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eleven ways to make 2011 pop
making more, and less, of the coming year
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)
pop culture

On one hand, there's nothing we can do about the pop culture we've got coming up. The year will be what the year will be. Movie trailers will give too much of the plot away, the Oscar nominations will be somehow both rote and infuriating, TV will have too many shows we don't like and not enough shows we do, music will be a whole lot like TV, and heaven only knows what's going to happen in publishing.

But still. We can dream.

So here's what I'd like to see more of -- and less of -- in 2011.

Reality TV. Not that I want to see more or less of it in general, because I don't view the entire genre as either all good or all bad, but within the genre I'd specifically like:

  • more competition shows that focus on the competition, instead of the personalities of the players. "Top Chef" last season went way too far into personality territory, but the current "All Stars" season is rocking my world. The recently announced "Unfinished Business" season of "The Amazing Race" has the potential to go in either direction here, and I can only hope that it does as well as the just-concluded TAR season did (yay, Nat & Kat!) on keeping the race, not the racers, front and center.

  • fewer shows that have anything whatsoever to do with brides, or plastic surgery, or brides getting plastic surgery. Ech.

Food magazines. I'm subscribing to an awful lot of them, of course, and there are dozens, if not hundreds, more out there, and as far as direction goes, I think we need:

  • fewer new magazines about shortcuts and speedy half-homemade meals. I understand the need for fast recipes for weeknights, believe me, but I feel like there are plenty of magazines (and TV shows, certainly) out there to meet the need. Many more of them on the market, and we may start to see the non-speedy segment getting squeezed out.
  • more new magazines that embrace flavors and techniques from other cultures, teaching ways to incorporate these "foreign" things into your everyday routine.
  • really, what do I want more than anything else in this area? I want Gourmet back, dammit.

Movie magic. 2010 was no doubt the first year in a decade that I saw fewer than five movies in the theatre, and while part of that has to do with a) the awesomeness of Netflix and b) NYC's bedbug problem, a lot of it has to do with a lack of visually arresting movies with compelling, original storylines. Anything that isn't visually arresting can wait for DVD because I'll enjoy it just as much that way, and anything that isn't super-compelling, well, that can wait too. What would it take to get people like me back into the theatre?

  • more movies that use special effects to amplify and render a story that couldn't be told without them (e.g. Inception).
  • fewer movies that are conceived purely for the sake of special effects and later retrofitted with a story that justifies them (e.g. Tron: Legacy).

Music that breaks the mold. On one hand, the proliferation of different ways to get your music means that you don't have to listen to anything you don't want to, but on the other, there are still only a handful of truly blockbuster, sure-bet artists these days, meaning we're a lot more likely to hear more about a small number of these artists, since their labels have a huuuuuge amount riding on those particular horses. So within that framework, I wish we'd see (and hear):

  • fewer mindless dance anthems like Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair", unless they lead to simultaneously transcendent and adorable parodies like Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy-Fallon-as-Neil-Young's version of the same.
  • more smart but not saccharine songwriting-as-storytelling in the style of Ben Folds, Kate Nash, and Margot and the Nuclear So and So's.

Truly prime prime-time. America may not be tired of their television procedurals yet, but they'll get there eventually, and when they do, the networks are going to have a major scramble on their hands. When they're looking for ways to diversify, I'd like to suggest:
  • more well-done old-school adult dramas like "The Good Wife", which has gone way beyond its ripped-from-the-headline inspiration to deliver smart dialogue from great characters week after week. Josh Charles is just the cherry on top.
  • fewer doctors, lawyers, and cops. Because there's no sense in replacing too much of one thing with too much of another.

What do you want to see in 2011? More of some things? Less of others? Or do you think there's plenty of everything out there, and all we have to do is choose wisely?


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


who cares what you think?
the unclear future of criticism
by jael mchenry
topic: pop culture
published: 9.3.10

six wrongs, half a dozen rights
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by jael mchenry
topic: pop culture
published: 9.3.08


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