The podcast segment Pop Culture Happy Hour: Repuprosing ‘The Simpsons’ and Busting out of a Rut struck me right away, because I constantly find myself in a “Netflix rut”. I re-watch the same favorite shows over and over until I know all of the lines, and even the specific inflection in a character’s voice when they crack their joke. I do exactly what he says: “you find yourself watching something just for the comfort of the familiar” (Pop Culture Happy Hour…). I tell myself that I am afraid to start a new TV show because I may end up realizing it was not worth my time, but in reality I may be watching the same shows over and over because of the comfort that comes from familiarity. When I watch Netflix at the end of a day, I am seeking comfort, and that comes in the form of my favorite, familiar shows. I think it may be important to break out of a “cultural rut” because when we feed our minds something familiar, there is nothing surprising or stimulating about it. Entertainment should benefit people through the imagination and creativity gained from it. Stimulating one’s mind with something that is unfamiliar may expand the imagination and hopefully create a more open-minded mental state.
This quote from the podcast also resonated with me: “You’re not intentionally setting limits on yourself and being a prejudiced person, but it requires the effort to step out of your own thinking and seek out something new” (Pop Culture Happy Hour…). Earlier this year I took a chance and clicked play on a TV show I had heard of, to get out of my “Netflix rut” of watching the same shows all the time. Going into it I assumed “Jane the Virgin” would be a cute, innocent comedy about a girl who gets pregnant, does not know what to do but overcomes it somehow (a familiar movie trope of American cinema). However, a couple episodes in I realized that it contained so much more. All of a sudden, a minor character was dead and it became a murder mystery. There was action, suspense, romance, comedy, and bi-lingual actors and actresses! The show features a mostly-Hispanic cast and honors that culture beautifully while keeping all of the other genres in place. I was amazed at how much I liked this show, considering it did not fit my usual comedy-only policy, and was very glad I gave it a chance.
The piece that I chose was the film Django Unchained. I went on Netflix and clicked on the “Action” genre, and picked a movie that I thought I would never watch. I even employed my roommate to watch it with me and make sure I sat through the whole thing. I thought that a film would be best to immerse myself as much as possible and get into the mindset of an action movie fan: a different kind of consumer of pop culture than myself. When Django Unchained came out, I heard from a lot of people that it was an excellent movie, but I did not go out and see it because it was not a comedy- the only genre I would typically enjoy.
First of all, as soon as I started watching it I realized it was not just an “action” movie. There are other elements involved- historical: it takes place in 1858, the era of slavery in the South right before the Civil War; romance: the title character is on a mission to save the one he loves after they are separated. These elements helped enhance my enjoyment and investment in the film overall. However, I will first focus on the action element.
Watching an action film and being a person who only ever watches comedies had an interesting effect as I began to watch. At certain parts where people are being shot and/or killed, as excessive but realistic blood and gore are shown, I feel like there is some sort of comedic timing to it. For example, I imagined that if I were watching with someone who usually watches action movies, they would laugh. I started asking myself it were just my imagination because my mind is trained to watch comedies and I felt the need to find something to laugh about, or if I were correct from personal experiences- knowing that action genre fans would laugh at such violence because they have been desensitized to it, whereas I feel uncomfortable with the gore. It was almost as if I did not know how to react to the content on the screen because I am only used to watching comedies.
As the movie went on, I started to see the appeal of the genre more and more-the suspense was taunting me. Guessing what is going to happen next (more explicitly- who is going to shoot who next) by taking into account the characters’ motives, back-stories, and personalities- like a violent puzzle. It is just a different kind of entertainment that I am not used to. For instance, comedy is entertainment in the form of humor; action in the form of heart-pounding suspense and surprise. I even started to guess out loud- nervously chanting what would happen next, to the annoyance of my roommate.
Even if this genre was not particularly familiar to me, there was still predictability in the sense that I knew the “good guys” or protagonists, would win in the end, or earn their redemption. Towards the end when it seemed like there was no hope for Django, I assured myself and predicted that he would somehow use the knowledge and experience he had gained from his journey in the film and overcome the last remaining obstacles. However, I am not a genius for predicting this, even though I was correct. As an experienced consumer of pop culture, I am well versed enough in the culture, having seen thousands of movies with similar endings, to know that this will be the outcome. No matter the genre, if a movie is produced in our culture, it is safe to assume that this underlying tendency will be there- to end the movie the “right” way, as in, the way the mass audience expects it to end. As an audience we might not know exactly how the protagonist will win, but we know that s/he will because it is ingrained in us. This example rings true with The Frankfurt School’s proclamation of the homogeneity of pop culture. The scholars at the Frankfurt School believe that “the culture industry is marked by two features: homogeneity ‘film, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part…all mass culture is identical’; and predictability” (Storey 1971, p. 66). Pop culture pieces may appear to contain different genres, but these distinctions are miniscule compared to the ever-present underlying reality of everything we consume, which is why I knew Django, the title character, would be rewarded.
Storey, J. (1971). Cultural Theory and Pop Culture. New York, NW: Routledge.
Mike Katzif (Producer/Music Director); Linda (speaker); Glen (speaker); Petra Mayer (Guest Panelist). (2014, September 5). Pop Culture Happy Hour: Repuprosing ‘The Simpsons’ and Busting out of a Rut [Radio Broadcast]. NPR.