my webcomic, Typical Strange, uses many fake films in its video store setting
A few years ago I spotted a book in the second hand store - one I'd read as a kid. I bought it and reread it. It was definitely more suited to the younger me - it was about a teenaged kid who was obsessed with playing drums and heavy metal, and super talented. I was a drummer myself so I loved this character.
Anyway, what caught my eye on this reading were the fake band names that the kid was into: Endomorph, Black Hole, Sump Pump, Powdered Sugar…over a dozen fake bands and many fake song titles.
I don't remember if I liked those band names or not as a youth, but the older version of me thought it took me out of the reality of the story. Not that this writer's books were ever particularly realistic. That's not what he was going for.
I makes me think of some of the fake movies referenced in Seinfeld: Rochelle Rochelle was referenced multiple times in the series (“a young woman's erotic journey from Milan to Minsk”). There were plenty of other fun nonexistent movies, that were significant to the plot: Elaine is disgusted with “The English Patient”, which everyone else in the world seems to be raving about. She prefers to see “Sack Lunch”, featuring a poster of a family inside a giant paper bag. We don't see any of the movie ourselves, but Elaine laughs uproariously when she sees it in the theater. So that one mixes the real with the fake.
The first movie I remember referencing other movies were the ‘burbs, where a teenager references horror movie “The Sentinel”, and Tom Hanks flips channels between The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and wakes up to Mr. Rogers. Around the same time was “Return of the Living Dead” which referenced the original “Night of the Living Dead” as a movie that was secretly based on true events.
“CLERKS” was notable for its characters being Star Wars fans - and this was in the early nineties, when people weren’t talking about Star Wars at all. I loved seeing the characters talk in some detail about those movies. That kind of thing was very unusual at the time I think. Later, “Scream” would blow my mind with its detailed discussion of the slashers from Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I don't know how many people in the audience knew the right answer to the Friday the 13th question in that movie, but I did! What a treat that was, to see characters who knew and loved the same movies I did (some of those kids loved them a little TOO much of course).
Having fictional characters consume “real” media can make that fictional setting feel more like the real world.
In my own webcomics, I mostly use fake movies. And they appear mainly as posters in the background. These are mainly for gags/background jokes and I've had some friends get a kick out of some of those background gags. Coming up with those titles is great fun as well.
Having the pop culture be fake obviously puts some distance between the story and the real world. How much distance? It depends. But leaning too much on current events and media has its pitfalls too:
Returning to Seinfeld, one of its running themes was connecting to the trial of OJ Simpson, which was a MASSIVE news story at the time. Jackie Childs was a parody of Johnny Cochrane, OJ's lawyer, and there were many references to specific items from the trial.
Some of those references still work, decades later: Jackie Childs is a great character, even if someone doesn't know what he's parodying. Other references, like the trial where a character appears not to fit into the bra she's accused of wearing in public, or Kramer's getaway in a white SUV which mirrors OJ Simpson's real-life high-speed chase…well, they don't work that well in my opinion if the viewer doesn't know what's being referenced. Real world stuff gets dated after awhile.
Do you think “fake” media and pop culture ruins a story? Or is it better than locking characters into a specific moment in culture?
Have a good one!
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Banes at 12:00AM, April 13, 2023
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