Research Part One: What to consider when writing popular culture articles

Researching popular culture is a fascinating activity. It requires looking at a range of sources to gain a “taste” of the cultural perceptions inherent in the work. This two part post will be looking at the key factors that need to be considered as an author when beginning to research a popular culture article.

When looking at a Hollywood blockbuster film there are a range of areas to consider:

Financial

What studio was involved? How much did they spend of the film? What was the returns on the film? All of this information is easily available online and often discussed in other articles. To find out returns on films a great site is: https://www.the-numbers.com/

Why consider this area? Because at the heart of the film making industry is the fact it is a business. How cost effective a film is to produce will influence numerous factors, including the amount of release venues, the breadth of the release, the range of the international release, and so on. It will also impact on the future of that particular franchise, whether more films will be made either in the same world or even in the same genre. We see much rise and fall in particular film genres that are dictated by the particular success of one big blockbuster.

The financial influence of the film will also be linked to the marketing and merchandise connected to the overall product. A film that spawns a range of toys sold at McDonalds, for example, will have a wider reach to a larger demographic of the population. Again why does this matter? Because this is the spread and reach of popular culture. A core aspect of popular culture is the popular. This will help categorise where the film falls within the spectrum from fringe to mainstream.

Categorisation 

The financial ties in with this in relation to the placement of the film within the wider community from fringe to mainstream. However, there are other factors that need to be considered. Beginning simply with genre. What genre is the film? Is it an absolute version of that genre? As in is it the most Western, Western to have ever been made? Or is it a sub-culture – Space Western? What elements of the generic features does it utilise and equally important, what features does are absent?

Generic classification can influence the reception of the film, it can also position the film to be perceived within a certain fan-culture, and it will influence the critical review. The critical review of the film is also important to discuss. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the particular reviews it is important to look at what perceived “experts” of the industry have to say about the film. This can be a difficult area to identify as the quality and validity of a critical review can vary hugely. Usually it is worth trying to find a spectrum of reviews. Begin with the peer-review: what does the everyman have to say about the film, and how has it been rated within the context of a straw poll. A good site for this (but not for critical analysis) is Rotten Tomatoes: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/ This will provide a critique and categorisation of the consumer.

Then comes the actual critics. This will vary depending on the genre of the film and where it falls on the popularity spectrum. However, common sources that are worth looking at because they will often go into the film in greater depth are:

https://www.nytimes.com/section/movies

https://www.filmspotting.net/

https://www.avclub.com/

https://www.slantmagazine.com/film

https://www.theguardian.com/au/film

This is by no means a comprehensive list. However, what it should do is provide some diversity of view. Obviously, by engaging in the writing of an article on popular culture an author is already positioning themselves as a critic, however, part of popular culture analysis is looking beyond a personal point of view, and instead is examining a wider range of positions.