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Greetings and salutations and welcome to season 2 episode 16 of the Pop Culture Academy where we do all things pop culture with just a bit of an academic slant. I'm your host, MK Adkins, and what has happened in this last week since last we spoke? In the last week my wife and I finally caught up with Fear the Walking Dead. We've been behind on that one a bit. No spoilers, of course, but at some point I really need to put together an episode or a blog post or an article or something on the way that this last season offered this kind of post-apocalyptic reading of the Exodus story. It was really interesting. In general this is such a great series. It's certainly, I think, as good as the original. Right now it's got an amazing cast; so many people drawn from such other great series, I mean people that you will absolutely recognize and frankly, I don't know how they can afford this cast. It's become quite large. I mean, I'm expecting that very soon some people will have to go. You know, if you haven't seen season 5, you really should. And if you haven't seen the series at all, it's really good. I like the whole thing but you can start at season 4 and be fine really. I mean there's some continuity that goes over the whole series but really they do a kind of a reboot after season 4 and so you can start there and not be particularly lost.
Also I am watching, at the moment, Star Trek: Voyager. A good friend of mine, Ida Bostian, she started this, she did this, and I - you know I thought it was such a great idea that now I'm stealing it but she started with the original Star Trek and worked her way through it series by series, chronologically, and I know that she's been watching Discover and I know that she's been watching Picard. I'm up to Voyager and I'm enjoying it but the question keeps - I mean this doesn't really particularly bother me but why do Star Trek shows seem to become so dated so fast?
Watching this series, watching The Next Generation. Certainly if you go back to watch the original series it feels so...it just feels so dated. Is it something about the particular sort of future that they're imagining, that it just dates itself very quickly? I mean, if you compare it, for instance, to Star Wars, you know, that original trilogy, everything already feels very old, rusted, used and that's great because then you don't have to worry about it becoming out of date - the technology seeming to become out of date over time. I think one of the problems with episodes one, two and three in the Star Wars universe is that they were suddenly - we went back in time and everything was suddenly new and shiny and it felt a little wrong and it didn't have the same kind of allure. I mean, I don't know why you want your future to feel rusted and worn out but you do. Does all great science fiction have that kind of dated...I don't know. Battlestar Galactica is one that's coming to mind. The Galactica in that series is being retired so, again, there's a since that things are past their prime, things aren't new and shiny anymore. Is that what we need for a sci-fi series to stand the test of time and look good? People love Star Trek. People loved the original, The Next Generation. I'm really enjoying Voyager so maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe it's some kind of suspension of disbelief involving aesthetics. I mean, just, you know, the uniforms, the bridge, the console. None of that looks like the future, right? But, anyway, I definitely am enjoying the series, about two seasons in, and it does something - I think each of the series have really added to the whole Star Trek universe in fascinating ways.
All right, so I want to talk a little this episode about children's television which I think is really actually a very fertile subject and one that we probably will come back to more over time. But you know, Sesame Street's ending it's 50th season, a very very big deal. I mean, 50 seasons. And of course Caroll Spinney who has played the beloved characters of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for all 50 years passed away this year. Sort of a sad milestone, I guess you could say. And so in some ways it seems like we have some good excuses to go into the subject of children's television with all these things going on with Sesame Street.
Before I get into children's television, I think I've got to lay out a theory of television that I've been working on actually for a few years now and it involves thinking of television as a kind of virtual reality. Let me see if I can explain this in a way that will set up the rest of the show. We've talked a number of times about this - the relationship of art to virtual reality. And my argument is that all art is meant to be virtual reality, essentially. We can get into some representational things, some abstract things in the 20th century, but that's a whole other episode-long story involving photography. Other than that, all art, I think, is meant to capture reality. And each generation of artist is trying to capture reality in a more and more realistic way to recreate reality. And so I would say art from it's very beginning, if you go back and again I've talked about this in other shows, you go back to cave paintings 32,000 years ago - all art from that point is trying to create a virtual reality, an alternative universe that human beings can walk into and feel like they are somewhere else. That's what all art is about. And television, this is the next part of my argument, television, at least scripted television, I would argue is the most sophisticated version of virtual reality that we have got at least so far. I think that video games could overtake it. I think that things involving what we term virtual reality like say the HoloLenz or something like the Occulus Rift, maybe that down the road will be will supplant television as the best version of virtual reality. And there are, you know, probably more things on the horizon that will show up but for right now television is the closest we've gotten to allowing ourselves to enter another reality, an alternative universe and exist. A television show is like a little world. You know this about the shows that you love; they've got characters, places, you get familiar with them, you feel comfortable, you move around to different parts of the world. I mean, you know, let's take an extreme example like Game of Thrones. Obviously, I mean, it's a whole fantasy other world that's realized and I love the opening credits to that show and the way that you get to see the world in it's all they do a very clever thing by making it all clockwork. But it's all there. The whole world sort of spreads out or pops up if you will over the map and you can see the whole world and the series does that. We're moving from one country to another country and crossing oceans and it feels like a complete whole developed world.
Now, on the other end of the spectrum, we've talked about this recently, soap operas happen essentially every day, every week day and you've got people who play those roles in some cases for their entire lives and certainly for, you know, 40, 50, 60 years. We're talking about Sesame Street turning 50. A lot of these soap operas are that old and some people have been playing these roles that long. And so if you're watching that you're seeing the same people, the same characters, every day at the same time. It's like it's really happening in your life. That's as virtual reality as we can get right now. And there's this great bit in the old Phillip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which many of you know from it's movie title, Bladerunner. But in the novel there's a talk show and the talk show is always on. I think the talk show host's name is Friendly, something Friendly. It's always on, 24 hours a day. And that's one of the ways that you know something is amiss in this world. This guy never sleeps he's just on 24 hours a day. Dick in the way that he always did, predicting the future and predicting human behavior into the future. Projecting out what kinds of things we would love and what we would be attracted to. Dick gets it dead on. If we could have a television show, I mean, The Truman Show kind of plays on this idea as well. If we could have a tv show that was on 24 hours a day and never ended, that would be pretty close to virtual reality. Now I know it's not the same as putting on a suit and feeling like you're in, well go back to Star Trek, feeling like you're on the holodeck. We're not there yet. But television has gotten pretty close.
All right, so if you buy into the idea that a tv show is virtual reality or is trying to recreate an alternative space that we can go and visit, what's really fascinating is the connection between that concept (television and virtual reality) and children. In one sense you could say that children's tv trains us to be tv watchers. Think about that statement. It teaches us how to live in these television worlds. Kids aren't born understanding television. Just like, I mean we've talked about this recently, when movies were invented movie-makers had to teach us how to watch. We didn't know what to do with movies. We jumped out of the way when a train came on the screen because we thought it might be coming at us. We had to learn how to watch a movie and kids have to learn how to watch, how to understand tv. It's almost like its own language or maybe it'd be better to say it's own grammar. And children's shows do this. If you turn a child loose, I know, I've got a 3 year old, if you turn a child loose with television narrative they will figure it out. You don't have to explain it to them. They will pick it up. And I think a lot of these children's shows are designed to teach them how to pick it up, how to learn television. And we might say, well okay, that sounds awful. I mean, I know that all my teachers growing up would say that. We all know someone who will tell you how awful television is for us, right? Those people who would say, the old boob tube terminology that gets applied to television. It's still there. Even in this golden age of amazing storytelling, that's still there. That's hung on to television. And there's all kinds of studies about tv and the brain and screen time. Of course, all of that has to kind of go out the window during covid. We're all home now and we gotta work at the same time we're entertaining our kids who can't be at school and so...I mean even if they're going to school it's going to involve screen time. So a lot of that advice has now gone out the window. But frankly I've never been so sure about that advice, what they say about screen time. I don't want to take a beating from parents for this episode. And it's really a much longer argument but I don't think we know - are the studies right that it's probably changing kids brains? I have no doubt of that. I would also argue probably that when people learned to read and write 2500 years ago that also changed people's brains. And if you lived 2500 years ago would you be the one who was saying well let's not read and write because that might somehow screw up their brain chemistry? Television may be doing that. Screen time may be doing that. But that's moving them into something different, not necessarily moving them into something bad. Again, that's a whole other argument.
All right, so let's look at this from another angle. I've raised this question before - why do we as human beings have this desire to create virtual reality at all? If our entire history of art has been an effort to do this, why? Why are we obsessed with creating alternative universes? What is it that compels us to make art and to try to make art so realistic? It turns out there actually may be answers to that in childhood. A number of child psychologists including a great, important experimental psychologist D. W. Winnicott back in the 60s/70s argued that children exist in this very strange world. This isn't just speculation. We know this. When an infant is born, when a child is born that child sees the world as absolutely subjective. That is, the child thinks that everything in the world is a part of her. Her mother, other people she sees, the objects in her room, all of that is part of her because she has no other way of thinking about things. We're born with that total subjectivity. Everything is us. Now, over the first years of life we have to be pried out of that. We have to learn the difference between what's us and what's out there in the world, the subjective us and the objective out there in the world. We have to learn there's a difference between them. And really, who are we kidding? To some extent we do that our entire lives. We're struggling our entire lives to get over our sort of subjective selfish impulses and think about the larger world. But kids are doing that in extreme form in the very early stages.
One of Winnicott's great breakthroughs was when he discovered this thing, this in between place. He uses the word "liminal" which is really just a fancy way of saying in between places. He talks about what he calls magical objects. So the way Winnicott describes this - something that's not the child gets caught up in being part of the child. For instance, the child may have a stuffed bear and at some point the paw of the stuffed bear manages to get into the corner of the child's mouth. And so the child who is experiencing everything as subjective feels this bear as part of itself, this bear is in his/her mouth. It is part of itself. But then mom or dad comes in and takes the bear out of the child's mouth so that the child doesn't choke to death because they are good parents. When this happens, the thing that was part of the child is now taken away and the child has this moment of "this thing that was part of me is now away from me". Winicott says that those objects, that bear, becomes a very special object for the infant. What he calls a magical object because it occupies a space that is both inside of the child and outside the child. If you want to think about it this way, it is part of the child's world and it is part of the outer world.
Winnicott takes this further. As you grow, as children grow they keep this up, they continue to have these magical places that are in between, imaginary worlds, play worlds. And for kids those are truly places that exist in between what you might call the real world and the not real world. And it's not a stretch. Winnicott suggests to think that maybe this same impulse, that the idea that we want to cross the real world with some kind of other - the real and the not real - someplace in between. Winnicott suggests that might actually be the impulse for art. That might be where our desire for art comes from, this need to find a space in between. It's not our world but it's not completely other, it's an artificial world. It's an alternative world. So that if you think about it, if you've studied virtual reality, is what's leftover from our childhood impulses and you say television is virtual reality it actually turns out that television might be left over from something that we really needed in childhood. It's that search for a real/not real space, an in between space. And I think if you think of kids shows in this sense then they become a lot less problematic in terms of is it right to let your kids watch television. Is it not? If you consider that the whole reason tv exists might actually be because of children.
Let's go back to the earliest children's television show, Howdy Doody, there's a whole world they are trying to get there. You've got a kind of a ranch and there are buildings in this space and we move from place to place in the building. And what they are creating for kids is an imaginary space where you can play. Captain Kangaroo. All the shows have basically continued this. If you look at almost every children's show, they're always about developing a space for the kids to be in. An imaginary, in between space. Captain Kangaroo. And you may or may not know this, Clarabell the Clown from Howdy Doody (Bob Keeshan) becomes Captain Kangaroo and the space is different. This time it's the space of a house. But that house has many rooms and we go exploring and that becomes the imaginary space. The old Soupy Sales show, very popular kids show. Again, kind of a limited space but it was still a space that the camera explores. Bozo, there the space turns into the big top and carnival and circus. Peewee's Playhouse, another sort of space, a playhouse that has lots of different places you can go, lots of different components. And they all have this very familiar format. Almost all these shows include several small segments that are all united by the fact that they happened within the larger context of this world. So for instance, on Bozo which is one of the ones I grew up with, it was all about cartoons. The segments were all cartoons - Popeye and Tom & Jerry, whatever the cartoons were. The big top was an excuse to just show all these cartoons and you have Bozo as the host. Here's a cartoon, here's a cartoon, here's a cartoon. It was really just a cartoon show. But all of those individual cartoons are united by the particular imaginary space that they're in.
So within all of this, I think there are probably a couple of shows that deserve special recognition. First of all, Sesame Street. Right? Again, we talked about 50 years old. It's certainly a world in the way that we are talking about. It's certainly a space. I mean the whole idea is it's a street.
There are tenement buildings, there's an apartment where Bert & Ernie live. There's an apartment where Elmo lives. There's a little store, a bodega. All of these things - there's a trash section where Oscar lives. There's Big Bird's nest on part of the street. All of these things are part of this world. If you go back and look at the music, the original opening credits to Sesame Street they are always going down a road, they are going to a place, they are entering this magical in between space. And that's what Sesame Street was and so it definitely works in the same way. Think about it, in the segments you've even got "Elmo's World". That's a whole world within the Sesame Street world. But I mean here's the thing about Sesame Street that was so cool - and it's not like this anymore, it just isn't. I grew up, I think I was 2 - no, I'm sorry - Sesame Street preceded ME by two years. So I grew up with Sesame Street very very earliest days. I have a 23 year old daughter who I watched go through Sesame Street and that's sort of in the middle years, around year 25. Now I've got a 3 year old daughter, I'm watching again. It is not the same as it was and that's fine; shows evolve over time. But once upon a time Sesame Street, its purpose, you can go back and look at interviews with the creators - its purpose was to imitate television. One of the cool things about Sesame Street was that there were educational commercials, "This episode is brought to you by the letter B". And the number 7. And the little clips inside were all educational. But it imitated television. It gave you everything that television has. It even, now, you get an awful lot of parodies. Game of Thrones parodies on Sesame Street, or Orange is the New Black parodies. Again, the whole idea is this recognition that Sesame Street is a world that exists on television and telling kids that and teaching kids.
In a lot of ways Sesame Street was the ideal show, I mean, we can talk about it as one of the first really important educational shows. Kids shows weren't educational. Howdy Doody wasn't educational. Howdy Doody was full of commercials. It was entertaining as hell but it wasn't educational. Sesame Street set out to be educational, to give all kids, even kids who weren't going to preschool, that same kind of educational advantage. And it was an amazing show for that reason. But it also served this really interesting function of teaching kids how to understand the television world. And again, you say, well that's awful. I don't know. I don't know if it's so awful. Teaching kids how to survive in the media environment as opposed to being manipulated by the media environment - maybe that's an important skill. Maybe Sesame Street is the antidote to Howdy Doody. Howdy Doody is not teaching kids, Howdy Doody is just manipulating the kids, "Come on kids, we know you love imaginary spaces, come on into this one and we'll sell you some candy." It's creepy. Sesame Street was different; "Come on into this tv space and we'll teach you how to navigate this tv space. We'll teach you how to understand this tv space."
The other show that's coming out at roughly the same time, same time era, is Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Kind of a companion show for Sesame Street. And again, definitely a world. Think about what that show's opening credits are. It's very Game of Thrones, right? You move down these streets, there's nice music playing but you move through these neighborhoods and it's pretend but it's a world. It's spread out beneath you, you're going through this world. You're going to Mr. Rogers' house.
And Mr. Rogers was all about moving you from the real world into this imaginary world. You come into the house, it's obviously a fake house, it's obviously a play house. The walls don't look real. The door doesn't look real; nothing looks real. He comes into this house. He changes clothes to remind us that we are moving into the world of play; we are leaving the real world we are going into the world of play. There's the trolley that takes us from the real world, such as it is, to the really imaginary world of puppets and that exists somewhere else. But Mr. Rogers, and it does this more than Sesame Street I think, really teaches kids how to handle that. There are moments in Mr. Rogers where he steps outside - you'll be in this fantasy zone and then he'll step outside. You'll see him, for instance, holding one of the puppets and you'll see "oh, he's the voice behind that puppet". There's a great episode, and there are a lot of episodes like this, where he goes to the set - the old show back in the 70s, early 80s, The Incredible Hulk. Mr. Rogers takes the kids to the set of The Incredible Hulk and one of the things - one of his goals in that episode is to show kids that you don't have to be afraid of The Incredible Hulk. And so you see The Incredible Hulk and then he takes you behind the scenes, behind the cameras and you talk about how do they make this? How do they put this together? How is this created? And it certainly teaches kids that adults are all about imagination too. Adults are all about creativity and about pretend spaces just as much as kids are. But it also right from the very early development of a kid it teaches that kid television is an imaginary space and that's great but we also need to know how to step outside of that space. And so you have these two shows kind of happening at the same time on PBS that are really addressing the issues of children and television in a fascinating and different way.
Now, I'm especially fond of the Teletubbies which my oldest daughter grew up with and she was right at the height of Teletubbie mania. And if you've never seen a kid watch the Teletubbies, if you don't have a kid who's in their 20s, and believe me, my daughter is still quite devoted to the 'tubbies. Even today. But there were some amazing, I don't know what it was about that show, it was absolutely, again, the word I can think of is a little creepy. My daughter would play - the tv might be on, you know she liked Barney and she'd watch a little Sesame Street and there were some other shows, and she'd play while those shows were on and she'd you know, she'd notice what was happening. When the Teletubbies came on, the world for her stopped. It's the only thing that she sat still for, she stopped what she was doing, she put down her toys, she sat still and she was glued to and mesmerized by the television for that 25 minutes that Teletubbies was on. I don't know if it has to do - again, it's a very interesting space. There's that sun baby and there's something very hypnotic about that and so maybe there's something going on there. But kids just love Teletubbies. But Teletubbies is a really interesting thing, again, thinking about shows like Sesame Street, shows like Mr. Rogers that were actually thinking about television. They were television and they were thinking about television. Teletubbies, I mean, think about the name of the show. I don't know if you've ever watched this but the point of the show is that these creatures have televisions in their bellies, right? They are tele-tubbies. It's so incredibly post modern. It's what Bozo would have been - you know, the cartoons, again Popeye and whatever we were watching, if they had shown up on Bozo's belly. Instead of the segments being something that are shown on a screen and just introduced by the host the televisions are actually embedded in these things bellies. And each episode, you know, you go through the episode and then at some point in the middle, one of the 'tubbies gets a television signal in his belly and we watch the show, the film that comes onto his belly. I mean talk about, it's so post modern. The tv show that's about watching tv shows. Except that here's the really mind-blowing thing about the Teletubbies, the videos that are shown on their bellies are actually real life. They are videos sent in from kids who are showing you slices of what their real lives are like. It's a chance for you to see how different kids in different parts of the world live. So, you're watching this show and then in the show you go to watch television but what's on television isn't actually television, what's on television is the real world. And so there's this reversal between, I don't know, it gets very confusing. Where's the real world, where's the fake world? It's a real world within a fake world. It's very post modern. It's awesome.
Of course, you know, as with all pop culture, things now have become so incredibly glutted. There are whole kids universes now with multiple shows. I mean, as soon as Disney had it's own channel, I mean and Nickelodeon to some extent, you get these umbrellas of imaginary worlds and they all fit within the Disney world. But, you know, it's not just Disney anymore. You've got the Star Wars universe. My 3-year old is heavily into Star Wars. I know I make it sound like we watch television all the time - we don't. We limit her screen time. But there are Star Wars cartoons - the big thing is the Star Wars Lego cartoons and there are these whole different universes of Lego cartoons and they all kind of fit together in this larger universe. So it's not just - and there are a ton of other stand alone shows. All of these kids shows that are out there just tons, every channel, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon and - they've all got their own set of shows. And there are all these exotic kids channels. Right? Like Baby Bum. And YouTube is full of kids shows, all kinds of kids channels. My daughter just kind of surfs between one YouTube channel and another. And there are literally there are hundreds. And I'm fascinated by the things that she discovers. She used to watch this show about cars and it was - I don't know how to describe this and you can probably find it on YouTube - you're looking at real cars. I guess it's a little bit like Robot Chicken except that it's less animated. You're looking at real cars and somebody's hand is moving these real cars along a road or along a track and narrating as we go. So, you know, the car comes to a railroad stop and we see, you know a hand comes in and puts the railroad crossing signs down and then the train comes through and all of this is being narrated, "oh, look at the train coming through. We better wait on the train." And these little segments, these little five or ten minute episodes where you just follow along with the cars. And I was thinking about this this week - it's very video game like, right? Instead of just watching the action you are kind of with the cars as they go through which is the way a video game works. The great advancement of video games over television is the first person aspect. You can actually be the character. You don't get to do that in the same way in most television. But if you're a kid and you're watching this television show, that is kind of what you get, is a first person moving along with the cars feeling like you're in the world where these cars and these trains, like a little train set. Is this a bridge - I mean, the way these things work - kids grow up with something and they take whatever it is they grow up and they are so used to it and so attached to it that they make it the whole world. Is kids watching these kinds of first person videos on YouTube, is it a bridge to a day when video games will be tv? And the kids, right, the kids will already be ready. They'll already be there ready to do that. The rest of us may not. But they'll be ready to have a show with a narrative like a television show but where you get to play the character and you get to move around the way that you do in video games. Is that the future of narrative? Now, as usual, I can probably go on about this subject indefinitely and maybe at a future point we'll come back to it but I think that's enough for one episode.
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Greetings and salutations and welcome to season 2, episode 15 of the Pop Culture Academy where we do all things pop culture with just a bit of an academic slant. I'm your host, MK Adkins and, well, let's talk a little bit about what's happened since the last time we spoke. I've been watching a new series on Netflix. Actually, I say new series, it's a new series to me. I think it was 2013 -2016 so, not a fresh new series. But these days, you know, there's so many things that we miss and you gotta constantly be going back and adding things that somehow you didn't catch the first time. This one's called Hinterland. Right up my alley. It's a British mystery series, I mean I suppose you'd say British, it's a British mystery series which is my absolute favorite genre, sort of my comfort food, if you will. Set in Wales and dark, dreary - atmosphere's dark and dreary. The crimes are extremely dark and dreary. I've actually been pleased as they've gone into the second season that they've now made - they actually now kind of - I would say two central characters. The central character is this troubled detective from Britain who has, in the beginning we don't know why but has moved out to Wales to begin working for the Wales police department. He is partnered with a woman who is local to Wales. In some ways it's very Broadchurch like, if you will. And I suppose those series were out at the same time which may mean, that could explain why this one didn't get quite the love that that one did. You know, my wife says that I've never met a troubled character that I didn't know. And, you know, I like those characters who really have emotional baggage. But my argument is that every great character in literature, film, television, all the great characters have emotional baggage. That's what makes an interesting character, right? I mean, who would Captain Ahab be if he hadn't lost his leg to a white whale? I mean, what would be the point, at that point? So, anyway, Hinterland I would definitely recommend it if you like that sort of thing - mysteries, dark, a little bit darker.
All right, so for this episode I want to talk a little bit about one of my favorite artistic forms and that is the concept album. Kind of, in some ways, a vanishing art form I would say because it's so rare for people to buy whole albums these days. People grab a song here, grab a song there, put it together in a playlist. That's the way it works. But a very refined art form, I think. Difficult to do well. And very serious when it's done well, it's done properly. I want to think today about Taylor Swift's new album, Folklore, which I am going to argue definitely qualifies as a concept album. And it's quite good as well, I should add. But before we get into that specific album let's talk a little bit more broadly about what a concept album is. You know, is it one of those things that you just say well, I'll know it when I see it. For instance, some people have argued that Frank Sinatra's album, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, one of his classics from 1955 is a concept album despite the fact that there is no theme running through it. There's no character that keeps reappearing. But it does have a certain feeling, a certain atmosphere. But that's a question, right? Can Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, could that be seen as a concept album? It's an album that definitely has a certain feeling, a certain mood. It's also united by a particular approach to jazz music. On the other hand, some concept albums are quite clearly that. I mean you can't think of them as anything else. Everyone would agree that pretty much all of Pink Floyd's albums should be classified as concept albums. Except, you know, maybe those early ones where Syd Barrett was kind of running things. But after that, I mean, everything for them becomes a concept album.
Genesis tends to put out, it's a very prog rock thing, though it's not exclusively limited to prog rock. Simplest terms, a concept album is what the word says. It's an album whose songs are united by a concept. All right, but then that begs the question - what does concept mean here in this case? I like to talk about motifs which is - that's an idea that's borrowed from music. The motif is an idea or an image or even a word that shows up again and again in a work and sort of holds the work together. Can kind of create sometimes it's own underlying theme. And I would say concept albums tend to be united by some kind of common motif. I mean, I don't know that that necessarily - we went from defining the concept album to defining concept to defining motif.
Let's look at some examples. The Who's Tommy, right? That is clearly a concept album though they - I mean I guess a lot of people call that a rock opera. Is a rock opera beyond a concept album? But that album is united, very unified, has a single character, tells a single story. As I said, Genesis has used the concept album approach. And again sometimes a character, a story, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway certainly has that feature. Could look at something like, I don't know, Styx's "Mr. Roboto". That album (Kilroy Was Here) doesn't get much love anymore. I have fond feelings for it because it was popular in my youth. But, whether you like it or not, certainly works as a good example here of an album with a central character and a plot line. Tori Amos likes to channel certain figures, often historical figures. Like Under the Pink, for instance, Anastasia Romanov is this character - not character, a figure that she kind of thinks about throughout the album. There's an example that's not the only thing in the album. There are other things there too but that kind of gives the album that - that historical figure gives that album its character.
Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, maybe the greatest concept album ever made. Maybe the - can make a case, greatest album ever made perhaps? I mean a lot of people prefer The Wall but Dark Side of the Moon is really - there are no flaws in that album. And, you know, what is that about? What unites that album? You know I used to teach that album and my students would say ok, you know what are we going to say this album's about, its concept? The problem to some extent is that album is about life, right? Life and death and birth and money and there's not much that they don't get into. But you can't say, I mean, that's too broad, right? You can't say well this concept album is about life. Madness is a clear motif in a lot of Roger Waters' writing. And here we get into the issue of how many concept albums can you make on the same concept or the same motif? Does it become something beyond just a concept album? A concept career, if you will.
Alan Parsons who, under appreciated. I've talked about recently his connection to Pink Floyd and Dark Side of the Moon. Very key concept album guy, particularly in the 70s, early 80s. And my favorite of his, I mean he's - people who are really into Alan Parsons love The Raven which is all about sort of Edgar Allen Poe obviously. My favorite album of his is another under appreciated. It's called On Air. Came out the mid to late 90s I want to say. And the motif there is flight, right? And so there are songs about the first air flights. You know, the Wright Brothers. There are songs about being afraid of flying. There are songs on that album about space flight. It's all kind of different angles on the idea of flight which - it's just a good album.
And then there are lots of these. From Soft Cell's Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, Gary Numan's The Pleasure Principle, Sting's The Soul Cages which deals with the death of his father. Or Lou Reed's Magic and Loss which deals with loss of a couple of his friends. There are country versions - Willie Nelson's Redheaded Stranger or Teatro. System of a Down. Green Day. Janet Jackon's Rhythm Nation. All these, this is a reasonably popular form. But not everybody can do it. And, you know, it's not to say that this is the - I mean there are plenty of albums, there are plenty of great albums that are organized around the song, right? And just - you know, Fountains of Wayne made great albums where they just made these wonderful song after song after song after song. And they're not united by anything except that they're just brilliant studies in the song form. But back to concept albums. Other than - I mean again, it's still hard to define, right? Ben Folds Five, (The Unauthorized Biography of )Reinhold Messner cd/album, is that a concept album? I mean I've had people argue to me that it certainly is and they can tell me the whole story - that it's about a character and they take me through the whole story. I don't know.
Springsteen's best album in my mind is Nebraska which I think is definitely a concept album. It has this running theme about the depression of poverty that haunts America. That album came out in the early 80s. Reagan's America. And just this - I don't know - this overarching sadness to that. It's one story after another on that album of people who have been crushed economically in one way or another and what they do as a result of being crushed. But then does Born in the USA, does that album qualify as a concept album? Is that united by something? Can the concept be just a mood or can it be an approach? You know, Gerry Mulligan the famous jazz saxophonist at one point has his groups - it was an experimental - has his groups abandon using the piano. The piano is generally used to give the root chords to an ensemble. And he didn't want a root cord, right? He wanted the instruments to simply be playing off of each other. Does that make that first album where he's experimenting with that - does that unite that album as a concept album? For that matter, are Sting's first two albums? Right? Nothing Like The Sun and (that's the second one) Dream of the Blue Turtles. He completely ditches the idea of rock musicians and hires a bunch of jazz musicians and puts together these two albums. Does that unify - are those concept albums? Certainly Paul Simon's Graceland which was recorded completely in South Africa and which was making a statement about apartheid in South Africa and musicians. The song, again, the song's are necessarily related to one another but the concept is in the album itself. The concept is in what we're going to attempt to do here. But then if you stretch it too far maybe every album is a concept album. Most albums are united by the artist who produces that album. Which means in some ways they are all the product of one mind and so they hang together in that way.
I don't know. In literature there are some comparisons. A book of poetry is often united by a theme or a concept or an approach. You see that in photography books as well. In poetry, William Blake's "Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience" which incidentally have recently become inspiration for U2's most recent albums. Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads which is trying to take a brand new approach to poetry in 1798. But I think I like to compare concept albums to the literary form called the short story cycle. And what this is is it's a collection of short stories that can all stand alone, that is you could read them by themselves as short stories they stand up as whole complete stories but they also seem to relate to one another in some important way. Really the first important one of these was Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio in the early part of the 20th century. Again, every story it's own story, it's own characters, it's own events, has a climax, it comes to an end and it works as it's own little story. But they're all set in the same town, this fictional town of Winesburg, Ohio. And so you get to sort of see the whole town as you move from story to story to story. The early 20th century, again, Hemmingway writes In Our Time again, where every story is unique and different but they're all about his experience and his shellshock, post traumatic stress, after WWI. Similarly you can go into Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried which is a short story cycle that's all about post-Vietnam.
All right, so Taylor Swift's Folklore which just came out - does it qualify as a concept album and I'd say absolutely. We get certain motifs, again, words, images, ideas that keep coming up over and over. Blood, for example, shows up over and over. High heels show up frequently. Film shows up all throughout this album. Now, let me stop at this point and confess - I am not a Taylor Swift expert. And honestly, I don't typically - this isn't a show where we do reviews of contemporary albums, contemporary shows. If something catches my eye its worth talking about as an example. You know, here we're talking about an example of a concept album. A few weeks back we talked about Bob Dylan's new album as an example of what makes Bob Dylan so important to American literature. Generally I like to do things that are a little further in the past because it gives us a chance to reflect on them rather than just sort of spouting out is this good? Is this bad? Should you listen to this? Should you not listen to this? But again, I was really captivated by this album and particularly as a concept album. But I'm not a Taylor Swift expert and I've been a little amused as I've done a little - just a bare minimum of research into this album at just how much of an industry it is deciphering her lyrics. I mean, I've always known that people like to say this song or another song of hers is about this breakup and this song's about that breakup and this guy and that guy. But geez, the way people pick her work apart. I mean, my life is about analyzing things and picking things apart but surely there's a point where it gets to be just a little much. I mean, let it go folks. But actually I think that gives me a unique take on her album. That is, I'm not really all that interested in Swift's biography. I'm just not. Right? That's just not my thing. And maybe this is a question for a whole other episode but my question is this - what can we take from this album without really knowing anything about Swift herself? Right? Does this album stand on it's own. It's not what this album tells us about Swift, but rather, what does this album tell us? Period. Question mark. What is it really about?
I mean the thing that really strikes me the most about this album is there is a certain antiqueness to it. Cardigan sweaters. The mention of the roaring 20s. There's this tale of the wealthy socialite. There are all these mentions of the cinema. Images such as high heels on cobblestones. Ghosts. Hauntings. You know, even something that's relatively recent like a t-shirt - it's vintage tees. There's a great song "Mirrorball" that connects us to the antique idea. I mean it connects, for Taylor Swift, I mean not for me, but for Taylor Swift the mirrorball is sort of an - the 70s disco is definitely an antique kind of thing. But actually the mirrorball dates back to the 1920s and the dance halls in the 1920s. It was sort of rediscovered at Studio 54. They kind of found it stuck back in some back corner and thought let's put this up and it becomes a staple of the disco era. But it goes back much further and so that's an antique as well. The word, the title is folklore. And that's a fascinating choice. She uses that in so many different senses. You know, folklore is about revisiting history but it's in a very particular way, right? It's mythical, that is, you expect folklore to be a little exaggerated, a little not true. But it's also personal. Myth tends to be about heroes and giants and - folklore is more, um, I don't know, more personal, more down to earth. Folklore, that's the stories that we invent as families or as a region. I mean I'm from the south and folklore is a big part of the south, the southern tradition. This is how we tell our tales. There's folklore about our family, our region but I think there's also folklore that we tell ourselves about ourselves. Certain folklore that we invent about us, that helps us explain who we are and our identity. We all have kind of a certain folklore about our childhood. You know, what happened in your childhood is it's a little exaggerated in our memories. It's not quite real but it is real and in our minds we shape it so that it makes a certain kind of sense for us. And I think all of that is going on in the use of this term. And there's a definite fusion here of past and present. That is, there is an antiqueness and it is about folklore in the sense of thinking about the past. But it's also about folklore and thinking about the present. Over and over in this album another of the motifs is that when you get something antique often it is fused with something from the present, something contemporary.
Maybe the most important song on the album I think is "The Last Great American Dynasty" which brings together this woman from the 20s who was seen as too wild for her times. With the speaker, who was presumably Swift. And the speaker sort of wraps herself in the mantle of "I'm going to accept the gossip and controversy as a kind of badge of honor." You know the woman from the 20s was, you know, people said terrible things about her for her time but the reason they said those terrible things about her is because she was living her life out loud and I want to do that too. Again, there's this whole biographical thing. Taylor Swift apparently bought this house - does this connect us to this actual woman? But leaving that aside it's an interesting idea of the past and the present and I'm going to try to - finding feminist heroes in the past and I'm going to try to live up to those heroes. And that mix of past and present runs through the whole album.
But of course, you know, that's all a useful turn on what Swift's already done I think for contemporary music. Her enormous contribution to contemporary music is her exploration of the situation of women in the 21st century, especially in response to the Me Too movement. Her music is so caught up in the Me Too movement I think. I mean, she's thought of by a lot of people. Her fans, but also people who don't like her. As someone who encodes all of her relationships into her music, like it's some sort of self-indulgent biography or worse, like self-pity. Or revenge. Or whatever. But it's actually much deeper than that. She turns all the varieties of romantic experience into some deeper commentary, not on relationships, although maybe there's a lot of commentary on relationships, but more on how women experience those relationships. The struggles they face to define themselves in a changing world. You know, it's like she takes this single idea, a single thing - relationships - and she turns it and she turns it and she turns it and she turns it so that we can see it from one perspective and another perspective and another perspective and another perspective. And you know we won't get into how many artists have done that but some of the great artists, that's the way they work. Henry James, for instance, comes to mind. It's this - I'm just going to take this one thing and I'm going to look at it from every possible way that I can see it. And so here Taylor Swift does that again but in this case she's sort of moves out to this broad historical perspective so that we can see how women over time...It's got contemporary relationships, it's got past relationships and how do you - all these relationships again we're turning and looking at them and thinking particularly about how women deal with these relationships. How women find their identity in the contemporary world.
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Greetings and salutations and welcome to season 2, episode 14 of the Pop Culture Academy where we do all things pop culture with just a bit of an academic slant. I'm your host, MK Adkins. What has been going on since last we spoke? Quite a lot actually. Um, of course Emmy nominations have come out this week and I'll be honest that I'm taping this show - I tape a couple of days before we put the show out - I haven't had a chance to really sit down and dig into the nominations. But, you know, everybody's saying this should be an interesting year. Some of the heavyweights have been thinned out, most particularly of course, Game of Thrones. No contender this year. Veep, gone. And that obviously that makes room for new voices for us to hear from new shows, to think about new shows. I think it's more evidence of what I keep talking about, that kind of fragmented culture. I mean there are so many great shows out there. I couldn't even begin to just start listing, more great shows right now than we've ever had before.
Are there any true, I don't know, what they used to call water cooler shows? Shows that you had to talk about the next day. And that frankly everybody was watching. What are the shows that everybody's watching? You know, what are the Twin Peaks or The X-Files or The Sopranos, or whatever, the Game of Thrones? What are those shows? I don't know if there's one out there. Maybe Killing Eve is - I mean certainly it was. Season 1 kind of had that buzz about it. Last year's Flea Bag. You know, I don't know if it had that kind of buzz going in but certainly, certainly after some nominations it comes out and people know that show. I don't know though. I don't know, you know, will we ever have a show like that again that everyone must watch. I mean the way things are going with all of these different streaming services, will we ever have a show that everybody CAN watch? You know what I mean? I mean, everybody could watch that MASH finale. Everybody. And so everybody did. It's not quite the same anymore.
Of course we lost Olivia de Havilland this week. Um, just an - I mean, she's 104. Very long and very graceful life. But it really is the end of an era, the last of the golden age. I mean, and the really golden age. For my money, my favorite film of hers will always be The Adventures of Robin Hood. My brother and I used to watch that when we were kids, every time it would come on we'd have to sit down and watch that movie. And she's acting with Errol Flynn. Think about that. She's acting with Errol Flynn and she just passed away. It's an amazing, amazing thing.
Peter Green passed away this last weekend as well. One of the original founders, and the guitarist and singer of Fleetwood Mac. I mean the heart, really, the heart and soul of Fleetwood Mac in the beginning. Obviously that band became a lot of other things over time. I mean, I don't know that that band is through evolving in some ways. I was watching interviews with Lindsey Buckingham this week from a couple years ago about being kicked out of the band. And what does that mean? But leaving all that aside, Peter Green was just this genius blues musician. Like so many British musicians of the time, really attracted to American blues, particularly had a soft spot - the same way Eric Clapton did - for Robert Johnson, a great Mississippi blues man. We need to do a show on Robert Johnson one of these days because I don't know if enough people remember the importance of Robert Johnson. I mean for awhile he was everywhere. Clapton really publicized him but anyway, Peter Green, like Clapton, did a lot of Robert Johnson's old numbers plus some amazing work of his own. And really the most amazing thing perhaps is that just as Fleetwood Mac was beginning to catch a little steam, you know, walked away from it. Decided that he wanted to do something else. Very similar story to Syd Barrett in a lot of ways. Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's original guitarist and founder. Peter Green, the same kind of influence on Fleetwood Mac though I think the story in this case ends a lot more happily than of course Syd Barrett's story. Syd Barrett's a guy that we really should do a whole show on at some point.
Um, of course Regis Philbin also passed away over the weekend. And there's a guy that just, he just was television. You know? And that's an interesting thing and maybe we'll get into that in this episode - you know, not an actor. Not even really what you might call a celebrity, like a Paris Hilton or a Kardashian, but just someone who was there on our television. And I'm not knocking that. I think that's incredibly comforting. And it was a connection to some of those old days of tv when that's kind of what tv was. It wasn't this sort of amazing art form that it is now. But it was always comforting, soothing, friendly. It was something to have on in the background but something to make you feel good because it was on in the background. And Philbin kind of connected us to that. And so, again, it's one of those generation-spanning losses I think that we suffered over the weekend.
Really that takes us back into the topic that we got into last week. You know, the real question that we were sort of exploring and I think it's worth exploring in another episode here is in the age of pop culture, who really are the authors? Who are the artists or, is there even - you know, I was raising this question last time - is there even such a thing as an artist in the pop culture age? Philbin wasn't an artist, right? He was a personality or presence but he didn't run things. Even when he was the main attraction and maybe when you are the main attraction you have some clout and some sway in what goes on but you're still not running things. Regis Philbin never ran things. Who is, exactly, running things?
Last time we focused on music and I realized once I had that show in the tank I didn't even get into Milli Vanilli, right? Here is the height - all this stuff happens in the 80s really where you began to get music that is produced and it's not about the artist, in some cases not about the artist at all anymore. I may have said this last time - Frankie Goes to Hollywood - not an artist. No real artist behind that. That's a creation of the production studio. The Art of Noise is another I want to say group; it's not a group. Just a thing, an entity, a music production. And not an artist. And all of that kind of reaches its height with Milli Vanilli because here is a group who are absolutely, completely manufactured. They are not the artists that we think they are. But that sort of raises the question of whether any of them ever were. I mean, it was really interesting. I don't know if you date yourself back that far but when the whole Milli Vanilli thing happened, Sting said he was giving back is Grammys. He was so incensed by what was happening to Milli Vanilli - now, of course, Sting's manager Miles Copeland very quickly stepped in and said "no, no no, he didn't really mean that." But, you know, Sting's point - and I think it was a legitimate one - is how many artists out there, how many musical artists are maybe not Milli Vanilli but as much as, right? Their voices are doctored in the studio. Their songs are written by someone else. They are produced in the studio. They're not an artist. And I'm not pointing any fingers. But there were people out there like that. And Milli Vanilli was just sort of the extreme version of that and got caught. But it's still back to that question - who are the artists? And that was music - we talked last week a lot about music. I kind of want to get into other things this week.
Tv has always been that way in terms of not having an artist or an author. I mean, maybe back in the old days there were personalities who ran things. I'm thinking about Lucy and Desi and you know, they invent DesiLu Studios. And they have some power and influence on Hollywood and some control. And maybe you could say I Love Lucy was authored by them, in a way. Jackie Gleason may have had that kind of power, that kind of control with something like The Honeymooners. Milton Berle, maybe, again. I don't know. These are shows, despite what you may think, these are shows well before my time and so I don't know but my impression is that maybe those shows, those actors were the authors. Maybe even Andy Griffith. He certainly had that kind of charisma and - I mean that was his show. It had his name on it.
Let's take another show. I was looking today - certain people call this the silver age of television, right? The age that is sandwiched in between the brilliant early shows like I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show and the brilliant later shows like The X-Files and Sopranos and Game of Thrones. Is this silver age where there are The Love Boats and the - I mean there's - not to knock that period. Things like Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show, there's some brilliant television being made then. But it was a different age. But one of my favorite shows, The Rockford Files. It certainly seemed like to people who watched that show that that was James Garner's show. We thought of that as James Garner's show. James Garner didn't write that or direct it or produce it. Right? He was a pretty good actor. Made that character, perhaps. If you want to go that far and say he was such an amazing actor that he really shaped and invented that character. But okay. Was he the artist or the author of that show?
You know...now film, film actually - this is very interesting because film has been treated more seriously than television for a much longer time. Television has begun to be treated seriously but film studies departments have been in prestigious universities for decades. And I think because they have been working at it so long. Early on they really needed something. They needed an author to hang it all on, I think maybe almost as a competition for literature right? Film studies is very much in competition in those days with literature departments and literature departments - there are still literature departments out there who look down their noses at film studies. And film studies is trying to compete, they are trying to seem like they are valid. Trying to seem like they are worthwhile. And so, they need an author because literature has the authors. The poets and the novelists and, you know, the revered figures. They have the Shakespeares. They have the Hemmingways and the Faulkners. And film, you know, film needed that. And so you get this term that gets invented, you know, in the 50s, the 60s, the term is auteur. Andre Bazin, the french theorist, early important film theorist, comes up with the idea that a film's director - some film's directors - are so influential on the films that really they should be thought of as the author. And he called them the auteurs. The people who really stand out, probably the most obvious example would be Alfred Hitchcock. And if you go back further than that you can talk about Charlie Chaplin. You could talk about Buster Keaton. Obviously people since then, Truffaut, Spielberg, Tarantino, definitely what you would call an auteur; seemed to control everything about the film. And that kind of became, after the 60s, the way of seeing all film really. So that today when we think about a film and you know, we're trying to think about who is responsible for that film, we really - I mean in some cases you talk about the actors but you really think about the director. Who directed that? Right? Film from the director of so and so. That's how we think about it. The director is the author. The director is the person who makes things - brings things together. And so we give them that credit.
Now, if we're talking about television, I mean, there are those rare shows - and maybe this is more common in England - that are sort of written and controlled by someone. Obviously Ricky Gervais has done this. I mean, The Office really belonged to him. And so have a lot of the shows that he's done. The Afterlife which is on now, really incredible series. Sad series. You know, you have to be ready for some sadness. But that's clearly Ricky Gervais's show. He writes it. He directs it. He acts in it. He puts that together. And I'm thinking, you know in America the only comparable thing I can think of is maybe Louis which was put out by Louis C.K. and was such a brilliant series. We won't get into Louis C.K's more recent troubles but that series was brilliant. And it was a series that really was down to him. It was written, directed, produced - he, that was his baby. Now, you know, in Britain a lot of times the shows are actually - it is the writer who is given credit for the show, right? This is the person who - whoever wrote this, it's their show. It's their baby and we give them the credit. That doesn't happen in America and we don't do it with directors. We don't say that the director of a television show is the auteur. We definitely don't. I mean there are a lot of great directors and I challenge you, if you really want to - if you really like television, one of the things I would challenge you to do is pay attention when they flash those director's names across the screen. You'll be surprised at some of the names that will pop up. Andrew McCarthy, for instance, of the brat pack, one of my favorite, favorite actors, has done so much television directing. Like, lots of Orange is the New Blacks. And yet those people aren't the ones who are given credit for those shows. Partly because, at least in America, it's very rare for a television director to direct more than an episode or two in a season. That duty, direction, gets passed around and around and around.
I mean this problem of authorship is actually a serious problem for the academic community. Like a lot of my friends, I mean, the academic community - the academic community has a lot of issues and pop culture in particular has really done a number on academia in several ways over the last couple of decades. But just think about citations. Right? You remember writing papers in freshman comp class and you know, you had to do a research paper and you have to cite and you have to cite the author. You have to say, you know, who am I writing about? Am I writing about Shakespeare? Am I writing about Faulkner? And so, these days - let's say that you want to write a serious academic book about movies. I wrote a serious book once about television. How do you cite Game of Thrones in the back I mean? The bibliography. Who's the author? Whose name do you use? And the experts, they actually don't quite know what to do with it. They sort of shrug their shoulders and say, it depends. If you're writing about the film Philadelphia, maybe you list Tom Hanks as the first name, as almost the author. I mean he won the Oscar, right? If you're doing a Tarantino film obviously you start with Tarantino's name.
But even if you take something like a Tarantino film or a Cohen brothers film or Chris Nolan - Chris Nolan, very good example. Very important director. And his personality is stamped all over his films. But if you go back to The Dark Knight, to Batman, Chris Nolan doesn't give us Heath Ledger as the joker. Heath Ledger, that is a performance unto itself. And you could say Chris Nolan was a great director and maybe he helped to summon that performance out of Heath Ledger but that is all about Heath Ledger. So is Heath Ledger the author of that film? Or do you give credit for that film to Chris Nolan?
I mean and I get it, I know that the simple answer is it's a collaboration. And I guess my point in all of this is that maybe that's true of all pop culture. Maybe there is no such thing as an author anymore. Maybe everything is a collaboration. But that really, again, it seems like a simple thing to say - well you just give credit to everybody. But it's not so simple. It's not so simple, particularly for our society. I'll get into that in a minute but you know there's that great movie Wag the Dog, right? Do you know Wag the Dog with Dustin Hoffman? Where that character basically invents a war for the U.S. government to sort of help the government out of a fix he invents publicity, pr, invents a war using sort of his Hollywood skills. And Hoffman's character is a producer. He's the one, and he says this, he's the one who gets things done. Who puts everything together. Who makes sure everything is done right. And he reminds us at the end of that film, and you know ultimately he gets - spoiler alert, ultimately is killed for this. He reminds us that there are no producing oscars. Even though the producer, at least in his eyes, is doing it all. There have been some instances where I suppose directors, you might sort of give it to the director. Twin Peaks I think certainly belonged to David Lynch. That was his baby. The X-Files was definitely Chris Carter's, though he was not often a director. He wrote a lot of episodes. He produced the show. He was the creator. He ran that show. But he didn't direct.
Carter's protege Vince Gilligan gave us Breaking Bad, another show that's definitely controlled. Gilligan was the main force behind that, although again, you know, you have to think about the acting that went into that show. That was so much a part of it. And about 20 years or so ago they came up with this term, the "showrunner". And that's kind of the person who gets, at least in Hollywood circles, that's the person who gets the credit these days. And that person may or may not be a known entity for the public. And it's usually a producer. Sometimes it's a writer. But that's a pretty good way of thinking about who is running these shows.
But I mean here is the interesting question that all of this brings up - has there ever been an author or is that a kind of fantasy? And I'm talking about, even for the literature departments, right? Go back in literature for instance, think about Homer. Homer didn't write The Iliad or The Odyssey. Homer was a guy, a singer in Greece. But this was all traditional music, traditional stories that had been honed over maybe hundreds of years. And Homer's just the guy who happened to be associated with it at the moment it caught on, the moment when it got recorded so to speak. Then you jump forward a couple of thousand years to someone we know better, Shakespeare. Maybe nobody is more revered as an "author" than Shakespeare. But we have nothing other than a handful of signatures, I think maybe 4 signatures, we have nothing in Shakespeare's hand. Nothing. Meaning, we don't have plays in his handwriting that show us that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Which is one of the reasons why you get these brilliant conspiracy theories popping up all the time throughout history. Because, you know, there isn't - there's no smoking gun, so to speak, connecting Shakespeare to Shakespeare. But even if you leave that aside, even if you say okay, you know Shakespeare was Shakespeare, we know that his plays - the ones that were published were written down after the fact, mostly from memory. They weren't written, we don't have a script of any of Shakespeare's plays. We don't have anything like that. We have- someone after the fact sat down (sometimes it was a cast member, sometimes it was just somebody in the audience who went to these plays and sort of took notes) and that person would sit down and write the play up and get it published. And that was publication. And you call it Shakespeares. But how much did that person who wrote it down influence the play?
Talk about Shakespeare from another angle. Those plays were very much the product of dramatic companies, a group of players. And you had someone who you called the writer but those plays were absolutely honed and changed and altered and made into what they were by the company as a whole. Right? It wasn't one writer who said, "you've got to say this" and everybody just fell into line. It just didn't work that way. And then even if you throw all of that aside, there's the fact that so much of Shakespeare is simply plots that he stole from other people, from historical references. Romeo and Juliet wasn't - he didn't invent that story. He took that story and made it into something incredibly special. And don't get me wrong, I am not knocking Shakespeare. Don't walk away from this podcast thinking that. But there's a lot more collaboration going on than you might think.
The fantasy of the author, though, this idea that we must give credit to one person. That's a very interesting idea. Didn't really get going until the novel was invented. The novelist was supposed to be this solitary figure scribbling away.
The same time as the novel is being invented we have the romantic poets. You know the early 1800, late 1700s - Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron. Byron basically invented the idea of the tortured artist, the poet. Wandering alone across a desolate wasteland. And that became what we thought of as art. That became the template for what art was. The product of a single person. That became the dominant idea. The single person as a genius. And that idea grows and grows and actually it comes to take over all of society so that in America...I mean around the same time all of this is happening with the invention of the novel, the beginning of Romanticism, in America you've got the Neo-Classical period. You've got Benjamin Franklin and those guys roaming around and talking about the self-made man, which - whole other episode. But it's an invention, the self-made man. But it's the same kind of concept. It's one man who is a genius and who makes himself into this towering figure. That idea is so pervasive even now. Right? The idea that if you make billions and billions of dollars a year as a CEO, it's because you're some kind of special genius. And that's all a fantasy that gets invented in art so that we can tie the work to a single person.
To some extent that is connected to the idea of the book and specifically to the idea of the novel is that idea begins to become less important. The book, right? Sad to say in some ways, but if you look at the statistics, people are reading fewer and fewer and fewer books every year. The book used to - I mean when I was a kid the book held sway over all of us. The book was the most powerful form of knowledge. And that's just not true anymore. And as the book's power has faded, some of the associations with the book have also faded and so as - you know, if the book was all about - the book was several things. The book was about linear, one page at a time. We don't think that way anymore. We think in terms of a web, right? The world wide web, the internet. We don't think in terms of one thing happens and the next thing and the next thing. We look at a series - I'm getting very esoteric - you look at a series like Orange is the New Black where, you know, all the episodes - you start the episode but then you go way back in time. That's not the way books are supposed to work. Books were supposed to move forward at a steady pace.
So as pop culture comes about we start to lose the idea of the author and the artist because we don't have an author and an artist in these pop culture things. So, Roland Barthes. You gotta mention this guy. Another important French theorist and especially important to popular culture. One of Barthes very best essays is on "The Art of the Striptease". Anyway, Barthes, in 1967 Barthes write an essay called "The Death of the Author". And part of that is how are things changing but part of it is just this question about - has this always been a fantasy all along? This idea of the author? So, a little bit from the opening of Barthes's essay, Barthes writes "In this story...". He's talking about Balzac, the famous French novelist,
In his story Sarrasine, Balzac, speaking of a castrato disguised as a woman, writes this sentence: “It was Woman, with her sudden fears, her irrational whims, her instinctive fears, her unprovoked bravado, her daring and her delicious delicacy of feeling” Who is speaking in this way? Is it the story’s hero, concerned to ignore the castrato concealed beneath the woman? Is it the man Balzac, endowed by his personal experience with a philosophy of Woman? Is it the author Balzac, professing certain “literary” ideas of femininity? Is it universal wisdom? or romantic psychology? It will always be impossible to know, for the good reason that all writing is itself this special voice, consisting of several indiscernible voices, and that literature is precisely the invention of this voice, to which we cannot assign a specific origin: literature is that neuter, that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes.
And then Barthes says, "Who is speaking in this way?" Who's that sentence supposed to be? Is it the story's hero, concerned to ignore the castrado concealed beneath the woman. Is it the man Balzac, endowed by his personal experience with a philosophy of women? Is it the author, Balzac, professing certain literary ideas of femininity? Is it universal wisdom, that is - is it the culture that is saying this about women? Is it romantic psychology? It will always be impossible to know", Barthes says. "For the good reason that all writing is itself this special voice consisting of several" - this is key - "several indiscernible voices. And that literature is precisely the invention of this voice to which we cannot assign a specific origin. Literature is that neuter, that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost beginning with the very identity of the body that writes."
There is no author. Right? When you read a novel, what you're reading, the voice that is telling that story is just beyond the authors, beyond the authors control. It's become something else, which again is a whole different subject that we gotta get into.
But all right, so let's take two incredibly influential artists. Let's go back to Shakespeare and The Beatles. In both cases you've got artists whose work literally changes the direction of things. I mean, there are other people who are writing at the time, right? We could talk about The Rolling Stones, we could talk about Elvis, we could talk about Little Richard, we could talk about Chuck Barry. We could talk about all of these artists. But these people are sort of the crystalizing moment when everything literally changes. And we think about these people - Shakespeare, The Beatles - as earth-moving, earth-shattering figures. But we've already talked about - it's not the work of any one person. And, you know, that's clear in the case of The Beatles. You've got 4 guys. You've got George Martin who is producing them. But Barthes goes further than that. He isn't just saying well, you know, these days it's a collaboration. Barthes is saying that an artist's work is the result of the culture and the society that he is in. Like, he is living in this time and he soaks up everything and he spits it out. So that it is really culture that makes that thing and not the band. So if you want to apply it to The Beatles, I mean you can do this with Shakespeare, The Beatles are condensing everybody that came before them, right? We talk about this all the time in terms of racial politics, the appropriation. The Chuck Barrys, the Little Richards, the Robert Johnsons, the people who came before The Beatles and who The Beatles, if you want to be cynical about it, you say The Beatles ripped those people off. The Beatles appropriated that and made it into white music. But it's even deeper than that. It's swimming around out there in the culture and The Beatles just happen to be the figures who pull it all in and who condense it and crystalize it and who turn out something that is greater than the sum of its parts, if you will. And you can say, that makes them brilliant. That makes them musical geniuses. They were able to condense all this down into something. But you can also say it the way Barthes is saying it which is that - does that, maybe The Beatles aren't really the authors at all. Maybe The Beatles are just a conduit and that it's society that's writing these tunes, society that's making this music.
I heard this story about Don Henley and I do not know if it's true but I want to believe it's true but I was told that the way Don Henley writes his songs is that he would , he kept like a notepad or a sticky pad and he wrote down all the little cultural sayings that he came across. So he keeps sticky pad notes of all these sayings and he puts them up on the wall in his kitchen and when his wall is full of them he sits down and he begins taking the sticky notes off the wall and fusing them into songs. And if you - the reason I like it so well, that story, is because if you go back and listen to Eagles songs, if you listen to Henley songs, that's what they sound like. Is one sort of saying after another that have just been sort of strung together. But if it's true it also is a perfect example of what Barthes is talking about. It's not Henley that is inventing all of these songs. It is Henley who is streaming together the things that society is already saying. So I don't know, maybe popular culture is dislodging that thing that we've had so long. I mean, again, there are people out there - Ricky Gervais - who, you know, who seem to control it, who seem to be the authors but it's a fading thing. It's much more about collaboration now but is that simply pointing out the fact that it's really always been about collaboration? And this idea of one person as the genius is just, is just garbage.
Anyway, enough for one episode. Thanks so much for tuning in. If you like what you hear, let us know. Follow us on Twitter, on Facebook. Check out our YouTube channel and of course visit us at popcultureacademy.com. And please, please tell your friends. I'll be back next Friday with an all new episode. See you then.
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Greetings and salutations and welcome to season 2 episode 13 of the Pop Culture Academy where we do all things pop culture with just a bit of an academic slant. I'm your host, MK Adkins, and you may have noticed that we didn't have a show up this past Tuesday. To be honest, we're still playing with the format of the show a bit. It's only the second season and for awhile there it seemed like maybe two shows a week would be a good idea. And so the last month or two we've been playing with that. I think, honestly, that it's time to go back down to just one show a week, at least for now. And that will be, as it always has been, every Friday. That just gives us more time to work out the kinks of the show. To really think about the topics and get things ready in the way that we want to.
But what has been going on this week since last we spoke: first big question - you know, I've got a show planned soon on children's television, a subject I've written about before. What is going on with kids tv right now though? I know I'm no spring chicken. Look, I've got a 23 year old daughter. I also have a 3 year old daughter. And I know I talk about this with other subjects, I say this all the time, but do you remember when there were just like a couple of kids shows? You know, like it was Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street and Electric Company and that was it. Right? Most of them were on PBS. And then maybe you got a little bit - Nickelodeon kind of got into the game in the early 80s. Fraggle Rock on HBO, right? But it just seems like there's a ridiculous number of kids shows out now. I mean, we don't let our daughter go wild with screen time at all, though, I mean, of course I work in popular culture so she's got to get a little of the good stuff. But really, no child, even if you let her loose to watch anything that she wanted, no child could ever possibly keep up. And there are things that I just don't know whether they qualify as a show. There's a lot of YouTube influence and there's a lot of shows that, you know, YouTube isn't quite the same as a television show. I don't know. Not that there's anything wrong with YouTube but, I mean, so she loves this guy called Blippi. Maybe you've heard of this guy called Blippi. And my wife doesn't allow me to say bad things about Blippi in front of my daughter but, you know, so I can see the appeal, maybe if you're 2. But he's just basically going around to indoor amusement parks and taking us through the ball pit. What is it exactly we're supposed to be getting from that? Nevermind whether it's educational or not. What even is it? And this thing called Tom's Car Wash which has no redeeming values. It is what it says it is. It's a car wash. You watch a car go in. This is a cartoon of course; animated car. It might actually be interesting if we were watching a real car every time. It's animated. You watch this car come in and Tom describes it as it comes in, "it's dirty from whatever" and they clean it. And essentially they clean it - maybe they add some wax and that's the excitement of the episode. Oh we're going to wax this car. But they simply wash the car, they dry the car off, that's it. That's the whole show.
All right, so this week also the 35th anniversary of Live Aid. Such an amazing event. Amazing musically. So many incredible moments. I mean, U2 made themselves into super stars. There would be no U2 today were it not for Live Aid. They just made it happen through a force of will, somehow or other. The whole Queen set, you know, the last hurrah but maybe the greatest concert moment ever; this kind of magical comeback. But I think it's a significant turning point in several ways. It's an event that will never be equaled but it did this really strange thing. And you know, last week we were talking about new wave music and new wave was so much about image. I mean there were certain artists who were investigating that idea of image. But there were a lot of other artists who were just whole-heartedly buying into the notion of image. Pure image. No substance. We're just going to be "pretty". MTV and all of that. And you've got the precursor to Live Aid which is "We Are The World". Terrible song, by the way. Just has not aged well. Believe me, I loved that song in 1985 but has not aged well at all. Go back and listen to it if you don't believe me. And all these people show up to record this song to stop world hunger. You know, we're concerned about poverty. We're concerned about people starving to death in Africa and they show up in the most outlandish costumes. And, I know, I think it happened after the Grammy's and they were all dressed up but, Cyndi Lauper's hair and Michael Jackson. And I loved that image moment, just the whole 80s new wave thing. I love it. But it certainly made for an interesting contrast, the irony if you will, of all of these celebrities and stars. And that kind of continues through the rest of the decade after the 80s. Early in the 80s it's all about hedonism and celebration and that's all there is to it. And somewhere in the mid-80s somebody said, "whoa, we gotta care about people." And that was fine except the same people who were doing this sort of hedonistic thing are now suddenly doing the caring, compassionate, worried about drug addicts, worried about the planet, worried about starving kids in Africa kind of thing. And it was a very odd contrast. It's no wonder that grunge came along in the early 90s and tried to sort of sweep all of that away. Because it had gotten to be - it just didn't make good sense. But, all right, so enough of Live Aid. I'm a gen-xer and so that moment is so defining for me.
This week I wanted to talk about what might be, what might be actually a series of episodes on the issue of authorship. And that's not probably the most exciting way to put it. We're going to talk about authorship. Uh, but, I mean the real question is who's really making pop culture art? Is there such a thing as an author anymore? And of course by author, I don't mean the writer like as in literature, you know, your high school english class - the author. I mean the creator, the artist. Is there an artist who makes the works that we listen to and that we watch? And on one level you can say sure. All right, so, yeah, of course. There's an author. There's Stephen King, right? He's an author. There's Cormac McCarthy or Colson Whitehead. Can we do the same thing with other kinds of art though? Like, who's the author of Game of Thrones? And don't say George R. R. Martin. I mean, come on. I mean, only loosely. Yes, maybe he's the source of Game of Thrones but long ago that show went well beyond him. You know, who even is the star? Can we say there's a star of that show? No. It's an ensemble show. There are several stars. Now, I mean of course let's be honest, Peter Dinklage is the star. They could have killed off anyone they wanted over the course of that series but when Dinklage was gone I was always going to be out. I can't speak for everybody but for me, Peter Dinklage was that show. But, Peter Dinklage isn't the author of that show. There isn't an author of that show. There is nobody who's in control of that show as an "author". And so I thought as a starting point - what's the one pop culture genre where we still do kind of maintain that fantasy of an author? Or, do we? Do we believe that about art at all? Of any kind anymore? And maybe we don't. But I think one of the last places where we don't want to give up the idea of the single author, it's this romantic idea, is with the musical artists. The solo individual who produces the song. We still hang onto that idea. There's some kind of - that's the author. That's the artist. But when was the last time that was really true? Buddy Holly? When was the last time someone walked into a studio and just sat down at a piano or sat down with a guitar and sang through a song and they taped it and that was it. Put it on a record. That was it. Like, Buddy Holly? Johnny Cash? Early work? Willie Nelson, I think is really really authentic and I think he could genuinely do that and there's a strain of that in all of his records that like you could strip away everything else and it still could just be him and a microphone and a guitar. But even his albums aren't just him. The truth is, every album is produced.
So my wife trends a bit younger than I do when it comes to music. We were in the car the other day and we're listening to her music because, you know, we established a long time ago - if you're newlyweds or if you're in a relationship, it's early in the relationship, you should know this now. If you're in the persons car, you have to listen to their music. They get to pick. That's just - you know, it doesn't matter if you have the better taste. It doesn't matter if you know more about music. If you're in their car, you have to listen to their music. And so, I was thinking about it the other day as we were listening to some of her music and I probably shouldn't have said this out loud but music is so much - music is production these days. It isn't just that you don't have to play an instrument, that's been true for awhile. There don't even have to be actual instruments. The whole thing, that whole song could just be one long computer-generated loop with singing over it. There's nothing, we talk about postmodernism, there's nothing real. In a lot of songs, it seems like there's nothing real left there anymore. Now, that sounds cranky, doesn't it? Like old-man-Adkins and so let me back up a second because there was a time in my early 20s when I was that sort of douchey, cranky guy. Not old cranky guy. I was in my 20s. But, you know, I was constantly demanding that my music be authentic and god help the people that I dated at the time. I wasn't having any of those boy bands, any of those over-produced, over-processed computer generated whatever. You gotta write your own songs, you gotta play your own instruments, blah, blah, blah. And, I don't know, maybe the punks are who gave us that originally because they came along. There is something a little sad about the fact that you can't ever actually sound like anything you hear coming out of your speakers. Think about your favorite contemporary song. Could you actually recreate the sound that you hear in that song? And that's a little depressing. It was depressing for the punks. It was depressing for the Sex Pistols. It was Depressing for Johnny Rotten. I mean, I'm a decent singer. I'm a musician. And if you sit down and try to emulate something that's out right now it would just sound disgusting. Right? Try to play it on a piano. Tinkle out a few notes on the piano. It would sound horrible. And that was the whole punk thing, really. Who in the world, I mean it was 40 years ago, but who in the world can play like Jimmy Page is what they said. Real people can't play "Stairway to Heaven". So, let's make music that actual people can actually play. That people can actually sing. And that's what Rock and Roll is supposed to be, the music of the people. But really, and I think this is one reason why this subject matters, you get into the whole issue of what art is supposed to be anyway. What is talent? What is musical ability? If you make something that sounds beautiful or if you make a song that makes me want to dance, what do I care how you did it? Really? What do I care if you learn how to play the drums when you were a kid and you spent hours and hours practicing, like you're Neil Peart. Or, I don't know - my wife is a photographer. She has a masters in photography from SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) and that's pretty serious credentials. Does it matter that camera technology is so good now that anyone can take a good photo? Because, I mean, it's the same basic analogy really. The technology of music is what changed and it changed so much that anyone now can make something that sounds amazing, even if they are just working in their basement with a few hundred dollars worth of equipment. And so maybe this desire, maybe this criticism, this punk criticism that some of us have been carrying around - maybe it's because we feel a little cheated. I had to take years of lessons to be a musician. I spent hours at it and you're just typing keys on a computer. But then maybe typing keys on a computer is the skill. Maybe it's more about the ear that you have for music. Maybe it's like, you know, think of it this way. Why would we still want our doctors to be using 19th century technology to diagnose us if they can be using 21st century technology. And if you've got tools that will make something sound amazing, even if it doesn't take the same kind of hard work that it used to, why wouldn't we want you to use it? Why wouldn't we want you to use that technology to make something that sounds amazing?
I was watching a Classic Albums episode on Axs. I talk about Axs all the time, I should get them to do commercials on this show. Classic Albums episode on Duran Duran's album Rio. And Roger Taylor, the drummer, was talking about laying down the drum tracks for that album and how you couldn't just create a loop in one go and be done with it the way that you can now. In those days, you had to drum it out for the full 6, 7 minutes and if you screwed up you had to start over and do the whole thing over again. There's something heroic in that. But is music meant to be a test of endurance? Is that the point? I don't know. But anyway, even on that album, even if we talk about Rio, we've got five incredibly gifted musicians. I mean really they are pretty boys and MTV, you know, girls fell in love with them and they came across as vapid and as though they knew nothing about anything except being pretty. But they really were gifted musicians, all five of them. And each one of them brought something special to their instruments that when combined made a sound that changed things in my opinion. But that sound is so produced. That album isn't anything if the sound hasn't been deeply, deeply engineered. The guitars sound like synthesizers. And so even if we're talking about, you know, 1982-1983, and we're talking about Duran Duran and I'm telling you how Roger Taylor's complaining about the fact that he had to play the whole song, 7 minute drum bit in one take. It sounds heroic that he had to do that. But really, you know, their album was just as produced sounding as any other album and there are whole bands, particularly back in the 80s, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, whole bands that didn't really exist other than in a producer's head. I mean, Holly Johnson, singer for Frankie Goes to Hollywood is just a singer. They could have replaced him - I mean every bit of the sound of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and if you don't know Frankie Goes to Hollywood that's uh, "Relax", right? Every bit of that was laid down by Trevor Horn who incidentally, was the driving force behind The Buggles, who did "Video Killed the Radio Star". And Horn also sometime member of the band, Yes. He was the producer. He put that thing together. There would be no "Relax" if it weren't for Trevor Horn and in some ways he was the author of that song. And even a band as authentic as, let's take a band like U2, what would the Joshua Tree album be without Brian Eno as producer? What would The Talking Heads have been without Brian Eno? Eno was a huge influence on David Bowie for that matter. Bowie might come as close as you get to a real musical author, musical artist. Someone who really controlled his product in every way. I don't know who else would really qualify if we were sort of having that debate, who else could do that. Bowie. Maybe Lou Reed and certainly, certainly Prince was another sort of amazing person who could have done it all and who probably did do all of it. The production, all the instruments, the singing, the whole concept, the writing. But there are very few of those and fewer and fewer of those people left. So then, how do you decide if it's not a single person, if it can't be - it really can't be. Not if we're going to produce albums with the kind of effects and sounds that we're producing now. You can't have an author, you can't have a single artist. It has to be the combination of multiple talents. So, who do you put it on? Whose song do you say that this is?
Is it still popular to "go solo"? Remember that whole thing...I've had enough of this band, I'm going solo! Sting and Peter Cetera and Belinda Carlisle, you know. Peter Gabriel and on and on. And do we think that the band like The Police was really just Sting? He goes out solo, the suggestion is "I was this band". And I think even Stewart Copeland does admit that Sting was something special, musically. But without Copeland, without Andy Summers, you know, that's just not really a going proposition. The Police are not really a thing. But do we give it to Sting? Do we say this is Sting's band? Sting authored this? Or who do we give it to? Do we give it to the front man which in that case would be Sting? How many bands did this happen to? How many bands got so associated with the lead singer that people thought of the lead singer and the artist, as the author if you will. If you go look at a band like Rush, people don't realize Geddy Lee's out there singing and people associate him as the author. Neil Peart wrote a massive amount of their music.
I saw another recent interview with Mick Fleetwood and he talked about how he'd never written any of the music for Fleetwood Mac. And I don't know if that's strictly true. I mean, the drums are crucial and if you're the drummer and laying down the drum tracks I think you can claim to be the writer. But he wasn't the Stevie Nicks. He wasn't the Lindsey Buckingham. He wasn't the Christine McVie. Those were the people who were writing the songs, the authors of the songs. But someone said to him, you know, Mick - Fleetwood Mac is your song. That band, that thing, that's your song. And is that what we do with it?
Do we call the author the writer? That's the way we always used to do. We have this association of the song writer and the author, the artist, is the writer. John Legend put out an album last month and to his credit he's a writer on every track. But he's not the only writer on any of them. And really, again, if you're talking about a produced album these days with the kinds of sounds that they're putting out, I don't see how anyone, really, could claim to be the sole writer of a song. Even if you wrote the melody and the words, there is so much more going into the sound of that song.
Maybe my favorite story is one of Alan Parsons. This is a guy who doesn't get noticed much, especially these days. I think he did have an album come out in the last year or so. I think maybe a lot of his old famous friends played on it. I'd have to go back and look but, you know, Alan Parsons Project did "Eye in the Sky", among other tunes back in the 70s and 80s. And they used to be kind of a nerd badge of honor for some music fans. The whole Edgar Allen Poe Raven album. Certain kinds of music fans, like me perhaps, loved that album. Alan Parsons began as an assistant engineer at Abbey Road Studios on the Beatles' last couple of albums. Let It Be.
Then suddenly he's the engineer on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. And if you don't understand why it would be important to be the engineer on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon -hey had to take it off the charts. They had to literally just remove it from the charts because it never left the top 100 for years and years - for, you know, decades it was still there. One of the reasons it was there, I mean we could talk a long time about how good that album is. But one reason it was there is because every time a new kind of sound system was created, like when we moved from albums to tapes and then we moved from tapes to cds, every time we got a new format people rushed out to buy Dark Side of the Moon because that was the album you wanted to play on your system first. Because the sound, the sound was sonically so good that nothing else would do to sort of test out your equipment for the first time. And Alan Parsons was the engineer, the sound engineer on that album. Now, does that make Alan Parsons the author of that album or the author of anything by Pink Floyd? No. But that's sort of the point, right, is that even as far back as we go in music really there is no such thing as a single author. It's a very powerful fantasy and I want to get into this in another episode, we're kind of running short of time now but there is this powerful fantasy particularly when we talk about music, of the artist who pours his or her soul out onto the record and it's their song, right? It's their song. I just don't know that that's true and I don't know when the last time it was true.
So then how, I mean I guess the final question here - we'll get into this again but the final question here for this episode - what then, you know who is Carole King? Who is Taylor Swift? Who is Paul Simon? Who is Paul McCartney? Who are these people? If they're not the authors - I mean obviously they must be important. Where do we fit them into things? How do we describe that?
All right, so that's enough for this episode. Thank you so much for listening. If you like what you hear, please, please let us know. Follow us on Twitter. Follow us on FaceBook. Please, tell your friends about us and come back next Friday for an all new episode. I'll see you then.
So it’s May again, traditionally the time when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts its newest class of amazing artists. Of course, this year is different, as it is with baseball, basketball, car racing, graduations, movie premieres, and parades. The pandemic has shut all that business down and sort of made us long once again for the spectacle that maybe we had begun to grow a little tired of. The Hall’s ceremony has been pushed into November, but I suppose I’m feeling phantom excitement, like an itch on an amputated limb. As usual, I’m excited about all the new members, looking forward to seeing which bands are willing to make up and play a set together and which just can’t seem to get past all the old animosities. Mostly, though, by this time each year I’m usually grousing about who’s been overlooked by the Hall “yet again.” There’s a more positive way to spin this frustration, of course – “I’m really psyched to find out who will be nominated for next year!” The truth, though, is that my attitude tends to be mostly negative. My frustrations have been mitigated somewhat in recent years by the induction of bands whose omission had been leaving people scratching their heads for far too long – Chicago, RUSH, Journey – never the critical darlings, but bands without whom the rock landscape might look considerably different now. There are still plenty of deserving nominees out there, and plenty of time to talk about them before next year. How, for instance, does the Hall continue to go on without Carol King in it? Other snubs include Joy Division, New Order, and FFS Tina Turner. And personally I believe Duran Duran may be one among the most deserving Hall members, though they are rarely even mentioned on “overlooked” lists.
But here’s where my vote would go, if someone bothered to give me one: straight to The B-52s. Think about it for a second before you respond. Some of you – especially if you’re age-challenged -- may be under the misapprehension that the B-52s are a one-hit-wonder – that hit being “Love Shack.” And we could talk a long time about just how good that song really is – the way it perfectly melds Ricky Wilson’s signature guitar riffs, Fred Schneider’s punching commentary, and Kate Pierson’s effervescent vocals; the brilliant way it fuses the down-and-dirty sexualized romance of a “funky little” hangout with the more genuine affection felt for a beloved place.
If you go any deeper with The B52s, maybe you know “Rock Lobster” – pretty good novelty song, you think, and you really like that version Peter does on Family Guy.
But here’s the thing: no less a luminary than John Lennon confessed that the B-52s were his favorite band. Not a band he sort of liked. Not a band he was pretty into. His favorite band. And, for better or worse, you can kind of hear the connection in some of the Plastic Ono stuff Lennon put together with Yoko. So let’s start with this: I think if John Lennon thinks you’re good, well, you just ought to be in the Hall. And that was way back in the 1970s, well before they’d even thought up “Love Shack.”
But, you know, if Lennon’s not enough for you, there are at least a dozen other excellent reasons why they belong. No band, for instance, has ever fused style and substance better. Going to a B52s concert should be classified as an “experience,” up there with traveling the country as a deadhead or attending the Rocky Horror Picture Show every Halloween – all beehive hairdos and UFOs. And all of that personality that’s oozing out of every members’ pores is deeply rooted in the music itself. The band invented something absolutely singular, a mix of rock and kitsch, free love and deconstruction, surfing and postmodernism, urbane sophistication and small college town. Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson produce a double-barreled sound that on certain notes can make your head ring like a bell – check out the opening notes of “Roam if You Want To.” And Fred Schneider is simply like no one else. The Sugarcubes tried to emulate their sound, and while that band gave us Bjork (another criminally overlooked artist who belongs in the Hall), Einar Örn Benediktsson’s major contribution to music was to demonstrate just how irreplaceable Schneider really is. Schneider’s words often seem like boxing punches, and he can be completely outrageous – as he is in a classic like “Quiche Lorraine” – in a way that feels oddly natural. And Ricky Wilson actually makes something useful out of surfer riffs.
And while you can’t go wrong with “Love Shack,” many of their best tunes are more understated – “Dead Beat Club” captures teenage angst the way few songs ever have. “Private Idaho” is clever as hell – “Get out of that state you’re in!” “Give Me Back My Man” is aching in its desperation – “I'll give you fish, I'll give you candy, I'll give you everything I have in my hand.”
But after all this is the Pop Culture Academy, and so let’s talk a little about the B-52s’s depth. No artist does more, other than perhaps the great Andy Warhol himself, to manifest the postmodern condition that Lyotard, Baudrillard, Jameson, and Derrida were describing in the late 60s and 70s. Hell, Derrida wishes he could have done what the B-52s did. Derrida – for those who may not know their postmodern philosophy – invented “deconstruction,” a tool he thought could alert us to the way our language encodes our culture, perpetuating inequalities and hierarchies. If we look carefully, he argued, we can see how simply learning our languages – English, French, Spanish, Italian – turns us into racist, sexist, class-ist homophobes.
But the B-52s turn deconstruction into a game, make it palatable for people like you and me who haven’t studied at the Sorbonne. “52 Girls” is no more than what the title says it is – a list of girls names – though the choice of “52” already alerts us to the fact that the song is more than it seems. It’s a kind of homage to all those classic surfer tunes, especially those from the Beach Boys, inspired by girls in bikinis: “Well East coast girls are hip, I really dig those styles they wear, And the Southern girls with the way they talk, They knock me out when I'm down there.” But the B-52s manage to deconstruct those tunes at the same time they offer their respect – “what about these girls’ names?” they ask. And yet even those names become nothing but a song hook, a long list that’s ultimately forgettable.
“Rock Lobster” is good surfing fun as well. And yet within the ridiculousness that seems to float upon the song’s surface, there’s something deeper going on in the way words become sounds; the way the image of the “rock” and the image of the “rock lobster” get confused, reminding us that the name actually points to a fact about these creatures; the way the dog-fish “meows” and the cat-fish “barks.”
I’ve written elsewhere about the way new wave music not only captured the postmodern aesthetic, both consciously and unconsciously, but how it essentially set the stage for every work of music, television, and film that has been produced since. Not a good bit of it. All of it. The B-52s are one of the crucial components of that transformation. How can they not belong in the Hall?
Perhaps we’re destined to always be frustrated by the Hall. Maybe they can never really get caught up with the great artists of the past, and maybe that’s by design – a clever narrative tool that always keeps us hoping and looking forward to the next round of inductees. But The B-52s seem like a band that is overdue. Here’s hoping the Hall manages to catch up with them soon.
MK Adkins has a Ph.D in English that he occasionally uses to think about literature, but more often uses to think about television, music and film. Adkins is the author of two popular culture books as well as numerous articles and reviews. Until recently, he worked as a college professor but made the decision to devote himself full-time to writing and podcasting in January 2019.
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Greetings and salutations and welcome to another edition of the Pop Culture Academy where we do all things pop culture with just a bit of an academic slant. I'm your host, MK Adkins and we're back for a second season to talk about music, television, film, video games, anything and everything having to do with popular culture. But to do it in a way that's, I don't know, maybe more in depth than what you're used to with other podcasts or websites. I guess the way I would put it is that we actually think popular culture is important enough that it needs to be studied. And that's sort of what we're trying to do here is study it.
So this week I thought maybe we could talk a little bit about post-apocalyptic stories. The whole sort of, what happens after the world ends kind of thing. And, you know, that seems especially apropos at the moment. But really, really the reason that I'm thinking about it is because I've been trying this last week to catch up on the most recent season of The Walking Dead. Yes, I know, that puts me a little behind but, you know, and I also have to admit that I am just now finishing season 2 of Killing Eve, even though the rest of the world is now in the middle of season 3. But, you know, I've talked about this on the show before and in blog posts - you just can't keep up with media anymore. And I mean in one way that's kind of a beautiful thing- that there's so much amazing work being done out there in music and television. But of course the downside is that you can't possibly keep up. My mantra these days has become, "I'm working on it". Right? Have you heard the new Lucinda Williams album yet? I'm working on it. Have you been watching those fantastic Leslie Jordan posts? Well, I'm working on it. And, well here's the thing - here's what's really scary about all of this. The way every channel now is thinking about creating their own stand alone pay service. What, we already have Disney and CBS and that's beside the fact that we have HBO and Showtime and Starz and Amazon and Netflix and Hulu and NBC is working on its own network. What happens when we have to pay a separate fee every month for all of these different networks? I mean, the whole idea of cutting the cord was about saving money, right? I'll get things on Netflix and Hulu and I won't have to pay a cable bill anymore. But is that going to ultimately wind up backfiring on us? If we have to pay $5-$10 a month for 20-30 services, what's that bill going to look like? And you're paying them all separately. It's crazy. You know, and it's fine if you only really like a couple of channels. But if you want to watch Walking Dead you're going to need the AMC network. And if you want to watch Barry, you're going to need the HBO network. And, you know, I want to catch the last season of Homeland and that's on Showtime. And Fleabag's on Amazon. On and on and on.
But then, maybe the more depressing thing is that we don't have the same kind of connection to each other anymore because we have all these choices now. Like we all watched that season finale, series finale, of M*A*S*H. And so we could all talk about it the next day. It was one of those, what they called, water cooler shows, water cooler moments. But these days we're all watching something different. My shows, your shows, my playlist, your playlist. We've got nothing in common. And then I was thinking well maybe that's what love will look like in the future. Right? Like, we have all the same shows in common, we have the same playlists in common, we are destined to be with each other. We are soul mates because our playlists match. You know, or the opposite. Like marriage is an agreement to love, honor and to watch the same lineup for the rest of your lives. And then I had this thought a couple of days ago - this must be like the greatest time ever in history to be an actor. I mean, if you can't find a job as an actor when there are literally hundreds of shows being made, how bad must you be?
But, all right, so anyway, the point of all this is I'm behind and I'm catching up on The Walking Dead. And I started thinking about that show as post-apocalyptic, right? It's about what happens to us after the world as we know it comes to an end. Which, like I said, I guess has taken on a new meaning lately. But I've always really loved post-apocalyptic stories. The Walking Dead. The Matrix. The Road Warrior. Make a list. And I was thinking a little bit about what these stories are. That is, why do we have stories like these and why do we like them so much? In some ways these are all versions of science fiction. So, what will the future look like? And so imagine my question is really more about science fiction in general or the science fiction that is sometimes called dystopian. Now, if you don't know that word it's the opposite of utopian. Thomas More invented that word for the perfect society which he describes in his book from the early 1500s. Only that - it's meant to be a good society. So it's kind of a bit boring. And eventually writers discover that instead of asking what would be a perfect society, it's far more entertaining to ask the question what would the world be like if it were really really terrible. I mean, that's just way more entertaining, right? Now of course, part of the reason we like these stories, science fiction stories, stories that think about the apocalypse, is because they're, you know, they're just cool. Right? H.G. Wells and Jules Verne figured out at about the same time that it's really cool to imagine what the future might be like. What sorts of gadgets we might have. What will our behaviors be like, how will they change. It's like a fun little mind experiment. And it gets more, more and more popular as the twentieth century goes on. So that now we even have these whole sort of large science fiction universes, right? The Star Wars universe. And the Doom universe. And the Ender universe. You know, I hear they are working on an addition to Battlestar Galactica at this very moment. But science fiction isn't just fun. It actually serves an important function for us. There's a historic basis to it all that goes back maybe 400, 500 years, or you know, back to Thomas More but more specifically to something called "social contract theory". Somewhere back there, writers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, they start thinking about government, right? We've lived with government for however long and our society's lived with government and suddenly they are beginning to wonder. Most countries at that point are living under a monarchy and these different philosophers are starting to ask questions. You know, is that really the best way to do it? Having a king. And to figure out their answers-they all have a different answer-they do this thought experiment. They all sort of do this same thought experiment. It's a little like science fiction only it works in reverse. That is, they imagine the very beginning of human society. All right, so let's go back to the very earliest human beings. And the way they imagine it, all these human beings are living on their own. And, you know, they're having a really good time by themselves in the beginning. They're savages. They are out in the world. They've got no one to bother them and no one to tell them what to do. It's perfect freedom. Who wouldn't want that? Why would anyone give that up? Well, okay, so maybe I'm a savage who isn't so good at making spears. I'm deficient in making spears. And I really need a good spear if I'm going to catch the best sabertooth tiger or whatever. So I happen to find a guy who's pretty great at making spears. And I call him up and decide to make a trade. And, you know, I'm feeling lonely so maybe we start hanging out. I mean, I've been living in a cave by myself for all these years. I'm willing to give up my freedom, my total freedom, to get that spear or to get fire, have friends to hang out with or whatever it is that I want. For these social contract theorists that's the beginning of society, the beginning of government. And all these writers sort of asked the same question - well, if that's how society started, sort of trading our freedom for something in return, where should we be by now? What should the rules be? How should things run? Those kinds of questions. And, I mean that sounds a bit dry and dusty but don't forget that's where America comes from, right? Huge chunks of John Locke's work uses exactly this sort of social contract theory mythology. Huge chucks of John Locke's work show up in the Declaration of Independence.
So, all right, so fast forward to the 19th century. We've started to figure out now that the world didn't really start that way. That is, there weren't a whole lot of isolated people who just found each other. It's pretty imaginative to think about in that way but there aren't, you know, there aren't sort of a lot of cave men all living in their own cave like The Police's "Message in a Bottle", sending each other cryptic messages or whatever. It was always groups. Right? We always started in groups, whether it was family or, you know, whatever kind of group. Right from the start we were in groups. You know, Darwin's writing - we're starting to develop the science of anthropology. Our whole world view is changing and now social contract theory just seems a little silly now, frankly. But we're still asking that question. That is, what makes the perfect society? What's wrong with us now and how can we fix it? And one new strategy if we're talking about these questions is, instead of looking backwards, projecting forward. If we look to the future we can think about what we're doing now. What that might lead to. And in the end that gives you science fiction. Most science fiction is of the dystopian type, that is, it imagines what the future will be like if everything goes horribly wrong. If the world just completely goes to hell. We're not to, not quite to post-apocalyptic stories yet, right? Because no one is saying, no one in these stories is saying society has ended, just, you know, what would it be like if things were really bad? The opposite of a perfect utopia. A dystopia.
So you think a good science fiction show like Star Trek and let me - I'll stop here for a second and say that one of the things I'm working on is getting caught up enough to watch Discovery and Picard. I'm especially anxious to get to Picard because I've heard such great things about it and I'm really a huge Patrick Stewart fan. But, like I say, I'm working on it.
All right, but let's go back to the original, the original series. So I don't remember the name of it, but there's that one episode where half the people are black on the left side of their body and white on the right side of their body. And the other half of the people are black on the right side and white on the left. And you watch that show and you think, "wow. I mean how petty can you be?" I mean, right? What difference does it make, what difference could it possibly make which side of you is which? These guys, they seem to take it so seriously. And you know, what a messed up world that is. Now, I think you may sense where I'm going with it because that episode may be a little bit on the nose. But one of the things that should be immediately obvious is that that show, that episode is not about some distant planet in some distant future. It's not about the future. It's about the present. That episode comes out in 1969, 1970. Gee, what could Gene Roddenberry possibly be talking about? Well, maybe it could be race relations in America. It's a story set in the future but it's not about the future. It's supposed to teach us something about the now. I'm living in 1969 and I'm watching this episode and it's supposed to be telling me something about my world and my reality. And that's how most science fiction and really all dystopian stories work. I'm a writer. I notice something is wrong with the world today. Now, I can sit down and compose a strongly worded essay about it, and some writers do. Some of our greatest works of literature are essays like this. Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience". And Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. But there's another way to do it too. It turns out that fiction, stories, have this, I don't know, this unique power over us. It isn't that we just - it isn't that we just like them, there actually seems to be something in our brain that connects to them on a very fundamental, a very deep level. Neurologists have actually done studies to show that when a person reads a story or a novel their brains light up as though whatever they are reading about is actually happening to them. Now, stop for a minute and think about what that means. It means that when we read Harry Potter you don't just read about Harry Potter, you become Harry Potter. When he faces down Voldemort, you face down Voldemort. Which is why you get so damn excited when he succeeds. So if you want it, you know if you're a good writer, think of what you can do with that kind of power. You want your reader to know, let's say you want your reader to know what kind of a prejudice a gay person in America faces in the 1960s. You write a story where the reader becomes a gay person in America in the 1960s and he actually experiences it. And all stories do that. But science fiction does something else too, that's helpful for talking about social problems. It takes us somewhere else, to another place, another time and it turns out that sometimes it can be really hard to talk about today's problems. You know, we don't want to confront them. It makes us uncomfortable. But if we remove them to another place and time it becomes easier.
So, let's say you're a writer in the 1980s and you think there's a problem with organized religions, especially certain kinds of christianity. You think, for instance, that they rely too much on superstition and they're close minded. And here's the big one, right, you really don't like the way they treat women. All that sort of obey-your-husband business. Now, you could write an essay, lay out your argument for what's wrong with religion. But how many religious people will read it? And how many of the ones who read it will actually change their minds? My guess would be somewhere close to zero. But, if you aren't actually talking about the now, if you're only imagining the future, a future, say where hmm I don't know, religion has taken over and women aren't allowed to read or write. And some women are turned into sex slaves and these women are called, oh, I don't know, handmaids. Well now you've got something completely different. You go into the story not realizing what it's all about because it's science fiction. We just think, oh it's not about now. It's about the future. And you get involved with the characters, you get involved with the struggles and you finish it and a week or two later you're watching something on the news and suddenly it hits you, oh wait. That wasn't about the future, that's about what's going on right now. And that's what science fiction is all about. Talking about our problems but moving them to the future so they are easier to talk about.
So, I mean, last season I talked about Battlestar Galactica. That show is absolutely about the post 9-11 world. The conflict that we faced right after 9-11 between our values which at that particular moment were all about freedom and our desire for safety and security and how those two things couldn't sort of co-exist together. We had to give up a little freedom to get safety and security and how much are we going to give up? And there are certainly other shows that take on that subject, the sort of 9-11 world more directly. I mean, Homeland for instance is set in the here and now. But Battlestar, by taking us to a completely other civilization in another part of the universe gave us a little bit of distance. And so we can get upset over what's happening on that show, you know, we can say, look how they are torturing Baltar. No one, even Baltar, should have to endure that kind of torture. And then only later do we realize, hey, that's what we're doing right now in black sites all over the world. We're doing that kind of torture. This show is about us. And we're angry at us.
So, a dystopian story takes something negative in our own current time, moves it forward and shows how bad it can become. Obviously the Handmaid's Tale is a good example. Margaret Atwood sees something in our religious tendency in America that scares her and she says what if that tendency actually won out? What if this particular sort of religion won? What would life be like? And she imagines that future - a world where it's all gone completely wrong. And by doing that she warns us, be careful about religion, particularly religions that don't give women equal rights because here's what that world would be like. But you don't just have to worry about it in the future, she's telling us it's a problem right now. And the Handmaid's Tale is a good early example but these novels actually go back to early in the 20th century. Huxley's Brave New World, which you may have read in high school, imagines what it would be like if life was all about entertainment. He believes if we keep investing in entertainment and that becomes more and more important to us, we'll all be empty-headed and meaning will be completely gone, completely lost from the world. Now, of course, that's not my take on things but, you know, he gives us this great dystopian novel that's all about what might happen. 1984, another good example. You know, Orwell wants his reader to realize that he's not talking about 1984 he's actually talking about his world. 1984 isn't 1984. It's 1948 when Orwell was writing. He just reverses the numbers to give us distance so we're not so close to it. But again he's saying what happens if a place like the Soviet Union should actually win out? Right? What would that world look like? And it's scary. And we don't want it. And so then we look for ways to keep it from happening. And that's what all these novels and stories are trying to accomplish.
All right, but we started with The Walking Dead and post-apocalyptic stories so let's get back to that. Post-apocalyptic stories are yet another sub-genre within science fiction and dystopian stories. Of course, as the name implies, post-apocalyptic works imagine the world after a cataclysm. And everything is essentially destroyed, wiped out. Society as we know it has ceased to exist. And now these stories return us to that idea of social contract theory, right? Because remember social contract theory imagines life before civilization and post-apocalyptic works do the same thing in reverse. They imagine life after civilization. If we have to start the world completely over, what will be the best way to do it? And from start to finish that's what The Walking Dead has been about. Now, it's gotten really popular over the years to dismiss The Walking Dead. And, uh, it's not what it used to be. And, you know, I know it's not the show that it was in the first couple of seasons. From my point of view, I think the problem has to do with the producers' willingness to use cheap stunts. Right? A couple of seasons ago the gang stretches piano wire between two cars driving on opposite sides of the interstate and they are just decapitating a whole herd of walkers at one time. And, you know, yeah it's clever I suppose. And it's funny. But I'm not really sure it should be funny, if you know what I mean. And then they set up Glenn's fake death, I think in that same season. You know, and there's no point to that other than sheer stock value. But one reason, one reason a lot of people got frustrated with the show early on, like by season 2 some people were giving up on it, is because - it was generally felt there weren't enough zombies, right? Not enough zombie's chasing people around. A lot of people hated that they were just stuck on Hershel's farm. And they didn't go anywhere. But see that was the point. This show and the original comic book and definitely Fear the Walking Dead they were never meant to be as much about killing zombies as they were about imagining the world resetting itself. I mean, suppose for a minute that everything we associate with civilization was suddenly gone. No government, no religion. No laws. No given values. Everything is absolutely, completely new. How would we react? And what would we become? And it's a chance to start over with a clean slate to create the ideal government. The ideal world. The ideal civilization. Only it turns out it's not so easy. There have to be a lot of false starts. A lot of mistakes. Each of those mistakes tells us something about our own world. But it's also a way of thinking, right? How should this work? And I mean if you don't think the show was about social values from the start, consider the very first episode. We're in Atlanta. We're on top of a building and everything's tense because, you know, we're surrounded by walkers and there's T-Dog, right? Who's confronting Merle about his racism. And you think, if there's ever a situation where someone would just drop the whole racist mentality, the zombie apocalypse would be that moment. Right? You're running from walkers, you're terrified, you need every single ally you can get but nope, not happening. Racism turns out to be too entrenched and Merle can't let it go. I mean that's an important social point. And then in that same episode there's Carol who is being victimized by an abusive husband. That show is about social issues. But then as the show goes on it starts looking at these sort of different sorts of societies. We look at an agrarian society, Hershels' farm, right? There's this kind of populist thing going on with The Governor. We think about prison communities. There are people who have tried to ride the whole thing out like that group that's, a group that's set themselves up in the hospital. And we've got Negan and the idea of total dictatorship and rule by force. We saw the junk yard civilization and that, now we've got the civilizations of those who have decided to become walkers themselves. And then of course all on the way we've got Rick and others who're kind of offering a commentary on all these different societies. And who are - you know, Rick's thinking back and forth, what if we tried this, what if we tried that. Then we have Morgan's insistence on saving humans, that's the way we should go. Carl becomes an influence. There are all these different possibilities and that, that's what the show is about. And there are other examples, right? Revolution was another great show, you know, at least it was great for a season or so. I don't know if you saw it. It was on NBC a few years ago. The concept was a good one. The electricity all over the world goes out and that's pretty apocalyptic. Turns out we need electricity really badly. Things just sort of grind to a halt without it. People wind up living in all sorts of communities trying to survive and again, you get this whole system of possible communities. How should civilization work? And there's one that involves a militia that's meant to protect people and of course that gets out of hand, as militias always do, and becomes a dictatorship. There's a guy who has decided that he's just going to live with his dogs because animals are better than people. There's a, you know, a place that's completely run by children. There are wild west sort of spaces. It runs the whole gambit. And one of the things, one of the things that actually went wrong with the show is that it stopped going to these different societies. In the second season they just all sort of stay put for way too long in one place. Now, all of this is very reminiscent of a certain kind of book that we grew up with, right? We remember Gulliver's Travels, for instance. And Gulliver travels through all of these different societies. And if you read Huck Finn in high school or college. Huck and Jim see all sorts of different societies as they travel. They go to the wild west and they go live with a family that sort of like the Hatfields and McCoys, a very family-based society that hates the other family. And they're looking for that one place where blacks and whites can both be free. And more recent novels you get Day of the Triffids which is one of the first post-apocalyptic novels out there. If you're looking to sort of look at the history of these kinds of stories, Day of the Triffids is a good place to start. Plants come to life in that and start killing us. And then, you know, one of my personal favorites in the 1980s there's a novel called Alas, Babylon. Great novel about what happens in the days after nuclear war. And there's Cormac McCarthy's The Road and, I think Walking Dead actually borrows a whole lot from The Road. There's The Matrix, of course, and you know we talked about this before. The Matrix isn't about the future. Right? It's easy to sit down and see that and say, oh, we need to make sure the computers don't take over. Nope. It's about the present. It's about how the computers have already taken over our lives. And, you know, that's what science fiction is. Science fiction gives us the distance, takes us to the future so that we can think about things now.
But then, and I'll end with this - there's this new kind of strain of post-apocalyptic stories lately that I'm very curious about. Books and shows and movies that have this apocalyptic sort of vibe but that aren't actually apocalyptic. Right? They seem to be trying to say, hey, you know what? Maybe the apocalypse already happened and we're just too dim to notice. Cormac McCarthy actually writes a lot of these. I mentioned The Road but other novels of his aren't apocalyptic like that one is but they seem like it. I mean, the world in No Country For Old Men hasn't ended. But he puts his characters in these huge empty spaces all by themselves, like the world has ended. And there's just nothing there. Right? He does the same thing in his Border Trilogy, for instance. Those novels All the Pretty Horses and those novels. And there's a similar thing in a show like Breaking Bad. The way Walt and Jesse head out into the desert to cook meth, right? This empty space; this dead empty space. It's very post-apocalyptic. There's that season, the second season, where they're stuck in the desert at Tuco's house in the beginning and there's this amazing camera work that turns Tuco's yard which is out in the desert - it's got all these scattered kids toys, broken scattered kids toys, it turns it into it's own kind of wasteland. And there's this really interesting thing about this show and I've written about it before - the RV. All of these post-apocalyptic shows that I mention for whatever reason, I haven't quite figured out, they must be talking to one another, they all include an RV. It's like some sort of symbol of trying to find a home while you're moving or making the best of a home wherever you are. And Breaking Bad has an RV. You know, plus, you know and this is completely out there, there's that whole theory that Walt and Jesse actually start the apocalypse that happens in The Walking Dead. So, you know, there you go. It's definitive. Breaking Bad is definitely post-apocalyptic.
All right, but so, I'll leave it there for now. But I do hope you'll be back for more of the second season. We have new episodes out every other Friday on all sorts of pop culture issues. In the meantime, you can catch blog posts and check out our weekly music playlist. All of that on popcultureacademy.com. And of course, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
This podcast is a production of the Pop Culture Academy which is solely responsible for its content. Special thanks to Katie Adkins and to J. Lundquist.
One of my favorite SNL moments features Ana Gasteyer as an erstwhile Evita. Norm McDonald plays the Argentinean leader Juan Peron with the kind of snarky attitude only McDonald knows how to deliver. To the roar of the crowd below his palace balcony, Peron steps to the microphone to deliver the opening lines of his speech – “Argentina, let the world know that our great nation is awakening.” Rousing stuff. At this precise moment, his wife suddenly and inexplicably breaks into song – “Don’t cry for me Argentina, the truth is I never left you.”
McDonald stands aghast until she’s finished, then turns to her:
“What the hell was that?”
“What was what?”
“You were singing.”
“Oh...I, I, I did, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t do that!”
That, in a nutshell has always been my feeling about musicals. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the art form. I’m capable of appreciating Julie Andrews and I get that Fred Astaire was a hell of a tap dancer. But – and I know I’ll take heat for this – Hamilton doesn’t move me the way it seems to move everyone else; I dislike Rodgers and Hammerstein immensely; and I’d rather have a root canal than suffer through Grease ever again.
I like music well enough. And I like film. I’m reasonably fond of dance. I just don’t like those things together. And I could make all sorts of excuses for my feelings on the matter, but the bottom line is that I completely agree with Juan – it makes no kind of sense to me for characters to suddenly break out into song over their feelings.
That’s why I’m as surprised as anyone that I’ve grown fond of the current NBC series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. After all, I have little use for the series to which it is frequently compared – Glee. But I’ll confess, Zoey is currently on the renewal bubble (see USAToday’s annual “Save Our Show” list for more bubble series), and I genuinely hope it survives.
I began watching the series for the actors. I really loved Jane Levy as a disaffected teen in the often-overlooked series Suburbia. Who doesn’t like Lauren Graham? And I have a soft spot for Mary Steenburgen for, among other things, the fact that she hails from my hometown. But I should also confess – since I’m making confessions – that I didn’t realize the show was a musical. I basically stumbled into it by accident. And through the whole first episode, I told myself that I wouldn’t watch a second one. But then I did.
A good cast certainly doesn’t guarantee a good time – Ishtar, anyone? But here’s the thing, I actually found myself really enjoying that first episode of Zoey, even the sing-y, dance-y parts. Steenburgen’s voice might best be described as a curiosity, but she’s a hell of a dancer. And Peter Gallagher, who I know I see all the time but who has never really caught my attention in anything, I found positively mesmerizing. He plays the title character’s father, and I don’t want to give too much away here, but he manages to turn what might be a very limiting role into something...not to put too fine a point on it, but, well...extraordinary. His singing is impressive, but I really like what he does when he’s not singing, when he’s got no lines at all, in fact. Skylar Astin is good as Zoey’s best friend, Max, and Alex Newell really shines as Zoey’s music-obsessed neighbor, Mo. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Zak Orth – who first came to my attention in the dystopian series, Revolution, and who I’ve been rooting for ever since.
It isn’t the cast, though, that has kept me watching. It’s the premise and especially what the producers have done with that premise so far. Through a twist of fate, Zoey, who is a programmer geek with no interest in music whatsoever, suddenly finds she is hearing other people’s thoughts in the form of elaborate song and dance numbers. I find that I sort of like musicals when everyone involved seems to recognize just how improbable it is to suddenly start singing in the middle of a conversation. And the fact that Mo has to tell Zoey that “Satisfaction” is a Rolling Stones song makes Zoey particularly likable. If it were Mo who had this strange ability, which logically it should be, I’m not sure I’d have made it past that first episode. But it’s as though Zoey is just as irritated by what’s happening to her as I am.
More recently, though, the show took an even larger risk, one that cemented my loyalty. In an episode titled, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Glitch,” Zoey’s powers suddenly reverse themselves. That is, instead of hearing other people’s feelings, Zoey is suddenly compelled to express her own, and in the same kind of musical form. As a result, we get to watch, uncomfortably, as she dances and sings her way through Billy Joel’s classic, “Pressure,” writhing around on a conference table as her boss and colleagues look on in fascinated horror. Funny for sure, in a cringing Office sort of way, and made even more so by the fact that Levy plays the moment absolutely to the hilt, her voice pitiful in its desperation. This is a person who would give anything in the world if she could just stop singing. But the really amazing thing about that episode is that it takes for granted that musicals make no sense. Take away the music and lights, as the producers do here, and it’s all ridiculous and a little scary. Juan Peron would understand. And for understanding where I’m coming from while still managing to hook me into watching a musical television show, I can do nothing but salute this series.
I don’t know if Zoey will maintain its ironic edge. I frequently wonder as I watch how the creators can possibly hope to sustain the show’s concept into a second season. But then I thought the same thing about The Good Place, and see how that turned out? But I’ll say this: that one episode so impressed me that I’m probably a fan for as long as the show manages to stay on the air. And, honestly, I hope that’s a long time.
MK Adkins has a Ph.D in English that he occasionally uses to think about literature, but more often uses to think about television, music and film. Adkins is the author of two popular culture books as well as numerous articles and reviews. Until recently, he worked as a college professor but made the decision to devote himself full-time to writing and podcasting in January 2019.
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Greetings and salutations and welcome to episode six of the Pop Culture Academy where we do all things pop culture with just a bit, just a bit of an academic slant. Last week when we ended the show I didn't have an episode title in mind for this week. And so I wasn't able to plug it properly. I think I've settled on "Why the Trump Administration is So Good For Art". Now, you know, I know I know, so a guy who's publicly stated that he'd like to do away with the NEH and the NEA and who probably hasn't heard of NPR or PBS which might be a good thing. If he should discover that those organizations exist they may be in trouble. But what's a guy like that got to contribute to the arts? So, just stay with me. I'll explain.
So, by way of explanation I want to begin this episode with a clip from my favorite film, well, you know, I say favorite. It's one of my favorites. I mean I don't know how you are about this but really my favorites in any category can change on any given day. It sort of depends on exactly what category of film we're talking about or what am I trying to accomplish with my pick? Like, am I trying to impress someone with how deep my knowledge is? Do I want to sort of pull out some film that nobody's ever heard of and say, "Oh, this is my favorite"? Am I trying to show someone that I'm hip? Am I trying to prove I'm not hip? Yes, I'm someone with pop credentials who loves my Blockbusters and here's my favorite Blockbuster. But today my favorite movie's The Third Man. Now, if you don't know this movie you really need to. Really. I mean, even if you're younger. Even if you're not into black and white films. You haven't watched anything that was made before, you know, 1985. You owe it to yourself to see this film. And it's a good introduction into classic film if you're not someone who watches a lot of classic film. It's an incredibly important film. It's an example of film noir which is just so cool but influential, so American in terms of film. It comes from such an American form of the novel. The hardboiled noir detective story. And Third Man, also a great example of how black and white directors really really knew how to work in their particular art form. The use of dark and light in this film. The use of shadow. I mean, it's a masterclass in filmmaking. And that's something worth saying, I think. You know, it isn't about art getting better over time necessarily. I think sometimes we get into this mindset of "our art forms are more realistic than the past and that makes them the best". So, naturally, the latest video game, the latest film technology, the latest virtual reality headset, that's all supposed to be the apex of all art. And we look back at something like Donkey Kong, right? And we say, how primitive. How primitive is this? Compared to something like, I don't know - what's the latest? I'm so out of video games these days. But you know something like Arkham Asylum which is, I know - it's a little dated now. If we look at something like Arkham Asylum and we compare it to Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong seems so primitive. Why would - you know - you poor 80s kids, right? You poor kids of the 80s who had to grow up with such primitive technology. And I don't think my oldest daughter who's 22 - I don't think she has ever seen a black and white film, to be quite honest. But every kind of art has its own particular rules. And so if you go back to black and white film, it wasn't that they felt limited. They learned the rules of that form and the masters who worked within those rules, they're as good as any artist you can think of. Just because they're working in a slightly different medium doesn't mean that medium or that product is lesser.
All right, so The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed in 1949. Reed also did Odd Man Out and The Fallen Idol; won Best Director for Oliver in 1968. And, obviously as I say, Reed is a master of light and shadow. This particular film is based on a script by Graham Greene and Greene doesn't show up in many high school or undergraduate english classes and so not a lot of people remember him. But he really is a hugely important British writer of the 20th century. Certainly one of the top 10, I would say, of the 20th century. Maybe higher than that. The way I feel about Greene is that he's kind of an heir to someone like Somerset Maugham. And then kind of an ancestor of John le Carre. So like, he's sort of a link between - I mean there's some mystery, there's some spy focus in Greene sometimes. You get it in this film. You get it in Our Man in Havana which is quite comic but also sort of spy-based. There's something about spies in there but more importantly there's this sort of British, stiff-upper-lip kind of quality to his work, his characters. And so, like I said, I think he makes a nice link between Maugham and John le Carre. The film stars Joseph Cotten who I happen to really like. There's just something really likable about Cotten to me, something very genuine in his acting. It's very smooth. It's very calm and in this film it works out greatly because the guy playing against him is Orson Welles who really could...and well, let's face it...who really does steal the film. But it works as a nice contrast, Welles versus Cotten. And in fact they worked on a number of films together. It had just been eight years since Citizen Kane and Cotten had been in that film as well and they were in, I want to say half a dozen films together. And really, I think, make a nice contrast. Welles is sort of, I don't know, the rage that's in him but that's very controlled versus Cotten who's just totally relaxed all the time. Anyway, but the film is kind of stolen by Orson Welles and there's every, really, there's every reason to think that Welles had a great deal of influence on the making of this film and not just his own part. I mean, I think he's - I don't know why I want to say co-director, I don't know if I want to go that far but certainly had an influence. And so you have to think about the time period, this is another important part of this film, the time period when this gets made. It's 1948-1949 and we're really, we're only three or four years from the end of the war and the world this movie is set in, which is post-WWII, it's really still there as they are making it. They are making this film about a very contemporary moment.
All right, so before we get to this clip let me set it up and try to do it without - I want to do this without giving too much away. I don't know if I can do that or not. So Joseph Cotten plays a western writer. He writes western novels. He's shown up in Germany really to see an old friend of his named Harry Lime. And this is Berlin just after the war and the city's been divided up by the allies and Russia's closing down it's section of Berlin. And it's not a good situation. And everybody - you know, there's high poverty, it's a destroyed city. And the black market, in particular, is really thriving. And so Cotten's character whose name is Holly Martins, he manages to track Harry down. Right? Again, they were old friends. And they meet very famously in this dark, sort of, well I don't know that it's deserted. I mean, there are people at this - it's a fair grounds - and there are people at the fairgrounds but I guess the way that, again, this black and white sheen to this movie, it feels very dingy. It feels very dim. It feels kind of isolated. They ride up on the ferris wheel which is one of those ferris wheel's that's a car rather than a seat so they are standing up in this ferris wheel. And they are looking down on the people below them and it's rainy and dreary and it's a bombed out city. Now Cotten has heard these terrible things about his old friend Harry Lime, I mean, just terrible things. Apparently Lime sold, among other things, you know and the police are looking for him, right? So among other things Lime sold a bunch of tainted black market penicillin to orphanages. And children died. And so Martins confronts him. Martins says, "How could you do this, Harry? It's the black market. And you're trying to get a fast buck and I get that. But the children, Harry." He says, "The children." And this is the scene and it's one of the most famous in all cinema and personally it's probably my favorite bit of dialogue ever and I think you could make a serious case that this is the most important scene in cinema.
<playing audio from movie>
Lime: Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there...Would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for every dot that stopped would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man...free of income tax. Only way you can save money nowadays.
Martins: Lot of good your money will do you in jail.
Lime: That jail is in another time zone...There's no proof against me besides you.
Martins: I should be pretty easy to get rid of.
Lime: Pretty easy...
Martins: I wouldn't be too sure...
Lime: I carry a gun...I don't think they'd look for a bullet wound after you'd hit that ground...
Martins: They dug up your coffin.
Lime: And found Harbin? Hmm, pity. Oh, Holly, what fools we are, talking to each other this way...As though I would do anything to you - or you to me. You're just a little mixed up about things...in general. Nobody thinks in terms...of human beings. Governments don't, why should we? They talk about the people, and the Proletariat... I talk about the suckers and the mugs...it's the same thing. They have their five year plans and so have I.
Martins: You used to believe in God.
Lime: I still do believe in God, old man... I believe in God and mercy and all that... The dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here...poor devils. What do you believe in? Well, if you ever get Anna out of mess, be kind to her. You'll find she's worth it. I wish I had asked you to bring me some of these tablets from home...Holly, I would like to cut you in, old man. Nobody left in Vienna I can really trust - and we have always done everything together. When you make up your mind, send me a message... I'll meet you any place, any time. And when we do meet, old man, it is you I want to see, not the police. Remember that, won't you?
Don't be so gloomy...After all, it's not that awful. Remember what the fellow said...in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance...In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce?...The cuckoo clock.
So long, Holly.
So, what Lime says here is really a fascinating idea. We talked about last week what separates literature from "literature" and it can be different things. Sometimes it's a stylistic device. Sometimes it's a concept. Like Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, if you know that novel. What makes that book so important - I mean there's several things that make that book important - but right off the bat, right at the beginning of the novel you have this question that is presented to us that Raskolnikov, the central character, asks. And Dostoyevsky gives us an answer to this question but the question really is still hanging out there. We still have this question now and it comes up and I mean it gets molded - this question and this issue gets molded and turned into all sorts of interesting, I don't know, television shows, films these days. And the idea is this - if you're a good person, if you have something important to give to the world, like, in this case if you're going to be a doctor and save lives but you can't do that because you're too poor. You're too poor to afford medical school, if you are in that situation is it okay to kill someone who's sort of useless and kind of mean and then to use their money to accomplish this great thing? You're going to help so many more people than this old woman who's close to death anyway, right? She's going to die soon anyway. And what's she contributing to the world? And if I bump her off and I use the money to fund my brilliant medical career, well you know, isn't that a fair tradeoff? So it's a fascinating idea that Dostoyevsky just sort of comes up with. And The Third Man has this amazing idea too - does horror, horrible circumstances, does that produce better art? Harry says very clearly "horrible times, Italy." Horrible situation. Everybody agrees. People are dying right and left. The people are repressed. The leaders are so corrupt. People are poisoning - it's just a terrible situation. But some amazing art. Whereas Switzerland, lots of peace but not so much art, or philosophy, or music, or literature. Just kind of "okay, we're very happy and we're very boring".
Now, there are different dimensions to this idea. Can we make it - is it personal for instance? What I mean is - must you be half mad to make art? Must you be depressed and must your life be miserable to really make great art? How many drunken suicidal artists or musicians or painters do we know from Mozart to Van Gogh to Sylvia Plath to Jack Kerouac? It just seems like that's an important component, perhaps, of personality in art. But this is another story entirely. And I was thinking about the Trump era and the impeachment process that's underway and how chaotic things are and how unhappy a lot of people are. And I don't know if there's so much that's been produced in the last three years. Is that connection going on? Is this negative point in American history, is it producing good art? It may take some time to recognize. You don't always recognize it when it's happening. I do know what some things that 9/11 and the Bush administration and the Iraq war produced. I mean, that was a turning point, it was a turning point in a lot of ways and it set up some interesting contrasts and some interesting conflicts that I think a lot of great artists of that period, that first twenty years - well, we're still in the first twenty years- but that first 10 or fifteen years of the 21st century did produce some fascinating art. I think it starts with a turning point in how we as human beings and we as Americans think. My parents grew up in the shadow of WWII and I grew up during the Cold War. And the thing that mattered most, and of course that period - those periods of course also produced, I mean post WWII we get The Third Man. But I really take a lot of pride in the fact that the 80s, growing up in the shadow of the Cold War produced some really fascinating - particularly music that captures the anxiety people were feeling in different ways. And not always, you know, not every song's about nuclear war, though there are some great songs about nuclear war but that idea of nuclear war sort of filters down into the culture and shows up in, I don't know, "Psycho Killer" by The Talking Heads. This anxiety, this fear then it's not about nuclear war but it sort of spreads out into other ways of being anxious. But anyway, so back to our - so I grew up in that period and in that period, from my grandparents from my parents from me, the idea of anyone collecting your information or spying on what you're doing, knowing what kind of phone calls you're making...When you go to the airport, you know, scanning you, running you through these scanners where someone can essentially see you naked so that they can tell if you're carrying a weapon. In the era that I grew up in and in the 80s and the 70s, no none would have allowed that. I mean people would have just risen up and just absolutely rejected these ideas. And again, part of it has to do with post-modernism. But it's also very tied to this post-9/11 thing. For me, for my parents, freedom and the right to privacy - these were fundamental rights, like more important than life. People had died not to preserve safety for America because really in WWII it wasn't really about safety. It was about freedom. And during the Cold War we were free and the Soviet Union wasn't. And we had freedoms and they didn't. And that was what was important. But 9/11 wasn't about freedom. 9/11 was about safety. And suddenly at that point all we wanted was safety.The whole point of terror is to make you afraid and it worked. We were afraid. And so when I would teach, you know, the last years that I was teaching we'd have these conversations with my students because I hadn't even, by that point, I had not gotten it but I was beginning to - they were universally - they absolutely approved of airport scanners. They thought it was a fantastic idea. And you know we're getting this right now with Edward Snowden who's you know what's his situation. Is Russia going to kick him out? That always brings the debate back up. I mean, to me and to a lot of people of my generation, I think, and certainly my parents generation, the notion that - he blew the whistle on the fact that we were being spied on. But the problem is the generation now, they don't care about being spied on. And part of it's post 9/11, the idea of safety, but part of it's all the technology that's fueled by spying like Facebook and Amazon algorithms that send you exactly the book you need. And if you're of this age, you don't really care if companies are spying on you because freedom isn't our biggest concern. Our biggest concerns are safety and convenience. And if we have those two things we'll give up a little freedom. And that's okay.
But out of all this we also came to question ourselves, in the early 21st century, post 9/11 because the question was what are we willing to do in the name of safety? How much freedom will we give up? And, again, at this point I think we're really pretty much giving it all up. We don't care. But at that moment it was still kind of new. Do we give up freedom - do we give up this fundamental right for safety? And, you know, okay so - and we sort of decided we're willing to give up our own. We certainly didn't seem to mind giving up other people's. So we create these black sites and we decide on using "modified torture" techniques or whatever you want to call it. I should say, I'm not endorsing or condemning this moment. That's a completely different show, a completely different conversation; you can email me and we'll have that conversation if you want. I'm not doing that. What I'm doing is I'm pointing out it was a serious shift in our thinking. It was a change in how we thought and when you have those moments of change art's going to have an interesting response to that. So we went to this place, and I guess it's sort of like the place Dostoyevsky went to in a way, you know, Raskolnikov what are we willing to trade? In his case, are we willing to become a murderer so that we can be a great doctor? And in our case for safety, what are we willing to trade? So we traded. But that worries us a little because we're not the true blue good guys anymore. There's a shift. And it kind of happened when the Cold War was over. I mean, for all those years, starting with WWII, post WWII - think about this, we loved Superman. I mean we could not get enough Superman. Why? Because Superman is all good. And we thought of ourselves as all good. And with the Nazis it was pretty easy. We're good, they're bad. Easy to figure out. Case closed. And Cold War, same thing, right? We were good, Soviets were bad, easy - we were free, they were not, you know, we wanted to spread freedom around the world, they wanted to take over the world and put us under a dictatorship. It's very simple to tell where the lines were; who's good, who's bad. So, Superman works great. But in Bush's white house, in that America, suddenly Superman lost his mojo. Superman didn't seem so great anymore because we weren't all that good anymore. It was okay, we were trying to accept that we weren't all good, but we weren't. And Superman kind of made us feel a little shallow. So, you know, who wants to watch that? And so who rises then? Well, Batman. And not the Michael Keaton Batman, the Val Kilmer Batman, the Christoper Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. And that is a whole other universe with a whole other Batman. And that Batman, I mean it was always there in Batman but Christopher Nolan brings that out in a more dramatic way. Batman will bend the rules to save the day. His motives and his methods are sometimes questionable and better than that, who do we really love in those movies? Because it's not Batman. Batman's really not the most important character in those movies, right? It's not Batman. The guy who gets us, the guy who grabbed us was the Joker. And Heath Ledger just molds that character and changes it for us and he makes him into the perfect post 9/11 villain. We sort of like, in a way, because he's sort of like us, right? He kicks ass and takes names and he isn't interested - he's not motivated by money. He's not a common thief. He's interested in chaos. And somehow these negative antiheroes start to grab us. And they start coming out of the woodwork in droves. I mean, you've got - well let's talk about Jack Bauer from 24. That - and that one comes from a whole other direction but 24 was a phenomenon because we wanted a hero who kind of reflected us, who didn't mind torturing a few bad guys if it helped people, who didn't mind bending a few civil liberties if it would save the President from assassination. But you get all these antihero characters from House to Dexter to, you know, ultimately Walter White. All of these people who we like because they are shady and part of that, again, part of that is this post 9/11 thing where we really identify with that struggle between doing good but sometimes doing bad if it will have a good outcome. It's an interesting question. And there were other statements around the time, Spielberg's Munich, for instance, is a great commentary on, you know, what is - if a crime is vicious enough, what is acceptable in terms of payback? How far can we go? American Idiot from Green Day was another sort of outgrowth of this in another direction having to do with, well again, freedom and your voice and what we're allowed to say and not say. But if you're going to talk about the par excellence for art in that period there really are only two words - Battlestar Galactica. And quite frankly, if you were able, and you can't obviously now, but if you had been able to see that series in it's context, as it was unfolding in the early days of the Bush administration, I think it's probably in the top two or three shows, television shows, ever made. Now, it doesn't have that context anymore. You can't watch it that way anymore. That moment's past. It doesn't move us in the way it did at that particular moment in history. And that's a whole other question, like, that maybe we should explore in another episode. How much does context count? How much do we miss by not really knowing and feeling and being in the times that Shakespeare's Macbeth was performed in? And if we could watch that play, somehow, in that moment and be in that moment, how much different, how much more amazing would that be? But Battlestar was something truly special. I mean, to be honest, I'm not sure if they knew what they were doing when it all began. I mean they're going back to the original series, it's a remake. And the series was a fascinating concept. That idea that Caprica and the other twelve planets, the other twelve colonies are destroyed in a sneak attack - I mean, did they mean that to suggest 9/11? I'm not sure. They certainly figured out the relationship pretty damn quick. In the first several episodes, already, just I mean like in the first episodes there are questions about who's in charge. Should the military be in charge? This is a military situation, right? Or, should the civilian government be in charge? Does an event like that, 9/11 or a sneak attack on your home planet, does that mean we just turn to martial law? Do we give up our freedom so easily and let ourselves just be locked down because that's what's going to make us safe. And if it's going to make us safe, we'll live in a kind of prison. But, you know, they ask questions - what have we lost if we do that? And then as the series goes on we run into countless questions of just what are we willing to do to survive? What are we willing to give up? What are we willing to give up about our humanity, for instance? Are we willing to torture? And what happens when we find out actually who the bad guys are and that they're way more like us than we thought. Or, what happens when we find out that some of them are us? And what do you do, I mean, that's the real question towards the end of that series, right? What do you do when this thing that you've hated and hated and hated and you turn it around and look at it and you see that, oh god, that's me? I'm that. And who's the bad guy now? And who is the good guy? And the madness and the desperation to survive. But then what do you do with survival if there's no hope? Right? How good is safety if there's no freedom? All these kinds of questions come up. And then, of course, the end of that series absolutely ruins what it was. I mean, it's fine...it was not, it was not satisfying. And of course the ins and outs of what was wrong with it are more than we can get into here. I will say, I put up a blog a month or two ago about finales if you want to go looking for it. It's somewhere on the Pop Culture Academy website. But let me just say, I don't think that the weakness of that finale should undo what the series was. And I'll say it again because I'm not sure - if you haven't seen it, you can't go back and appreciate it without context. I mean, can you - is it a good series? Yes, it will always be a brilliant series. But it's missing something if you go back and watch it now because it's just not in the same context that we were living in.
All right, so I think there have certainly been efforts to deal with the Trump administration or to capture the unease that we feel during the Trump administration. I mean obviously we can look at something like American Horror Story, for instance, and who did that season just after the election or within the year after the election and it was all about the election. But maybe that's too on the nose. Right? It's too much - it says too directly what's bothering it. I was struck recently in watching The Handmaid's Tale which, of course, that began - the early season of that hit just as the Me Too movement was getting started. And it still has terrific resonance with that moment. But I was struck this season in the scene where the Marthas are helping June prepare food packages for the children. I'm trying not to give too much away. In that moment it's just so obvious, right? It suddenly struck me, if you're trying to escape from persecution to another place, if you're trying to cross a border, someone has to make care packages for you. And in that moment I realized that they were saying something about immigration, about crossing borders. And it's not a one to one analogy, which maybe makes it better. Again, some things are too on the nose. The children at the end of the season are welcomed when they cross the border, instead of shut out. And so, it does kind of give you pause to think about the reasons why people choose to try and cross borders rather than simply seeing the situation through your own eyes, think about it in terms of what kind of persecution must someone be facing to make that trip? And if Canada doesn't want refugees, then it's sort of on them to overthrow Gilead, right? Because, again, it's not one to one, because it's not the kids get rejected in the way that immigrants today get rejected at our borders but there is something being said there. There's an analogy being drawn. But I can't really think of another work, movie or an album or a show that's digging as deep as Battlestar did with the Bush administration. And I don't know what that means. I mean, there's bound to be something post-modern about it. If you think about the political progression that has happened and I don't mean it in literal terms, again, I'm not interested in talking about politics. But think about it from the standpoint of being in the matrix. That whole post-modern idea that we've discussed - nothing's real, right? So it's not about talking about politics and who's got the power because there's no power. But we go from having an actor in the white house to then the first president that was so monitored that was so much in the matrix that he couldn't conduct an affair in secrecy. Right? I mean, lots of presidents have had affairs. We are in an age where you can't do that without being caught and he was the first president to live in that age where you were going to get caught. To now we've got this guy, and I mean, what does it mean to move from movie actor to television reality show star? And that's the shift we've undergone in a nutshell. That's postmodernism. So, why don't I just say this at the end of this week's show - what do you think is the artistic response to the last three years? Is there something out there that I am missing? Is someone making a statement that I haven't picked up on, somehow? Somehow I've missed it. I pay a lot of attention to pop culture. I don't get it all. And so I'm curious what you think. Is there something out there that does get it? And let me know what you think. Don't forget that there's the Pop Culture Academy Facebook page where you can give us feedback and let us know what you think. There is Twitter, Pop Culture Academy Twitter account, there's a playlist for the week and there's, you know, obviously on YouTube there's a section for comments. Let us know what you think and particularly on this issue - what do you think is the best art that has come out of the Trump administration?
Katie Adkins co-produces this podcast and manages Pop Culture Academy's social media presence including our website. Also, a special thanks to our east coast correspondent, Dr. J. Lundquist who contributes news items and story ideas and who generally keeps me on track.
You're listening to the Pop Culture Academy podcast with MK Adkins. And don't forget you can follow us on Twitter and FaceBook. You can find us on YouTube. And of course you can always visit us at www.popcultureacademy.com.
Greetings and salutations and welcome to another edition of the Pop Culture Academy where we do all things pop culture with just a bit of an academic slant. This is episode 5 of which I have titled "Why Michael McDonald Is So Damn Cool". Now, you know, it occurred to me actually just as I was sitting down to record that there are actually two very cool Michael McDonalds. There's the Michael McDonald that we're talking about today, the musical artist. But there's also the Michael McDonald who was a cast member on the old MadTV series. And also very damn cool but in a completely different way. We're going to focus on the musical artist today. So let's make sure we keep those two separate.
So, I've got a couple of concerns. One concern is that you might not know who Michael McDonald is, which would make me kind of sad I guess. But really, you know, I get it. I'm 48 years old. Michael McDonald's of another era. Not everyone's lived through the music that I have. I hope that we have some listeners who are younger than 48. And those of you that are my age, you know, not everyone's tried to go back and give themselves the musical education I have. I don't know why I needed to do that but, I do remember when I was a college freshman, the guys in the room next to mine would play this game of trying to be the first person to guess who the artist was playing on the local classic radio station. A song would come on, you know, who could figure it out first. It's a way of teaching yourself, it's a way of going back and picking up on the history of classic rock. And I sort of picked up on that game and I played it for several years and it became, I don't know, it became...here I am. So my other big concern is that a lot of you who do know who Michael McDonald is might be saying, "All right, why would I want to listen to an entire podcast episode on Michael McDonald?" Like, just for example, what's the last important thing Michael McDonald did? I think he did a couple of Motown albums, like a couple of cover albums of Motown tunes and I think that was 10 or 15 years ago. And they were good but, you know, is that the last thing that he did? Why are we talking about him?
All right, well so first off Michael McDonald is cool. Just like the title says. And the fact that you don't realize it, and you don't realize just how cool he is is reason enough to make this episode. Just so that we can make it absolutely clear, his coolness. But the truth is I've got other things in mind to talk about today too, things that sort of intersect with Michael McDonald, if you will. And, he's sort of an entry-way into talking about a few other things.
So, here's the thing. I go through phases, maybe you do as well, where I'll go back and listen to albums or bands that were important to me at one point in my life but that, for whatever reason, I haven't listened to lately in a serious way. And a couple of months ago I was just feeling The Doobie Brothers. I don't know why. My big Doobie Brothers phase was in my second or third year of college which, again, almost 30 years ago. You know, my Doobie Brothers knowledge isn't as deep as some, probably. Probably somebody out there listening knows them far better than I do. I do know their history. I've certainly worn out their greatest hits albums. I also even listened to a kind of an early 90s album they did called Brotherhood which was -- and they're still putting out albums occasionally, you know. They are very nostalgic and they're still touring. I saw them in the late 90s a couple of times but you know I just moved here from Rapid City and I know up at the Sturgis motorcycle festival that happens every year, the motorcycle rally, that they play almost every year. So I mean they are still very vital in that sense, again it's very nostalgic sort of tour but they're still out there doing their thing.
I don't know if I should admit this but The Doobie Brothers are one of those bands that I came to late and I came to through the singer rather than the band. Like, well I definitely shouldn't admit this - I listened to all my parents - this was an amazing thing I still have these actually - I listened to all my parents' old Beatles 45s. They had the 45 records when I was a kid. Because that's what they had, you know? They had those and they had "Wooly Bully" and they had "Downtown" and so that's what I would listen to. And I gotta admit, I'm ashamed to admit this but I had zero interest in those 45s. I had zero interest in The Beatles. Now, these 45s - this was the early stuff, The Beatles early stuff. That's one way that I - I don't know that that is really an excuse but it's one excuse. And I'm listening to them in the late 70s and the early 80s and I just had no ear for it. That's not what was going on at the time and I just didn't get it. And then in the early 80s I discovered, "discovered", Paul McCartney. Now him I liked. Right? I don't know anything about The Beatles but this McCartney guy, he's quite good. So, when I finally sorted it all out I realized that you're supposed to start with the band and then move to the solo career. But that's the way it happened for me. And that's what happened to me with Michael McDonald as well. I discovered him in high school and from there I started backing up and listening to The Doobies. And I'm not going to get into a long history of The Doobie Brothers or for that matter a long history of Michael McDonald. I don't want to turn this podcast into a sort of biography of the week. But if you know The Doobie Brothers you know they basically had two phases. The first was under Tom Johnston an amazing band leader. But at some point Johnston became ill and the band needed a new front man. And so they went searching and they found Michael McDonald who had been working with Steeley Dan. I mean that's a pretty good resume. And he came in, brought a very different, a new sound. A little more funk to the sound I guess you might say. Heavier keyboards. Maybe less guitar. So, that second phase lasted until the early 80s and then the whole thing kind of dissolved. And then at some point Tom Johnston came back and reformed the band and every once in awhile Michael McDonald shows up at a concert or two so that's that. And here's what I'll say, I really like Tom Johnston and the music, the sound that he pioneered with The Doobie Brothers. I like all of their early work. I like "China Grove". I like "Listen to the Music", all of that. "Long Train Running". And I think most - my sense of things is that most fans of The Doobie Brothers really prefer his era. They think of it as the sort of the more authentic version of The Doobie Brothers. But, you know, what can I say? I'm partial to McDonald. That's how I came to the band in the first place. And, you know, that's a whole interesting topic and worth a conversation that we don't have time for today but bands that switch lead singers somewhere in the middle of the band's career. The Doobie Brothers are a great example but AC/DC, Van Halen, Chicago to a certain extent though I don't know that anybody was ever really fronting that band. Then there's bands like Joy Division which loses it's lead singer and becomes a completely different band. They become New Order instead of Joy Division. Pink Floyd, another kind of example. Genesis, another example. But I had a different direction in mind for today and let's stick to the original plan.
All right, so let me go back to this story. So, I was back tracking a little a couple of months ago and listening to The Doobies in both eras. Because I really enjoy both. So I listened to the first greatest hits package and the second greatest hits package, you know, one's Johnston one's McDonald and I'm listening to both. So I'm out mowing the grass one afternoon and "What A Fool Believes" shuffled onto the mix. And I thought, you know as I'm out there mowing the yard I thought what he's doing here, lyrically, just the idea of what he is doing is so brilliant in its way. And I thought this guy deserves his own episode, you know. It's early. It's only the fifth podcast episode but this guy really deserves his own episode. So, let me set this whole thing up a little because there's a couple of larger points, like I said, I want to make by talking about Michael McDonald. And the first one is pretty basic but I do think it's worth talking about.
My PhD is in English and I taught an awful lot of straight up traditional literature classes over the years like surveys of American literature and classes on the contemporary novel and whatever. And inevitably when I'm teaching a literature class this one question comes up right from the beginning and it comes up over and over again and I try to deal with it at the beginning of the semester but that doesn't - it doesn't necessarily go away and the question is this - what exactly is literature? Now, that question can mean a lot of things. Usually the discussion isn't - I mean, usually the discussion is broader than literature. Usually it encompasses all of what we might call art. Music and literature and art; visual art. And the question is what makes something art? And I think what people usually mean, I mean this is the way I interpret the question, is that, you know, let's say art with a big a, Art. And what separates art from Art? And what separates literature from Literature? You've got to take your voice down a little bit. And actually that's a good question, you know, because if you're in school - I mean I remember being in high school and you don't really know. You don't really know, do you? Some teacher tells you Shakespeare's important or The Scarlet Letter's important or The Great Gatsby is important. And I think we've all had that experience of reading the book, or you know someone like me tells you Andy Warhol is the greatest artist of the twentieth century. And we've all had that experience of - I don't get it. I don't see why this guy, this woman, I don't see why this artist is so important. What's the big deal? Or maybe, maybe we're a little more assertive, right? I mean, I was always fairly passive. Whatever they told me I just sort of nodded and said okay. And I might have hated it. In fact I'm still not very fond of The Scarlet Letter even though I've read it multiple times and I see it's importance but I don't really like it. But they tell me it's important and I nod and I say okay. Because that's just my personality. But maybe you're a little more aggressive and you say, "Nope. I'm not having that. That's not art. That's boring and stupid and I'm not buying it." But whichever style you are, you go through school all those years and you just let them tell you this person or that person is important and you get out into the world and maybe you have some idea of whats what and maybe you don't because they never really have defined it. And so, you don't know. And you know I had this problem a lot because I study popular culture and a lot of my colleagues, like other english teachers, other english professors, english teachers of a certain sort let's just say, they had a hard time swallowing sometimes what I did. There's a certain sort of english teacher who will tell you Shakespeare is the be all, end all of literature and maybe we'll throw in some John Dunn and maybe some Milton, Paradise Lost, but that's as far forward as we're going to go. That's as new and exciting as we're going to go and I'm trying to argue that The Simpsons has literary value and that was a hard pill for that sort of teacher to swallow. And sometimes they - often they just wouldn't. No, that's no, that's of no importance. It's a cartoon, right? It's of no importance. It didn't matter how I phrased it, how I put it, how I tried to explain it they just weren't taking that. So if you study popular culture then it gets really confusing because there's no historical sort of sense of who is important. Who has stood the test of time. Who's going to last. And so it gets really confusing to talk about what's important and what's not. And then that just throws the whole system out of whack. Is an episode of The Kardashians art or literature? I say again, with a big A big L. Are The Kardashians - is an episode of The Kardashians Art? Or, how about an episode of Game of Thrones? How about The Bachelorette? All right, so let me confess something up front that your teachers will not tell you. If you think there's one answer and that all your english professors, all your high school english teachers have this one answer of what literature is, well no. We don't. I mean most of the time we stand up there and profess that we do or we read a definition out of a book and say "This is the definition." But we don't have a definition. There are literally hundreds of directions out there, hundreds of different definitions of what literature is. Everybody's got their own. Some people will tell you. And I don't know that I completely disagree with this idea, that really classifying and categorizing things as art or literature is actually elite, very elitist. You know, doing that sort of activity is a way of saying - it's just kind of a way of being able to say "I know more than you. I know what's important. And if you think The Kardashians is an important show, well you're just ignorant. If you think The Simpsons is important, well, you know, you're just uneducated." Or whatever. And actually people who say this notion that categorizing is elitist, that's a completely legitimate way to look at the whole thing. And, like I said, part of me totally accepts it. Accepts that idea. If you like something and you find value in it, then it's important. Period. And you shouldn't let anyone tell you differently. No matter what degrees they may have. And make no mistake, there are all sorts of snobs, and particularly in academia and sort of the intellectual circles. There are all sorts of elites and snobs. They don't have to be professors. You know someone - the guy that's cooler than everyone else. The guy that only listens to deep deep underground music. Artists that people just have never heard of, and they'll tell you straight up that The Doobie Brothers is just commercial crap. And you know, maybe you love Elvis. Not like hip young Elvis but like Las Vegas, way past his prime, Elvis. Or maybe you like Barbara Streisand or Barry Manilow or Clay Aiken or whoever it is. There's always going to be someone over your shoulder that says, "Oh, that's not art. You're an idiot for liking that. How could you possibly like that?" Elitism is just, I don't know, maybe it's part of human nature. And it doesn't have to be a professor. It can just be that guy you know who thinks he knows everything about music there is to know. So I did have an answer for that question though. I sort of made it up one semester but I got really attached to it over the years and so I'll give you that answer. And here's - this is my answer to the question of what separates Art and art. I did that backwards. What separates art and Art? And my answer is - does the artist or the work do something original? Something - and I don't mean they like shatter the world necessarily but do they do something that makes you see the world in a completely new way? Now, again, that sounds like a hard standard to live up to. Did you change art forever? That's not exactly what I'm saying. I mean, maybe that standard is hard, but if you look at most artists who people label important or great or if you look at artworks that stood the test of time and are still seen as classics, they usually have that quality in one way or another. They give you an idea or a feeling that you just hadn't encountered before.
So, let me give you my favorite example. And of course at this point you tuned in to talk about popular culture and hearing that it was going to be about Michael McDonald was already a disappointment and now I'm really off track because you know, where's the pop culture? But I promise you it's in here somewhere and I will make the connection. I promise. But let's talk about poetry. Oh my god, he's going into poetry. So one of my favorite poets is a guy named William Carlos Williams. I wouldn't call him a poetry superstar by any means but he's an important enough guy, right in the early 20th century. Was a doctor. Wrote poems in his spare time. So, all right, Williams wrote several great poems and the one that - if you've encountered him in an english class before you might remember - the one that usually comes up is "The Red Wheelbarrow". "So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water beside the white chickens." Right? That's the whole poem. But my favorite is a poem called "This Is Just To Say", also fairly short. And here's how it goes, "I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me. They were delicious. So sweet. And so cold." Now, if you write that out on a sheet of paper, just as like a sentence, a couple sentences, it looks like something your college roommate left in a note on the fridge. Let me read it again just so you can get that sort of post-it note feeling: "I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me, they were delicious. So sweet and so cold." And my students would say, and maybe you would say, that - and they're not wrong - this seems pretty basic. Pretty simple. Not like something you'd call art. All right but stop and think about the poem just for a minute. What's it saying? So literally it says I have eaten your plums, sorry. But that's not quite right, is it? It isn't just that I ate your plums, sorry. There are some other things in there that sort of complicate that basic idea. First of all, why does he have to say "which you were probably saving for breakfast'? I mean, that seems sort of like a dick move, right? Oh, those plums, the special ones you were saving for breakfast? Yeah, I ate those. And then there's the last sentence - "Forgive me. They were delicious, so sweet and so cold". Wait, what? And the first thing my students say is - when I point it out these extra little tidbits in the poem - they'll say "Oh, you know, he's just really descriptive because he's a poet and that's how they talk." But that's not true. Don't do that. Read it the way it's written and imagine your response if someone said that to you. It might be easy to say the roommate's a jerk. The roommate's just a jerk. But he's not quite - he's not just saying "Oh yeah man, those plums you were saving so special? Man those were awesome. Too bad for you." All right so let me read it one more time, just to kind of to think about it once more. I know it feels so much like literature class, doesn't it? "I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me. They were delicious, so sweet and so cold."
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
So, there's an apology in there. But it's kind of a weird apology. Like, I shouldn't have done this and I really am sorry but at the same time they were just so damn good. We've all been in that position, I think. Where we're sorry for something but not sorry. But if you think about it, that's a really complicated emotion to feel. I'm sorry for something but I'm not really sorry. I'm sorry and yet I enjoyed it. And it's a complicated emotion and it's even more complicated to describe. And somehow in just a few words Williams manages to pull that complicated emotion off. And I would say that's Literature, with a big L. He's captured a feeling that no one else had captured. And that most of us, I mean I would have said, you know, if you just told me I'm going to try to capture this feeling of sorry but not sorry, I'd of said you couldn't do it. But he finds a way.
So one of my points in this episode is just to sort of say that here's what marks important works (literature, art), here's what separates those from less important works. Again, I think - I don't want to get too far into saying some are good and some are bad but if you're going to do that, this is one way to do it.
But then what I want to do is use that argument, here's what I think literature is, to make a bigger argument. That there are lots of really important moments out there in pop culture. In rock music, for example, which is what we're talking about today, there are lots of artists who are doing or who have done some amazing things. Who've invented themes that weren't out there before or captured feelings that just hadn't been captured before. Or, and Michael McDonald's one of those guys. And I think that makes him worth talking about. Now, certainly he's not the only guy out there - the only artist out there worth talking about in this way. There's tons of great stuff that's been produced in the last fifty or sixty years since we entered what I'd call sort of the age of pop culture. But every once in awhile I listen to Michael McDonald and he just kind of floors me. I'm always so astonished and it's like the same two or three songs, you know. I don't - it's like William Carlos Williams - I don't think Michael McDonald is a major artist on the level with, I don't know, Andy Warhol or The Beatles or Bob Dylan. I mean, I like his sound and he's fine as far as he goes but then there are just those two or three songs that always just floor me.
So let me start with the one that gets me every time. And I just can't think of another song that gets me in the way that this one does. Not quite in the way that this song does. It's unique for me. And it's a Doobie Brothers song, "What A Fool Believes" which is, again, it's a Michael McDonald tune. At some point in their career with Michael McDonald The Doobie Brothers were essentially just a backing band for him. And I think this is one of those kinds of songs. So it's really a Michael McDonald tune. All right, so let me say a couple of things first because there are other little gems that festoon Michael McDonald beyond just this one song. You know how I said last week that The Cars were in the dictionary under new wave band? Like, they are the definition of new wave band? Well Michael McDonald is in the dictionary under whiskey tenor. There's nobody, nobody that has a voice quite like his. And he found something special as a keyboard player that I don't really hear in anyone else except there's kind of a similarity to Stevie Wonder, though they're not really the same. It's some sort of syncopation, beats on the offbeat. But not like one or two beats on the - like he keeps the whole beat with chords on the offbeat. And I'll probably get in trouble for playing this but I can't say that without giving an example. So, let me just throw this example out here. <music example>
All right, so that's from The Doobie Brothers' song "You Belong To Me" but you can hear the same thing in other songs like "Minute by Minute", for example. And I'll add this - I think, this is going to sound really, you know, is this really important but I kind of feel like it is, I think he did something special in the 70s and 80s with the word "fool". And he uses it a lot. Like it becomes this sort of go-to word for him. And it means what fool means; I mean if you look up the definition it means what fool means but it means something slightly different too, in his music. In a way that I don't know how I can completely explain. If I had more time to focus on this I would but the word fool is somehow wrapped up in one of his major themes which is this sort of desperation as a lover. The lover that will do anything for you and who you'll probably walk away from anyway but he would give you anything. And for that reason he is a fool. And it's got all sorts of meanings that go into that. But, so anyway I think that's pretty cool.
So there's a lot worth talking about. But it's the story and the emotion that comes with the story, that's what gets me every time. And I mean every time, no matter how many times I listen to it, I can listen to it two or three times in a row, it still just gets me every time. All right, so here are the lyrics to "What A Fool Believes": He came from somewhere back in her long ago, the sentimental fool don't see, trying hard to recreate what had yet to be created. Once in her life she musters a smile, for his nostalgic tale. Never coming near what he wanted to say. Only to realize it never really was. She has a place in his life. He never made her think twice. As he rises to her apology, anybody else would surely know he's watching her go.
So, so here's the story. Guy runs into girl he knew in high school. I mean, it doesn't say high school but that he knew before, knew whenever. And he was so in love with her, right? She, as the song said, she had a place in his life. And as soon as he sees her he's sentimental, thinking back on that time. And so he tries to say something vaguely romantic to take her back to that time too but here's the thing, the song also says "he never made her think twice". So, she manages to rise to the occasion, she gives him a little smile, you know, she's indulgent of his nostalgia. But in that moment when she does that he realizes his mistake. That all this time it was just him that had a crush on her. And I don't know if you know that feeling but I know, I know exactly what he's talking about. Just precisely. I've been there. You know, there were those girls in high school that I idolized in some way but that I, and I fancied to myself that we were. You know, we weren't - I wasn't a stalker. I didn't think we were romantically involved but I fancied to myself that we were friends. And that maybe if I had made the effort we could have been involved. But that's not true. Right? That's a nostalgic fantasy. But whether you've been there or not, here's the thing. Who imagines that scene? If you're, think about pop music that you know and what kinds of scenes you're given.Who imagines that scene? Who captures that precise moment as the subject of a pop song? Most songs are like, right, I love you and you don't love me. Or, you love me and I don't love you. Or, you're gone and boy do I miss you. This is so much more complex than that. The emotion that we're trying to get at here is so much more subtle and so much harder to capture. And yet he totally pulls it off. And this is the best example, but it's not the only time that he does that. There's something in the song "Minute By Minute" where it's a relationship that has gone bad but they're trying to hold onto it minute by minute. But there's a lot of their past that helps them hold on to it but you can't hold onto the past, minute by minute. That's a contradiction in terms. There's some very complicated emotions.
In "You Belong To Me" is another relationship that seems to be going south. The woman has begun sort of dressing provocatively, dressing sensually, sexually so that men will notice her. And the speaker says, "You don't have to do that. I notice you." It's some complicated adult emotions. It's not just a typical teeny bopper love song. And in both these songs and "What A Fool Believes", the speaker Michael McDonald, I guess you'd say, he's the loser. He's the fool. Right? And he plays that part. Only he's not exactly the loser. Because Sting does this thing and maybe we'll talk about him one of these days, he does this thing where he's lost around women. Just utter - the character that he plays is just completely lost. And in song after song after song he writes about this guy who just can't, just can't get it together. And that's not what this is. This guy's sophisticated. In McDonald's songs. He's like smooth 70s sophisticated. But he's just a touch out of his league.
In fact it reminds me of that Lionel Richie song, the one with The Commodores, "Sail On". Another of my all-time favorite songs. You know, I'm pretty damn cool but you know she's still just too much for me. And I find that theme in a world where the go-to pose is "look how cool I am", to be able to say, I am cool but I'm just not up to your level. And the subtle way that McDonald captures it, I don't know. I'd call that Literature. And you know my point here, and I deliberately didn't give you someone like Bob Dylan, you know someone who - Bob Dylan won a Nobel prize for literature, though that's a discussion we ought to - so many of my colleagues so unhappy with that decision. But that's a different - that's another different episode. But I didn't give you Bob Dylan. I didn't give you The Beatles. Or even The Police or Peter Gabriel or Tupac or whoever. It's just Michael McDonald. Right? The guy that you may not even remember. And a couple of songs that he did with The Doobie Brothers.
But first off, you know, my point - one of my points is maybe we should be paying more attention to Michael McDonald. Maybe he's cool enough that he deserves a little more love than he typically gets. But beyond that, the point is even if this guy, this guy that you don't listen to anymore and that not many people really even remember much anymore, even that guy has this amazing literary quality in his music. And if that guy has it, that should tell you just how much is going on in pop culture. It is worth talking about in a deeper perspective. I mean and from both sides of the equation. Right? If you're a casual listener and you tend to just let the music wash over you and you don't think about what's being said or you don't think about how it's being said or how the music's being presented to you, if you're that person, I think it's important to sort of revise your thinking. To think about it in what we call, a slightly academic way. To think about the depth that's going on there and not just let it wash over you. Because there are some amazing themes and ideas and feelings and emotions that are being sort of put together in these songs. But then from the opposite perspective if you're one of those sort of literary elites or academic elites who think that pop culture is beneath notice, well, you know, I also have a message for you. That's just not true. There are some incredibly deep things going on in popular culture and that makes it worth talking about.
Katie Adkins co-produces this podcast and manages Pop Culture Academy's social media presence including our website. Also a special thanks to our east coast correspondent, Dr. J. Lundquist who contributes news items and story ideas and generally keeps me on track. And remember, you can turn on your TV, you can turn on your radio, turn on your PS4, your Xbox but that doesn't mean you should turn off your brain.
You're listening to the Pop Culture Academy podcast with MK Adkins. And don't forget you can follow us on Twitter and FaceBook. You can find us on YouTube. And of course you can always visit us at www.popcultureacademy.com.
Greetings and salutations and welcome to the Pop Culture Academy where we do all things pop culture with just a bit of an academic slant. I believe we are up to episode four, which, you know, we're very proud to have made it this far. If you've listened to all four, I don't know what to say. Thank you! That's incredible. But if you're tuning in for the first time, you might want to know that previous episodes are still up. You can get those first three episodes. You can get them at ITunes or Spotify. You can go to Podomatic directly. I think there's probably links on our Facebook page. There's links in Twitter. There's links on our Pop Culture Academy webpage. So you can certainly track those down. It's a good time to do that. We are not independently wealthy, at least not yet. So, we're not going to be able to keep up all of our episodes indefinitely. When we hit 10 or 15, at some point we're going to have to start removing some to put new things up. But for the moment, you can definitely get those old episodes and so it's a good time to go back and listen to those if you're interested.
Now, this week's episode was meant to be about Michael McDonald, that's what I promised at the end of last week's episode. But one of the things about the Pop Culture Academy that is important to me is that this not just be sort of a march, a slog through topics. It's not just sort of - okay here's the next topic and we're just going to march through them one at a time and we're just marching through it thoughtlessly. One of the thing's that's important is to recognize that pop culture is happening all the time. News happens in pop culture all the time. And I think it's worth while when it happens to stop what we're doing and throw in an episode that considers whatever is going on. And this last week, I guess it's been a week and a half now, Ric Ocasek died. And I couldn't not talk about Ric Ocasek. He's just so important to me - he's so important to music, he's so important to new wave which we talked about last week. And I thought I might use Ocasek to segue into talking about Andy Warhol a little, who's so important to postmodernism and so important to new wave and I know that we've already talked about those subjects and I keep saying we're going to leave those subjects but - and I didn't really mean to head back into them so soon - but, you know, then Ric sort of died and it was like, you know, I gotta do this. It was like a sign. I've got to talk about The Cars. I've got to talk about Andy Warhol.
So, for those of you who don't know Ric Ocasek by name, and that's okay if you're a bit younger. He's not the household name he used to be. But he was. I mean, people knew Ric Ocasek's name. Ocasek was one of the two frontmen for The Cars. And The Cars, of course, enormously important new wave band. And really just an enormously important band. And if you're of a certain age (I hope we have some younger listeners) if you're of a certain age you may not know The Cars but you do know The Cars. You know hits like "Drive", "Who's Going to Drive You Home Tonight", "You Might Think", "My Best Friend's Girlfriend", "Shake it Up", "Let the Good Times Roll", these are songs that you know and you've heard.
So The Cars are a band out of Boston. They very quickly became associated with the post-punk scene that was going on in New York City in the late 70s. And that scene, really crucial historical moment and it all sort of happens in New York City but beyond that, most of it happens at a club called CBGBs. CBGBs only closed down, I think, within the last ten years but that place was just one of those iconic places where history was made. Some of the most important American and British punk and post-punk acts played at CBGBs. It's where Blondie got their start. The Ramones. Patty Smyth was a major influence at CBGBs. The Talking Heads played there. And then there are bands that people forget, or that we have somehow managed to forget but that are just enormously important bands that somehow get lost to time like - I'm thinking of the band Television which was almost like the house band when CBGBs opened and was really a crucial, I mean, only one album, but crucial link between punk and post-punk and new wave. The Police broke at CBGBs. So it's like this center point for American music at that time. And maybe one of the most important clubs ever.
So, all right, we'll come back to CBGBs in a bit, maybe, but The Cars are hanging out in this scene, along with everyone else who is important to new wave music at that point. The Cars are a five piece, they are from Boston originally, as I mentioned, but then they very quickly get swept up into this New York City scene. They got together in 1976. Ocasek was one of the two frontmen of the band. He wrote songs. He played rhythm guitar. He was one of their lead singers. The other lead singer and frontman was Benjamin Orr, who was also the bass player. The rest of the band included lead guitarist Elliott Easton, Greg Hawkes on keyboard and David Robinson on drums. And, you know, we didn't talk so much last week about the new wave sound which was an oversight. We should have done that. I mean, here we go. It's like Ric Ocasek is helping us out here. He passed away so that we could go back and revisit the things that we missed. But you look in the dictionary under new wave and right there is a picture of The Cars.
You can describe the new wave sound all you want to but The Cars hit it dead center. They're like the quintessential sound, the stereotypical sound of that era. And here's what that consists of. First of all, synthesizers have risen in the mix. Now, keyboards were important. Keyboards have been around and important for at least a decade in rock music. But it was distinctly different. Mainly the keyboards were important in prog rock, bands like Pink Floyd and Genesis. And those guys were playing really complicated, complicated stuff. I mean, we talked about the punks reacting to rock music at the time. This is one of the issues is that all the musicians were playing complicated stuff but if you go back and listen to early Genesis albums, you know those Peter Gabriel sorts of albums, the keyboards are just, they're crazy all over the place, crazy complex. Lots of chords, complicated chords. Let's go back to the punks - it was just complicated and in the punk's mind, too complicated. So in new wave, the synthesizer shifts. Synthesizers change a little bit and they sound less like keyboards and more like, I don't know, the electronic sound is much more pronounced. And the synthesizer becomes more like a single note. One note at a time. What it is is the synthesizer replaces the lead guitar and the synthesizer becomes the lead in the mix. And so guitars, then, move back a bit. There tends to be a lot more rhythm guitar work and impressive, impressive rhythm guitar work. I mean, Andy Summers, Mike Rutherford, these guys are doing some serious serious stuff with rhythm guitar but it moves back a little bit and the guitars are - the way I define it is jangly. The guitars are kind of more jangly sounding. The bass definitely rises. It's sort of competing with the synthesizer as a lead. I mean it's, the bass is where the riffs are coming in, the established riffs that go throughout the song. If you go back and listen to Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy", for instance, you'll see exactly how crucial that the base is. And then the last component, and this is a very important component, is that new wave bands tend to have a singer whose voice is quirky. Like, they sound stressed. Or they sound anxious. Or they sound paranoid. David Byrnes, Talking Heads. Sting's early sound with The Police. Simon Le Bon's an interesting one. Simon Le Bon is so whiny and he's always just a bit flat and yet it's so perfect. Colin Hay of Men At Work. Fred Schneider, of course the B52s. Andy Partridge, XTC. Divo's music. Boomtown Rats. Really, any serious new wave band that you want to name, that's one of the components. They've got that singer. And Ocasek is that guy. I mean, he is - if The Cars are quintessential new wave, Ocasek is the quintessential new wave singer. And he looks the part, right? He's tall. He's skinny. He's got this shock of black hair. He's got an enormous Adam's apple. And he just looks stressed and yet, here's an interesting thing, he also looks incredibly cool. There's something in the 80s that connects stressed, anxiety and cool. And, you know, go back and watch a video for The Cars's "Magic" where Ocasek is sort of like, the main character there. And his persona - that's exactly the persona. He's lost. He's confused. He's anxious. But he's also laid back and cool and it's an amazing combination. And then his voice, again, has that ringing uptight quality.
So, on top of that The Cars's name connects them perfectly to new wave. The reason they named themselves The Cars is because after they'd record a song in the studio they'd take it out on tape to someones car and play it. Just to see how it sounded in a car as though it were going to be on a radio. If this were on the radio, what would it sound like in the car? So, they're thinking about radio air play. They're thinking about what's popular and how to capture that popular sound and again that's sort of that postmodern idea of let's just start with the shiny and go from there.
So, they hit it big in the 70s. Their second album, Candy-O, reaches number three on the Billboard charts in 1979. And they're doing okay in the early 80s. They are kind of adjusting their sound, being a little more experimental. And then, 1984. Now, if you're going to talk 80s or you're going to talk new wave, 1984 is the year. It's one of those years in history that just boom, kind of everything happened. And '84 is the year that boom, postmodernism and new wave and all of that was gelling and coming together. It's just one of those magical years in history all the way around. You've got Band Aid going on which starts something. Michael Jackson has really just hit it big. Madonna has become a superstar. Van Halen, I mean this is across genres, Van Halen releases 1984, their sort of seminole album. I think Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" is out. Maybe The Police's Synchronicity. I mean, some of those things happened in '83, they kind of bleed over into '84. Maybe Duran Duran Seven and the Ragged Tiger is out. You know, or it may be that I'm just thinking that every huge album of the 80s came out in 1984 because that's just the kind of year it was. It's just like everything happened then. Everything major in music happens that year. And that's the year that The Cars release Heartbeat City. And bam. They are superstars. That album produces "Magic", "Hello Again", "You Might Think", "Why Can't I Have You?" and "Drive", which "Drive" was just a monster success. All of that's on one album. So then they follow that up with a greatest hits package but everyone is sort of doing a solo record now. They do one last album in 1987 called Door to Door and that's it.
And it's like that Eagles sort of thing - or Pink Floyd - Ocasek says 'We're done. I've had it with these guys. Never ever ever again.' So then Orr dies, Benjamin Orr dies of pancreatic cancer in 2000 and on second thought, Ocasek says 'Let's get the band back together for one more album.' And so they record one more album. It's called Move Like This. Pretty good, pretty nice coda on their career. A really strong single called "Moving in Stereo" that I like. And then last year, just 2018, they get inducted into the hall of fame. And then, of course, Ocasek passes away on Sunday. So, I mean, The Cars are important. Amazing band. Amazing music. And Ocasek, amazing frontman.
But talking about The Cars gives me a chance to explore something that I missed in last week's episode that's really crucial. Mostly last week we talked, we really focused on British new wave. I don't know if I said that, but that's kind of the direction that I was taking. Bands like The Police, Tears for Fears, Thompson Twins, XTC. I mean there was this - they called it the second British invasion. And those bands became the darlings of MTV. Duran Duran and Culture Club and Spandau Ballet and ABC.
Now, as I said last week, all of that was basically a reaction to punk, or punk's - I hate to use the word but - punk's failure. You know, new wave in Britain was sort of okay punk; the ultimate rebellion failed so let's not try rebelling anymore. And some of that was going on in America too. But America for the most part had a different path to new wave. And this week - I've got this chance to sort of talk about the American path to new wave. And here's the thing, that path runs straight through the artist Andy Warhol. So, everything, I mean, in some ways everything about American music then is about Andy Warhol. In one way or another.
Now, I confess I am getting older and I don't know what kind of cache Andy Warhol's name has these days but look, there are two important artists in the 20th century. Really just two hugely important artists. Everything and everyone else runs through these two guys, it's derivative in some way or other. And the first is Picasso who deconstructed art. The second is Andy Warhol. And to my mind, no one yet, I mean we're soon going to move into the third decade of the 21st century and I don't think anyone yet has risen to the stature of Warhol. And there are some ways in which I don't know if anyone ever will. Okay, so Warhol's one of those guys, I mean we should start with this, Warhol's one of those guys and Picasso really was too, that people like to say- they look at their work and say 'Oh my god, who cares? What's the big deal with this art?' It seems incredibly easy and, you know, I mean with Picasso people say, 'Well you know my kid could do this.' They say worse things about Warhol. And easy is one word to apply to it.
Warhol loved copying what was already out there. So his most famous series is the Campbell's Soup can, right? We all know this. It's iconic. It's so iconic that a few years back, Campbell's Soup actually did an homage to Andy Warhol and did their cans up in sort of Andy Warhol colors. So he sets a soup can up in front of him, he copies it in absolute detail, he makes a bunch of them, he fills a gallery, he makes millions of dollars and suddenly he's the most important artist ever. And people say, 'Come on. That's not art.' It's not even original. All he did was copy something that was already out there and really even at the time people got quite incensed about Warhol. And they still do. I showed Warhol to my students and they just rebelled against the very idea that this guy has any talent.
All right, but here's something that matters in the 20th century more than it ever did before. And remember, some of this goes back to the invention of the camera and some of it has to do with TV, but art isn't about what is in the picture anymore. It used to be you study the picture and looked at what the artist had portrayed and you thought about how he portrayed it and the message and the story in the picture and all of those kinds of things. And that doesn't completely go away. There's some of that still going on. But what's way more important in the 20th century is the idea. What we would call, what art calls the concept. The question isn't 'Is that picture pretty?' Right? Jackson Pollock's drip paintings aren't pretty. And there's nothing in them, there's no recognizable object. There's just drips of painting on canvas. But the idea behind what Pollock was doing, the reason why he was dripping paint on canvas - that was genius. We're not going to talk about Pollock today but Warhol, in terms of concept, was the genius of all geniuses. Bar none. And like I said, there will never be another.
Now remember last week that I said in the late 60s all these postmodern theorists, people like Jaques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, all these theorists and philosophers show up and start noticing what's going on in the world and they label it postmodernism and say isn't this weird? We talked about all this before. And then, you know, it was another 20 years into the 80s when the artists started to make art to copy what these postmodern theorists were talking about. So there's like a 20 year lag. But Warhol was doing it as they were saying it and really Warhol was doing it before the theorists were talking about it. He's like the guy who discovered it. He's like a philosopher and an artist all wrapped up into one. His art is the definitive statement on postmodernism. Period.
And so, if you buy into this notion that postmodernism changed everything and that we're still in postmodernism, Andy Warhol is the root of all of that. He says, here's what the world is and that's it. Anyone after him from Pink Floyd to Jay Z to whoever you want to talk about, is ultimately just copying what Warhol said. Now, what did he say?
All right, so, maybe you should just go back and listen to the first three episodes but let me try to boil it down for you. Warhol recognized before anyone else that the world had become the matrix. In some ways his paintings of those soup cans, for instance, they are the matrix. 30, 40 years before the Wachowskis come up with this idea, you know, and the Wachowskis come out with The Matrix and we all think our minds have been blown. Warhol did it 40 years before.
There are 100 ways to unpack Warhol and I always get way too excited and try to do them all and I shouldn't do that but we'll see what happens. So let me give you one. So, let's think 100 years before Warhol. Before the camera - let's imagine before the camera. Painting before the camera. So there's this thing that every artist paints. It's like a practice picture and everyone does it. It's the bowl of fruit. Check out any artist you want, they've done a bowl of fruit. It's like comedians and air travel. You ever notice, if you go back and listen to all the routines by your favorite standup artist, whoever you like, inevitably they all talk about air traveling. It's like everywhere in standup comedy because that's what they all experience and it's just one of those things that shows up. So, artists always do a bowl of fruit. And maybe they add their new twist to the bowl of fruit or, you know, they're trying to make their new statement or whatever. But they all do it.
Andy looks around, himself, in the 1960s and he needs to do his bowl of fruit, right? I'm an early artist. I've got to make my statement, my bowl of fruit. Only he realizes, and no one has but he does, that there is no fruit anymore. Just an aside, it's not quite true that he was the only one to realize that. Alan Ginsberg, the great beat poet at the time, he realized it as well. Check out his poem "Supermarket in California". But, okay, that's a whole other show. So, anyway, Andy realizes that there isn't any real anymore. He realizes we're in the matrix. There's no fruit. Well, but you're talking about fruit. Go to the supermarket. Go to the supermarket and behold the bananas. Bananas and then next to them the organic bananas. And which one of those bananas is real? And what happens when you make the StairMaster and that whole bit. And he says you know what, the 1960s version of a bowl of fruit is a Campbells Soup can. Not what's in the can, the can itself. I mean that's - tomato soup is your bowl of fruit. Here's a tomato. Except that it's processed and in a can. And so the bowl of fruit is the can. Now that in itself is just brilliant beyond brilliant. It might sound passe in the world of Family Guy and South Park and those kinds of postmodern shows but he comes up with this concept before anyone else.
All right, but it's better than that. I can tell I'm starting to get going again. Because the other thing, the other thing we say is 'Oh, he's just copying something that's already out there. Artists are supposed to be original, right? And he's just copying something that's already out there. It's less than no art. It's the opposite of art.' And here's where Andy was incredibly clever, he'd actually say yes. In fact, he literally said that. Another of his big projects was a room full of boxes with - they were soap boxes - and he actually painted labels that looked exactly like the real. They're Brillo. They looked exactly like the Brillo boxes that you get in the store. And he just copied, like the soup cans, he just copied it and he put these labels on top of wooden boxes and he set these boxes up so that it looked like a Brillo factory had exploded. And he sets this up in a gallery and again, people snap it up and he's a millionaire and whatever. And I'm going to play this little clip here. The interviewer says "Haven't you just copied something?" And here's what he says.
Interviewer: The Canadian government says that your art cannot be described as original sculpture.Would you agree with that?
Warhol: Uh, yes.
Interviewer: Why do you agree?
Warhol: Well because it's not original.
Interviewer: You have just then copied a common item.
Interviewer: Well why have you bothered to do that? Why not create something new?
Warhol: Uh, Because it's easier.
So, you know, he freely admitted that he was copying something but here's the thing, and you gotta go back to The Matrix. If we are really in the matrix, and imagine that we really are in the matrix, and you see an apple or a bowl of fruit. Is that apple real? No. We're in the matrix. There are no real apples. We already scorched the Earth, remember? Morpheus tells us. What you're seeing, then, is just a picture of an apple, an image of an apple, a computer-made picture of it for you. And so you say to Andy, "That's not real." And he says, "Right". In fact, he used to say he wanted to be a machine. He was really into this notion of computers. He said, "I want to be a machine." He went around with a tape recorder and a polaroid camera and instead of having actual conversations with people he had fake conversations with them. So he's already saying as loudly as he can, "We're in the matrix. We're in the matrix. Good God, we're in the matrix."
And he's obsessed with Marilyn Monroe because she's the first person who's not a person. If you want to talk about postmodernism, she's another crucial key, another crucial sign or piece of evidence of postmodernism. You know, she's not really Marilyn Monroe. That's a name that the studios made up for her. She doesn't really look like what she looks like. That's another thing that the studios created. And she's so fake, she's the first celebrity like this that's just completely manufactured. And she's so fake that even she loses track of who she is. Even she doesn't know what her real personality is. And Warhol makes all these pictures of Marilyn Monroe and he paints her with these completely fake huge pink lips and neon - he takes photographs of her and he paints over them so that it's just garish and gaudy. She's got neon blue eyeshadow. And we look at the picture and we say it's like Disneyland for Baudrilliard, we look at the picture and we say, "Well, that's not Marilyn. That's fake. You've made a fake version of Marilyn Monroe." And Warhol says, "But Marilyn was a fake."
What does all of this have to do with new wave music in America? Well, everything. Warhol actually got into music a bit back in the 60s and 70s. He meets Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground and decides to become their "manager" and, you know, there's some question about who was influencing who and how much Andy was really involved. He did, of course, design their iconic banana album cover with the zipper and the blotted line banana. And they put together some things. They collaborated some. But the point is, Andy's already sort of involved in music to an extent. He sees art, conceptually he sees art not just as a painting but art is everything. He was into film. He was into music. He was, you know, he really burst - one of the first people to sort of burst those bounds between those kinds of disciplines.
All right, so at that point Warhol - by the 70s/80s - Warhol just controls New York. I mean, really, just controls New York. But certainly controls the art community, and to some extent the art community of the entire country. And music is just one of those things that has to get filtered through him. For instance, the Rolling Stones close with Andy Warhol. And film filters through him. And we get to the late 70s and disco. I mean, to some extent, disco was created for Andy. And he just rules the world. I don't know how else to say it.
Suddenly, the music world is turning out versions of Andy Warhol. That's what new wave in America essentially comes down to. Lots of these bands that rise in America are artists who were in art school. They either graduated or they dropped out. All of the Talking Heads, for instance, another band that was full of artists. And because they are all artists, they are hip to Andy in that way but even those who aren't outright artists, they meet Andy and they are influenced by him and he shapes their music. He discovers Debbie Harry, for instance, of Blondie at Max's Kansas City where she's a waitress. The Talking Heads are hanging out with him. Madonna is coming up in the New York scene and she knows him. Duran Duran shows up and their keyboard player, Nick Rhodes who in some ways is the architect of their sound, becomes a Warhol acolyte. In fact, Warhol famously said that Nick Rhodes was his favorite masturbation subject. And you know, all the rest. The B52s. Cyndi Lauper. And most of the early rap and hip-hop artists are connected to Warhol in one way or another. And The Cars. So everybody who is key to new wave in America is filtered through Andy Warhol.
So, you know, just to sort of back up for a second, you've got these two versions of new wave in the 80s. Equally important, and they're influencing each other, you've got British new wave which is reacting to punk. And you've got American new wave which is reacting to Andy Warhol.
All right, so that's this week's show. You know, if you've got something you want to say, you want to respond to this, maybe you want to say I'm wrong. Maybe I've missed something. Or maybe you've just got some ideas about what we've been talking about. Definitely definitely hit us up and tell us what you think. There are lots of ways to do that. So, I'll end with this. If you don't know about the many ways to get the Pop Culture Academy, let me just sort of list them again. We've got a Facebook group, of course, and that's a great way to talk back. I know Facebook's getting a little passe now but that's still a great way to communicate with us. There's the webpage. There's twitter, you can comment there. We also do a weekly playlist of 10 or so songs, usually with some sort of theme to kind of get your week going on Monday. And in fact we take suggestions for that via Twitter and Facebook each week. So, definitely hit us up with ideas, with thoughts, with feedback. We want to hear what you think. We're 4 episodes into this and we need to know what your responses are. How are we doing basically?
Last week in honor of Ocasek I put up a Cars playlist. And there's a mix there. Some of those are great live performances though, I'll say for this list, I focused exclusively on songs that Ocasek sang lead on. I didn't include "Drive" for instance which of course is probably their most iconic song because that was Benjamin Orr's. But others - you know, there's some live things there. There's some original videos from the 80s like "Magic". If you want a real trip, check out the video for "Hello Again" which was the first single they took off their Heartbeat City album. Andy Warhol actually directs it. It's as bizarre as you might expect and he even shows up in a cameo appearance. Now on the other hand, if you'd like to have your heart completely ripped out of your chest and you want to see a real taste of Ocasek's genius and you want to do those two things at the same time, you got to listen to "I'm Not The One". It's a stripped down acoustic version that he did very recently of that tune.
So all right, that's all for this weeks' edition of the Pop Culture Academy.
Katie Adkins co-produces this podcast and manages Pop Culture Academy's social media presence including our website. Also, a special thanks to our east coast correspondent, Dr. J Lundquist who contributes news items and story ideas and generally keeps me on track. Join us next week when we will talk about Michael McDonald, I think. In the meantime, remember you can turn on your TV, you can turn on your radio, turn on your PS4, your XBox but that doesn't mean you should turn off your brain.
Don't have the time to listen to our podcast this week? Check out the transcript from each of our podcasts here.