In current times, pop culture is a buzzword that many people can immediately identify. Shows that mimic and comment upon popular culture, such as Seinfeld, Futurama, Family Guy, Southpark, Drawn Together—but mainly The Simpsons—are what I hear being quoted repeatedly amongst the majority of my friends. Creativity seems to be stymied, Orwellian-style, in favour of a well-worn, humorous quotation or a retelling of a favourite episode. I’m sure this has been the case to a lesser degree in the past with popular shows, but never so much since the advent of widespread media, such as the Internet and cable television.
It’s sad, but I find myself constantly questioning the originality of a particular humorous phrase, as opposed to attributing the utterance to myself or a friend. Everything becomes an echo of an echo of something said by Stan Marsh from Southpark or (God forbid) Homer from The Simpsons. Is it fair to the creator of said idea—to me or you—that there exists such ambiguity that people have to perpetually ask if the quip or jibe that you just uttered was your own? It has been said ad nauseum that ‘Everything has been done before’, but shouldn’t your own twist on the idea be something you can be comically and intellectually proud of?
With shows as phenomenally popular and ubiquitous as those listed above in constant re-run mode, is it any wonder that Western society seems to have become intellectually debased, dumbed down, in the past decade? As Orwell said, it’s easier to come up with well-worn phrases than think and strike out into virgin mental territory, to create and use newer ideas, fresher concepts and improvised dialogue than that pre-existing. It’s certainly easier to rely on a well-worn ‘D-oh!’ or ‘G-giddy up!’ in social situations, but where does the individuality lie? People are selling themselves short. These shows are designed to entertain, but are they also coaxing modern brains into familiar patterns of thought? Is this subliminal marketing at its finest?
Another thing that really grinds my gears: these shows have teams of writers working on the ideas for each episode. How is the average person supposed to compete fairly in their everyday life, in terms of the imagination, with these multimillion dollar, television network-funded behemoths? The thousands (perhaps millions) of lines of dialogue flooding into the global consciousness yearly creates a mental vortex which stifles competing creative thought.
To top it all off, these show’s then become self-referential. Their catchphrases become so well known that these shows begin to mock themselves and each other, confusing the issue of where a phrase arose in the first place: a general mishmash of Popular Culture results. A typical example occurs in an episode of Southpark. In one episode, they have a show-length running joke where the Simpsons have already done everything that Butters – an ineffectual, evil mastermind – plans so as to wreak havoc upon the citizens of Southpark, resulting in the line ‘Simpsons did it! Simpsons did it!’. It becomes so hard to remember which show actually said what that the lines of originality become even further blurred.
‘Oh my God, they killed Kenny!’—the Kenny, that is, of our imagination.