"Popular culture is the new Babylon, into which so much art and intellect now flows." Camille Paglia was the first to say it out loud, but it's an idea not lost on Rich Juzwiak, curator of the SAY 100 Entertainment channel and arts writer at The Daily.
Formerly a senior editor at TVGuide.com and VH1.com, Rich has watched more reality TV than most of us could ever inhale in a lifetime. In his downtime, he maintains his personal pop culture blog, fourfour, which is home to a collection of magical recaps, reviews and viral videos, many of which have received over a million views on YouTube.
We checked in with Rich to find out what's on his pop culture radar these days, what TMZ has done to craftsmanship, a review of the Kardashians' novel Dollhouse, his most popular posts and remixes – and his instant review of Lindsay Lohan. Read on.
You just started a day job with The Daily where you get to write about anything you want in pop culture. What interests you right now? Oh, the same things that always interested me: Extreme human behavior, weirdos, awkwardness, unintentional humor, R&B, house music, documentaries and animals. My job is equally split between reporting and criticism, so I'm doing just kind of normal reviews mixed in with more conceptual think pieces and/or profiles.
You've been covering celebrities and pop culture on your blog since 2005. How has the online publishing landscape changed for covering pop culture and celebrities in the last 6 years? Well, it's faster for sure. The first video I did that got a lot of eyeballs was a highlights reel of Liza Minnelli on Larry King Live. That episode aired on Wednesday and I didn't post my edit until Monday and it was as though no one had seen it. This was in 2006. These days, if I don't post a video the day after something happens, I'm out of the conversation. That's a little frustrating because these things take time! Also, I think the premium on recaps has gone down in a big way. The TV recap was by no means an obscure medium when I started doing them, but in the ensuing time, EVERYONE started doing them. That means there's added pressure to speed up and stick out and that you're less likely to be read, anyway, just as a result of sheer volume.
I really think the concept of craftsmanship is becoming outmoded in the race to be first, and that makes me sad if not outmoded, myself.
You've watched a lot of Reality TV in your life, especially when you worked at VH1. What's your media diet like these days? I still watch a lot of reality TV (I cannot quit Basketball Wives!) but my brief time at TVGuide.com definitely opened me up to scripted TV, which is something I had basically avoided for 10 years (Eastbound and Down excepted). I love American Horror Story because it is audacious and unabashedly awful, and I'm super into Downton Abbey (even though it, too, is, if not AWFUL, then a lot trashier than I think most people want to admit). For work, I was given an iPad, so I've been converting a lot of movies to watch at the gym, on the subway, etc. I got through Page One and Beginners last week. I definitely have to strategically fit in the pop culture I'm supposed to be responding to, which is kind of a nightmare but getting easier! I also was reading Jon Ronson's amazing The Psychopath Test, but had to put it down momentarily so I can cram in the Kardashians' roman à clef Dollhouse for a review. Talk about unabashedly awful! I kind of love it.
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Where do you get the most inspiration for your posts? As far as inspiration goes, it's all from pop culture. I'm getting better at spotting it. I recently did this video of Judy Jetson freaking out about boys and that came as a result of watching the recently reissued Jetsons Meet the Flintstones. Judy kept gushing about wanting to meet boys and I thought, "Oh wait, I bet that was a major part of her character." And then I went back and found ample material supporting that. Often with supercuts, I don't get the idea for them until I've consumed so much media already (obviously: typically you can only spot a trend after you've been bombarded with it), and I guess you could say that my childhood years watching The Jetsons subliminally prepared me for that, but the turnaround time was uncommonly fast.
You're known for your video remixes like "I'm not here to make friends." What do you try and do in your remixes? I try to critique things, exposing repetition as a social infection or laziness or whatever. When someone like Mariah Carey, who's made a career out of supposedly making emotions specific, says she "loves" 50 different things on HSN, it has a way of emphasizing the idea that love for some people is a commodity that is way beyond a seductive pop song. Sometimes I probably err too much on hypothesis and the entertainment factor becomes diminished. I hate to annoy people with repetition, but I'm a completist.
Instant pop culture review: LiLo – what's your take? She makes me so sad. She's clearly in a hole that she can't get out of. I love an underdog, and I really hope she can make good on her potential.
One of your best post this year on FourFour is the only Britney Spears video that matters. Brilliant. What are some of your all-time most popular posts? I don't really have the statistics on that, but I know the post of gifs of Kirsten Dunst reacting to Lars von Trier's Nazi sympathizing did better than anything else I posted this year (the New York Times mentioned it, even). Basically, any videos with high YouTube view numbers come from posts that did well. Supercuts tend to resound. This thing I did about all this confederate rebel flag paraphernalia I found in Wildwood, NJ one year was an early success.
Who are some pop culture writers you admire right now? Who's doing it right? Zach Baron, Sean Fennessey and Jon Caramanica are all great, and also all friends of mine, so I'm biased. I loved Alice Echols' political disco history book Hot Stuff, and Dan P. Lee's overview pieces for New York magazine (like the ones about Travis the Chimp and Anna Nicole Smith) are among my favorite things I've read all year.
How have the giant celeb blog machines like TMZ changed the landscape for independent publishers like you – or have they? That doesn't really apply, because my writing has mostly been critical in nature and not really too concerned with gossip. Every once in a while, maybe I'll stop to care about a celebrity's personal life, but it's rare. I think comparing me to TMZ is like comparing apples to Jupiter.
What's the craziest or most interesting thing you're covering right now? I judged a child beauty pageant last month in Austin, Texas. My first-person account went up yesterday. I'm excited.
Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJuz