Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 24, 2009

Pop’s Cultural Workout

Life on the Web for the big-time players, media outlets, corporations and so forth is all about clicks and eyeballs. If you have advertising, it’s about click-through rates. Thank goodness I’m not concerned with those big-time issues here. I didn’t create this blog to attract millions of readers and generate advertising and make millions of dollars. Although, if anyone has some secrets to share on that score, do contact me.

I started this blog as a daily writing excercse for YOU to read. You know who you are. I know who you are, too, since mostly only people who know me know that this blog exists so far. Thanks for reading, by the way.

But, I have to tell you, the siren lure is there, and what I’ve learned is that just by virtue of launching this blog, I have essentially had my men tie me to the mast so that I can hear the call: “More Clicks, More Clicks,” they are singing (or, if you’re listening to the original German operatic version, “Mehr Klicken, Mehr Klicken”).

Well, I COULD have more viewers, if I WANTED them. But I want you. I’m fine with that (“at least for now,” the mephistophelean voice whispers).  Clicks are easy. I can get ’em any time I want. Maybe not as easy for me as for Justin Timberlake, but, heck, if I just put “Justin Timberlake” in the “TAGS” for this site, I’ll get ten or twenty thousand hits from teenage girls scrounging the Web desperate for ANYTHING about JUSTIN. Same with Brittany, or Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh or “Twilight” (or name any Twilight actors here). I could pad my articles with references to global warming and Michael Pollan and Larry King and, of course, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and every world politico. You get the idea. Of course, if I do that, the administration of this Web service will decide that I’m padding my blog with superfluous tags just to generate traffic for its own sake. That’s the whole modus operandi for the tabloid press, but THIS blog is supposed to be purer and not crassly commercial. The money’s just not good enough here to get crassly commercial.

It’s really all about the writing. Celebrity, attention, clicks, traffic: who cares? We’re above all that.

For now, we’ll stick to writing. Not only is this blog a kind of writing exercise; we’ve been pursuing a number of writing exercises here at Rancho Retro, and so we’ve asked good ol’ Pop Culture to come up with a little popular culture/online writing exercise for you. Pop is our resident muse who’s been around since the pre-FDR days when life was simple and good writing was Walt Winchell and, well, who knows who else, maybe Will Rogers and John O’Hara. THERE were some dudes who knew something about writing AND the cult of celebrity, but who also had ideas. Back then it was called “commentary,” but they’d be bloggin’ today.

This drill starts with a list. Give yourself one minute, or two minutes, or whatever amount of time, but stick to it. In that one or two minutes, as fast and furiously as you can, write down as many names from the current culture as you can. They can be anyone from music, movies, television, tabloids, news, world events, literature. Pencils ready? Okay, write! I’ll wait.

You have just generated a month or maybe six months’ worth of blog material, plus, you have the assignment list for every paparrazo in Hollywood and Manhattan and Paris and Rome. Go get a job at the National Enquirer. I understand that the pay is good, but I’ll bet you won’t like the job much. If you do, keep me out of it.

Now, it gets harder. In the next step, you have to repeat the  exercise, but list ONLY the celebrities, causes, concerns that you consider OF WORTH. Suddenly, you list may have to drop Brittany and Justin and, maybe, keep Larry King and Oprah, but that’s for you to decide. I’ll give you one minute. Is Sarah Palin still on your list? Is  Penelope Cruz?

Okay. Now we’re down to it. Your list is probably just five people, issues or whatever. This is your “beat.” And this is the hard part. Pop C. wants you to take one celebrity, cause, concern, issue EACH DAY and write a short piece about it. Why is this worth doing? Because it’s five or ten or fifteen minutes that you can spend NOT listening to or watching or reading about those items — you’re thinking about them. That’s why writing is still worth having around. What’s illustrative about this is that one comes to realize that it’s darned hard to come up with something every day, day in and out. I think of my buddy, The Tampa Scribe, down there in Florida, scribbling away, decade after decade, digging for some gosh-darned angle on sports that he hasn’t covered a gazillion times already. Hard to do at all, and really hard to do as excellently as he does.

Save that list. We’ll come back to it for some followup exercises in a couple of weeks. The Holidays are a good time to get some writing done.



  1. penelope is ALWAYS on my list!


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