Pop culture is incredibly important in helping us define and express ourselves and our times. Good, bad or ugly, entertainment themes and celebrities aren't (just) mindless diversions. They often say a lot about what is happening in harder to access parts of our culture, becoming an entry point to connection and conversation.
Television and movies are our shared vocabulary, myths and history unfolding. They help us talk about race, religion, family, illness, corruption, ambition, addiction, love, you name it. Breaking Bad and Dexter help us talk about dark human tendencies without revealing our own. Duck Dynasty and Ani DiFranco helped us talk about the reverberations of southern racism. Whether showing us to ourselves as we were or as we hope to be, pop culture matters.
House of Cards image via Netflix
I'm hoping that three great trends from the last year in entertainment continue to flourish in 2014. These trends say encouraging things about who we are and where we want to go, how we want our entertainment to reflect and propel us, and what matters to us.
I think we'll look back and see that this time period was the early experimental phase for large-scale, real-time events that are shared. In the last few years Twitter has transformed everything from sporting events, awards shows, series final episodes and political debates into massive fan experiences, and audiences crave more. Sharknado was a breakout success in large part because it was an immediate shared viewing experience on Twitter. NBC is on the trend and won massive ratings with a live performance of Sound of Music. We're going to see more, and we'll see more meaningful ways to participate.
This focus might be in backlash to the problems with the way we all have infinite control of multiple media choices, and so we're discouraged from talking about what we see until everyone else has a chance to bingewatch a given series or stream a movie. The perpetual call for "No Spoilers" means we can't talk about or share our entertainment, cauterizing part of the process that transforms media into meaning. Live events dissolve that issue, except for the pesky time zone problem North America faces.
© Gary Reyes/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com
I think we'll begin to see more live, participatory entertainment that transcends traditional media, too. The nexus of social media, news and entertainment is the sweet spot. Our collective need to be a part of real entertaining experiences is part of what called us to watch Batkid all day long, which was my favorite media story of 2013, and also the impulse savvy The Bachelor producer Elan Gale manipulated with his Diane Twitter drama (which turned out to be not real at all). Real-time tracking happens organically (think about the Justine Twitter debacle) and also can be harnessed making for progressive entertainment. We'll see more of this as a calculated play by media entities, for better and for worse.
image via Warner Bros. Pictures
According to this year-end report on Vocativ, featuring female characters in your movie leads to profits. Versha Sharma and Hanna Sender analyzed the top 50 grossing films of last year to see if they passed the Bechdel test. From "Hollywood Movies With Strong Female Roles Make Money" on Vocativ:
Out of 50 total movies we looked at, 17, or 36 percent, passed with flying colors. An additional seven technically passed, but are deemed “dubious” by Bechdel-watchers because of the dialogue (some of it was about a man, some of it wasn’t, but not much).
What we found is this: The grand total domestic box office number for the movies that passed is significantly higher than the domestic box office total for the movies that didn’t. We’re talking billions.
On television, except for Breaking Bad, most of the massive television successes of the year included strong female roles or were increasingly female-driven, like Orange is the New Black, Homeland, The Good Wife, Girls, Veep, Scandal and The Mindy Project.
Women are still massively under-represented in front of and behind the camera, and the Bechdel test doesn't look at specifics like the age-bias against women or how we're being represented overall. We'll see more gains when the industry increasingly notices that money is following.3. Diverse Characters and Stories
Similarly, we'll continue to see racial, ethnic and LGBTQ diversity in characters in television and movies. 2013 showed us great gains, and we can count on more ahead. Multi-culture is just plain culture at this point, and the media is finally catching up, with Kerry Washington's blockbuster success in Scandal illustrating every "if you build it, they will come" plea for diversity.
image via Netflix
Per usual, the majority of the gains on this front were off-network, and hopefully their successes will inspire evolution across the board. Netflix's Orange is the New Black will be back for a second season, as will Lifetime's breakout hit Devious Maids. Another cable hit scoring a second season is ABC Family's The Fosters, which broke television ground by featuring a bi-racial lesbian couple raising biological and foster children. LGBTQ themes and multi-ethnic characters/performers telling a diversity of stories and integrated into mainstream stories just like in real life? More, please.
On an outstanding film year will give us lots to celebrate and talk about come awards time, too. Golden Globe nominations gave nods to Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave and Idris Elba for Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, breaking a long-overdue record by honoring more than one African-American nominee in the Best Actor category. Barkhad Abdi, Kerry Washington and Don Cheadle are also up for Golden Globes.
One other great trend I'd like to see continue is trans representation in the media. 2013 was a big year for this issue, with Laverne Cox receiving media attention after starring in OINTB. Project Runway All Stars brought back designer Ari South who had originally appeared on PR as Andy South before transitioning. More representation like this in 2014 would be outstanding.
What do you hope to see in 2014?
More from entertainment