1. Jeeves
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    Jeeves Member

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    Pop culture references

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jeeves, Feb 21, 2012.

    I was wondering if anyone uses them in their writing and whether or not they worry that in making such references it could distance themselves with future readers?

    Just to illustrate: "he was the Eddie Haskell to John's Wally Cleaver." The reference being from the old 50's show "Leave it to Beaver"

    Disclaimer: this was long before my time too. :)
     
  2. NeedMoreRage
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    NeedMoreRage Member

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    I almost always avoid referencing anything specific. I very rarely refer to music, movies, books, even name-brand products. I always found it to be a little corny when I got a reference in a published book, and I always felt alienated when I didn't get a reference in a published book. I don't think there is much to gain putting references in. But I have met a few people who didn't mind them, and some people even felt nostalgic by old references. So maybe I'm just the odd one.
     
  3. Mark_Archibald
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    Mark_Archibald Active Member

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    I'm the same way. I don't even like to mention technology more advanced than a cell phone to keep a timeless feel.

    Outside of writing, one of my favorite shows, South Park, is constantly using pop culture references. When you watch old episodes you are constantly saying "I remember when that happened."
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I stay away from them. As the example in the first post suggests, they date very quickly. If you want your work to last, don't use references that nobody will understand in ten years.
     
  5. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I agree. Animorphs was a very popular series to read when it came out, and the pop culture references were great additions. A big part of the concept was to make the reader feel like the alien invasion was happening right now, in real life, and the references helped one feel that way.

    But they have almost no re-readability. Despite their popularity, only the people who grew up with the books read them. I've talked with kids that have tried to read the books, but never make it through an entire book. I think a big part of that is the pop culture references went right over their heads.

    They even rebooted the series with updated pop culture references. I'm not sure how well they are being received, but the point is they needed to update the pop culture references to make it relevant again.

    But rampant pop culture references can be done well, too. "Ready Player One" is a story that uses a TON of 80's references, but the author handles it in a way that you don't care if the reference goes over your head, you still love the story.
     
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Hold up a tic:

    When you say "pop culture reference", you mean something like....a character in a sci-fi mention in a sarcastic way that they're really an alien that turns into a giant ape whenever there's a full moon, and can change his hair/eye color at will?

    Le' Edit: But yeah, I generally avoid pop culture references. Why would I need to do that to make a story enjoyable?
     
  7. Jeeves
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    Jeeves Member

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    No, I don't think that is what I meant...:confused: Or maybe, that is a pop culture reference to which I am unfamiliar?
     
  8. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    Don't do it. Don't do it.
     
  9. Jeeves
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    Jeeves Member

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    I think you all are right. I had caught and stopped myself doing it before I posted and I was curious what people here might think.
     
  10. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    If it's done well, it can work, but only in the right time and place.
     
  11. Mark_Archibald
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    pop culture is short for 'popular culture'. What is popular right now? according to CNN its the death of Whitney Houston, so you take this headline and re-create it in story form where you try to make a point/joke/whatever.

    Now that so many people are telling OP not to do this I think he should. It would be very boring if every author was the same.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are a few "archetypes" almost, everyone knows about them, such as Batman, Superman, Coca Cola, Santa Claus, internet, mobile phones, things that the readers of the future are likely to know about, but more obscure things I'd definitely use in a self-exlanatory way (you know that show from the 1950's what was it called... "Leave it to the Beaver"? etc)
     
  13. Jamez
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    Jamez Member

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    I'd generally avoid them, though I wouldn't go overboard avoiding them. "He listened to some music on his iPod" is probably better than "He listened to some music on his portable music player device". Of course, the latter version is more "future proof" in that a 1000 years from now people may no longer know what an iPod is... ;)
     
  14. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't understand why most of the responses so far seem negative. Pop culture references are useful in dating a story without directly stating the year/decade and when a reader is able to recognise a reference it can make the story feel that little bit more realistic and relative (and, of course, it makes them feel clever for understanding it).

    I recently read a book set in the 80s but it was never actually stated. I know this because it was mentioned halfway through the novel that Michael Jackson was consistently hitting number one in the charts and throughout the second half the narrator developed a passion for badmouthing Boy George. These weren't the only references but these are the ones that stand out in my mind (probably because I love Boy George even now). Maybe it could have been set a little closer to now (eg: early 90s) - but I doubt it considering that I found out once I finished reading novel that it was published in 1988.


    Don't worry about "future readers" -- and be realistic: for the majority of us isn't their existence merely wishful thinking? -- and instead think about the readers you can relate to most: those living in the present. They are your most likely audience. Start worrying about what the people of the future will understand and then you're going to be questioning other areas of your novel, eg: word choice (words become outdated - especially slang).
     
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  15. JimmyM
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    JimmyM New Member

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    Hmm. This is something that I've been giving a lot of thought to recently as I'm about to complete my first novel and it is very much set 'now.'

    I plan to look carefully at any references during the edit but feel the book will lose a lot of its humour if I remove too much. As I've written it, the themes have become topical and I don't want to lose that but who knows what readers in the future will make of it?

    Of course, as Yoshiko pointed out; 'future readers' might just be wishful thinking!

    I would like to link to my novel's blog here but cannot decide if that's allowed under forum rules. If anyone could advise, that would be great!
     
  16. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like using pop-culture references when writing stories set in the past (for instance, I'm writing a story set in 1945-56) and the time it is written in is important for the story. Mentioning popular brands, celebrities and movies, etc. makes it more realistic in my opinion, and brings it to life. But if the story is supposed to be timeless, it's a big no-no.
     
  17. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    The only exceptions to everyone's cautions, are references to Joey Buttafuco; these are timeless.
     
  18. AMA
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    AMA New Member

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    I think it really depends on what your goal is... Some of the great classics that have lasted over time have used "pop-culture references" but not as narrowly as you've mentioned... Think of The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, you name it! Like Yoshiko said above, such references (when used with care) resonate for the time period in a way that reverberates off of each consecutive period that follows... It's all about how you use them, not how much. Just a thought...
     
  19. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I think pop culture references have their place in a book. The trick is to use them well. Putting them in dialogue could be brilliant, partly because people use such things in the normal speech so it adds to the truthfulness of the speech. But also because a reference like that in someone's speech can actually help to flesh out a person. If you've got a character who's constantly referencing sixties and seventies things - everything from Crosby, Stills and Nash to getting high and talking about 'the man', then you've fairly much painted him as either a hippy or a child of the flower power generation.

    If on the other hand you put them in the book as author speak etc, then you can use them to date and place the book and the story. So if you said something like - 'he wandered down a school yard full of leftist leaning pinko's' then you've fairly much placed the book or at least the character in the McCarthy era with a single word.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  20. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Which is fruitful because it's a cultural reference, not a pop culture reference.

    Some authors are apt to use them (pop cult refs) a lot...Most spectacularly, perhaps, Bret Easton Ellis. But here - among other motivations - they have a purpose: to expose consumerism and frivolousness and deadness etc etc.

    Tread carefully.
     
  21. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    ^^ THIS. All of it. Every last word. Wish I'd written it :D
     

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