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 email@example.com.
This week’s question:
It’s the same one we do every year: In the spirit of the new year, here’s our annual opportunity to contemplate the year to come, and reflect on all the things we vow to read, watch, play, create, listen to, or change about the way we approach pop culture. What are your pop-culture resolutions for 2015?
I failed to complete (or even start) my resolution as listed in this very space last year, which was to whittle down my physical media to a manageable level and maybe even write a column about it. I still want to do that, so we’ll see if time allows in 2015. I’ll try this slightly easier one: I resolve to read more in 2015. I read a shameful number of books this year—like, four, but one of them was Perfidia, which counts as six—and I need to activate that part of my brain more frequently. (But there’s so much good stuff on TV!) But I will, I will, starting with the books that are stacked on my bedside table right now: Patton Oswalt’s upcoming Silver Screen Fiend, Amanda Petrusich’s Do Not Sell At Any Price, and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which has been sitting there practically since it came out… four years ago.
Laura M. Browning
I am very obsessive about the pop culture I consume. I read The Hunger Games trilogy in two days, I watched season two of The Americans in a weekend, and don’t make me admit how long it took me to get through season five of Buffy. I’m like a junkie in need of her fix: There’s just something about finishing that feels so good. The problem is that this keeps me from starting new things, because I know I won’t come up for air until I’ve finished it. (What, you thought the problem was going to be that I drop everything else in my life while I seek completionist nirvana? Nah.) So my pop culture resolution for 2015 is to focus on breadth, not depth. I will start The Good Wife without having to watch all six seasons in one fell swoop; I will pick up a new comic and wait between issues instead of purchasing the entire collection on Comixology; I will go ahead and watch that dystopian YA movie without first having to read the entire series it was adapted from. I do not have a plan for any of this, so if you know of some app that prevents you from hitting the “play next episode” button, please let me know.
My pop culture resolution for 2015 is to watch every movie with Jason Statham, even the ones that aren’t streaming on Netflix. Crank and Crank: High Voltage are two of my all-time favorites, and I’ve never seen a film with him I haven’t really enjoyed. So why haven’t I seen them all? Because they’re not all available to watch instantly on Netflix, and because I feel I should give more of my pop-culture consumption time over to films and television that are both newer and more “respected.” So this calendar year I’m going to be true to my undying love for movies stuffed with overlong fight scenes, flashy car chases, and the problematic hegemonic masculinity of Statham’s characters. There are 36 movies to Statham’s name on IMDB, some of which I’ve seen and most of which are the high-intensity “action and adventure” genre flicks I want to fill 2015 with. (Though I’m wondering if his voice acting in Gnomeo & Juliet counts toward this goal.)
Last year, I resolved to “slow down and give pop culture the time it deserves.” I’m happy to report I kept my resolution and was even able to make the time to analyze and write about one of pop culture’s most fascinating specimens, American Horror Story. There is, however, one thing I never got around to. A.V. Club contributor Oliver Sava lent me RASL—a pulp sci-fi noir graphic novel by Jeff Smith—more than a year ago and I still haven’t finished it. To keep this resolution interesting, though, I’m not going to give myself an entire 365 days to complete my reading. Instead, I plan to read RASL in two weeks. Oliver, if I don’t return this book to you by January 15, know I have failed, and act accordingly.
I’d like to have more face-to-face conversations about pop culture in 2015. At The A.V. Club, our sarcastic motto is “making fun into work,” but that’s not really the problem with analyzing and writing about TV, movies, music, and other entertainments that most people consume for, you know, entertainment. The problem is that when I’m done analyzing and writing about those things, too often that’s all the thought I’m willing to give them. And so, when I’m asked a question like, “Any good TV shows I should be watching?” I usually stare off into space for a few seconds and mumble something about Hannibal. I once heard film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum say that starting a conversation is the most important thing a critic can do, but I’m frequently remiss in keeping that conversation going. In the new year, I’d like to correct that. (In person, at least. I’m quite content to sit back and watch online discussions churn on without my follow-up input, thank you very much.)
Read more, watch more, write more, make more. That’s been my resolution every year since I got married and became a parent and acquired all kinds of grown-up responsibilities that are deeply rewarding in their own ways, but which have occupied a lot of the space in my life once reserved for cultural doings. For someone who once lived as cheaply as possible so I could spend as much time as possible devouring movies, books, and records, and going to art museums on free days, the whole adult-type schedule has taken a lot of time to adjust to. (I used to average about 1,000 movies a year; this year, I’ll barely crack 550, at least 100 of which are early actualities and shorts, which barely count.) The make more part of that resolution is especially weighing on me; I took a week off of work this year to do some camera tests and preliminary filming on a new project, and with the last movie entering the final stages of its festival life-cycle, I’m long overdue to make something different.
I have a bunch: I’d like to streamline my record collection, read all the books I’ve got stacked up on my end table, and stop worrying about the Internet so much at night. But really, I’ll be happy if I just launch and build up another podcast that people seem to like. The Serial Serial worked, but that’s (probably) because the show we’re talking about, Serial, is so damn popular. I’ve got another idea brewing that I think could work, and could be really fun, and I’d love to get that up and running in January and then spend the rest of the year getting it to where I think it should be, both in terms of editorial content and in terms of listenership. I’ll honestly be happy if we have 5,000 loyal fans, but I feel like 2015 could be a good year for me to really push hard to get past that.
I’ve been trying (and failing) to finish Buffy The Vampire Slayer since 2013. I get really into the show when I’m watching it (I adore the characters), but I tend to take month-long breaks between marathons. To be fair, watching seven seasons of anything is a rather daunting task. But while I’ve easily tackled similar projects before (I flew through a lengthy West Wing re-watch), Buffy’s monster-of-the-week structure can get a little repetitive. I nearly gave up entirely during the show’s plodding fourth season, but things have thankfully picked up in the fifth. I recently made it through the phenomenal (and devastating) “The Body,” and the musical episode is my next big landmark to look forward to. I’m hopeful that over the course of 2015 I’ll be able to watch the remaining 50 episodes and finally cross Buffy off my “genre shows to watch” list. Then it’s on to Farscape!
One of the many joys of having kids is seeing their tastes develop, and it’s especially gratifying when they like the same things you liked as a kid. Building Lego spaceships; discovering the joys and frustrations of Monopoly; and enjoying the same movies that enthralled me at their age. (Taking them to see The Muppets along with my dad, who had taken me to see The Muppet Movie as a kid, was a particular highlight.) So I have to keep reminding myself not to go too crazy with Star Wars. Have I watched the trailer for Episode VII: Friday Night Lightsabers a thousand times already? I’m not a Communist; of course I have. Have I forced one of my direct subordinates at work to watch the trailer? Yes I have. Have I breathlessly reported every casting rumor to two uncomprehending children who only know one actor, and think his name is Emmet From The Lego Movie? At least daily. Can I try and tone it down in the long year in between trailer and completed film? Do or do not. There is no try. (That means no.)
While I have a vast number of personal resolutions I need to work on, when it comes to pop culture, I want to focus more on classic films, and not the goofy, gory schlock I feast upon. I have a small group of friends—call it a film club—and we inevitably watch horror, exploitation, or pure schlock, stuff like Blood Diner, Spookies, and Turkey Shoot (a.k.a. Escape 2000). We’re all well-educated people, yet we get such a kick out of the lowest common denominator. Part of our problem is we’re obsessives for How Did This Get Made?, so half the time we’ll end up watching complete garbage like 88 Minutes because it was a funny episode on the show. One of the rare occasions we deviated from the dreck was to watch The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster. That film has not left my mind since, and while I love playing MST3K with my friends, I want to start watching some of the classics I’ve neglected. For God’s sake, I own the Criterion release of Days Of Heaven and still haven’t watched it. 2015 will be the year I finally get around to The Bicycle Thief, The Killing, Seven Samurai, and a million other fine dining films, and less fast food.
Perhaps still smarting from all the commenters yelling at me for not watching every single episode of every show broadcast in 2014 (thus rendering my agonized-over best-of TV list worthless and irrelevant), I should probably resolve to, somehow, watch even more television in 2015. Instead, I’m planning to get back to my movie smarty-pants roots. Look, as much as I love reviewing television at The A.V. Club (and occasionally being treated to the sight of the Workaholics guys getting poop in their mouths), the sight of the comprehensive best-of movie list our knowledgable and dedicated film critics put together shames me with how badly all this TV has sapped me of the will to actually sit down and watch a damn movie once in a while. There was a time when young Dennis (in his capacity as smugly learned film geek) prided himself on seeing hundreds of movies a year, while in 2014, with all the TV binging, I’m sure I barely broke 100. So since I still work in a video store—which is a thing that still exists—and have access to, oh, all the movies ever (it’s a really good video store), I’m calling myself out to make time to both catch up on the multitude of good movies I’ve missed in the past year and to actually go out to the theaters. Like, outside, even.
Like Drew, I have plenty of older movies on my catch-up list. It’s a list that never quite seems to get smaller, no matter how many I watch; I’m constantly reminded of more films that I need to go back to and check out. It’s a pitfall of watching 200-plus new releases every year and having any other outside interests at all. So I think in this space I’ll specifically resolve to watch this semi-random selection of movies that have been on my list forever: Notorious, Carnival Of Souls, La Dolce Vita, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Roman Holiday, The Color Of Money, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, Big Trouble In Little China, and Lawrence Of Arabia (I know! I know!), provided I can get a chance to see it on the big screen, preferably in 70 mm. Check back with this Q&A next year, and see if I’m still promising to get some of these watched.
In 2015 I resolve to write more about movies. Even though I’ve been watching fewer movies than usual this year, I still routinely find myself logging a movie on Letterboxd with just a rating. Then it’s onto the next one. I keep skipping one of the most important steps: taking a moment to think about the damn thing. Writing gives structure to my reaction, preferably with its specific language in a full review, but at the very least with its outline. Even a couple sentences become a semantic landmark. Like taking notes knowing you won’t consult them, just going through the motions helps the memories stick. Oh, and it’s time to see Barry Lyndon, already.
Two things: It’s high time I caught up on The Legend Of Korra. As an animation buff and a big-time Avatar: The Last Airbender fan, it’s ridiculous that I’ve never made it past the first couple of episodes, which I watched pre-release. It was one of those things where I was going to watch it with my Avatar-loving friends, and then we could never make the schedules work, and then they had a kid and our priorities changed, and suddenly there are three seasons of the show on DVD and I’ve still only seen a couple of episodes. January’s cinematic doldrums period seems like a perfect time to blitz-watch some TV. Also in January, I resolve to get all that borrowed media back to the proper owners. I have too many borrowed movies lying around unwatched, a few to the point of embarrassment, and at least one to a point approaching criminality: I think I’ve had Scott Tobias’ copy of Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans in my den since 2005 or so.
I feel like a broken record with my perpetual refrain of “there just aren’t enough hours in the day,” but it seems like that’s my excuse for everything I haven’t found the time to watch, instead of just saying what’s really true, which is that I’ve got an attention span slightly less substantial than the dog in Up. Still, I’m going to risk making a resolution that I may not keep and resolve to watch more hour-long dramas. I’ve rationalized that it’s just easier to find the time to watch half-hour sitcoms, but I’ve done so to the point that, at the moment, the only drama I’m watching more or less live is Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and although it’s turned into a great show, it still feels wrong that it’s alone in the pack, with everything else designated as “when I get around to it” viewing. That’s not to say that I’m not going to be tuning in on Sunday nights for the last season of Mad Men, but that’s not going to last me the whole year, so I’ll take any and all suggestions as to what series I should watch right now, and not just via on demand the next day… or later.
No big, life-changing, fundamentally positive resolutions for me this year. Instead, I’m pledging myself publicly to masochism: 2015 is going to be the year I finish Dark Souls. I’ve been picking at From Software and Hidetaka Miyazaki’s brutally hard action RPG for two years now in fits of enthusiasm and despair, and I think it’s high time I finally put this sucker to bed. I’ve seen enough of the game by now to recognize its brilliance: the clever online features, the massive, open world where the only factor limiting exploration is the player’s ability to survive, and above all the genius ways Miyazaki and company turn each new area into its own unique kind of vicious death trap. (I’ve also discovered just how fun the game can be, even as it’s murdering you.) My last push at the game got me through the halfway mark, defeating notorious progress stoppers Ornstein and Smough (a pair of bosses who attack simultaneously, pursue the player brutally, and heal to full and gain a massive power boost when the other one dies). But I’ve stalled out again at the moment, confronted with dungeons full of unkillable ghosts, invisible floors, and pitch-black darkness. Still, all of those bottomless pits, one-hit kill bosses, and semi-permanent, health-slashing curses aren’t going to kill themselves, right? Once more into the breach, my friends, and I’ll see you at the next blessed, progress-saving bonfire in 2015.