Using Pop Culture To Find Themes

Discussion in 'Articles' started by peachalulu, Feb 21, 2015.

By peachalulu on Feb 21, 2015 at 8:47 PM
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    Using Pop Culture To Find Themes

    Discussion in 'Articles' started by peachalulu, Feb 21, 2015.

    Theme for me is the backbone of my story. The sum of what it's all about. It can be something as vague as revenge to something more exact like learning to trust and accept offers of friendship.

    A good theme can also be wrapped up in an idea. It can appear before you start writing or it can be found as you write either way works, and no idea needs to remain fixed. Initial themes can be traded up or added to. Good fiction can have transparent themes, or more complex multi-themes. I don't know if there is such a thing as a bad theme. But there is a feeling of wasted themes that happens in bad fiction/movies. Especially when it relies too much on the cliches of its genre or recent trends.

    Take for instance the rather lame-brained but 'fun' ( I liked it ) 1993 movie, The Crush. For those who haven't seen it, it is a movie about a young researcher named Nick who has just moved to a new city and is looking for a nice place to stay. After nearly running down a young girl who is roller blading, he notices the estate she wheels into is offering a guest house for rent and seeing the dreamy, over-the-garage little haven, moves in. The parents who constantly work are grateful to have someone around to keep an eye on their precocious ( and gorgeous ) fourteen year old daughter, Adrienne ( originally called Darien.) The girl develops a fast crush on Nick who is too dim to notice. Even when a female co-worker points it out he scoffs. And it's not until Adrienne kisses him, breaks into his apartment, rewrites his articles, and leaves a hundred messages on his answering machine in one day that he starts to get a clue. But by then it's too late. Adrienne is trying to off the competition – Nick's legal-aged gal-pal ( by sicking bees on her ), - wreck his job, scratch his car, and when all else fails cry rape. There's a goofy showdown in an attic with a full scale carousel so the movie can have a 'Hitchcock' moment.

    All in all it trucks along like any other 90's psycho-thriller; thin on the whys, open ended, leering and veiled in a sketchy theme. I mean what is after all the theme of this movie? That Nick should've told Darien from the get-go any relationship between them would've been inappropriate? – but would it have mattered if she's a psycho? See what I mean about trends and sketchy themes.

    But you know what, if you take the time to dig through this movie there's some terrific themes lurking about that could become better, brighter stories. And that's all you really need to do. You don't need to look for a theme you just need to start examining ideas, and notions and questioning them.

    For instance the moment when Darien does Nick's work ( rewrites his article ) and does it better, it's a tremendous hit to his ego.

    What a terrific idea for a theme – ego and age. Why is it so damning when someone younger does something better than an older person?

    Or how about a crush on someone's ability not the actual person?

    How about all those moments when Darien appears to pose for Nick putting her body on display – another great idea. What if Darien watched and read Lolita and was grooming herself into a type hoping to snare herself another type – her Humbert Humbert. Another cool idea for a theme – identity forsaken for archetype. Or pop cultures influence on behavior.

    How about some of the basics, when the character of Amy asks if Nick has done anything to encourage the crush – great theme there – taking advantage of a situation or ignoring a situation because it's flattering.

    How about something more complex - her sensing her sexuality as a source of power, and because of her age can wield it without the consequences falling on her.

    Themes can be found anywhere. Something in a conversation can spark a theme, or a trend, or an event in the news. Pop culture has the ability to give you a multitude of themes to work with that can take you, if you have a discerning eye, beyond trends. You can even find them in junk movies, cartoons, articles, books, ads anything. All you have to do is notice something, and mentally examine it. Allow thoughts to spin the notion into another story. I'll try a few more.

    How about a Flintstone's episode? – The one where Fred's terrible singing drives out the maid – delusions of grandeur – or Delusions of an ability that drives others away. Interesting.

    How about songs? – Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing – lol - spicy! The Cure – Why can't I be you – gender envy, identity issues.

    Here's another movie, Pretty Smart, some dumb exploitative comedy that I thought would be cool because it had a nearly all female cast. Sadly, not so.

    The story is about two drastically different sisters who don't much like each other – Ziggs, a counterculture punk with resistance to authority, and Jennifer, a prep. Both are shipped off to a rundown boarding school in an old castle in Europe. Given it's comedy roots the castle still gives tours to collect money, the classes are a joke, and the principal keeps the students divided, the subs ( offbeat students ) vs the preens ( the preppy bitches ), in order to control them. This in itself would've made for an interesting story but it being the 80's, it needs a sleazy touch. The principal is allowing boys from another boarding school to have sleepovers so he can film the students 'together' and sell the tapes, and if that wasn't bad enough he uses the girls ( unwittingly ) as mules for drugs. In the end the sisters discover his criminal habits, unite the two groups and drive the principal out of 'their' school.

    The story has some great themes that were ignored or over shadowed by the seamier aspects of the story.
    First of all these girls are in another country and the culture shock issue is barely raised. These are girls so seeped in American culture – preps and punks - now thrown into a place that doesn't seem to favor either so what are they clinging to?

    Here's another – the most obvious – manipulation and abuse of authority. But what if the reason wasn't so seamy. Imagine the power of a teacher/principal picking and choosing who was bullied and who was favored and all the whys.

    Your source doesn't have to be trash either it can be something great like The King's Speech – the embarrassment of a disability, or how easy it is to undo a reputation with something so minor.

    Try it out yourself. Take notice of something – a photograph, a twitter comment, a Youtube video. The idea is to keep mentally picking away at something, catching a thread of thought and holding on. It doesn't even have to be about the story/movie itself, it could an impression that sparks a theme.

    And the great thing about this technique is - the themes are timeless. A movie from a half a century ago can spark a theme that can be just as relevant/interesting to todays reader as any recent movie.

    Discover something that speaks to you.
     

Comments

Discussion in 'Articles' started by peachalulu, Feb 21, 2015.

    1. Okon
      Okon
      Article writing isn't exempt from being labelled procrastination, Peach:D.

      This is an interesting read, but I usually get themes from life experiences—pop themes can be excruciatingly black and white at times.

      Pop culture might make it easier to define your own themes, though, or explore the techniques commonly used to demonstrate them so you can do it differently. For example, greed is often represented by the rich old geezer, so put a little girl in that big office chair instead. Her father could have been the most generous and nice man, who ended up leaving his fortune to an ambitious, cut-throat girl. Then make it complicated! His way of running the company was putting it in the ground, and the girl's harsh new policies are actually making the profit line black again:p. I got a little carried away there, but the theme is still greed at its core. The protagonist will still have to find a balance. The fact that there are some positive benefits on either spectrum will make that a bigger challenge for her.
      peachalulu likes this.
    2. 123456789
      123456789
      Yeah I got to agree with Okon. You want to write from the heart, so obviously your themes will be from yourself and your own life, not pop culture.
      peachalulu likes this.
    3. peachalulu
      peachalulu
      Me, Procrastinate? - :whistle:
      While I agree with both your views - Cause most of my themes do come from my life - I do multi-theme. And sometimes I'm inspired by something I've watched, read or heard. But it could be just me. Movies are in a way a part of whom I am. I've been watching classics since I was 11 and studying film books the following year.
      Conner Guidry and Okon like this.
    4. Mckk
      Mckk
      I find it odd that people seem to think looking for themes in pop culture would mean not writing themes that are "from yourself" - surely the themes that resonate with you within pop culture are themes that are important to you, that makes up a part of your beliefs and moral compass? It's just sometimes we need some inspiration, sometimes we don't realise there's something interestin there to write. It's the same thing as getting inspiration for your stories by reading other people's books or looking at other artists' pictures.

      Anyway, very insightful, Peach. Loved the idea. Esp loved your mention of culture shock - culture clash is a theme I've always wanted to write about but hadn't a clue how actually. Something interesting to mull on... (and until just now, I didn't know it was mull. First I wrote "mule", then I thought maybe it's "maul". Hahahahaha "maul on")
      Conner Guidry and peachalulu like this.
    5. peachalulu
      peachalulu
      Exactly what I wanted to say but couldn't find the words -
      Thanks!:friend:
      Mckk likes this.
    6. XanthePersephone
      XanthePersephone
      This was a great article about keeping yourself open to positive footholds for ideas to take root in; flashes of things which you like but would do differently. Most of what I find myself doing is filling the gaps and allowing myself to be inspired by the negative spaces I perceive in pop culture. It would be worth a try, analyzing what I like about something and playing with that.
      peachalulu likes this.
    7. Burlbird
      Burlbird
      I always felt that pop-culture of today is sort of an extension of the old oral traditions - a shared, communal repository of narratives, ideas and themes. It serves almost the same purpose and it also generates the same kind of energy. Think of all the pop concerts, all the movie-going frenzy, sci-fi conventions, comic-book sharing etc. So I guess it's not only that we are going to seek out and use themes from pop-cultural artifacts, but we are going to do it, unwillingly, whether we like it or not, just from the fact we share a common (pop) culture :)
      peachalulu likes this.
    8. Mike Hill
      Mike Hill
      Just listened to audio book version of Gaye's biography. There is quite a story behind Sexual Healing. Also Gaye's could inspire a lot of stories.
      peachalulu likes this.
    9. Mocheo Timo
      Mocheo Timo
      Very interesting idea. I guess it all depends on your perspective of pop culture. Being influenced by great works can change the way you look at even the trashiest movies, so you are able to find unique themes even watching cartoons like The Flintstones.
      I think there are always good themes in great cartoons. Some of them might be quite cheesy, but others have quite deep underlying messages.
      The thing is only to switch on your "keen eye mode" while leisurely watching a movie or a cartoon.
      peachalulu likes this.
    10. jannert
      jannert
      Loved this article. You really are an attractive personality, @peachalulu - and this article gives me a clue as to why. You aren't the least bit angsty or self-absorbed. Instead, you're always looking around you, always thinking about what you see and how things fit together, or could fit together if certain things were a teeny bit different.

      I think you have what it takes, at the core, to not only be a great writer, but also a very memorable one. You're certainly not treading the usual paths, even though it can look that way, because you are so firmly grounded in the here and now, and are very aware of the culture that surrounds you. But your article give us the inspiration to dig into what we see, instead of just taking a superficial swipe at it.
      peachalulu likes this.
    11. peachalulu
      peachalulu
      Thanks, Jannert! I hope so.
      I was hoping this it what the article implied. It was probably just a little too movie heavy - maybe if I would've mentioned more books or something.
      I like to push myself and others, if they want to be pushed, into taking familiar things and making it truly their own. Not being held by genre but redefining it.
      Quixote's Biographer and jannert like this.
    12. Quixote's Biographer
      Quixote's Biographer
      Great article! Just yesterday I realized that the lyrics to a song I really like could be a great basis for a short story, so I've started brainstorming some ideas around it. I'll be looking a bit harder at pop culture from now on to find more ideas and themes.
      peachalulu likes this.
    13. stormjinx
      stormjinx
      Many music videos in the pop or rock genre could have underlying stories waiting to be told. I've used a few as inspiration in writing.
      peachalulu likes this.
    14. SlayGuy138
      SlayGuy138
      I probably do this too much; my current project is littered with references to metal bands (not all of them are exactly "popular" culture, but whatever). I have another project which is an ambitious heptalogy of novels set in a post-nuclear holocaust America. I'm beating myself up in my head to shake off references to the Fallout games.
    15. peachalulu
      peachalulu
      That could make your story become niche if the reference is too obvious, however as long as it is written so well the references could become injokes for yourself. Hidden rather like Easter eggs. I know Nabokov really embedded Lolita with a lot of pop culture which can get lost on a lot of people nowadays. He named a town after Fanny Brice - Briceland, than also referenced her radio show Baby Snooks by having Humbert refer to himself as Dadums, he also hinted at Frank Sintra and a score of other singers, several road trip movies, film noir, Bill Tilden, Marlene Dietrich well the list could go on and on.
    16. Conner Guidry
      Conner Guidry
      Thank you for giving me something to do the next time I watch a movie or television show. I have been subconsciously analyzing themes in pop culture and utilizing them in my own stories and ideas however, I never really knew what I was doing until now. I especially liked your mention of the 1993 film (The Crush). It allowed me to look at a film I had never watched before and take note of the themes it incorporates. Great Article!
      peachalulu likes this.
    17. ReproveTheCurlew
      ReproveTheCurlew
      Sure, why shouldn't you take things from popular culture? Every kind of inspiration helps and is perfectly valid, if you develop it well in your work. The idea of the author as an island who isn't influenced by others and who's thoughts are entirely dependent on only his own mind is a myth. In reality, every author or poet borrows his idea from his experience, which can both be from popular culture, the arts, or his personal experience. I mean, it's not as though you're just copying and pasting a story - only some of the themes and ideas. And I think that is a perfectly legitimate thing to do.
      peachalulu likes this.
    18. locoza
      locoza
      Inspiration can be found in every day things but also in the pop culture, because as it says it is implemented in our souls and our minds, we are confronted by it and using it for me is always a yes - thumbs up!
      peachalulu likes this.

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