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Pop Culture Diary – 2023 week 1

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It’s the time of the year for good intentions. The time of the year when I start logging movies on Letterboxd again, for however long it lasts. When I resolve to put away my phone at bedtime, and to read a book rather than aimlessly scrolling Twitter. Or to pick up my bullet journal yet again.

Looking back, there’s a theme to all these resolutions: it’s about living and consuming pop culture (and food, and alcohol, etc.) more consciously. Not letting time slip through my fingers, but trying to capture how I spent my time, and spending it ‘better’ somehow.

Starting up this blog again fits within the pattern, and likely will fall by the wayside just as all those other resolutions did. But for as long as it lasts, let’s give it a try: a weekly pop culture diary, mostly for myself but open to anyone, not exhaustive, but with space for musings and recommendations and whatever else I feel like in a given week.

Games: I picked up Hades again (inspired in part by the announcement of a sequel) – and promptly broke my streak on my second run, which feels like a relief. I also restarted Neko Atsume and started on Cozy Grove, prompted by this article about cozy games. Neko Atsume remains a great little nugget; Cozy Grove is a more low-key, melancholy version of Animal Crossing as well as probably a bad idea for me, since it reliably hits the dopamine receptors (and thus is a real time sink) but doesn’t feel hugely rewarding beyond that. Plus: it’s the reason I haven’t played Breath of the Wild in over a week, which doesn’t feel like a fair trade.

Books: I’m halfway through The Golden Enclaves, the third (and last) book of Naomi Novik’s Scholomance books – my partner calls these books “edgelord Harry Potter”, which is pretty apt. This one feels a lot less tight, plot-wise, than the first two, but I remain impressed by the way she sets up a magic system that works as a tidy metaphor for class injustice. This last one has a reveal (slight thematic spoiler?) that the monsters in it basically are born of all the times that someone took the easy way out, or didn’t pay the fair price for what they wanted. You can map that to so many real world problems, not least the climate crisis.

Movies: our New Year’s Eve tradition is watching movies with a friend. This year the first movie was The Woman King, which I liked more than I expected it, though it felt like there was a queerer movie itching to burst out of it – Lashana Lynch was fantastic, in any case. Second movie was Jurassic Park, which we recently added to the blu-ray collection. Perfect movie, no notes. On New Year’s Day I went to see Avatar: the Way of Water. I liked the fictional documentary bits, which incidentally were also the only parts during which the HFR wasn’t bugging me. The rest isn’t bad, per se – and some set pieces are even great, despite the fact that I didn’t feel a burning need for a Titanic redux – but I kept wanting it to surprise me in some way.

Television: my partner has a love-hate relationship with The White Lotus, which is why we’ve still only watched three episodes of season 2. He wants to watch it, so I can’t continue without him, but while we’re watching it he keeps needing to walk away. He surrendered at some point and looked up the plot of the rest of season but realized he didn’t know anyone’s name, so it didn’t help him much. And there’s a reason I watch Fleishman Is In Trouble (specifically this week: episodes four-six) without him.

The advantage of both shows is that they make me feel pretty good about our relationship. We don’t bicker like Aubrey Plaza (ok, I’ll admit I have trouble remembering the character names too) and her husband on White Lotus, we don’t play games like Sutton-from-The-Bold-Type and her husband, and we’re definitely not as vicious to each other as Toby and Rachel Fleishman.

I am eager to see things from Rachel’s perspective – which I’m pretty sure will be in episode seven, since this is a very literary show in its structure and signposts, and you don’t have an interviewer asking Christian Slater’s character “but why didn’t you interview the wife?” about his divorce book if you’re not planning on showing the wife’s perspective pretty soon. But my sympathy was already not that much with self-sacrificing and self-centered, unable-to-experience-joy, lettuce-eating Toby, so I’m not sure it will be a radical shift.

What did jump out at me is that all these characters are basically my age, or only a few year’s older. Lizzy Caplan’s Libby says she’s 41 – I turn 38 next month. Since all the characters went to college together, they’re probably all around the same age. I don’t think explicit ages are give for the The White Lotus quartet, but Aubrey Plaza is 38, as is Theo James; Meagann Fahy is 32 and Will Sharpe is 36. The Yellowjackets women were also in their early forties. I recently rewatched American Beauty (the resulting podcast episode – in Dutch – can be found here), and discovered to my shock that Lester Burnham is just 42.

All this has resulted in some slight anxiety, because if all this pop culture is to be believed, my mid-life crisis is just around the corner. None of these people are happy in their relationships – even the ones without kids, which does seem to be one of the main stress factors. Everyone seems to be feeling stuck, or vaguely dissatisfied. As keeps getting repeated in Fleishman Is In Trouble, all of them are asking themselves, explicitly or internally, how they got to where they are.

Who knows, maybe restarting this blog is an sign of an impending crisis. But so far, I still like my partner, strange television intolerances and all. I recognize the feeling of having more or less blundered into your current situation, rather than having chosen it, but it’s not a bad situation to have blundered into.

Aside, of course, from all those hours aimlessly scrolling Twitter. So, for now at least, let’s end the format with some (probably overambitious) pop culture plans.

Games: playing some Breath of the Wild again.

Books: finishing The Golden Enclaves and returning to another third book in a trilogy, Death’s End by Liu Cixin, which I abandoned for greener pastures a few months ago.

Movies: Leonor Will Never Die (a Drea Clarke staff pick on Maximum Film a while ago, and now on Walter Chaw’s list of the best 50 films of 2022); at least one movie off my MUBI watchlist; + going to this talk about the male gaze by my friend Basje Boer about Vertigo (though I’ll probably not stay for the movie – it would get too late and I already watched it once on the big screen, on this specific big screen even).

Television: finishing Fleishman Is In Trouble, continuing season three of Atlanta, maybe starting The English.

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