Stephen King on 20+ reasons to love pop culture. Why a Distinguished Contributor to American Letters finds joy in a Confederate Railroad song.
This column was written two days after the fourth of July — if it seems a little sentimental, put it down to that. I’ve been dwelling on the back page of EW for two years now, and a surprising number of people still ask me why I do it when I have a perfectly adequate day job (there were times when I wondered if there would be more novels for me after the Dark Tower books — seems there are). The reason is simple: The American popular culture is my culture, and I don’t just live in it; I love it madly, and writing about it seems as natural — and as necessary — as breathing.
It has its dark side, sure. The Michael Jackson trial (a.k.a. The Cannibals’ Picnic) is a prime example, but I’m also thinking of things like the TV news fixation with live car chases, the increasingly weird world of ”reality television,” and the unwillingness of those covering the pop-culture beat to see that there are real people, sometimes capable of making mistakes, inside the glittering jackets of fame and celebrity.
But a lot of what I see strikes me as charming and funky; it yells to be written about. I like that white hat Alan Jackson wears, and the quiet, dignified way he espouses old-time country music values that stretch back to Hank Williams…but I also like the fact that Cowboy Troy, who is black, wears almost exactly the same hat and has taken ”Gitchoosome” as his motto. I love the idea that someone has crossed rappin’ with boot scootin’ to produce a hybrid called hick-hop. Hick-hop, man-that kills me.
Some of you may remember I wrote a piece about how much I hate those prescription drug ads on TV. I do…but I love the Nasonex bee. I love his cute accent. I actually do sort of believe I could get a six-pack in six weeks with the Ab Lounge. I like Robert Vaughn’s ads assuring me some lawyer (it seems to vary from city to city) will fight for me. I love it that one of this year’s most popular T-shirts has a single word on it — ”Skills!” — and that I know what that means. And if you don’t, you probably don’t know what a liger is, either. I love bumper stickers (the one on the back of my GTO says, ”My Child Is an Honor Student at the State Correctional Facility”) and T-shirts, the smart-assier the better.
I wrote about the absurd rules of 24. They are absurd rules, and I’m sure that 24 is Big Brother’s favorite show (just as I’m sure Fox is Big Brother’s favorite network), but I’ll be there next year because I like 24. Can’t help it, man. I haven’t written about Lost yet, but I will because Lost is also very cool. Thank God for Hurley, who made it all right to say ”dude” again.
I like Brad Pitt’s wise-guy smile. I like Matt Damon because he looks like he could ask about your mother and stick a knife in your back at the same time (it’s a Ripley thing). I think Steven Spielberg is the best living director in America, and that War of the Worlds was terrific. I also thought Tom Cruise made a great single dad, and I was pleased that when the film finally came out, most moviegoers looked past all the silliness (much of it stirred up by Mr. Cruise himself) and went to watch a talented actor do good work.
I thought The Historian was a bore, but I think it’s wonderful that a book by an unknown first novelist could displace the seemingly immortal Dan Brown on the best-seller lists. I like it that the new Harry Potter novel is being delivered to bookstores in 16-wheelers, and that gazillions of kids stayed up until midnight to buy that sucker. I like the idea that gazillions of adults are going to read it, too.
I still like to drive through McDonald’s, although their apple pies can’t hold a candle to the Hershey’s chocolate pies at Burger King; those babies are death in a cardboard wedge. I think Harleys are the right bike because they’re loud and made in America — I still own my ’86 and still ride it. I’ve got a Dodge Ram pickup with an XM radio in the dash and usually a couple of Twinkies wrappers on the floor. My recipe for a healthy afternoon snack is a Centrum Silver washed down with a swallow of Diet Pepsi.
It’s my culture and I love it dearly — I have, I think, ever since the age of 8, in a Connecticut movie theater, when I first heard Clark Gable tell Vivien Leigh, ”Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” There are plenty of people who see this beautiful junk-shop carnival as lowbrow, thoughtless, ruinous, even vicious (I’m thinking of folks like Harold Bloom, the literary critic who had a cow when the National Book Foundation gave me an award for, ahem, Distinguished Contribution to American Letters). They are not, as a rule, the ones who shoot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. Or subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, for that matter. Many are folks who believe art should be work and see entertainment as subversive.
As for this kid…well, let me finish by paraphrasing a couplet from ”Trashy Women,” by the immortal Confederate Railroad: ”They say that opposites attract. Well, I don’t agree. I want a culture just as tacky as me.”
I think that pretty much sums it up. Case closed.