Thursday, June 2, 2011

"The Power Of 'Pop!'"

In an article I read recently, super successful – and reliably entertaining – playwright Yasmina Reza (Art) described how she got the idea for her most recent hit comedy, God of Carnage:

“In the street, while returning from school with my son, I was talking to the mother of one of his classmates. Her son had suffered a broken tooth following a fight on the playground and she said this to me: ‘Do you realize the parents haven’t even called to apologize?’ I immediately thought there was an interesting theme here.”

A playwright hears a story. And


An idea for a new play – concerning what might have happened had the two boys’ parents gotten together to discuss the incident – is immediately born.

I was reading a book called Gig (edited by John Bowe, Marisa Bowe and Sabin Streeter), an oral history of people talking about their jobs, in which songwriter Kevin Bowe explains where the inspirations for his songs come from:

“I get my song ideas from everything. Daydreams, books, the media – everything.”

Kevin ‘s living his life. Some external – or internal – stimulus catches his attention, and


The man’s got a song.

That’s how it happens in the creative arena. Ideas have to come from somewhere. I don’t mean to be sacrilegious here, but if God didn’t write the Ten Commandments personally, I can imagine Moses just sitting around when,


He gets an idea for ten rules of appropriate moral behavior.

He may have even been sitting on a mountain when it happened. There’s no rule that you can’t have a “Pop!” experience at a location considerably higher than sea level. People can debate whether Moses was “Divinely inspired”, but if Moses had been subsequently interviewed about the process, he might well – as others who’ve been the beneficiaries of “Pop!’ moments – reply:

“I’m sitting on this mountain – God, it felt like forty days, which would also of course mean forty nights – when suddenly, these Ten Rules flash into my mind. On the way down, I changed “Rules” to “Commandments” to imbue them with gravitas. That was a rewrite. But the rules themselves, it was like…



Such is the nature of the creative process. As a participant, the “Pop!” moment hits, and you are compelled to push forward until “The End.” Or “Fade Out.” Or, if it’s a painting, “Eet Ees Feeneeshed!” (Painters of all backgrounds say it exactly the same way. Nobody knows why.)

That’s art. And that’s not a problem. On the contrary. “Pop!” is the essential creative starting point. The idea materializes, and you go to work.

The problem arises when “Pop!” is appropriated by propagandists.

Damn! I thought he was going to talk about writing. And the guy just took a right on me!

Not really, though I apologize if you were misled. There were clues to my intention. Look at the title:

“The Power of Pop!”

My point being, that “Pop!” is everywhere. And “Pop!”, in all its incarnations, is irresistibly powerful. Whether you want to or you don’t, you cannot ignore


Not that the propagandists would want to. It’s, in fact, the opposite. “Pop!” is precisely what the propagandists are looking for.

Recently, I was reading the op-ed section of the Los Angeles Times. And there was a piece written by conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg, whose weekly column I read, because I like to know what people who don’t think like me are thinking, and because he’s not entirely around the bend. At least not always.

Let me acknowledge up front that propaganda “Pop!’ is not the exclusive purview of a single ideological proclivity – hence, my (as yet unpublished) book, Both Sides Make Me Angry. I have no hesitation providing equally egregious examples from the Left . But today, it’s Jonah.

Okay, here we go.

A conservative commentator hears the President announce that Bin Laden has been “taken out.” Over all – if you ignore the shooting an unarmed man part – this is fantastic news, news the American people have been waiting for for nearly ten years.

But you’re a conservative commentator. Giving credit to a Democratic president is not part of your job description. And even if you (begrudgingly) do – to preserve your credibility as a reasonable human being – as a conservative commentator, you are still required to find something within this admittedly triumphant scenario that makes the opposition’s president look bad.

This is not really that difficult an undertaking. As a propagandist, “finding fault with the opposition” is the frequency your conservative brain is unwaveringly tuned to. So you sit there for a moment, turning the story over in your head. Until, suddenly,


You have your angle:

“Why was Barack Obama in such a hurry to tell us Bin Laden was a dead?”

It’s a process of elimination. You ignore the commendable parts of the story, and examine what’s left. Let’s see now. The accomplishment was magnificent. The announcement was inevitable. I know!

We’ll get him on the hubris behind his hasty announcement.

The argument being that if Al Qaeda is so quickly alerted that the valuable data uncovered in the compound has been compromised, they’ll be able to immediately, in effect, “change the code.”

Which is bad.

“Awright, boys! We got him!”

And there you have it. A “Pop!” moment – the Bad News “Yeah, but” to a Good News story – inspires Goldberg’s critical column.

I read the column, and


I am inspired to write mine.

1 comment:

Mac said...

I envy people who have "pop" moments.
John Landis was in Romania and he saw a funeral where a guy was being buried in some weird way, to ensure he wouldn't come back as a werewolf - lycanthropy mythology being big in rural Romania at the time. His "pop" moment was to ask himself; "but what if he did?" Thus "American Werewolf In London" was born. I'd have just thought "what a weird way to bury a guy."