Riding Shotgun: It’s the End of the World
as We Know It

Why some consider Britney Spears a sign of the apocalypse.

Picture this scene: You’re sitting in a bar/coffee house/living room with a group of your friends. Well, maybe they’re not your friends, but they’re your friend’s friends that you sorta know, but not really. They’re all around your age (whatever age that might be), with similar backgrounds and educations.

Even though you don’t know them very well, you’re holding your own in the group, and playing nice. The conversation turns eventually from what everyone has been doing with their lives to movies or music, and suddenly you feel like you’ve been shuttled down an unfamiliar and inscrutable road on the information highway.

Possibly you’ll hear something like…

“No, I do think Fellini dealt with complex themes of masculinity, but I would never compare him to Almodóvar. Have you seen ‘Live Flesh,’ for God’s sake?”

Or …

“Lou Reed did his best work after he left The Velvet Underground. That whole Warhol scene was just holding him back.”

And before the conversation pulls you too far into the world of nappytime, you say something like …

“Did anyone see ‘Friends’ last night? Can you believe what Ross did?”

Or …

“I’m almost finished the new Stephen King book. It’s definitely one of his best yet. I can’t wait for the ending.”

And, thinking that you’re just contributing your share of verbal fuel to the confabulation, you’re a bit surprised when you look up to find every eye in the room glaring at you like you just ran over the pet cat and played kickball with the corpse.

Maybe they’ll be nice and someone will respond, or ask a polite follow-up question. But more than likely, they’ll give a little sniff, ignore you and the kitty corpse rotting by the side of the road, and go on as if you’d never opened your mouth.

Come on. Didn’t you know? Pop culture is for stupid people.

It’s loud; it’s crass; it’s mass-marketed. And the only people who pay attention to it, and, heaven help them, enjoy it, are slack-jawed mouth breathers for whom enlightenment is a concept found only in self-help audiobooks and Oprah-hawked 12-step guides.

If it’s popular, it can’t possibly be good. If 20 million people buy an album in the first week, it’s gotta suck. If it’s a box office smash, it can only be crap. Something’s only cool if it’s erudite and obscure. And if something’s wildly popular when it comes out, it’s only acceptable for consumption twenty years down the road when it’s retro.

Didn’t anyone tell you, you sad bastard?

And, of course, following this rather narrow point of view, I am one of the saddest, stupidest bastards of them all. Not only do I find it necessary to immerse myself in popular culture; watch nearly every movie made since 1997; consume hundreds of hours of television; and read every book by authors like Anne Rice, Stephen King and Laurell K. Hamilton, but I’m compelled to tell you about it in a public forum.

My name is Steve, and I’m a pop culture junkie. I’ve seen every episode of the “X-Files.” I’ve read all of the Harry Potter books. I groove out to Pink in my car. “Beat the Geeks” is my favorite game show, and, yes, I can answer most of the questions.

Oh sure, I’ve got an extensive foreign film collection, and sometimes only Stereolab will do for background music. But when push comes to shove, pop is my entertainment of choice.

So, why do I feel sometimes like I have to apologize for it?

I have friends my age who listen to nothing but jazz and scoff at anyone who prefers the Top 40. There are others who can’t go out to the movies unless it’s playing at a three-row arthouse in the city. And there are others who’d rather burn a book on the N.Y. Times Bestseller List than open the cover.

These people are what I like to call the culture snobs. And, following that theme, the rest of us are the bourgeoisie.

Well, I’m not going to apologize for us. My taste is my own, and if, nine times out of ten, I prefer pizza over pat&eacute, than fuck off.

I’m writing to apologize for them — those elitist shmucks who would never apologize for themselves. Their tastes are their own, after all. And their disdain of pop culture is, sometimes, understandable. Just look at what our culture (and I use the word loosely) feels free to shove in their faces.

“Celebrity Boxing”. This is a Fox brainstorm that they promise will be a continuing series. If Ragnarok had a face, it would be Paula Jones.

“The Chair”/“The Chamber”. “Jeopardy!” for masochists.

“Slackers”. Second-worst movie ever.

“Scary Movie 2″. Worst movie ever. Tori Spelling is orally raped by a poltergeist. And you thought her career couldn’t sink any lower.

“Wild On E!” Keeping Brooke Burke’s career on life support.

“America’s Most Dangerous Police Chases”. Waiting patiently for someone to crash and die.

NASCAR. See above comment.

Backstreet Boys/’N Sync/98 Degrees. Do they grow these assholes on some Marky Mark clone farm in Idaho?

“Survivor”. They should give them each a million just to promise never to step foot on their native soil again.

“Glitter”. The number of people who saw this film is barely enough to form the support group needed to recover from it.

Chicken Soup for the Soul. At some point, you’re going to get this as a Christmas/birthday present. Just smile and ask politely if they saved the receipt.

“That 80′s Show”. Will someone put these people out of my misery?

People magazine. The best source for finding out who’s the best-dressed, recovering drug addict of the week.

Aaron Spelling. This is the man responsible for 90210, Melrose Place and Tori Spelling. Be ashamed, Aaron. Be very ashamed.

MTV’s “Jackass”. Do I really need to explain this one?

Michael Jackson.

LaToya Jackson.

All of the Jacksons except for Janet. These people give out rhinoplasties as christening presents, for Christ’s sake.

The Olsen Twins. These kids are a movie of the week just waiting to happen.

“Leprechaun in the Hood”. Sorry, Rob.

Geraldo on CNN. What do you have to do to permanently lose your credibility in this country?

And don’t forget about …

The Teletubbies, “Temptation Island,” Martha Stewart Living, Judge Judy, Tom Green, Mentos commercials, Monica Lewinsky’s book deal, Carrot Top, Sex for Dummies, Old Navy, Andy Dick, Baby Bob and Whahzzuuuuuuuuuup.

Taking into account that these things are what some people relate to pop culture, is it any wonder that they sneer and shy away from it? Is it any wonder that they search for comfort in Deepak Chopra and old Ella Fitzgerald albums? If I honestly believed that Jerry Springer was the height of modern American entertainment, I’d find the nearest clock tower and start popping postmen.

So if you came upon your particular tastes because of a sincere love for 1980′s German electronica or the work of Woody Allen, then so be it. But if you were just running away from Richard Simmons’ screaming face sweatin’ to the oldies out of your TV set, then you’re much more of a product of your culture than you’d like to believe.

Like the people who furnish their house from the Home Shopping Network and believe what they read in the Weekly World News, many of these culture snobs are really just a product of the worst aspects of our multimedia frenzy of a world. And I know that by making that comment and taking the time to list what I consider the most useless products plopping off of the entertainment assembly line, I’m being something of a snob myself.

Fuck it. I don’t mind being shallow, as long as I’m insightful about it.

Here ends the most convoluted column as of yet. If anyone can locate a thesis, premise or point in this, please tell me. To conclude though, I think Britney put it best when she said, “Ooooh, ooooh, ooooh … oooh, oooh … yeah.”

Article © 2002 by Steve Spotswood