Sunday, July 17, 2005


For years, I have felt like an uncultured individual because I seldom indulge myself in classical arts like opera, ballet, theater, poetry, or symphonic music. It’s not that I dislike any of these--I secretly enjoy them in limited doses--but I more readily relate to “pop culture.” In other words, the art and entertainment that surrounds us everyday, like television, paperback books, B-movies, pop music, architecture, and even automobile design. In my more lighthearted moments, I like to call these “Trash Culture.”

Now, before you jump to conclusions, I’m not talking about the so-called “White Trash Culture,” the lowbrow trappings that surround America's grossly uninformed "lowest common denominator." I’m talking about that disposable side of Trans-Atlantic culture that we take for granted, makes us happy for brief moments, then is forgotten. Or is it?

Among respectable and educated com­pany, most adults tend to downplay their enjoyment of pop culture out of fear of appearing unsophisticated, immature, or eccentric. Privately, however, one admits to taking deep pleasure in little things, like watching reruns of old sitcoms, listening to obscure rock bands, seeing trashy horror films, or driving a big V-8-powered American car. As lowbrow as these may seem, surely others can relate to the thrill of similar experiences.

This sets up the framework of Trash Cul­ture, but how do you define it? In 1982, former Crawdaddy writer Gene Sculatti tried by compiling a series of essays on pop culture as “The Catalog Of Cool” (Warner Books, now out of print). Despite the elitist connotations of its title, the book traced a certain aesthetic that runs through popular art. Bop jazz, beatniks, monster movies, big-finned ‘fifties cars, mod fashion, punk rock and other related movements were linked as forms of artistic rebellion with strong stylistic origi­nality and individualism, yet devoid of any pretense of sophistication or heavy-handedness. That very aesthetic is what appeals to the Trash Culture Connoisseur.

Sculatti also pointed out that few movements appealing to the Trash Culture aesthetic set out to be “high art.” Many instances were cases where popular entertainment was bucking traditional standards. Others were created through happy acci­dents, such as the inept films of Ed Wood, Jr. Still others were blatant attempts at commerciality, as in garish postwar American auto design. In any case, many of these popular art forms were dismissed by highbrows and misunderstood by the general public, ending up nothing more than disposable fads.

In spite of their apparent faddishness and disposability, there is something about these bits of popular art that continues to thrill new generations of enthusiasts. Perhaps this is why the Nick At Nite and TV Land networks continue to show classic sitcoms, and Rhino Records constantly reissues compilations of vintage pop music. Fortunately, the spirit of Trash Culture is not all based upon the past, as this same spirit of stylistic originality still permeates much non-mainstream music and independent film of today, especially as "Generation X" hits middle-age and gains control of the mass-media. The "cool" aesthetic live on.

The Trash Culture enthusiast appreciates that highly individualistic and original side of popular art, and cares little about its popularity or snob appeal (“I don’t wanna hear about what the rich are doing” is how The Clash put it in their punk anthem “Garageland”). Sometimes, that appeal lies in camp; the ability to find ironic merit in otherwise failed artistic works. Almost like cultists, these aficionados seek out bits of popular culture, past and present, that give their emotions a positive charge. To outsiders, they are the oddballs who “can’t get with the program,” and “be normal.” But they know who they are, and appreciate “low” art alongside “high.” To them, The Sex Pistols are no less legitimate than Beethoven. Plan 9 From Outer Space holds no less artistry than Casablanca. They are eclectic and bold. They are Trash Culture Connoisseurs.

By posting to this blog, I hope to carry on where “The Catalog Of Cool” (and its sequel “Two Cool”) left off in exposing the spirit of pop culture individualism to a fresh audience. Each piece hopes to cast new light upon cult musicians, unusual films, interesting literature, unique television, overlooked artists, innovative designers, and other tidbits of popular trivia. It also draws the line when these art forms began to expand into pretense and self-conscious sophistication (e.g. rock music between the demise of psychedelia and the birth of punk). From time-to-time, these posts may take on a political nature, defending social libertarian concepts like individuality and freedom of expression while opposing socially and culturally conservative movements that wish to encroach upon these basic freedoms.

I hope that this will be enjoyable reading for both novice and enthusiast alike.