I was first introduced to Joss Whedon through the raucously funny, depressingly brief web series, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It may be sad to admit that, to this point in my 21 year frolic through the Elysian fields of popular culture, my most prominent exposure to the “Whedonverse” had come through what amounts to under an hour of musical revelry. I mean this is a guy with so much going on that he’s had an entire pop culture universe named after him. Dick Wolf has created, like, a terra-cotta army of Law and Orderclones, but I don’t see the blogosphere lighting up with the term “Wolfverse.” Or “Bonchoverse,” “Lorreverse,” or “Abramsverse.” No, in terms of cultural name cache, Whedon seems to stand above all other comers, building a big brand name off of a relatively small (but extremely high-quality) oeuvre. Me, I’ve missed almost all of it. I haven’t truly experienced any of it. Until this past week, Buffy Summers and I weren’t even passing aquaintences. She was a cute girl I’d heard rumors and stories about for years, seen once or twice from afar, but never actually taken the chance to just acquaint myself with, seeing where it went from there. Where have I been that I hadn’t tried something as popular, well-regarded, and totally up my alley as Buffy? Well…
I know all I know about Whedon without having seen nearly any of his work because I am a pop culture buff. I love television, music, movies, comics… You watch it, read it or consume it, it’s likely I’ve heard of it, that I know who wrote it and whose in it, and that I’ve read and can repeat various critical opinions on it. I know a lot, but it is an empty knowledge, the kind you get from looking at a picture of a taco with the caption “Really good taco” without actually putting yourself in a position where you can eat it and enjoy it for yourself.
I check Entertainment Weekly’s Popwatch blog, NPR’s Monkeysee blog, and the AV Club website daily (… yeah, okay, way more than daily…) I do this because those blogs stand on the, to borrow a term from today’s subject, Hellmouth from which all the culture we all like to say we’re up and current on spouts almost uncontrollably, and they report on this culture with the kind of sparkling wit and deep critical thought I hope to someday employ. They walk the same roads I like walking or want to like walking someday soon, and so I get a contact high from reading EW’s Jeff Jensen or NPR’s Linda Holmes. Their joy at watching an episode of Lost or chatting with friends about the Oscars makes me feel like my own perhaps overlyanalytical connection to these cultural texts isn’t completely misplaced. Their eloquence in describing to me and to all their other followers the rapture we get from discovering how any given cultural creation can change the way we view the world gives me hope that there may be a future for me in the vast, open field built on telling stories to the masses — maybe as a storyteller, maybe as the observer and aggregator of other storytellers. In short, on most days, reading about pop culture makes me feel an integral part of popular culture, of something bigger then me which can anoint for us our kings — Whedon, for instance — and make us care deeply about worlds that do not exist — Sunnydale perhaps — or are to far away for us to grasp. And yet…
Here I stand, for the first time since I was four years old, on the outside of the educational system. I am in an unfamiliar position here. I hold a BA in English in one hand, and the other hand is pointing in some indeterminate direction toward what I’m going to do with that degree. (Yes, I know the Avenue Q song… Don’t remind me…) Do I hope to one day parlay that degree into something like grad school or teaching and jump right back into the educational system? Heck yes! I love being in a classroom. I love writing, I love discussing topics critically in academic circles, and I love having the opportunity to take classes like “Genre Fiction,” “Comics and Animation” and “History Through Hollywood.” Over four years, I even grew to love research. A lot. But, now that I am, eerily enough, a mere spectator to that game after 16 years of running the race, I have one wish I want to fulfill. (Okay, I have lots of wishes. I’d like a job, that’d be nice. Also, a published story. And… Okay, back on topic.)
I want, for once, to not be satisfied with simply learning about great films, or great music, or greatness. I want to experience greatness for myself and see what comes of it. I want to take every opportunity I can to let all the things we as humans have created to move us, shake us and inspire us move me, shake me, and inspire me rather then reading about the experience one could have in a dry textbook, anthology, or best-of list. I want to break out of the gilded cage a good, safe education can provide us so I can really get my feet wet and my hands a little dirty so that, when I potentially step back in that cage a bit down the line, I can feel like I truly mean what I say when I write or teach that popular culture, by itself, can move mountains and bridge valleys, no interpretation needed.
I feel like I’m not alone on this. I know I’m not the only person who coasted by in class talking about what everyone else said about the book because I hadn’t read it myself (really, this is not a hypothetical. I’ve been in a lot of English classes, and I know a lot of people do this. Yeah, I see you!). I feel like I’m also not the only person who, after the fact, has felt a twinge of regret, not because I got caught (I never got caught), but because I’d cheated myself out of experiencing some of the magic for myself. I’d skipped the hard part (and the fun part) which is actually giving yourself over to discovering how a new book or idea can make you feel, so that I could just get to the easy part, which is telling everyone else how I think something like it should make them feel. We’ve all done this. We’ve all passed up discovering for ourselves what others can discover for us, because journeys of discovery take time and commitment and, frequently, in academia, what matters most is not the journey. It’s the result.
Hence “Today I’m Discovering…” This is what I hope to be a document of first encounter as I start digging through all the things I’ve been telling myself I should see for years (and which I’ve been falsely implying to my friends that I have seen for years) as well as unearthing those wonderful things I just happen upon along the way. I think of it as archeology of sorts. What is old hat to you may be completely new and profound to me, so, here I will treat it as what it is — a text and an experience which is a new find, a world-changing disturbance in the world that is my perception of my surroundings. In digging down to what that object means to me and what I think it might mean to us, I hope to possibly get at the nature of how it is exactly we process and cope with popular culture as it comes into our lives and shapes who we become. In that vain, this blog will hopefully be both academically critical and deeply personal. So, starting today, I tell my Dad to shut up when he asks me why on Earth I would want to rent an old black and white movie when the new releases are over there, because this is my push to plant my flag where I haven’t been (or where I’ve barely been long enough to truly get my bearings). That’s a lot of places, yes, but as Linda Holmes pointed out a few weeks ago, giving up isn’t the appropriate reponse to being overwhelmed by all the stuff that’s out there. The appropriate response is to say, “Yep, there is a whole lot out there I’m never even going to come close to seeing, but I am going to see what I can, and I am going to enjoy the heck out of it!”
To go on the record before I sign out, I did indeed enjoy the heck out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! I enjoyed it so darn much that it inspired me to write a possibly ill-advised pop culture discovery blog and change my entire outlook on pop culture, my education, and my world. So, uh, that’s something right? I spent a lot of time tonight reflecting on the change in philosiphy watching the first season of the show engendered, so I’ll save the actual sharing time on discovering the show itself for tomorrow. Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel?