Monday, August 18, 2008

Pop Culture Disappointments On a Galactic Scale

Indie Queen - Marvelous 3 (mp3)
Disappointed - Connells (mp3)

In this wild life of ours, those of us with an unhealthy love for certain portions of popular culture are destined to be disappointed on occasion. Even those, like myself, who are very careful and selective in our obsessions can frequently find ourselves disappointed in ways and to degrees we never imagined. In stupid pop culture stuff!

So here are just a handful of disappointments that went well beyond the acceptable level:


I recently spent three torturous nights getting through Richard Kelly's follow-up to Donnie Darko, a 2 1/2 hour epic film called Southland Tales. With an ensemble cast culled from every corner of the pop culture universe -- Booger from Revenge of the Nerds?? The short fat lady from Poltergeist?? Nora f*#kin' Dunn from SNL?? -- even someone as unschooled on the critical lambasting this film had received could sense that Kelly was flying towards the sun with mere wings of wax.

But Southland Tales is no run-of-the-mill failure. It takes the simple notion of box office failure, tacks on 45 minutes of head-scratching randomness, throws in a scar-faced Justin Timberlake, and comes out with something that makes Showgirls look downright Oscar-worthy. Let me put it another way. Timberlake might very well have been one of the best things about the movie.

Some critics gave it props for being "ambitious," whatever the hell that means, but last I checked, an ambitious turd is still a turd. Maybe it is to movies what Ulysses is to novels, which is to say shitty and incomprehensible but so full of geeky biographical and referential goodies that it finds a fan base sometime in the future.


I'm what truly obsessed Peter Gabriel fans would call a poser. Like most folks my age, I didn't discover the guy until he came out with So. But after discovering it, I went back and got a few of his previous albums and also loyally purchased his 1992 follow-up, Us. The album was thick with sound, and although it wasn't thickly morose, almost every song felt passionate, expressing some deep emotional baggage.

As I was in college in the early '90s, my technological distractions were minimal, so I could safely waste hours in my room listening to albums over and over, and this one got heavy replay. Except for the song "Steam," which felt like Peter was writing a song specifically as some kind of sequel to his two big hits from So, "Big Time" and "Sledgehammer."

When word of his next follow-up, UP, came in 2002, I'd had a decade to build up my excitement. It only took six or seven patient, start-to-finish listens to conclude I hated that damn album. What made me angrier is that, half a year before Up was released, Gabriel had come out with "When You're Falling," a song with the Afro Celt Sound System, a song I wildly adored. (Unfortunately, the song also came out shortly before 9/11, which wasn't the time for us to hear about the celebration of falling large distances.)

My point is, Up sucked. If you liked it, great. I don't mean to piss on your parade. But for me, there wasn't a damn thing redeeming about an album that required 10 years -- a decade of precious life -- being that Gawd-awful. Go buy "When You're Falling," and you own something better than anything on that album by a loooong mile.


As previously mentioned, I love comic books. I love the mythology and notion of superheroes. Anything exploring these notions is guaranteed to earn my attention if not my devotion, and I willingly give such things the benefit of the doubt.

So Heroes was virtually guaranteed to impress me. It was taking the genre seriously. It had a plan. And it had a healthy budget.

The episodes were compelling, and I was enthralled. Granted, it never quite managed to overtake my love of Lost, but that's partially because Evangeline Lilly could only be in one series at a time and partially because I felt loyal to J.J. Abrams for casting Locke from Alias and Jack from Party of Five, two beloved shows of mine.

As the series finale edged ever closer, I started getting nervous, because what had been paced so deliciously and delicately over the course of 20 episodes was starting to feel rushed and crammed. And not in the good way that the latter half of Lost's third season did. It felt like they rushed it because it was poorly planned. Maybe not planned at all. And the "epic concluding battle" between Sylar and the do-gooders was so wildly pathetic in its special effects and so underwhelming in its scope and direction that I watched it a second time just to make sure it sucked as badly as I thought it did.

It did. It totally sucked.


OK, so it never actually got released. Maybe it never got finished. But anything that carries that much hype, with the guaranteed sales of coming from a band named Guns 'n' Roses, but never makes it out of the production booth... well, it was bound to disappoint. It was a stone cold lead pipe lock for suckage. I'm frankly glad it never came out so idiots like me didn't insist on giving it a chance to kill what teensy bit of hope exists that maybe it could have been good.


I can't really think of more than three or four books I've read to completion that I despised. Mostly because if I'm halfway through a book and don't remotely like it, I just won't finish it.

...Dunces is one of the exceptions to this rule. I kept reading because I kept working to convince myself that maybe I was missing something in it, something essential to enjoying it. Lots of folks whose opinions I truly respect love this book. And it's supposed to be funny. And it's all based in New Orleans. These are HUGE factors and ones I kept in mind whilst pushing myself deeper into my own misery.

But the closer to the end I got, the more I was confident that I totally "got it," but didn't remotely like what I'd "gotten." Understand that one man's trash is another man's treasure, but it sure as hell wasn't my treasure, or my pleasure to read.

But at least it taught me a lesson that I continue to believe firmly: Sometimes, for reasons beyond comprehension, you ain't gonna like something most others you respect adore. It's neither a defect on your part nor a brainwashing on theirs. It's merely the mystery of taste, and it's what makes life truly worth living.


OK folks. Kick in on this one. Disagree with any of mine? How about offering one of your own? I'd love to know some examples in your own time of encounters with pop culture that were galactically disappointing.


jbradburn said...

Billy - I see where you are coming from in Confederacy of Dunces. You read the story behind the writing of this book and you're drawn in - thinking, "Wow, I'm going to read something that will blow my mind."

I can tell you that the reason I didn't like the book was because the main characters of Ignatius and his Mom were just annoying as hell. Normally, you pull for the underdog -but not these underdogs.
Their shortcoming and limitations are sad at the end of the day. It's tragic - and knowing the ultimate demise of the writer, even moreso.

As for stuff that was lauded that I didn't like that much, I'd add Fight Club. I really thought this movie could have made serious, thought provoking statements about what happens to a society's men - when so many of those men have been raised w/out a father in the house. Instead of a strong statement on the importance of fathers or having a positive male role model, you find out that the character is mentally ill. So much for taking anything from a movie where the main character has lost his marbles.

And maybe that's just a shortcoming of mine - I don't find anything enjoyable about serious mental illness.

John said...

After being blown away by Nick Hornby's early work, especially High Fidelity and About a Boy, his last two novels I found barely readable. I realize that Slam was being marketed as 'kid fiction' but read it hoping it would be better than the one before, A Long Way Down. Wrong. I just couldn't manage to care about the characters--what was previously Hornby's strong suit--and even the plots left me wanting more. Ok, I'm done procrastinating prepping for the opening of school. Outta here.

Bob said...

I've never been able to figure out the attraction of Confederacy of Dunces and have never been able to finish it.

jbradburn said...

Bob - I want to chalk up the "Confederacy of Dunces" as unrealistic - but can't you see Ignatius and his mother wading down Canal Street w/ a couple of stuffed hefty bags trying to make their way to the Convention Center or Superdome?

Billy said...

Jeff -- I'm a huuuuuge fan of "Fight Club," but I dig your point.

John -- I swear to God it was a choice between A Long Way Down and Confederacy, and I went with the bigger-name book. Honestly, the last Hornby novel I got all the way through was About a Boy.

jbradburn said...

Oh I was thinking the other night - 300 really disappointed me.

It might have worked as a rated PG movie. The main problem is that most people over 12 have seen war movies where the "spirit of the Spartans" is captured far better....Saving Private Ryan, Hamburger Hill, the Patriot, Blackhawk Down, Gettysburg, Gallipoli, Gladiator, whatever...In comparison 300 was just awful. What was there - 10 minutes total dialogue?

Chris Carpenter said...

Nick Hornby has floundered mightily since About A Boy. High Fidelity still ranks in my top 3 all-time books and Fever Pitch is terrific even if, like me, you don't care about soccer. Slam was awful.

As for disappointments, I'll throw out the first Star Wars prequel with Jar Jar, Ryan Adams' Gold, and Barack Obama's over-hyped speech on race.

John said...

You're a brave man to throw down on both Ryan and Barack on this blog. Brave, brave man.

Chris Carpenter said...

Don't get me wrong, I love Obama as much as the next disgruntled Democrat. I just thought the race speech was disappointing amid the hype. Now, his speech the night he beat Hillary was inspired.

I had high hopes for Ryan Adams once upon a time...

Bob said...

I remember the day "wine coolers" came out. My father-in-law and I drove to the border of his dry county in Kentucky and bought a six-pack of Bartyles and James. I had one sip. It was shit. I don't know why I expected it to be really good, but it wasn't.

Ryan Adams, though, keeps putting out really good stuff.