This is just what the name implies: On Fridays, I ask someone interesting a question and request that she/he respond in 50 words or less.
Or somewhere in the ballpark of 50 words. That’s why there’s an “-ish.” I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this site isn’t exactly a bastion of rigidity.
Today I’m excited to welcome in Jen Chaney, who has been writing about movies, TV, and pop culture, in various capacities, since she became a working journalist 20 (eeps!) years ago.
Most notably, Jen worked 12.5 years at The Washington Post, spending part of that time writing Celebritology—a blog originally founded by her friend and colleague, Liz Kelly—as well as reviews and other feature stories on film and TV. She’s been freelance writing full-time for a little over a year and contributes regularly to the Post as well as Vulture, The Dissolve, Esquire, Salon, and Yahoo!, among others.
She’s a native of the Washington, D.C. area, where she still lives with her husband, their son, and their dog, Casey, who makes her feel like a high achiever by sleeping beside her while she works (I know the feeling). Other items of note: She spends more time thinking about ’80s pop culture than a healthy adult probably should and, along with Mad Men’s Pete Campbell, is co-president of the Howdy Doody Circus Army.
You can find Jen on Twitter as @chaneyj. And, to borrow a phrase from Jeff Probst, if you don’t go follow her after reading her answer to this question, I got nothing for ya.
In the farewell installment of Celebritology, you gave an eloquent explanation of why pop culture is worth caring about. However, is there any particular celebrity, show, etc. that consistently makes you think “OK, so maybe this isn’t a good example”?
There is a natural desire to answer this question by naming the celebrities that people typically cite as evidence that American society, as we know it, is sliding down an unavoidable sinkhole: Kim Kardashian. Lindsay Lohan. Justin Bieber. Snooki.
But that’s too easy and too cliche. Since we’re in the midst of summer movie season, I’ll answer this question by pointing my finger at another easy target: the Hollywood studio system. Often Hollywood itself makes it hard to argue that Hollywood—and by extension, pop culture—is worth caring about. I look at many of the movies opening in theaters in the coming months—Transformers: Age of Extinction, Hercules, Guardians of the Galaxy—and wonder how much CGI, blockbustery, mass destruction I can tolerate before I stand up in the middle of a multiplex and shout, Michael Jackson-style, “I’m a lover, not a fighter!”
It’s not that I don’t like action movies, or summer blockbusters, or the promise of watching an animated raccoon speaking with Bradley Cooper’s voice. I do like those things. But I also yearn for more variety, for more original stories that weren’t pilfered from comic books or YA novels or kids’ toys. I wonder why I don’t see a single movie that I can get excited about taking my seven-year-old son to see between now and September. (He isn’t all that interested in How to Train Your Dragon 2, and I forbid him in principle from seeing that sequel to the dreadful Planes.) I also wish there were some films on the immediate horizon that excite me as much as some of the upcoming summer TV shows. (Where is the movie equivalent of The Leftovers, or Halt & Catch Fire?)
As I said in that farewell-to-Celebritology post, I love pop culture and I especially love the conversations that it can kickstart among smart people who love it, too. I just wish, especially at the movies right now, I saw a willingness to take more risks in films designed for mainstream audiences. The most formative movie-going experience of my life was seeing E.T. in 1982. I can still remember my first glimpse of that heartlit creature and how his story felt like nothing I had ever seen before. That’s a feeling I miss.
Jen, this one’s for you:
Huge thanks to Jen for stopping by this week and contributing such a thoughtful piece to my site.
Please don’t get used to that, dear reader.