It never ends. Pop culture is interminable because we simply never stop either. Society consumes and consumes, and as things like shows and music and books permeate back and forth between countries—and then reciprocating and building upon each other—a perpetual energy emerges.
And it never ends. Think about how old the first written story must be, scrawled and smashed onto some cave wall 40,000 years ago. What about the first song? Hummed and passed along from the first minds capable to retain and enjoy it, we at least know of the Hurrian songs from 1400 BC.
From there, it keeps stacking. It’s not like these things go away by virtue of being old. In fact, we’re not sure these are even the oldest, so the archives may in fact be deeper than we think. And to take in as much of it as possible is vital to understanding the core of human culture and how it grows and bends in the media wind.
It explodes, though, past a certain point. Once history introduces the printing press and cameras and then the Internet, it becomes an exponential eruption of books and movies and television and songs and cat videos and GIFs. Even if you are old enough to have been around for the genesis of the Internet, your knowledge of online culture can degrade as quickly as a carton of milk.
So think about kids born today. They are so impossibly fucked in every possible way if they want to get a reasonable breadth and depth of knowledge. Consider that they now must consume 600 hours of Star Trek to discuss its canonical history and rewritten history. They’ll have to watch all six Star Wars of today and however many they make in the future. Will they even have time for Twin Peaks after reading and then watching Harry Potter?
Consider this: the Machete Order. It is an ordering devised by a fellow named Rod Hilton wherein you can derive some joy from viewing the prequel trilogy of Star Wars. He breaks down his reasons and consequences on his site, but the gist is that you watch the episodes in the following order: IV, V, II, III, and finally VI. Notice something? Yeah, Episode I is missing.
It is a categorically terrible movie, so who can fault him for wanting to cut it out from the entirety of history itself. But he does have pretty great reasons for doing so. In fact, from here on out, I’ll probably recommend it as the only way to watch the whole series (until the next trilogy comes out, I guess). Episode I just won’t exist.
The consequence, of course, is that kids and newcomers just won’t know what a podracer is or what a Jar Jar Binks is, which is a shame because they were such integral parts of pop culture surrounding the release of that movie. As either bad or pointless they are to the Star Wars universe, they were fun.
They aren’t, however, essential. Not for the grand scope of understanding Star Wars, anyways. This leads to an interesting question regarding video games. (This wasn’t a wholly meandering piece. I got there eventually.) Where does the line for necessity stop?
There are long-running series like Final Fantasy where obviously the culling happens naturally. Someone will ask and you will invariably say, “Play IV, VII, and X.” Or even shorter ones where you will tell someone to just play Uncharted 2: Among Thieves if they really had to cut the experience short.
But what is the Machete Order of the entire span of video games? Shouldn’t there be one? Some critical path on which new fans can walk and absorb the maximal amount of history and culture with the minimal amount of time? I mean, while they are talking this sojourn into the past, new games (and movies and shows and music and books and, and, and…) will continue to come out. It never ends.
There’s no real conclusion to this exploratory thought bucket. It’s more of a posed question. Is there something that could imbue a new player with as much critical knowledge as possible so they can pick up leftovers along the way to the present day deluge of content? I would like to think so, but for such an impressively prolific yet young medium and industry, we have much more to compress and analyze than just six Star Wars movies.
I suppose there would be criticality from each genre. Get what you can from EverQuest and then World of Warcraft. Dive into Doom, dabble in Half-Life, and dip into Halo. But even then, along those time-scaled increments, there is so much between the notches missing like Star Wars: The Old Republic and GoldenEye 007, and innumerable subgenres that are equally diverse and important and develop as more games get added to the global lexicon.
It never ends, but it also keeps changing. It’s a frightening thought.