Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Pop Culture Conundrum!

Good morrow, fair blog readers!

I have this problem where I love pop culture references, and as a result, my writing does too. One of my most painful edits of Know Not Why involved taking out the approximately two billion pop culture references that had already become obsolete since I'd originally written them. I know that I cut 40,000+ words out of the first draft; when I look back on that now, it's mind-boggling. 40,000 words is almost a whole novel in and of itself! I would LOVE to write 40k of something, anything in my current creative drought! And I can never really pinpoint what it was that got cut that somehow added up to that giant word count.

But it might have all been just, like, the characters having conversations about TV. I definitely remember a drawn out conversation involving Amber and Dennis discussing the love triangles in Lost and Buffy that (alas?) did not make it to the final edit. Also, Howie had a secret crush on Anderson Cooper all throughout the novel (I think at some point there was the line, re: Arthur, "He has a definite undeniable Anderson Cooperocity about him. Damn it! I was doomed from the start."). I cut that at the last minute just in case Anderson Cooper ever came across it and, you know, it made him giggle flusteredly in that way that usually only Kathy Griffin can do. Kathy Griffin has the right to make that happen, all snarky and ginger fabulous, but me? No way!

Mindy gets me.
(In retrospect, I may have been overthinking things in an irrationally panicked fashion toward the end of that edit there. WHAT IF ANDERSON COOPER READS IT AND I EMBARRASS HIM?!?!?!? I dunno. It could have happened!)

Anyway, I'm just saying: who knew that the Jonas Brothers wouldn't remain a part of our cultural consciousness for all of time? WHO KNEW? With that being said, they've been popping up on the radio again lately, so I feel like Kristy originally owning an embarrassing Jonas Brothers poster would have withstood the test of time in the end. Still, it got changed to kittens dressed like angels, which I guess has a certain timelessness re: its ability to charm or alarm people. (And yes, the Jonas Brothers poster was based on a REAL Jonas Brothers poster that currently resides in my roomie Dana's and my cleaning supply closet. I'm pretty sure I refuse to live in a house without that thing in it.)

And, okay, it's possible me and my buddies Justine & Renata recreated
aforementioned poster back when it lived in our kitchen.
2008-2009 was a lively year for us!

There are many reasons I would love to write half hour comedy TV shows -- mostly because basically my favorite thing to write is silly banter (fortunately, I hide this very well ... um) -- and at least twelve of those reasons are that TV glories in pop culture references. Unfortunately, they don't shine through quite the same way in books, since something about having it there in text makes old pop culture references feel especially glaring.

I totally understand why this is the general opinion, especially for people seeking out publication, but I'm starting to realize that I'm also not sure how I actually feel about it.

For example, going back to read the Princess Diaries books now (which is, in my opinion, always an EXCELLENT life decision and one I recommend), a huge part of their charm is the fact that it takes me right back to circa-2000 and all the pop culture stuff I loved in my pre-teen years. There's just something extra hilarious and wonderful and joyful in seeing Mia so submerged in what was popular at the time. I've found myself occasionally pondering how great a Princess Diaries half hour TV show would be (more in the vein of the original book series than the movie, although I love that too, 'cause who can't, it's Anne freakin' Hathaway and Julie freakin' Andrews). And I think you'd have to set it in 2000, right? Preserving that sense of a recently bygone era where Buffy was still on and cell phones weren't really a thing and we were all really, really invested in Justin and Britney dating and it was okay -- nay, encouraged -- to wear those shirts in pastel colors that showed your stomach ... it brings its own comedy and nostalgia that is just so charming and joy-inducing to me.

Pop culture is a huge part of my own life and how I connect with the people in it, so when I write, that tends to be a huge part of how my characters connect too. It's just part of how I perceive the world and the way people form bonds within it. (Just call me Abed Nadir!) We get to see that sense of characters' lives and connections being really informed by pop culture a lot between ensembles on TV shows (Community, The Office, Gilmore Girls, The Mindy Project, EVERY OTHER SHOW I LOVE, etc.) but it's hard to translate it to the page. Because for some reason, when you're writing in text, the goal is that it be TIMELESS, dun dun dun.

Someone has to write the romcom novel
that will eventually become the greatest
KStew & Charlize screenplay in the world, okay!
I am currently at the beginning of a new romantic comedy project (think The Nanny meets Anything Where Two People Have To Pretend To be A Couple meets my brain going: I am pretty sure Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart need to star in the movie version of this, but I am not picky, I will also accept the flawless goddesses that are Leslie Mann and Anna Kendrick; actually, I will accept just getting anything written at all! Like! At all! AT ALL!), and I can already feel the pop culture references sneaking in! And it's tricky to find that balance re: what to allow and what to cut. Honestly, at this point, I am kind of tempted to just slap a big ol' "This story takes place in 2013!" on there at the beginning, and then boom, it's historical fiction, and lo, in upcoming years, the accuracy will be stunning! "Think of all the painstaking research she did!" people will cry. "It's like actually being in 2013!"

Just to finish off this discussion of the magical force that is the pop culture reference, I will say that I often wonder how Howie, Arthur, and the whole Know Not Why crew would have reacted to pop culture things that happened after its time. Like:

+ Rebecca Black's "Friday" - namely, how the craft store crew even managed to survive Kristy's debilitating and inevitable obsession with it.
+ "Call Me Maybe" - Same. (This may be slightly autobiographical, as I genuinely do not know how the people in my life survived my obsessions with "Friday" and "Call Me Maybe". Or how they continue to survive, because damned if those songs aren't still THE BEST.)
+ Game of Thrones!!!
+ I think probably Kristy and Cora watch Once Upon A Time together regularly -- texting each other all throughout it if they're not actually in the same place -- and Kristy is sincerely enthusiastic about all of it (although less so after some of the malarkey that went down in season two; like, guys, she is optimistic, not brain dead), whereas Cora mostly just talks about wanting to do and/or become Evil Queen Regina Mills.
+ Sharknado, a.k.a. - let's all face it - the best thing that has ever happened to Howie and Mitch. (And me!) I am pretty sure there was a fancy viewing party.
+ Also I think Arthur probably really hates texting on iPhones, because he had just gotten really good at the number key pad texting and now it's all rendered obsolete!

Anyway, bringin' it back to the broader topic at hand! What do you all think? Pop culture references in books: yay or nay?

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