Pop Culture Boot Camp: Indie Media Edition
Because it’s not all Top 40 and The O.C. around here, people.
If you are relatively new to this whole navigation of pop culture thing, or if you’re diving back into it after an extended hiatus, one thing you may notice is the almost orgiastic proliferation of pop media outlets available. I vascillate between being thrilled at and paralyzed by all the possibilities, both online & in print, for getting my information.
All of which is just to say, these casual essays of mine are by no means comprehensive, and if you nice readers out there have suggestions you’d like me to include in second, third, or twelfth rounds of Pop Culture Boot Camp, by all means, let me know.
I always like to start with a generalist approach, so we begin today with the easiest, cheapest, most convenient place to beef up your alt-news & culture diet. Pick up a copy of your friendly local free alternative weekly newspaper. (This list includes only cities in the US and Canada, so if there are lists of similar publications in other countries, I’d love to see them.) Alt-weeklies are full of articles on quirky subjects, announcements & coverage of local events, and page after page of hilariously awful personal ads. If you are lucky enough to live in an area with more than one Alt-weekly, read them all for a while, and pick a favorite. I much prefer Philadelphia Weekly to City Paper (with the notable exception of Toby Zinman’s theater reviews – yay, Toby!), but I’ll read the latter when the former’s not available. If you don’t like getting your fingers all inky, you can read most Alt-weeklies online. In Alt-log, Gael Fashingbauer Cooper used compile a weekly roundup of the most interesting, bizarre, and eye-catching Alt-weekly stories she could find, but she seems to have retired that section of her blog (which is, of course, highly recommended, and which reminds me that I have yet to compile a nice little blogroll for you to enjoy. Let’s call that Summer Goal #12,864, shall we?)
Other very fine online omnibi of pop from off the beaten path (wild pop?) include:
Flak Magazine, which bills itself as “a noncomprehensive guide to everything”, and from which you can order a two-CD set of smart and witty commentary on The Big Lebowski not available on the DVD release of that wonderful (and in my house, frequently quoted) film.
Pop Matters, which is “an international magazine of cultural criticism. [Their] scope is broad and covers most cultural products, including music, television, films, books, video games, computer software, theatre, the visual arts, and the Internet.”
Pop Cult Magazine, which its editor, Coury Turczyn, envisions as “a repository for really good, journalistic pop culture writing”, looks like it hasn’t been updated in a couple of years (I think – there aren’t any datelines, my apologies to Coury if I’m wrong). Even if it’s not current, this site is well worth sifting through.
Being in touch with non-mainstream/alternative/independent is important & useful for a variety of reasons:
Nevermind the Mainstream: You’re always going to have a set of patrons who reject the mainstream, who think that anything that is popular in the mass culture is automatically bad, or at least highly suspect. So your collection is going to need to include media that speaks to and will appeal to that user group. Being well-versed in alternative media is crucial to learning how to evaluate the output of independent presses, record labels, and film studios for inclusion in your collections.
Act Locally: Reading your regional alt-weekly will not only keep you up to date on local news, but will also attune you to local trends, which you can use to brainstorm program ideas.
Get Cred: This is really a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. If you want your patrons to regard you as a reliable resource on topics of interest to them, you need to be knowledgeable about those topics. You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to recognize the names of recording artists, local music venues, directors, authors, book & album titles, and so on.
If you want to focus your energies on mastering a particular area of pop culture, I’ll be writing about that in a few weeks’ time, covering music, movies, radio, TV, and so on. Stay tuned!