The Death of “Influencers,” Pop Culture on TV Shows, and More: Today’s Recommended Reading

Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. Today, we have an explanation for why viewers like to see their favorite TV characters engaging in pop culture, an op-ed on why non-franchise sci-fi films never seem to be able to command audience attention at the box office, an interview with a social media executive that explains why “influencers” are dying out, and a musing on the death of optimism and its impact on the 2016 presidential race.


On Playboy, Stephen Rebello explains why sci-fi and fantasy films that don’t fall within any given “franchise” are doomed to fail at the box office (most of the time), and why that risk has influenced Hollywood to stop making so many of them.

Ex Machina was great. In fact, many people (or, at least, I) thought that Alicia Vikander should have won the Academy Award for her role in that movie rather than for her role in The Danish Girl. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t perform too well and, it seems here, the reason is because sci-fi genre films can not ever perform well if they aren’t upheld by a franchise (or a legacy like Star Wars or a video game like Assassin’s Creed). Because of this, however, original screenplay sci-fi films hardly ever get to see the light of the day because it’s a studio gamble up against, say, a fifth installment of Star Wars.

When it comes to big-screen science fiction, Hollywood has learned the hard way that original can be a troublesome thing among today’s jaded movie audiences hungry for pre-sold brand name product. Exceptions like The Martian are few and far between. Yet, along comes Passengers, another big studio fantasy epic that isn’t entangled in the tentacles of the mighty DC or Marvel Comic universes. Or based on a graphic novel. Or a videogame. Or anything that sounds remotely franchise-y, for that matter. And unlike other original futuristic hits like Inception and Interstellar, Passengers can’t ride the coattails of a writer-director like Christopher Nolan, who packs huge cachet with critics and fanboys.


On Vulture, Kathryn VanArendonk breaks down why the formatting of a TV show allows a much deeper immersion of its character in the pop culture of the time as opposed to other mediums, and why we, as viewers, like to see that so much.

On shows like The Americans and Mad Men, we can see the characters engaging with pop culture in a way that contextualizes the time period for the viewer. Interest in seeing a particular band perform live, a desire to get a specific haircut, or an affinity for a popular phrase can all situate a character firmly within a period in ways that mere plot points don’t. But why exactly do viewers like seeing this so much?

But pop culture works so well on TV in particular because one of the biggest strengths of the medium is just how much time we get to spend with its characters. They, like us, have the opportunity to see and respond to the culture in which they live — not just once, but often many times over the course of a series. Tony Soprano can sit and meditate over his Gary Cooper–inflected ideas of masculinity, and the Sex and the City women can dissect The Way We Were, and on Jane the Virgin Jane and Michael can sit and reconnect by catching up on Scandal. And on The Americans, where Elizabeth once deftly distracted her kids by offering to take them to see an Indiana Jones movie, we now watch the family together in front of the TV, watching the world explode.


On Gawker, Andy Cush talks to a “social media executive” to find out why we are quickly exiting the Age of the Influencer on social media.

It doesn’t take more than scrolling through a maximum of ten photos on Instagram before you’ll see a hashtag for some brand. Some users just like to hashtag stuff for the fun of it, but some of them do it because it’s their job, literally — you can probably tell who’s who by seeing which picture gets 10 likes and which gets 10,000. These “influencers” use their large social media following as a résumé skill-set to elicit money from brands that are trying to find the easiest way to access and connect with Generation Y and Generation Z. However, apparently these partnerships aren’t really helping the brands at all, but the influencers seem to be richer than ever.

Influencers are going to start disappearing. Brands are going to start realizing the amount of followers you have doesn’t mean shit. Just because photos look good and have 200,000 followers means nothing. You can’t rely on content creators all day long. For the influencers, their entire business is about relationships and friendships. Someone was at Vice, so uses their friend to do photography. Someone knows someone else at Instagram so gets featured on the trending page. We live and die by these platforms today.


On The New York Times, Gregg Easterbrook wants to know when optimism stopped being cool.

Despite what most politicians would have you believe — Trump’s thoughts on America going to hell come to mind, specifically — things are in a surprisingly good state for America right now. But rather than celebrating the good that has come as a result of the last few years of political reform, a steadily growing focus has been placed on the bad. In this piece, it is argued that this pessimistic focus on the wrong is what allows a candidate like Trump to succeed.

The lack of optimism in contemporary liberal and centrist thinking opens the door to Trump-style demagogy, since if the country really is going to hell, we do indeed need walls. And because optimism has lost its standing in American public opinion, past reforms — among them environmental protection, anti-discrimination initiatives, income security for seniors, auto and aviation safety, interconnected global economics, improved policing and yes, Obamacare — don’t get credit for the good they have accomplished.