by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, July 11, 2018
I began keeping a reading log back in 1983 where I record every book I finish reading. I wished I had started this log in the third grade when my mother read me Treasure Island. That was 1960, I was eight, and the first book I remember. The first book I read myself, was Down Periscope, but in an abridged version for kids. That was probably 1961. I figured I finished over a thousand books that I don’t remember between 1961 and 1983.
As you might guess, I’m hung-up on memory. Just remember, this blog is called Auxiliary Memory. My memory has never been great, and now it’s in obvious decline. My reading log has proved valuable on countless occasions and in many ways. Over the years I’ve often regretted not maintaining a movie log.
Recently I began a Pop Culture Log, where I record the short stories, essays, albums, TV shows, movies that I finish each day. In the sixties we had a phrase, you are what you eat. Well, I believe we are the pop culture we consume.
I keep my new pop culture log on a Google spreadsheet online. I now wish I had logged every pop culture work I consumed in my lifetime. Recording all my brain food takes a bit of effort, but is revealing. More and more when I tell my friends about shows or stories I enjoyed I can’t recall their titles. That’s very frustrating.
Aging and struggling with memory reveal details about my identity in those logs. In Westworld season 2 they show different approaches to creating artificial immortality. One method involves teaching an android all the memories and habits of a person until the android can’t be distinguished from the real person. Who we are, often comes from our attitudes towards the pop culture we’ve experienced in our lifetime. On Facebook, I see more and more groups formed around pop culture memories with tens of thousands of baby boomers participating in each. My identity can be partially defined by those groups I joined. (That’s why Facebook is so powerful to advertisers and political pollsters.)
Here’s a snippet of the last couple days. If I tried to record them from memory the day after tomorrow all of them would have been forgotten except maybe The Admirable Crichton. That’s the work that’s given me the most pleasure this week, but it would only take another couple days and I’d forget it too.
I’ve tried to devise the most useful columns. I added a link column, something I don’t have on my reading log of books. That gives me actual details about the work, and is very educational, often expanding my reaction to the work. Just collecting the entries for the spreadsheet helps me remember more.
My friend Janis recently gave me a box of vinyl LPs she had stored away at her father’s house for decades, mostly from the 1970s and early 1980s. I’ve been playing a couple each day. As you can see, I’ve rated them all three stars. But I wonder what I would have rated them back when they were new. Most stuff from decades ago seems kind of mediocre and blah, but I bet some of those albums sparkled when they first appeared. I know I liked some of them much better then than I do now. I’ve decided to rate my current reaction rather than trying to discern absolute artistic quality, it’s context in history or its lasting value. The links do that. It would have been enlightening to see how my ratings changed over time.
There’s all kind of rating systems. The classic school grade (A+ through F). The test score (0 – 100). The 10 scale (0 – 10). Various 3-star, 4-star, and 5-star ratings. I liked what Rocket Stack Rank uses, a 5-star system that’s less judgmental and more practical. I’ve amended their system for my use:
- 1-star (*) – Technical flaws that annoy. Can’t finish.
- 2-star (**) – Storytelling flaws ruin the flow. Can’t finish.
- 3-star (***) – Average. Good. Competent. Even well done. Once is enough.
- 4-star (****) – Will recommend to friends. Would reread/rewatch. Hope to remember probably won’t.
- 5-star (*****) – Should win awards, be remembered, and become a classic. Would buy to have permanently. Would want to study and remember.
This system avoids judging art by objective criteria. A graph counting all the ratings should show 80% falling into the 3-star rating, 18% for 2-star or 4-star, and 2% for 1-star and 5-star. Because I only record what I finish, I shouldn’t be listing 1-star and 2-star titles.
Of the works rated above only the English film The Admirable Crichton (Paradise Lagoon in the U.S.) based on the J. M. Barrie play (he also wrote Peter Pan) is rated 4-stars. I gave it 4-stars because it’s one I’d recommend to my friends. It was so much fun that I’ve ordered two other film editions of the story, one a silent, Male and Female (1919) that stars Gloria Swanson directed by Cecille B. DeMille, and 1934 pre-Code screwball comedy starring Bing Crosby, We’re Not Dressing.
Rating a work is hard. Janis, who is also my TV watching buddy, and I, both greatly enjoy Glow, a show about lady wrestlers in the 1980s. It gets good reviews, and I know other people who like it too. However, the quality of streaming TV is so great compared to the older broadcast TV that it’s hard to say when a show is worthy of 4-stars. I would definitely say Breaking Bad, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Crown, Downton Abbey are 5-star shows. And I would say Anne with an E, Humans, Fargo, Westworld, The Duece are 4-star shows. But really good shows like Glow and Killing Eve aren’t in their class. A 3-star rating includes a lot of very entertaining shows because there’s really a great number of entertaining well-made shows. 3-stars doesn’t mean something isn’t very good. Well-made entertainment is very common today.
My concern is more about memory than artistic judgment. I want just enough information in my logs to trigger hidden memories. I’ve never been sure if bad memory is due to lost memories or poor memory retrieval. If I had kept logs of all the artistic works I consumed in my lifetime it would help me remember, but also it would also describe who I was, something I’m still learning myself.
7 thoughts on “Remembering and Rating Pop Culture”
My blog has become my log. I post something every day so all the books I read, all the movies I watch, all the CDs I listen to, and all the TV shows I view sooner or later show up on my blog. Since you’ve visited my blog, you know I rate the books, movies, CDs, etc. with an A through F grading system (I was a former College Professor) similar to your 1-5 scale. I agree with you that it’s important to keep track of our memories because they tend to vanish if we don’t.
George, your blog reflects your identity too. I’m not sure what to make of it though, because you have a zillion different pop culture interests. I can’t believe how fast you consume fun stuff. Folks should visit http://georgekelley.org/ to see what I mean.
Jim, I appreciate your comments on my blog. I don’t watch much TV (except for occasional binging) so I’m reading all the time. I try to read a book a day. And, I try to see a movie in a theater each week. And, I love music so that pops up on my blog from time to time. There’s something new posted every day!
George, that’s amazing you can read a book a day. It takes me a week or two depending on the size. I guess if I gave up television watching and some other diversions I get more reading done. I only have the patience to read for 30-40 minutes though. I get another 30-60 minutes in each day listening to books. However, since I stopped bike riding, I’m listening less.
I’m listening to more audiobooks and reading more ebooks than I did a year ago. I can read for a couple of hours straight, but then I have to get up and move around. Some books, like Gardner Dozois’s massive THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION: 35TH ANNUAL COLLECTION, take me a couple of days to finish. I don’t play golf or spend time doing yard work. I do go to the Tonawanda Aquatic & Fitness Center every day to frolic in the pool. I’m tempted to buy a water-proof iPod so I could listen to audiobooks and/or podcasts while I’m enjoying the water.
I really don’t see the difference between, or point of, having both 1 and 2 ratings, they are so similar.
I agree, but I was copying what Rocket Stack Rank was doing. There is a difference between bad writing and bad storytelling. There have been some great storytellers that wrote poorly.
Since I seldom have the patience to finish something badly written or told, it’s unlikely I’ll ever list something with one or two stars.
It’s so hard to judge art anyway. My categories are coming down to *** = average/good/competent work, **** = work I’d recommend to other people, and ***** = work I think could become classic or win awards. The trouble is very few books win awards or become classics. So I’m pretty much down to likable/average works and works that I recommend.
There are some ***** works, like the 1966 double-album Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan or the 1939 film The Maltese Falcon, but they are few and far between.