Underrated Vs. Unpopular: A Discussion of Pop Culture Lingo

Published 7/27/13 by:

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A few weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Chuck Klosterman at a reading for his new collection of essays, “I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)” at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts (see photo of Chuck above – photo credit to my iPhone). Chuck is one of my favorite authors for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because he writes about pop culture trends, which is something I’m equally as passionate about. “I Wear the Black Hat” explores the ideas of who we, as a culture, identify as a villain, why we label them that, and how our perspectives and emotions towards villains have changed over time. Chuck references people’s adoration of Tony Soprano or Walter White as a distinct change in how we perceive evil, and how (occasionally) we’ve come to embrace and root for these characters. When Chuck finished his reading from the book he opened up the conversation to an hour long Q&A in which he entertained any type of question people wanted to ask. The inquiries ranged from “What will Metta World Peace’s legacy be?” to “Why isn’t Elliott Smith more popular?” It’s this second question that led to a very intriguing discussion which altered my point of view of a phrase we use frequently: underrated.

 

When the audience member asked Chuck this very specific question, it was one of the few that he required more information about prior to responding. Chuck asked, “Do you mean because he killed himself he should be more popular?” to which the person responded (paraphrasing here), “No, I mean, he’s pretty underrated, and he’s one of my favorite artists – I kind of thought he’d become more well-known and liked after his suicide.” This is where (in my opinion) Chuck’s most compelling argument came to fruition. He told Elliott Smith’s number one fan that there is a vast difference between underrated and unpopular. Chuck said that if you surveyed five people in the room who knew of Elliott Smith’s music, they would all probably say that his music showcases talent and that it’s a shame that Elliott is gone. Chuck noted that if all the people surveyed agreed that Elliott’s music is excellent, then he cannot, by definition, be “underrated.” He can, however, be unpopular. Chuck’s distinction of people confusing popularity with praise was an idea that hadn’t occurred to me, but I knew to be true. I was shocked that given all my pop culture aptitude this notion had not been originated by me. In other words: I was slightly disappointed in myself, but enchanted by the conversation just the same.

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    I thought about this underrated vs. unpopular debate for days. I considered it in multiple contexts, and realized that it best applies itself to television shows. If you google “shows canceled too soon” you will inevitably come up with oodles of lists from different magazines, TV critics etc. in which they categorize all the television shows that were critically acclaimed, but not receiving enough viewers for the networks to renew. The two shows that are the most recurring on these lists are: NBC’s “Freaks and Geeks”  and ABC’s “My So-Called Life,” both of which were canceled after one season. These shows are beloved, and have been noted as excellent family dramas by some of the most revered people in the Television Critics’ Association. So could one say that “Freaks and Geeks” and “My So-Called Life” are underrated? No, but people do, because they’re confusing it with unpopular. Network television is driven by how many people in certain demographics watch a show live when it airs. In recent years this has been altered to include people who watch it on DVR, but in the early 90s, they didn’t have that luxury. ABC and NBC knew from reviews, articles and interviews that both of these shows had the esteemed label of being “critically acclaimed,” but they couldn’t justify renewing these shows because the revenue from commercials and viewership wasn’t there. Essentially, something can be outstanding, but it’s popularity in mainstream culture affects its livelihood. This should not be news to anyone, but it’s still depressing, especially in the context of this discussion.

After considering all the justifications of something being underrated, my thoughts wandered to things being overrated. Can/do we define overrated as something very popular, but not worth it? Would the musical antonymic equivalent of “Freaks and Geeks” be Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again”? A song that debuted in 2000, and upon the music video’s arrival to YouTube in 2009, has since received 41 million views? No critic likes this song, and most people would argue that it’s annoyingly catchy. No one wants to like this song, and yet here it is, making oodles of money thirteen years later. Does it irk other people that overrated things receive much more attention? Am I over-thinking this, or do other people ponder these ideas as well? Do you agree with Chuck’s assertion that we, as a culture, confuse underrated and unpopular on a regular basis? Is it possible for pop culture to stop endorsing the overrated, or did America buy a one way ticket on that front?

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You Don’t Own Me: Original Content & Plagiarism

Published 7/23/13 by:

The video above is from John & Hank Green, better known as The Vlog Brothers, who have created probably the most docile and literary of all the militias: The Nerdfighters. I love what John and Hank are able to do, and that is provide current, valid, accessible content on subjects that people should know a lot about. Are you confused about how the electoral college works? There’s a Vlog Brothers video for that. Interested in how publishing and royalties are negotiated? Vlog Brothers got you covered. They are witty, approachable, earnest guys, who want people (especially young people) to be informed. They started their YouTube channel in 2007, partially because they knew that Gen Y’ers were no longer reading newspapers or watching the news, and attempted to fill the void in my generation’s knowledge that was (is?) essentially becoming a gaping hole.

I chose this video because I find the discussion fascinating, and pertinent to what I teach in my sixth grade language arts class. Who owns what content? When can you borrow/emphasize/embellish/endorse it? While Hank delves into the monetary aspects of why corporations benefit from people borrowing songs or quotes from films, books, characters, bands et. al., I want to discuss this on an academic level. When someone creates an idea, thought, image, song, film etc. and it’s published, people (more specifically students) have an obligation to credit the source. Hank freely admits in the video that he didn’t create DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome), but he was able to promote/grow it through his vlog because he thought it was such a fine idea. He gave credit where it was due, and was on his merry way. Here’s the rub: when people/students don’t have a platform in which to credit their original source, they don’t. When they don’t, it can often be identified as plagiarism. Plagiarism results in failing grades. It is a vicious and universal cycle.

Now, you may be wondering why students wouldn’t have a platform in which to voice/credit the original source of the content they’re using. This is where ownership and its trickery comes into play. The internet is at fault. Oh, internet, I love you, but you make things magically difficult. I can’t tell you how many times I have had students find incredible information on something they’re researching, but they are unable to identify a source, or the validity of the content. Wikipedia has become my arch-nemesis throughout my teaching career, and it’s because kids can’t fathom to look farther than the first google hit, which is inevitably Wikipedia. They can’t comprehend (or choose not to believe) that the data can be edited by anyone, even someone twelve-years-old! This brings me back to Hank and his willingness to credit DFTBA to Kate. Why are (my) students unwilling to put it in the universe that they’re borrowing someone else’s ideas? Why do they think it’s better to pretend it’s their own, and then hope that I don’t google what they’re saying? How can I convey to my students that it’s perfectly fine to quote someone else, or borrow their image, so long as you maintain that they own the content? I’ve approached this in as many ways as possible, and mention it at least once a week in my own classroom, but it’s not sticking. So, here’s my new idea: Why not show them this blog post with the link to Hank’s video to demonstrate that I used someone else’s voice of reason to catapult my own discussion? Wouldn’t that prove to them that it’s do-able and doesn’t take away from their own argument? Original thoughts can still be created when interpreting/promoting/discussing others’ work. My blog has purpose! Nailed it.

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What My Hair Has Taught Me

Published 7/22/13 by:

Locks of Love

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This is a picture of me in October 2006 right after chopping ten inches of my hair off for Locks Of Love. It was a great day because donating hair to this cause was something I hadn’t had the patience to do for many years, but I finally did it! Here’s the deal: I have very thick hair, and it weights a lot. It’s also very silky, which sounds like a blessing, but in reality my hair is greasier than a 13-year-old’s at a campout after one night of sleep. I honestly do love my hair. I think it’s one of my better attributes, but I’m constantly in a flux of cutting it and growing it out. I know most women who are reading this probably are nodding along in agreement, but here’s the rub: I cut my hair twice a year. I haven’t cut my hair more than twice a year probably since high school.  I realize this is fairly abnormal for a girl in her twenties. At 28, I’m finally realizing that my hair tendencies can teach me a few things about myself.

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1. I cut my hair when a) it’s really hot out, b) my hair is damaged from being blow dried, c) when the pool has destroyed it, d) when I see a celeb with an adorable haircut that someone takes hours to coif before they shoot for their show/movie/music video (see Lena Dunham from the first season of “Girls” below). Bottom line: I need to take better care of my hair, and keep up with it more frequently so that I don’t have to take drastic measures.

2. I inevitably grow my hair out when a) I can’t get it into a ponytail without a million clips/bobby-pins or b) I see some fabulous post on a social media website of someone doing something absurdly fabulous with their LONG hair (see below). Bottom line: my hair is half way down my back right now and I haven’t tried any new styles since Thanksgiving.

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What I’ve learned from my hair is that it’s not the length, thickness, or color that’s holding me back. I’m holding me back. I don’t afford myself enough time, product or equipment to do anything really elaborate with my hair. The times that I’ve given it a shot I’ve thought it looked “forced” and thrown it up in a ponytail or straightened it to un-do whatever monstrosity I created. I don’t trust myself with my hair, and I’m not sure I ever will. Since I was a little girl I haven’t liked anything to be “loose.” This can be applied to pants, socks, hair styles, shoelaces etc. It’s taken a long time for me to accept the fact that I’m never going to have beautiful flowing inside-out braids like Spencer on “Pretty Little Liars” and I’m finally okay with that. It looks so amazing, but I’d rather spend my time elsewhere. In the coming year I will make an effort to cut my hair more frequently, take some risks, and not be so concerned with being able to pull off styles that I’m unable to create and endure. I have nice hair, and I don’t need to fuss with it. It’s like my brother always tells me about mani/pedis: “boys don’t even notice stuff like that.” Sigh.

Has your hair ever taught you something about yourself?

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Etymology of a Blog Name

Published 7/22/13 by:

This is the band Blind Pilot performing the title track of their sophomore album: We Are The Tide. It’s a song that brings to my mind a lot of images, as well as memories. In a swift move that is way beyond my musical capabilities or wherewithal, Blind Pilot is able to conjure pictures of waves crashing, cool blue swirls and a breeze. This song is able to translocate me to a beach, whether it be December or July. I don’t have the verbal ability to explain how that is possible, whether metaphysically it is possible, or how they made it possible, but I do know that I’m not alone, and that they very aptly titled this track. This song invokes in me a sense of whimsy, and a lull like the waves that crash continually without anyone but the moon controlling them.

I have sentimentality problems. This will become abundantly clear if you read this blog on the regular (which I certainly hope you do!). When I discovered Blind Pilot, thanks to the brilliant samplers that Paste Magazine provides to its blog readers (fo’ free!), I was in the midst of my parents selling my childhood home, and moving into my own apartment for the first time at the ripe age of 27. No, I am not a loser. I like to think of myself as a savvy, suffering Gen Y’er who graduated college a year before the stock market crashed. It’s a long, winding road that got me to the current middle school English teaching gig I have now, but the gist is: I went to grad school to get my masters in education immediately following my undergrad and fumbled my way through being a teaching assistant as well as a reading tutor before getting my own classroom. That’s the suffering part of my Gen Y existence. The savvy part is that I didn’t take out any loans, and had the good blessings to be able to live at home rent free. Thus, in July 2012, I was moving into my very own apartment, and I simultaneously discovered this marvelous song. I associate We Are The Tide with feelings of abandonment, independence, nostalgia, responsibility, adventure, and sweat. Every time I’ve moved it has been a sweaty ordeal. So things go.

The etymology of this blog’s name is a combination of all the feelings I felt when I encountered this song, and specifically, the timing of when this song entered my life. In Cameron Crowe’s most wonderful and autobiographical film, “Almost Famous,” he wrote a line for lead singer Jeff Bebe in which he’s trying to explain to a fifteen-year-old Rolling Stone reporter how he defines Rock ‘n’ Roll:

“But what it all comes down to is that thing. The indefinable thing when people catch something in your music.”

I caught a lot in this music, and part of me blames the frame in which this song was dealt to me, but another part of me attaches myself to this song for what it represents, and how far I’ve come from last summer. I am a woman who teaches, reminisces, laughs, sings, chants, roots, and writes. I am a woman who is infatuated with pop culture and how its trends twirl and wind in America. I am folksy. I am honest. I am relentless. I hope that people don’t see this as just a “lifestyle blog” because I really don’t ever see myself adhering to any particular lifestyle. I want to surround myself with people (both in real life and in social media contexts) that share a lot of my loves (Friday Night Lights, Chuck Klosterman, Marc Jacobs), while engaging me in new ideas that challenge things I already thought. If you can relate to anything I said, or are intrigued, please join me at We Are The Tide. I think it could very well be my most honest endeavor yet.

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