Friday, August 30, 2013

Don’t Give a Damn About a Greenback Dollar

The annual Popdose Labor Day Mix for 2013 is now live, with a selection of work songs and economic rabble-rousing hand-selected by yours truly, all in one seamless hour-plus-long MP3. Features hard-to-find recordings and remixes from Kilby Snow, Devo, Shaking Family, MIA, Johnny Clegg, and the Raymond Scott Quintette, plus a homebrewed Jethro Tull track that you won’t hear anywhere else. That’s a promise.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

No Sell Out

The worst sin in Hollywood is not to make a movie that people dislike; it’s to make a movie that they don’t understand. A British cult classic shows us how to entertain an audience without dumbing down, in this installment of PopSmarts.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Notes on a New Heroic Pulp

As I was pondering genre tropes, thinking about trying my hand at the Lester Dent Master Pulp Plot, I started (quite naturally) looking at Dent’s most famous creation, the Doc Savage series, and thinking about what made it distinctive — about what was worth keeping from his formula, and what I wanted to break.

Looking around, it occurs to me that there’s actually quite a bit of heroic pulp still being published. The stuff that identifies itself as such hangs out mostly on the Internet, and it tends to be pastiche — glorified fan fiction, some of it, usually with a 1930s setting. I could see the appeal of that — not only is that kind of time period an immediate and identifiable signifier placing you’re your stories in the pulp tradition, but the world of the ‘30s was a perfect place for an adventurer. For one thing, there were still new frontiers, new places to explore. The idea of stumbling across a lost civilization hidden somewhere in a remote jungle — a staple of pulp stories — seems somehow faintly ridiculous in a world with GPS and satellite imagery. You’d have so much explaining to do.
But I rejected the period setting. I wanted something that lived in today’s world. Now, the pulp spirit lives on in the contemporary best-seller lists, in the many formulaic action-thriller series. And in larger-than-life figures like Jack Reacher we see a debased version of Doc Savage, with all of his natural ability but none of his refinement, and none of his extravagant altruism. Doc spends his downtime between missions performing neurosurgery and inventing new kinds of scuba gear; Reacher spends his digging swimming pools. If Clark Savage, Jr. had been allowed to go feral, instead of receiving intensive training in all the arts and sciences, he might have become a psychologically-aberrant superman like Reacher, whose abilities are nigh-supernatural, but whose social conscience is nearly nonexistent.
Reacher is presented as an aspirational figure — women want him! men want to be him! — but it’s a solipsistic, libertarian aspiration. Reacher has no ties to anyone or anything, he’s a badass, he doesn’t get hassled by The Man. He’s got no interest in actually making the world better or fairer; his moral sense, inasmuch as it exists, extends to personal vengeance and a general sympathy for the underdog. Doc Savage aimed higher than that, and following his lead I wanted my pulp heroes to be, well, heroes — thoroughly modern figures, not just aspirational but inspirational.
You wouldn’t think that characters like that would even be plausible in today’s world, but I found one — on a TV show about fishing, of all places…

And the wheels, they keep on grinding...