Why Pop Culture: Alexandre O Philippe at TEDxMileHigh (Transcript)

I want to tell you a story about my childhood. I was raised in Switzerland in Geneva. When I was eight years old, my mom took me to one of our local theaters to watch The Empire Strikes Back, which, you know, was dubbed in French. It was called L’Empire Contre-attaque. This was a huge deal for me as a kid. I was very much a Star Wars fan. I had never actually seen the original Star Wars film, but I had all the toys.

During the now-iconic climactic reveal, that of course we all know – “Luke, I am your father” – I have this incredible memory of just standing up in the middle of the theater, completely, utterly confused about what was going on. I’m turning to my mom, who’s sitting right here next to me. Of course, she didn’t have the answers. That was it. Ten minutes later, the lights come up, and you walk out of the theater mind completely blown from the single most extraordinary, transformative cinematic experience of your entire life.

What do you do when you’re eight years old and you have to wait three years – THREE YEARS! – for the next Star Wars movie?! That’s like half of my life at this point. What you do is you go home, and you pick up your toys, and you start playing, speculating, thinking about what that next Star Wars movie is going to be. That’s the great gift that George gave us. He gave us the toys. It made us very hands on.

We were essentially playing in George’s sandbox. Since that day, I think it’s safe to say that I was raised, without knowing it, as a pop culture geek. Here I am now, thirty years later, on stage at Dealy, standing before you still very much a pop culture geek. But you know what? I’m okay with it. I’ve sort of embraced that, and in fact, I am proud of this.

You see, I’ve found a way to turn this passion of mine into a career. I’ve been documenting pop culture now for the past decade, and I’m here to tell you that this stuff really, really matters. Let’s take a little step back and see if we can define what pop culture is. I’ve got a few images for you. This is a World War II soldier. No Absolutely not pop culture. Okay. So now Storm Trooper, yes, okay, that is most definitely pop culture Zombie Storm Trooper, way pop culture. You’re getting it. Let’s do a few more. It’s going to get trickier.

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A cute little kitten. It’s cute, yeah, sure, but it’s certainly not pop culture in and of itself. Right? For that kitten to become pop culture, it would have to, for instance, get on YouTube, right? Go viral, and become a meme like Grumpy Cat. You know what I’m talking about. You guys know, of course, that Grumpy Cat just got a Hollywood deal and so we’re going to see a Grumpy Cat movie in the next couple of years.

Yay! How exciting is that?! Mitt Romney, ladies and gentlemen. Again, politician, presidential candidate, doesn’t matter how you look at him, you certainly don’t associate him with pop culture until Mitt Romney talks about binders full of women. Now he becomes pop culture. You’re starting to get a hang of this I think. We’re going to do one more just for the hell of it.

I love this guy. I love this guy Kim Jong Un. No, he’s not pop culture, in fact he’s really not funny, if you think about it, he is very un-funny, until you pair him with his now BFF Dennis Rodman. That is absolutely pop culture.

In other words, on the one hand, we have the important things in life, right? Like politics, religion, social issues, cultural values, and beliefs. On the other hand we have the fluff. The stuff that goes viral that we consume by the billions and that we just dismiss as trivial and unimportant. A lot of that turns out to be pop culture. As a self-professed pop culture geek, I get offended by that.

When people tell me to my face that Star Wars is just a movie, for instance, it really, really gets me. Because it is the easy argument. Of course you can say Star Wars is only a movie. But look Star Wars changed culture. It changed the way we watch movies. It changed the movie industry. Changed technology. Changed the toy industry. Can you spend a day nowadays without even seeing or being exposed to any kind of Star Wars reference? You can absolutely make the argument, the counterargument, that Star Wars changed the world.

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Okay? So let’s see if we can look at things perhaps a little bit differently, maybe shift our perception. I want to go back to these important things in life because they are important and I’m not trying to trivialize them. But look Politics divide us. Religion divides us. Social issues divide us. Cultural beliefs and values divide us. Now let’s take a look at this. Okay. Case in point. If you guys were expecting me to do the dance here on stage I’m sorry The old Genesis song “I Can’t Dance,” that’s me. Not going to happen. But in any case, this gentleman, Psy, for a couple of months, was all over the news, he was everywhere. He made us smile.

In doing that, he actually brought us together. Why are we so ready and willing to dismiss him as trivial? What about Paul the Psychic Octopus? Do you guys know Paul? Do you remember Paul? Paul’s my buddy, actually, I met Paul and shook his tentacle. True story. True story, I actually made a movie about the guy Paul, to refresh your memory, correctly predicted the outcome of eight consecutive games during the 2010 soccer World Cup.

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