Ten Things We Learned from Pop Culture This Summer
For school kids and teachers and really everyone else, summer ends this weekend. Meaning it's time to reflect. What did we learn this season?
For school kids and teachers and really everyone else, summer ends this weekend. Meaning it's time to reflect. What did we learn this season? Well, pop culture certainly taught us some things. Here are ten of them.
Only Batman gets to be dark. It was great when Christopher Nolan took an already brooding superhero and turned him into a seriously grim and gloomy night crusader. But when that same brush was applied to someone as uplifting, can-do all-American as Superman? It just didn't work. The Nolan-produced Man of Steel had its moments, but most of it felt way too serious and heavy-handed for our high-flying hero. Director Zack Snyder should have let all the moody operatics to Batman and let Superman soar.
Netflix is a real network now. Sure House of Cards and Arrested Development got a lot of attention. But they were always going to. House of Cards was a $100 million production with huge names. Arrested Development was a resurrection of a cultishly beloved, canceled-too-soon network series. But Orange Is the New Black? That came out of nowhere. With only a minimal amount of marketing and very few bold-faced names attached — Jason Biggs is maybe the most famous person in the cast — Jenji Kohan's women's prison dramedy became something of a grassroots phenomenon this summer. (Mostly because it's really good.) Which means that Netflix can create a truly organic hit. And that feels like a big deal.
Pharrell Williams really wants to have sex. Between his two smash summer hits "Get Lucky" (with Daft Punk) and "Blurred Lines" (with Robin Thicke) it's become eminently clear that Pharrell Williams very much enjoys sex and would like to have more of it. Possibly with you! Crooning and grooving beautifully on both tracks, Williams provided the lusty background score to this sweltering season. But hopefully he satisfied his urges and can cool out a bit this fall.
People are still afraid of women. The reaction to Miley Cyrus's lightning rod performance at the MTV Video Music Awards was twofold. Some criticized Cyrus for appropriating, and objectifying, certain aspects of black culture. That's a legitimate, interesting debate and one certainly worth having. But then there was the contingent that was freaking out about a young woman (but not that young; she's 20!) displaying overt sexuality on stage. So we got a tiring lesson this summer that good old fashioned sexual double standards are still in play. No one bats an eyelash when Justin Bieber humps the air, but one errant twerk from Miley Cyrus and suddenly our children are doomed. Ugh.
A troubled production doesn't always mean trouble. After months of reports about what a disaster World War Z had become — the entire third act was reworked, requiring extensive reshoots; star Brad Pitt reportedly clashed with director Marc Forster — pretty much everyone was convinced that, upon release, the zombie epic would prove an expensive dud. And yet, much to our surprise, it was one of the most enjoyable blockbusters of the summer, and went on to become Pitt's highest grossing film ever. The lesson being that often dreaded reshoots aren't always a sign of catastrophe. Sometimes they actually work.
But sometimes it does... Everyone was expecting the worst from The Lone Ranger. And guess what! It was really bad. The Lone Ranger ended up being an overlong, over-the-top slog of a movie, featuring a shtick that Johnny Depp's still selling but no one's really buying anymore. Audiences stayed away, as they should have. Depp and company pointed at mean old critics to explain the movie's terrible box office, but really, The Lone Ranger team had only themselves to blame.
The Daily Show doesn’t need Jon Stewart to survive (and thrive). When it was announced in March that host Jon Stewart was going to be leaving the Daily Show desk to go make a movie, we were worried. Stewart has become so synonymous with the Comedy Central show that it was hard to imagine that it could possibly function in his absence. But over the course of the summer, fill-in host John Oliver (a longtime correspondent) proved brilliantly that the show can carry on, and even flourish, in Stewart's absence. Some are even calling Oliver the show's "heir apparent." Obviously, Oliver had a lot of great material handed to him this summer—his native Britain's royal baby, the return of Weiner and Spitzer, Edward Snowden—but he did it all with unique and surprising aplomb. We're excited for Stewart to return next week, but we also feel comfort in knowing that it would be fine if he decides to take another extended break. Or, y'know, retire.
The summer's not just for blockbusters. If the beginning of the summer got us down, what with all of those empty, repetitive explosions, then the latter part of the summer restored our faith in the power of great storytelling. From the charm of The Way Way Back to the deftly conveyed sorrow of Fruitvale Station, the indies that made waves this season were more than worth the price of admission. Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, featuring a mind-boggling Cate Blanchett, is deservedly in more movie theaters than any Allen film ever, and Brie Larson's performance in Short Term 12 is nothing short of astonishing. Sure, Man of Steel's senseless destruction and The Lone Ranger's terribleness might have grabbed headlines, but these small films made a real impact on the people who saw them.
Dome is a really funny word to say. CBS may have had a big hit with their Stephen King adaptation Under the Dome, but our big takeaway from the show was simply that "dome" is just a great word. Twitter was rife with Under the Dome jokes this summer, partly because the show was just so silly, but mostly because it's so easy to pun on the titular word. Vulture even hosted a Dome pun contest. Okay, so we didn't actually go seek Dome out when Time Warner Cable cut CBS from our televisions, but we still eagerly read what was being written about the show just to get a giggle. (Darren Franich's recaps at Entertainment Weekly were particularly good dome-reading.) This wacky show had domes inside of domes and we didn't even have to turn on our TVs to get a kick out of it. #dome.
Shailene Woodley is the weirdest/best new star. Shailene Woodley gave a great performance in this summer's indie The Spectacular Now and may look forward to Jennifer Lawrence-style celebrity thanks to next year's Divergent, but the real reason we're smitten with her is because of her lovably kooky personality, which she's not afraid to reveal in interviews. Woodley seems to be part human part woodland creature. She's obsessed with herbs and wears Vibram FiveFingers shoes. Her Twitter bio reads: "gaia. aloha. rewilding. sacralizing the feminine. gratitude." She talks about her chaga mushroom tea and how she makes her own toothpaste, cheese and medicine. Oh, and she dreams so many dreams. She does. We can't wait for more. Never stop, Shailene.