I’m not feeling really smart today, so I’m going to harp on a pet peeve. This is probably going to be an entry where I come off as out of touch, and maybe a bit poorly read in current cultural trends. So be it.
I am annoyed by what I call Heavy Reference Culture.
By Heavy Reference Culture, I mean cultural items that are constructed primarily and painstakingly out of references to other cultural items that have come before.
I know that ALL work draws on work that came before, whether it’s the Bible or The Simpsons. The stories that are important to you will always shape how you see the world. But when both creation and discussion of a work center more around the references than the actual content or artistry, I start to see a problem. If you’re taking more notes in film class than you are writing your own observations on human interaction, I start to see a problem.
My most recent example would be Stranger Things. I enjoyed Season One, and as someone who was roughly the age of the series’ young protagonists in the eighties, I also enjoyed the obvious references to films that were pivotal at that time. Casting Winona Ryder as the mother works for me too.
But the directors of Stranger Things did not grow up during the eighties. It’s not even their own nostalgia. I have a vague idea that this sort of displaced nostalgia is a trend among youth today, and okay fine. But reference-packing in general has been more and more of a thing since Quentin Tarantino, and I really don’t get it.
It also seems like the main practitioners of Heavy Reference Culture are always guys. Many times, this approach appears to be a one-upping game to see which writer can cram the most call-outs into any one work. And then talk about it endlessly. It bores the piss out of me.
I’ve always been exceptionally behind the times when it comes to popular culture, and nevertheless I am still able to enjoy a lot of Heavy Reference Culture pieces on their own merits. But… do they have their own merits? Or are they just a very technically proficient rehash? This is my main question.
I grew up a long time ago. I don’t know what it’s like to come of age in a world that is saturated with media images from all times and cultures, probably flattening into equal importance or unimportance. Maybe this media is so pervasive that it seems to be the same as human interaction. So maybe that’s part of it.
But still. Every time I read a laudatory article on some new film that references this or pays tribute to that, I think, really; would it kill you to come up with something original?