The Under Ground Writing Project

Making writers right since 2008.

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Pop Culture and Ghost Stories

Posted by Oliver on January 11, 2014 at 1:00 AM

If my writer friends and acquaintances reflect the opinions of the average writer at all then the average writer wants to write significant works. Significant, of course, has different levels: there are the writers who want to be the next Great Author like Hemingway or Kerouac and write "important" work that'll be taught in college some day. Some people want to be the next Chandler or Lovecraft and leave a memorable and milieu-inspiring impact on the world. Some want to be the next Gaiman or Moore (Alan or Christopher) and make money and have fans while maintaining a certain level of artistic integrity. No one wants to be Higgins, and almost no one wants to be Meyers. If asked why not them, the answer is often, "I'd love making their money, but I wouldn't want to compromise myself like that." While the instinct is commendable, there is a possibility that the context of the statement has not been fully understood.

I shall now invent a protowriter who shall represent all writers in abstract. I shall call him Mr. Slightly, for the name pleases me.

I have asked Mr. Slightly why he wishes to avoid association with teen vampire novels and harlequin romances. The reason he has given me today is this one:

"They're not literature, dude. That stuff's jus' pop culture shit."

Is that so, Mr. Slightly?

"Yeah, man. Too true."

What would you prefer writing instead?

"Important shit, like they used to write. They never used to write pop culture shit."

That is illuminating, Mr. Slightly. Mr. Slightly gave more reasons. He seems to think that pop culture is an unforgivably profit-driven. He also claims to think that the productions of pop culture are shallow reflections of the lowest common denominator that are designed to have a limited temporal appeal; he thinks that expressions of pop culture are inherently so topically specific that their relevence will swiftly die. These opinions have truth in them, but they're unfair to apply across the whole gradient of pop culture products.

I think that it's become unfair to pick on Jane Austen and Shakespeare on the subject of being sell-out commercial successes that did nothing but write inside a specific formula and deliver precisely what their audience wanted. It's true, though; these things can be looked up. I want to pull other ghosts forward to represent pop culture in history.

I'll pick on Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens and his contemporaries never thought he would be significant. Dickens never sought to be significant. Dickens lived in a period of time when writers thought all significant things had been written. Faced with that paradigm, Dickens decided to do what he knew how to do well: spin a good yarn for a few bucks and bring some thoughtful entertainment to Britain. He did a great job too. As time has revealed, Dickens turned out to have a great faculty for clever and compelling depiction of character. He had an expert command over language, and he elected to utilize that by being as keen a mirror to the world as he could be. Without once pretending to need a grand heritage, Dickens carved himself a happy place in his lifetime by wielding his interest in the socioeconomic circumstances that happened to surround him and his skill with words. It could be argued that Dickens raised his craft higher than mere frivolity, but I'm quite confident that Dickens would have laughed off any suggestion that he would be taught in college in a couple hundred years.

I believe the lesson I would learn from Dickens is this: history chooses its heroes; we rarely choose the heroes of the future, no matter how emphatic we are about our heroes of the present. When they look back on us, we cannot know what college professors will look at with their pompous eye. All we can do is recognize our talents and the circumstances of our lives and do, as Dickens, the best we can with those things. "Pop" culture we tend to view as "low" culture, which is sometimes true, but in general "pop" (popular) culture simply reflects the times. It would behoove an intelligent artist to make an effort to understand his circumstances.

Categories: Patterns

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