Over on the Anatomy of a Book Deal blog, soon-to-be-published thriller writer Robert Gregory Browne mentioned that he'd turned off the Academy Awards show because to him the coverage seemed like a high school prom, with the Hollywood press more interested in who was holding hands with whom and what people were wearing than the movies themselves. So, okay, Shallow Girl here admits to watching shows like the Oscars mainly to see the clothes. Most often so I can say, “What was she thinking?” (There actually didn't seem to be that many of those moments this year and I thought nearly everyone looked appropriately movie star glamorous.)
Being on the east coast, I didn’t watch the last ten minutes — dogs had to be walked before bed — but I was glad Crash won. It, along with the equally excellent The Constant Gardener, were the only ones I’ve seen so far because I’ve gotten spoiled by my monster screen TV and hooked on the DVD extras. They both left me thinking about the stories for days afterwards, but with Crash, I actually had a lot of conversations on writers’ lists and with my workshop group about whether all that back and forth time-jumping and changing povs could be done in a book without the actors to help readers keep track. I still think all those povs (off the top of my head I remember seven) would be very, very tricky.
However, getting back to the Oscars, other people commented they no longer watch TV, and don't care about popular culture all that much. Again, putting on my sparkly shallow girl tiara, I’ll also admit that my TV viewing always seems to match the top ten-twenty of what America’s watching. This year my reality shows are The Amazing Race (amazing again after last year’s family race bust), Dancing with the Stars, Beauty and the Geek (a wonderfully sweet show about tolerance and often, like this year, incredible personal growth), and so far The Apprentice, but I may give that up pretty soon as I did Survivor and American Idol because of boredom and repetition.
Reality shows do much of what we do in fiction. Put people in stressful situations, then watch how they react. And no, they’re not real, but neither are our books, so they work for me. As do popular shows like Bones, Gray's Anatomy, Lost, The Sopranos (which YAY!! is back!), Deadwood (brilliant, but admittedly not as mainstream popular), and, occasionally, Desperate Housewives. I’ve discussed this with other writers for years and those of us with more pop culture tastes are convinced it’s helped us have long-lived careers. There’s a reason they call it Mass Market, after all.
Back in the early 80s, when I was writing my still unsold books in an Allstate booth in a Phoenix Sears store, I insured a woman who'd grown up in the hinterlands of Alaska, where her family ran a store and restaurant for workers building the oil pipeline. She told me that when she'd moved down to the Lower 48 States to go to college, her most difficult adjustment was that having been so removed from American popular culture for so long, she felt lost by references in the most casual of conversations. I'd think that would be a problem for contemporary writers who aren't "plugged in." Yet, I know successful writers who don’t ever watch TV, so apparently it doesn't bother them. Which just goes to show, once again, how different we all are.
One of the people who commented on Rob's blog is an aspiring comedian whose friend, David Feldman, was one of the first, if not the first person in the country to actually get a degree in popular culture. He's written nearly a dozen books on the subject called The Imponderables, has taught her to be proud of her viewing choices, and now rather than admitting to being a TV addict, she says she's a student of popular culture.
So, from now on, instead of letting anyone make me feel the need to defend my "guilty pleasures," I'm going to stick to my belief that hey, I'm studying popular culture! :D