There have been 22 movies based on Marvel comics. I have seen exactly zero of them.
Which is the same number of “Game of Thrones” episodes I’ve seen.
Other “musts” of which I have never partaken: “Jurassic Park” (my brother gave me endless grief for that one), all things “Harry Potter,” the “Twilight” saga and any Beyoncé album.
I’m sure there are a lot of others.
I’m not saying that to claim any sort of moral superiority — I found myself going judgmental recently, and it wasn’t a good look — they just haven’t appealed to me.
It’s not like I reflexively rebel at all that is popular.
I like Taylor Swift’s music a lot, so I listened to her “Me!” duet with Brendon Urie when it came out the other day. To be honest, I found it underwhelming.
Does that mean I won’t buy her album when it comes out? No, it does not. Even the best of us toss off clunkers once in a while, but I’m sure the other songs on the album will be better.
But I do wonder what would have happened if I had gone on Twitter the day the song came out, jumped in a conversation and said, “Actually, it didn’t do much for me. It’s one of the weaker songs of hers that I’ve heard.”
Yes I do, because I’m sure everyone “had” to love it.
“Pop culture, traditionally maligned, now overcompensates, essentializing certain pieces of popular art as additional indicators of the new cultural literacy.“
— — Soraya Roberts, “When Did Pop Culture Become Homework?” Longreads
I don’t miss not being able to take part in the conversations about “Game of Thrones” or “Avengers: Endgame” around the metaphorical water cooler that is Twitter or the real one in my office, even though I’m not sure how many of the people I work with would want to carry on that conversation, either.
But if there’s anyone who’d like to talk about the latest episode of “Killing Eve,” the ending of “Fleabag” or the surprisingly good documentary about Queen and Adam Lambert that my wife stumbled upon the other night, let me know.
Right before the homework comes the hype.
There was a space, and it might have been a small one, between “‘Hamilton’ is an amazing show” and “You HAVE to see ‘Hamilton’!”
My wife and I saw it, not because we “had” to, but because we wanted to. Granted, it was an ocean away from Broadway in London, and it was magnificent.
The show lived up to the hype, and then some. Other things don’t.
I don’t remember if “Girls” had reached the status of homework, but there was certainly plenty of hype.
So I watched. And I mostly hated it. I thought it was so bad that I stopped watching close to the end of the second season because there had actually been a couple good episodes in a row.
I know that sounds completely counterintuitive, but I had found the show so disappointing that I found it best to stop while on a good note.
So what is the space between hype and homework? It’s the ability to walk away, or never show up in the first place.
“I am not telling those people not to watch or listen to or read or find meaning there, I understand people have different tastes, that certain things are popular because they speak to us in a way other things haven’t. At the same time, I expect not to be told what to watch or listen to or read, because from what I see and hear around me, from what I read and who I talk to, I can define for myself what I need.”
— Soraya Roberts
The problem with assigning pop culture as homework is that, try as some people might, there’s no set curriculum, no one set of things that everyone has to know to pass the test.
Why didn’t “Girls” do anything for me? For starters, I didn’t find it very funny, but mostly because the characters gave me no reason to care about them. They weren’t at all likable, and they weren’t so horrible that you could root for them to get their comeuppance.
With a few exceptions, like a couple of the episodes I watched before I stopped, they weren’t even terribly flawed people who you knew had some good to them, so you cared and rooted for their redemption, which is the sweet spot Phoebe Waller-Bridge hit amazingly in “Fleabag.”
For me, it’s about caring, about connection. It’s about hearing a song come on my phone and wanting to repeat it over and over … which is the reason why Maren Morris’ “Girl” is a terrific album that I hope wins all the awards, but I’ll always think “Hero” is better.
But you may connect to something else. So I’m going to try not to tell you what you “have” to watch, read or hear.
If I wanted to assign homework, I’d be a teacher.
As I was pondering writing this post, I came across an excellent post on the same topic from Let’s Start With This One. Although I don’t agree with her opinion on “Killing Eve,” that’s exactly her point. And mine.
The picture of the woman stressed out over homework (or maybe trying to avoid “Game of Thrones” spoilers on Twitter) is from JESHOOTS-com on Pixabay.