Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s query is our annual first question of the year:
What’s your pop culture resolution for 2017?
My resolution—which I more or less adopted, involuntarily, the moment I had kids—is to no longer keep up with things purely out of obligation. This was a fully self-imposed burden anyway, and a totally ridiculous one. I sometimes hear myself say stuff like “I don’t want to be left out of the cultural conversation,” particularly when it comes to TV shows or movies, which is a statement that erroneously presumes both that there is some sort of uniform cultural dialogue, and that anyone gives a shit if I’m part of it. So I’m just not going to worry anymore about checking out something new that doesn’t already spark excitement in me, simply because “everyone’s talking about it” (or because I feel some sense of professional duty), and I’m no longer going to tough it out with TV series that have become a slog to watch, just because I’m afraid that something exciting will happen and I’ll be sorry to have missed out. In the event of that unlikely scenario, I’ll be happy to be spoiled and revisit later, during the scant childless hours I have to consume things. Otherwise, I’m selfishly gonna fill those hours with stuff I actually enjoy.
Several years ago, I was a music critic, and spent most of my down time going to see three or four live shows a week. Granted, this was before kids entered my life, but a few shows I went to in 2016 showed me how much I missed my old pastime. Not just big reunion shows of bands I’ve already known and loved (although April’s Cheap Trick show at Metro was amazing), but just checking out a band at Lincoln Hall because a friend likes them, which is how I wound up seeing The Lemon Twigs and Sunflower Bean last year. A last-minute decision led me to Double Door in December to see a Lawrence Arms Christmas show, which was the most fun I’ve had in a while. So my 2017 resolution is to see more live music, not just The Wedding Present I’ve already got tickets to in April (and, lord willing, the Neil Diamond concert in May), but the upstarts hitting a smaller club and playing their frickin’ hearts out. There’s a beautiful energy there I’d almost forgotten about (which hopefully will inspire me to finally take bass lessons, my personal resolution for 2017).
I’ve made a plan to work my way through my TV-on-DVD box sets. Or, as my wife put it over the holidays, when I was casting an eye toward Target’s “$15 or less” DVD shelves (one of my favorite retail spaces): “You shouldn’t buy any more DVDs until you’ve watched all of Hill Street Blues.” So let’s call this the Hill Street Proclamation: I will watch that pioneering police drama, and other complete series compiled in space-hogging blocks of cardboard and plastic. I will stop stockpiling collections of old programs with vague “for future articles” notions (I see you, three seasons of Night Court) and actually play the damn discs (now I watch you, three seasons of Night Court). I’ll clear this pile of promo DVDs off of my desk, and not just because we’re moving to another part of the office tomorrow. I’m not going to be able to do anything about my ever-widening library of Mystery Science Theater 3000, though. Shout! Factory finally put out a set with Riding With Death! That episode used to be as elusive as Robert Denby!
My resolution is simple, and inspired by our rash of year-end content last month: consume more new stuff. I have a bad tendency to use pop culture solely as comfort food—sometimes literally, given how much Food Network content I binge when I’m looking to turn my brain off and just float—a practice that left my personal best-of lists looking pretty anemic. (Nobody’s interested in hearing about how a 10-year-old episode of Good Eats is my show of the year.) So in 2017, my goal is to try a new TV show, movie, or video game every week, as part of an ongoing effort to not feel like an uncultured cultural homebody again when December rolls around. First up: Figuring out why my colleagues are so in love with FX’s You’re The Worst.
I saw more than 100 new movies in 2016 (not including festival films that haven’t been released in theaters yet), but my goal for this year is to double that. I figure if I see two new movies a week, every week, that’ll give me a comfortable base of just over 100 movies that I can fill in with some end-of-year screener binges and get to a solid 200 films. (It’s not unheard of for me to watch four or five movies a day in the lead-up to best of the year voting.) If nothing else, it’ll help me round out my worst movies ballot next year.
With the combination of limited funds and a desire to live in a house filled with less stuff rather than more, I’ve resolved to stop buying so many new or used books and instead make a point of reading the books I already own but have never managed to find time to read. I’ve already started out with Good Night, Sweet Prince: The Life And Times Of John Barrymore, by Gene Fowler. As if Barrymore’s legacy wasn’t fascinating enough already, Fowler himself was a reporter for the New York American, who introduces himself as having “come to the newspaper in 1918 under the sponsorship of Damon Runyon.” How do you not dive headlong into a book like that? Given the shelves that line my office, even if I only average a book a week, I’m relatively certain that it won’t be a problem to find 51 more books that are at least as interesting.
My resolution for 2017 is to keep better track of what culture I consume over the course of the year. That means I’m going to open a Letterboxd account for movies, and keep running Google Docs for books, TV, and theater. I am setting this goal in part because I struggled to remember what I loved earlier in the year when the inevitable call for year-end favorites rolled around in December. More broadly, however, I hope writing everything I devour down will inspire me to be more voracious and even encyclopedic in my consumption as well as more organized. Because, come on, I want to be impressed when I look back on the lists rather than disappointed at how limited my viewing and reading was.
I think it’s about time I got around to watching Twin Peaks’ second season. I’ve owned the Gold Box set for ages now (and still remember getting the first season set when it came out in 2001, the one that didn’t have the pilot on it because of rights issues; I asked for it for Christmas and my mom almost said no because she thought it was pornography), but while I’ve watched season one multiple times and seen the movie and even participated in a roundtable on one of season two’s most famous episodes, I still haven’t gotten through the whole series. Part of that’s because everything good I’ve heard about the second season has always started with a caveat, but mostly I think it’s just bad timing. With the revival coming out soon, now’s as good a time as any, and hey, maybe after all these years of lowered expectations, I might actually enjoy myself.
A freaky thing I’ve always wanted to try is reading more than one book at a time. I don’t know why that feels so wrong to me—I watch multiple television shows at the same time, after all—and it’d be nice to balance reading new books for review while simultaneously reading classics for pleasure. There’s a bunch of likely looking books I’m itching to start for possible review on the site, but I want to finish Louise Erdrich’s The Plague Of Doves first. So today I’ll take a deep breath and crack open one of those galleys and not feel guilty about neglecting Plague Of Doves for a day. It’s not going anywhere.
I’ve found it very satisfying in the past to be a completist with regards to particular artists, becoming a kind of expert, if only to myself, on their work. I enjoy witnessing how their concerns and styles repeat and change over time and determining what makes those great artists singular, entirely themselves and apart from others (and in the process developing a personal connection to their work). With that in mind, this year I’d like to go all-in on Will Oldham, an artist whom I’ve long loved but haven’t followed exhaustively (in part because he is, in his numerous iterations, so prolific). I’ve seen Oldham a few times live and own a number of his albums, and I count some of those songs as all-time favorites, but I feel like I’ve got some major gaps in my Bonnie “Prince” Billy/Palace Brothers/Palace Music listening and would like to fill them over the coming months.
This is a pretty broad one, but it’s a big, shameful blindspot of mine: I want to read more fiction. I try and try to pick stuff up, but I end up bouncing off nearly everything. For a long time, it seemed like the only books I’m capable of sticking with are non-fiction, and whenever I consider branching out, I’m at a loss for where to even start. The good news is, I recently moved in with my girlfriend, who just so happens to have studied literature, worked in libraries for years, filled our apartment with books, and is way more in tune with my tastes than I am, so this seems like a pretty good time to make the leap. I’m already eyeing a copy of Neuromancer that’s sitting a few feet away as I type this.
My pop culture resolution also somewhat doubles as one of my general New Year’s resolutions: consume more media that’s not on or beamed to me via a laptop, tablet, or phone screen. Although I listen to a fair amount of vinyl, I tend to consume music I already own on YouTube or via Apple Music, and I have stacks of books gathering dust that I ignore in favor of my Nook or the Longform app. I miss the days when I would stay up too late paging through novels or memoirs, and lately have been longing for the simple pleasures of popping in a CD and enjoying a full album without getting distracted or feeling the need to skip around. This resolution will be tough, since I tend to be on my laptop or phone day and night, but I’m determined to stick to it.
There’s one thing about 2016 that I am unequivocally happy about: I completed my New Year’s resolution to finally finish The Sopranos. It may have come right down to the final day, but I can now discuss that controversial ending with the sure knowledge that people should chill out about it. In light of that success, I’m looking to 2017 with a similarly singular (and hopefully similarly achievable) goal: I’m going to buckle down and watch the entirety of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog. It’s one of those things that seems like it should have happened in college but didn’t; after years of being met with bewildered stares by colleagues as to why I haven’t seen a single one, I’m going to set what should be a totally manageable goal—one a month, until it’s done, with two whole free months to cover the inevitable missing of a summer month. Take that, legendary Polish made-for-television film classics!
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya
I failed spectacularly in completing my 2016 pop culture resolution to watch all of the Real Housewives franchise, but my resolution this year is much more practical and personal. So far, I’ve read two books in 2017, both fantasy YA books centered on young queer women. The first, Of Fire And Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, tells the story of a princess betrothed to the future king whose plans to fulfill her duties unravel when she falls for his unruly sister. The second, Marian by Ella Lyons, is a retelling of Robin Hood from Marian’s perspective. Marian and Robin Hood are both young women in the reimagining of the old tale. Both stories are exactly what I needed when I was a girl reading every fantasy-adventure book I could get my hands on. This year, I want to read more queer YA books in order to belatedly satisfy my hunger for stories about princesses falling in love with other princesses and high school girls untangling confusing feelings toward their best friends. I missed out on these worlds when I needed them most, but now feels like the perfect time to make up for that.
It seems like I never just sit and listen to music anymore. I used to do that for hours. Nowadays, music is something I take with me and listen to on the go while I’m doing something else. I hope to change that in 2017, and I think I know how to do it. I inherited a passel of vinyl from relatives a few years back. I have a working turntable, but I still haven’t listened to most of those records. I plan to get through more of those records this year. The great thing is, that turntable isn’t going anywhere. It’s plugged into the wall. A lot of the LPs, I should point out, are total crap. My relatives were way into Ray Conniff for some reason. But there’s some cool stuff in there, too: Herbie Hancock, Al Kooper, Floyd Cramer, etc. Should be fun.
For about 18 years I made my living primarily as a film critic. That ended about a year and a half ago and as a result I fell into this weird place where I stopped watching new movies out of some mental block. It is insane how few new movies I have seen over the past 18 months. To put it into perspective, I am now officially two behind on the Star Wars franchise. So my resolution for 2017 is simply to see more new movies.
When I talk about the need for more female representation, I usually focus on what’s on screen. But I’m equally interested in getting more women behind the scenes too. And I think it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. So in 2017 I’d like to support more films made by women. And specifically I’d like to support them on opening weekends when my dollars really count, rather than just waiting around to catch them later like I’ve inadvertently done with Kelly Fremon Craig’s Edge Of Seventeen and Andrea Arnold’s American Honey. That means I plan to be the first in line to see Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom, Denise Di Novi’s Unforgettable, Stella Meghie’s Everything, Everything, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, Lucia Aniello’s Rock That Body, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and Trish Sie’s Pitch Perfect 3. Here’s hoping I’ll be in good company.
Every year, my pop culture resolution involves chipping away at the vast, perhaps unconquerable back catalog of worthwhile movies I have not seen. And every year I fall short—2016 more so than most. While it’s more fun to be specific in this kind of endeavor, I’m going to try to make it easier on myself and say this year, I resolve to catch up with at least one movie from my Letterboxd watchlist from each decade from the ’30s through the ’90s. That should be manageable, right? The shame I feel in publicly sharing the gaps in my movie experiences will serve as penance for my unkept resolution last year. (Though I did finally see The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg! Good movie!)
My pop culture New Year’s resolution contains plenty of the regular “mores”—watch more movies, read more books that aren’t about people with swords that have names, listen to more music made later than 2008. But this year I have to promise myself one big “less.” Purchase fewer 100 hour+ video games. I just bought Fallout 4, and it’s pretty great. But I’m probably going to experience 1/128th of the game before I have to set it aside for something else. When my very limited free time for video games can be spent simply walking the barren expanse from one far-flung settlement to another, I think I may benefit from a slightly more compact experience. Giant open world games are the Everlasting Gobstoppers of the medium. You really only need one to last you your entire life.
My resolution is the exact opposite of Sean’s. I wound up on the second to last train to Westworld. And honestly, that was only because I read so many opaque headlines about the game-changing twist in episode seven and I was afraid of having something potentially cool spoiled for me. Come to think of it, I also I plowed through two-and-a-half seasons of Game Of Thrones because I didn’t want to hear secondhand about the dust-up at a certain high-profile wedding. I’m tired of being late to the party. I’ve recently become more aware of my tendency to delay consuming something everyone is talking about as part of some misguided attempt to purify my experience. More often than not, that only leads to me trying to reanimate a dying conversation on social media or luck upon someone who is as behind the curve as I am. Since I clearly want to be part of more current pop-culture conversations, I’m resolving to consume more media at or near its release. It’s time I admit my burning desire to talk about “the scene that changed everything.”
Piggybacking on Jesse’s resolution, I, too, am planning to plug up some of the most egregious gaps in my cinematic education/enjoyment by working my way down my Flickchart list of shamefully unwatched classics. The site helpfully keeps track of the highest-rated (by users) movies you haven’t seen in order to make you feel guilty, and, looking at it now, I hang my head at the sight of (in order): City Lights, The Red Shoes, 8 1/2, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and the shame goes on. Twinned with this resolution is the idea that I need to actively mark out time to unplug from my full-time freelancer routine of endlessly watching, writing, and taking intermittent breaks to check Twitter to see what hateful, ignorant shit Trump and Republican lawmakers have done while I’ve been watching and writing. Take a breath, close the laptop, remember that movies still exist, and that beauty, wonder, nuance, and intellectually challenging art are worth stopping for.
Like Jesse and Dennis, I plan to address some cinematic blind spots in 2017; one of the drawbacks of trying to see everything new in theaters is that you don’t have time for the classics, and I can surely find time to confirm that, say, London Has Fallen is terrible (it is) and that Tarkovsky’s Mirror is great (let’s find out!). But since that resolution territory is covered, I’ll also note that I plan to make good on my promise to A.V. Club music editor David Anthony and keep up better with new music, in part so I can actually participate in our annual staff poll for the section. That may seem like an awfully utilitarian reason to broaden my musical horizons, but anything to get me listening to something new that isn’t heavy metal! Any 2017 recommendations to get me started?