Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Pop Has Eaten Itself

I had the misfortune of watching the first episode of a new Netflix show with a friend. I didn't particularly want to watch it, but was told it was incredibly embarrassing. Not being one to enjoy such things I brushed it off. Until he told me what happens. Then I had to watch it.

The program was called Everything Sucks! and is supposed to be a Wonder Years or Freaks and Geeks of the 1990s. For those that don't know it is a look back into the height of a now dead era using the lens of that same time period to connect it to modern audiences. Only this one is being made by Millennials, so you already know what you're getting. On top of it, they show a clear lack of understanding of the time period. They set it in 1996, the year before the decade fell off a cliff, and used writers that clearly were either stoned their entire teen years or were never actually alive during the decade. Because the '90s were not like this.

Everything Sucks! is painful in every area, but above all it was the accuracy to the time period that grated on me. The series displays how serious it takes its concept within the early moments. It barely tries to connect to the audience.

First example: it was so accurate to the year 1996 that the very first song played in the very first minute of the series was not released until 1997.

And it goes downhill from there.

The 1990s were a fairly dull decade, but it was also very faddish. Trends flashed into existence in the blink of an eye and were gone just as fast. You can't have kids wearing flannel, messing around with Gak, referencing the "new Star Wars" re-releases, listening to the "new" 1995 Oasis album, and playing with slap bracelets as if they all happened at the exact same time. Because they didn't. But you can pretend they did if you're just using the 1990s as a cover for your terrible and extremely predictable hacky Current Year drama in between shallow 1990s "I clapped when I saw that!" references.

Because that's all this show is.

The series is not funny, is entirely obvious and full of tropes that were played out when the last over-hyped forgettable Netflix drama came out, and even the camera work is the same stale Arrested Development aping that won't go away already despite coming on two decades old. Oh yeah, and it was not a style used in the 1990s. It was a '00s invention. But hey, I already showed how seriously they took their own concept. Accuracy was not going to happen.

It definitely doesn't look like the era, but it doesn't sound like it either. The characters are exactly what you think they are at first glance with story arcs you can see coming from a mile away because they're the same ones Hollywood has been peddling for nearly 25 years now. There's nothing here. Nothing is new, but nothing is a throwback to what it was like to live at the time, either. If anything, this series just shows how bad entertainment has gotten since 1996. Every bad trope here was one introduced in the late '90s that has been hammered into us relentlessly since. If you meant to appeal to those who miss the way things were, then this is definitely not the way to do it.

Everything Sucks! is a belly flop of nothing meant to sucker in people who lived in the 1990s but might not actually remember them fully. Possibly it is meant as revisionism to give the audience a version of the decade that "should" have existed. But they underestimated how much Gen X and Y remember from the '90s that Millennials never could. I was half expecting to see someone wearing parachute pants while mentioning going to a 98 Degrees concert. Because it was that likely to happen. It reads like someone who just grabbed any cliche they could and threw it in a blender.

Not even close, Boomers.

This series is about as accurate as the terrible Simpsons episode based on the 1990s where Homer is in a popular grunge band at its peak at the same time he is looking at a billboard featuring the Sonic Adventure designs of Sonic the Hedgehog and Amy Rose. If you were alive at the time then you know why that scene above is wrong, and you know how little thought was spent writing it. Amazing for The Simpsons, a series that was in its height during said decade, to get this so wrong. But this seems par for the course for Baby Boomers and Millennials when it comes to the '80s and '90s.

Stranger Things worked with the 1980s setting because it was baked in to the plot. This was crucial for the series to work. It needed to be set in that era for the plot beats, style, aesthetics, and character archetypes to work, and it failed when it shied away from it (such as the 1990s tough girl character of Max that broke canon with the style) meaning that the choice of year was crucial to how the story had to work in order to stay consistent. The Duffer Brothers clearly respected the decade enough to do it justice. There is a reason Stranger Things was a hit.

Everything Sucks! couldn't even bother to learn that there were two songs released in 1996* that they could have used for a theme song that were both called Everything Sucks instead of a grunge era song used that doesn't fit at all. But the song was popular at the time, so maybe someone will remember it and clap! That's all the thought that was put into it. Even the logo looks more like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Juno than it does any actual '90s logo. Because that's the audience they're going for, and not who they pretend they're aiming at. There is no effort here to try and understand that long gone era and how it might differ from this current crap one.

They want to cash in on '90s nostalgia without doing the work to understand what people clicked with in that time. It's disrespectful to the era and those who lived in it. But it was never about connecting to those people. It was always about shallow pandering.

A lot of this has to do with the propping up of Nerd Culture, which is, thankfully, on the way out.

I highly recommend this entire series

Shows like the above are no longer about the original purpose of art or entertainment: to connect to your fellow man. Pop culture is now about masturbation. It is now about little more than useless trivia and empty references for a small niche group. There is no more relating to the majority of those around but about glorifying the self (and their "like-minded communities") over others. Connections to those unlike yourself are no longer important: thinking inward is. Propping yourself up is. Making sure you feel good and have high self-esteem is. It's all about the self and how everything relates to you: not how you can relate to others.

It is all about eating yourself.

But empty nostalgia over setting is the point. They have nothing else. Hollywood can't stray from the bad habits they've developed. They have no stories to tell except being wistful for a youth that was apparently just as terrible as the present they are currently living in. There is no semblance of hope to escape their prison of misery.

It reveals a very ugly view of life that is becoming more obvious with each passing flop of a drama they release. It's really no wonder why audiences are checking out of these sorts of stories and leaving Hollywood behind. No one wants to see this narcissistic group of creators talk about themselves and only themselves and their tiny worlds. Hollywood does not have much else.

This is all pop culture is now: a decrepit and fat anaconda devouring itself until there's nothing left.

Unless you weren't alive at the time, you would have to be a moron to not know what the second poster is talking about. Hollywood is banking on you being a moron.

My recent speculation that we have reached the end of pop culture is well on its way to being true. Creators have lost the urge to connect with their audience and are set with rehashing the same stale slop while trying to gussy it up by playing with the audience's longing for a time when their pop culture wasn't this unabashedly terrible. But putting lipstick on a pig doesn't change it into a beautiful woman. Hollywood thinks tricking the audience into swallowing the medicine is enough to get them to keep taking it. They don't appear to be aware that the audience is quickly seeing this for what it is, and they don't like it.

There is no attempt to correct the ship, and that's why they're going to die.

They have nothing left to add, nothing to tell or say that hasn't been said hundreds of times. They rehash the same character archetypes without any sense of knowing why they exist, and continue to mindlessly subvert their own tales into meaninglessness. Self-reflection is possible only through explicit sex, pointless offensive language, and references to a childhood that is remembered as well as a fourth grade play.

Shows like Everything Sucks! only prove how little the "important" people Hollywood have left to say. There is no acknowledgement of the different ways those who lived in that era thought or how they believed and lived: it is all filtered through (post)modern thought with a thin veneer of past paint to make their barge look like a sailboat. But there is no sailboat, and there never was one. They could have built a sailboat instead, but they refuse to, and they're never going to.

This is all they have left. Dated messages from a quarter of a century ago and references to decades long past in an attempt to squirrel money out of the few audience members who accept mediocrity out of the thought that it is either this or nothing. Hollywood think this is good enough.

The decade where pop culture died.

It's well beyond narcissism and has fallen straight into parody. It's one thing to think they're the smartest and most progressive idiots to ever live this pointless existence, but it's entirely another to think the past is so worthless that they feel the need to smear their own fecal matter all over it in order to drag it down to their pathetic level. Material like this doesn't even rise to narcissism. They're too self-obsessed with infecting the past that they don't realize that instead of making the past look worse they make themselves look stupid and the present worse. Disrespect for the past tends to blind one to preventable gaffs.

Entertainment has devolved past narcissism into pure nihilism. Narcissism is looking in the mirror and wondering how that handsome devil got to be so gorgeous. Nihilism is looking in the mirror and wondering how to make that handsome devil ugly while still desperately insisting he's handsome to anyone who will listen. Not only is it nonsensical, it is locked in the karmic wheel of stupidity without a way out. The same mistakes are repeated over and over ad infinitum. You can see this with any piece of media out now whether a remake of something old (tweaked for modern sensibilities, of course!) or a new franchise with the same "fresh" characters and subversive plot out of 2003. Pop is eating itself.

Actually, it's way past that point now. Pop has devoured its tail and is busy slurping down its own stomach. And it expects you to call it brave, progressive, forward thinking, and art, while it whores out the same tired tropes audiences were sick of in 1999. Ironic.

Well, no. (Post)Modernism is dead and has been a rotting corpse for some time now. All that's left is to say the last rites and give it a burial . . . or a bonfire. We've already walked away, so let's put the body where it belongs, and leave it in the cold ground. No one cares about navel gazing into the abyss, so leave them alone to do it. All that's left is for them to eat themselves into the void.

Then finally we might be free of pop culture's self-obsession and can build something new in its place. It's about time, don't you think?

*In case you were wondering, these are the two songs I meant:

But everything doesn't suck. The pulp revolution is still in full swing. Give my entry in the movement a try. It's definitely one of the most action packed works you will find.


  1. There are two ways to approach a period piece.

    1) Write a contemporary story and haphazardly garb it in the trappings of the period.

    2) Put effort into studying the era, meticulously recreate the setting and costumes, and let the story tell itself.

    For those playing along at home, option 2 is what Stranger Things did in season one. Note that most of the cars and furniture in the show are from the 70s and even before. The show's creators were smart enough to understand that everybody didn't buy a Swedish Modernist bedroom set and a brand new model year BMW at the stroke of midnight on January 1st 1981.

    In fact, I'm inspired to call option 2 the Stranger Things approach and option 1 the Austin Powers approach.

    1. It does bother me because of the false impression it gives younger people of older times. This then leads to those same hacky lies being repeated by that generation, and so on.

      Because of this attitude we'll probably never have an honest view of the '90s portrayed.

      I'm surprised Stranger Things got the '80s as well as it did. Every pop culture piece since the late '90s has been about how the 1980s were the most embarrassing decade of all time. It must have been difficult to cut past the crap.