whole other essay for another time and place. 

Many thanks to Deborah Soloway for the following contribution:

“I work in the field of bankruptcy law and teach to paralegal students. Our textbook, Basic Bankruptcy Law for Paralegals (5th ed. 2004) David L. Buchbinder (Aspen Publishers), contains a short history of bankruptcy law and a discussion of historic systems. Roman republican law allowed a group of creditors to exhibit a debtor in the forum for three days and, if his debts were not redeemed/paid by his friends & family, divide him up into multiple pieces in satisfaction of the debts. There is also evidence that creditors could divide up a corpse and effectively hold the pieces for ransom, since Roman religious practice required the body to remain whole to enter the afterlife. I haven’t read the source material cited by Buchbinder, but I know one of the authors as an able scholar.

I wonder if this might be the original significance of the “pound of flesh”?

Note: I don’t know. But it seems worth noting for further thought and research. Thanks again for letting me post your comment!

What is the origin of “bonfire of the vanities”?

Origin of “bonfire of the vanities” 
For those who ask, from what I gather, the phrase “bonfire of the vanities” stems from a bonfire set by an Italian priest known as Girolamo Savonarola (also Fra Savonarala or Hieronymus Savonarala) and his followers in 1497. As the phrase suggests, Savonaralo was not a big supporter of items that made one focus on oneself such as mirrors, nice threads, make up/cosmetics along with pictures and books deemed un-savory for the pure of heart and items that encouraged gambling and such. Thus, he and his crew gathered such things up and made a big fire with them in the streets of Florence. Pretty literal stuff here. This is what Tom Wolfe refers to but does not really explain in his book Bonfire of the Vanities. Apparently, Savonaralo seems to have met the same end these vanities did.

What is the origin of “Occum’s Razor”?

Origin of “Occum’s Razor”
I found the Latin for Occum’s Razor (also, Occam’s Razor and even Ockham’s Razor seem acceptable depending on how you want to spell 13th century philosopher William of Occum) and wanted to add it here:

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. 

No more things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary.

Occum’s Razor is also referred to as the the principle of parsimony. Someone who is parsimonious is frugal, stingy, economical, tight with the moneybags. A scientist following the principle of parsimony practices economy of explanations, i.e., s/he goes with the simplest of explanations to understand a particular observation.

What is the theme song to Veronica Mars?

The theme song for Veronica Mars is “We Used To Be Friends” by the Dandy Warhols off the Welcome to the Monkey House album (3/03). It works really well for the show. I also heard the song used in the VH1 Bands Reunited episode for Information Society. Then I was watching DiG! and I saw footage of The Dandy Warhols, specifically Courtney Taylor-Taylor performing it and was like, 1) hey, that song I like is by the Dandy Warhols; and 2) wow, they are going to get a lot of well-deserved mileage out of this one. EDIT in 2014: Here’s a site that still has info about music from Veronica Mars the TV show: http://veronicamusic.blogspot.com/ and you can watch Dig the Movie in its entirety on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/56817422.

Where can I find the documentary about John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

A few people have inquired about a documentary Johnny Depp made about John Frusciante. This is what I know about it (I found the info at the RCHP website): “The short movie, ‘Stuff’, came out shortly before Niandra [Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt orig. released in 1994 and re-released in 1999] was released to promote John’s debut solo album. It was produced by Johnny Depp and Gibby Haynes (from the Butthole Surfers), and contains a cameo by Timothy Leary. It’s basically an abstract tour of John’s house that later on burned down. It was distributed as a promo by American Visuals (American Records).” You can dl it at The John Frusciante Tablature Archive. The description of the film adds this comment about “Stuff” – “the film’s main purpose seems to be depicting the chaos of John’s life.” I have to say I am getting a little drained just thinking about it. There is lots of info about the man at John Frusciante’s official site.

Thanks to YouTube I finally watched it: It runs for 11’38” and had a Harmony Korine sensibility to it. I liked John Cale’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as it ran over the end credits. John Frusciante is only in it for a a few seconds it seemed. Tim Leary is in it for the same length of time. It is mostly somewhat looped footage of a very messy abode with music playing over it. JF speaks for a bit – lyrics? a poem? Not sure.

More on the definition of POP CULTURE

By chance, I happened upon a textbook entitled Rethinking Popular Culture, eds. Chandra Mukerji & Michael Schudson published by University of California Press in 1991, and starting reading it.

I will refer you to the actual book if you’re looking for more in-depth analyses. I will just tell you the few ideas that stood out from the introduction written by the editors which was a review of their thoughts and theories as well as overview of the book chapters.

1) paraphrased from p. 3 : Authentic folk cultures have metropolitan or elite roots and mass culture is incorporated into ordinary people’s everyday lives so we can’t make distinctions between pop culture and high culture or authentic people-generated folk culture from unauthentic, degraded (their word), commercially-borne mass culture.

So, what I got from that is that the origins and roots of pop culture and elite culture can be traced back to the same sources. What the book also indicated was that the distinction is more of a political one rather than aesthetic or intellectual.

I must say that I agree with that. They point out that back in the day of Shakespeare, the typical audience of a play performance was that of say a Yankees game (my example, not theirs) today, i.e., diversified across all cross-sections of the socio-economic map. And they also note that in Boston, the “Brahmins” made an effort to make art and classical music class-divided rather than of the people as it naturally was. 

Other things to think about are the role of literacy in the development of culture. Oral traditions included literate individuals reading outloud either verbatim or more likely, interpreting outloud written accounts for those unable to read themselves. So, if we consider the “elite” as being those with access to education and thus able to read, then does that mean their culture is not pop culture but rather what is defined as elite culture? Then again, think of how the non-literate population was still able to access so-called elite culture. They could hear about it from the storytellers and attend plays and concerts.

Then next idea that I found relevant is apparently well-known in the academic field but previously unknown to me:

Max Weber said that we should study and consider how we make meaning in our world. Clifford Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures published by Basic Books in 1973 said: “Weber showed us human beings are creatures who live suspended in webs of meaning they themselves have spun.”

The ideas of Robert Park and George Herbert Mead from University of Chicago as well as those of John Dewey and William James can be distilled in this context as studying the emergence of: “how people make meaning and make society through the experience of everyday social interactions….” (p. 29)

Hold on because I just have a couple of more ideas to throw out to you:

Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Christian Metz considered the sensual nature of the process of reading, that is, “what makes reading a book or watching a film pleasurable” (p.48).

Further, the ideas of Jacques Lacan make us consider how are basic needs of humans addressed through culture.

The last ideas of the day come from Foucault’s question of what does it mean to be an author and Janice Radway’s question of what does it mean to be a reader. The authors in the intro ask us to think about how the more we consider objects and ideas (movies, music, books, etc.) interpretable, or to be more academic, “textual,” then, the more relevant the interpretations and interpreters are to the meanings of these objects and ideas. Interpretation produces meaning. It’s a cyclical thing.

So, the definition of pop culture is deep and more than simply youth culture although youth culture is often a sub-culture of pop culture. Pop culture is more than what’s accessible although it is part of the definition. As I’ve mentioned before, sub-cultures or underground cultures are also part of the vast world of pop culture. For example, the gaming world is part of pop culture, but not everyone is part of it. The manga/anime world is part of pop culture but it’s still a specialized area. Underground, unsigned music is part of what I would consider pop culture, as indicated by its inclusion on this site but obviously if a group is unsigned, how accessible is their music?

I think pop culture is what we, the people, consider important, interesting, fun or just plain entertaining. I guess the question is, is there a worthwhile distinction between what’s considered high culture and pop culture? Or is it just political? I know I’m backtracking here but is accessibility, or appeal to a typical consumer or individual without particular training or education about a topic, form of communication or entertainment of whatever the medium and product/idea/object part of what makes something of pop culture vs. high culture? I don’t think so. . 

I realize I’m using the term “accessiblity” or “accessible” in two ways: 1) actual physical availability and 2) intellectual availability – is it presented in such a way someone without specialized knowledge can understand and enjoy it?

The more I read over what I’ve written, the more ideas become clearer to me. So, it seems that the original term “pop culture” is derived from the idea of commercially-produced “culture” as opposed to individually-produced, more organic culture.

But what I consider pop culture is more refined than the idea of mass-produced culture or elements of culture because, and this ties into the ideas of authorship and readership mentioned above, if we don’t care for what is produced, then is it relevant? I don’t mean, if only a few like something, is it relevant. Of course it is still relevant. I mean, if someone tries to force-feed an idea or object to the public and say, this is cool, like it and we reject it, what does that mean?

I think at some point, and perhaps some people would argue that still, pop culture comprises only those ideas, movies, books, music, etc. churned up and out for the general public using the proverbial lowest common-denominator.

But I would argue, and it seems I’m not alone, that the concept of pop culture now encompasses something different, something more substantial. The term refers to what is cool, what is in, yes, what is popular. I’ve already said yes, I mean currently, but I think there is a timelessness to pop culture as well. The more I try to define and analyze, the more I feel like I’m trying to explain. I might have to retract what I said about how my ideas are becoming clearer to me. But I’m trying!

So, the discussion continues…

In defense of pop culture: I found a great quote/excerpt in a New York Times article entitled “Philosophy Hitches a Ride With ‘The Sopranos'” By DAVID BERNSTEIN published April 13, 2004. So as not to take it too out of context, let me provide some background. In short, the article is about how pop culture and philosophy have been linked together in a series called “Popular Culture and Philosophy.” Books in the series deal with philosophy and “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons,” “The Matrix,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Lord of the Rings” and most recently, “The Sopranos.” I haven’t read any of them but I do have The Tao of Pooh somewhere. I think that’s along the same idea.

“William Irwin, an associate professor of philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., is the series editor. Mr. Irwin, 33, calls the volumes “philosophy with training wheels.” The goal, he says, is to make philosophy more accessible to nonacademics.

… Writing for The Village Voice, Norah Vincent, a freelance columnist, described the “Seinfeld” book as “a collection of essays by mostly third-rate philosophers from mostly substandard institutions ?a fact that should come as no surprise.”

“Low culture,” she continued, “is infiltrating the scholarly world, a curriculum of aptly `higher’ learning in which shallow amusements have no place.”

Alexander Nehamas, president of the eastern division of the American Philosophical Association, said the tensions between philosophy and pop culture dated to ancient times.

“Greek tragedy is now considered high art,” Mr. Nehamas said, “but intellectuals at the time were seeing popular culture and entertainment. It was very distasteful. Now think 2,500 years from now somebody could be talking about Jerry Bruckheimer or Aaron Spelling. To us that sounds quite strange.”

Joss Whedon, creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spinoff series “Angel,” said the academic attention given to his show is “a little surprising,” but he said pop culture should be taken seriously, not trivialized.

“Popular culture is a thing on its own that needs to be examined very carefully, very philosophically,” Mr. Whedon said by telephone from Los Angeles. “If someone has a Nietzschian bias or a Freudian bias or any kind of bias that they want to put Buffy into as a mold, it’s legitimate.”

At the same time Mr. Whedon, who said he had not read any of the Open Court series, cautioned against getting too carried away with pop culture scholarship.”

Shakespeare was considered somewhat”low brow” too with all the dramatics and comedy involved. My favorite line is Joss Whedon’s saying pop culture is serious stuff. I agree. It’s about the human experience. Anyway, I just wanted to share these comments with you all.

I read this quote in the Sept/Oct ’04 issue of Film Comment and had to add it here. Gavin Smith wrote, “…this issue embodies what former Film Comment editor Richard T. Jameson liked to call film’s ‘eternal present.’ What did he mean? That a film made in 1937 is as immediate and relevant and alive as a film coming out next month. Or, put another way, that film history lives on and shapes what we watch and what filmmakers create long after its prime movers have exited the set.” 

Isn’t that a lovely way to look at pop culture as a whole? Pop culture’s “eternal present” is all of pop culture influencing what’s next and how what once was is still as relevant as what is and what will be. And if you read on, you’ll see that’s how I like to go through life. Life is what was, what is and what will be and it all means something to you and me now even if it has happened to someone else before and will happen to someone else in the future!

That really became clear to me recently when I was re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She wrote this book almost 200 years ago and human nature hasn’t changed one iota in all that time. So basically, 200 years from now, people will be watching Felicity saying, I totally can relate to this love triangle between Ben, Felicity and Noel.

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