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

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

Alexandre O Philippe

Here is the full text and summary of Alexandre O Philippe’s talk titled “Why Pop Culture” at TEDxMileHigh conference.


Alexandre O Philippe – Swiss film director 

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.

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.

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.

He brought a lot of joy to soccer fans around the world. He made us think, actually. He made us think. What about zombies? Look guys. If you remember, if you were here in Denver last year, during the Zombie Crawl we had 17,000 zombies on the 16th street mall. Absolute world record. Apparently some of them got lost, I think I ask myself a lot of questions. Can we really say that Psy doesn’t matter when close to two billion people downloaded his Gangnam Style video on YouTube? I think about comic books I’m a huge fan of comics.

Why did it take decades for comics to be recognized as a legitimate art form? Why did we have to wait for the Library of Congress to induct Star Wars into the National Film Registry in 1988 to be able to officially say “yes, this movie matters to us,” when we knew, of course, back then, that it did. Of course it mattered to us. The crux of the issue is this. Why must we be so serious about what divides us and trivialize what brings us together? Surely we must know as humans that any time a wall collapses between us we are better off because of it. Right? So let’s play this one more time.

What is pop culture? I’m going to tell you. Pop culture is a universal language that manages in all of its seemingly trivial glory to make us dream and smile to connect us across racial, political, and social divides. It is part of our fabric as human beings. It says something about us, about our better nature Is it time for us to respect it, cherish it, and learn to preserve it?

I say this with great urgency because I also happen to be a massive, massive film buff. It is such a tragedy to think that we have lost forever over 90% of all American films made prior to 1929. We have lost – and my voice is going to crack when I say this – we have lost over 50% of our cinematic heritage prior to 1950.

These are staggering, horrifying stats. Do we want this to happen to our popular culture? I think not. The good news is, there are a lot of people who are working right now in the right direction. There’s this tiny little event you may have heard of in San Diego called the San Diego Comic Con? Yeah Yes.

Yes, thank you. We have about 200,000 geeks who congregate every year every month of July in San Diego – and trust me, it is a thing of beauty, and you better believe I’m going to be there next month. But look, we don’t have to travel all the way to San Diego to experience this. We have one right here in Denver Just two weeks ago, we had the second Denver Comic Con and guess what? Sixty-one thousand people showed up.

I think we can absolutely rival San Diego. The bottom line is, I’m very optimistic, but it really starts with us recognizing that our popular arts, our popular culture, they’re not just guilty pleasures. It is something that truly matters to us. I’m going to tell you this one thing from a slightly outside perspective.

As I’ve mentioned to you, I’m Swiss-French even though I’ve been now in the US for twenty-two years, which is more than half my life. I think the one thing that makes America so great to the rest of the world, above all else, is the fact that we are the first civilization in human history to have made fun important. We must never, ever, ever, lose track of that. When zombies look you in the eye and chase you off the stage, you have to run!

Want a summary of this talk? Here it is.


Alexandre O. Philippe reflecting on his childhood experience with pop culture, discusses the significance of pop culture in our lives. Here’s a summary of the key points discussed in this talk:

1. Childhood Star Wars Experience: Alexandre talks about his childhood in Switzerland and how he was introduced to Star Wars at a local theater. He mentions watching “The Empire Strikes Back” in French and being a Star Wars fan.

2. The Influence of Pop Culture: He emphasizes the impact of pop culture on his generation, especially through iconic moments like the revelation of Darth Vader as Luke Skywalker’s father. Pop culture sparked his imagination and creativity.

3. Pop Culture as a Career: Alexandre has turned his passion for pop culture into a career, documenting it for the past decade. He believes that pop culture is important and significant.

4. Defining Pop Culture: He discusses the concept of pop culture and gives examples, highlighting that it encompasses viral and widely recognized elements, such as Grumpy Cat, Psy, and even political figures like Mitt Romney when they become subjects of popular discussion.

5. Pop Culture’s Influence: Alexandre argues that pop culture has the power to shape our world, citing the impact of Star Wars on various industries and aspects of society.

6. Unity in Pop Culture: He challenges the perception that pop culture is trivial, suggesting that it can bring people together, make them smile, and bridge divides. He questions why we dismiss certain pop culture phenomena as unimportant.

7. Preserving Pop Culture: Alexandre expresses concern about the potential loss of pop culture artifacts and the need to preserve them for future generations, much like the loss of early American films.

8. San Diego Comic-Con and Denver Comic Con: He mentions the significance of events like Comic-Con, where fans of pop culture can come together and celebrate their passions.

9. American Embrace of Fun: As someone originally from Switzerland and now residing in the U.S., Alexandre praises America’s unique ability to make fun and entertainment an essential part of its culture.

10. A Playful Conclusion: The talk ends with a lighthearted reference to zombies and emphasizes the importance of never losing the value of fun and enjoyment in our lives.

Overall, Alexandre O. Philippe’s message centers on the idea that pop culture, despite being seen as trivial by some, has a profound impact on our lives, bringing people together, sparking creativity, and even influencing broader cultural changes. He encourages a greater appreciation for and preservation of pop culture as an essential part of our shared human experience.

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