DISCUSSION: Pop Culture References in Books

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12 Responses

  1. I don’t know that I would say it takes away from the story, but I can totally see what you mean! So long as the reference doesn’t play an important part in the story (as 80’s nostalgia in RPO does), then I think it doesn’t really matter. At the most, it would be a lost sentence.
    But I can totally see what you mean, how some things are absolutely temporary, and how not knowing those things may cause confusion or at least make you pause to try to figure out what you just read.
    I know most people are not like this, but personally if I don’t understand a reference or come across something in a book that I don’t understand, I don’t usually hesitate to look it up. In that sense (assuming most readers are like that) you can almost write it off as a teaching experience! Maybe the reader has never heard of Taylor Swift, so they look her up and end up finding a whole new genre of music that they love! (a bit of a stretch I know, but it could happen!)

    Interesting post though!

  2. JuJube is telling you to please read that one next.

    I also pause at the pop culture references. I haven’t thought too much about it but I really get the point you are making here. I think it will still boil down to context. Referencing a teenager’s current heart throb may be fine to help build that character. Highlighting the brand name phone for no apparent reason, not too useful.

  3. I really don’t mind pop culture references if they are every now and then but when they are shoved in your face that’s when I get irritated. I recently read a book (A Taxonomy of Love) that was riddled throughout with references. It got to the point where I was more irritated at the references that I had a hard time enjoying the actual story. It definitely detracted from the plot. If you haven’t read my review, I suggest you check it out. I do speak on this subject in my review. But I do agree that it can also date a book. We understand the references now, but will people understand them in the future? I don’t know, I honestly could do without them. Great discussion!

    • J.W. Martin says:

      I read a book where the author kept referring to a specific phone. Nokia something or other. He had the model number in there too. And then every single time that character took out his phone, it wasn’t referred to as his phone. It was called Nokia (complete with model number.) It made me hate the book, and Nokia phones in general.

  4. What a great discussion piece! I so agree! Honestly- there’s a difference with Ready Player One because it’s plot related and it’s supposed to be dated. But in a lot of books I’ve read where tech has come up, I’ve thought to myself while reading it “boy this will not age well”. I mean, a casual reference to myspace in a book written a decade ago would probably just confuse people now. I think your example of a book with sixties references would also work- but I also think that if there was a pertinent reason to set something in 2017 and therefore make it a time capsule for that time period that would work too. But for the most part, unless dating it is relevant, I think it’s best not to be so specific. Anyway, awesome post again!

  5. Kristin says:

    It drives me insane because I don’t watch much tv or movies so I have no idea who most of them are. Some of them are written in a way that I don’t even understand the reference.

  6. No. You’re not nuts. It’s annoying as all hell! Like you said about RPO – it was done well and it’s referring to things in the past in a nostalgic sort of way. The specific references were also related to clues in finding something so it was necessary. Referring to pop culture things in contemporary reads also works because it sets a time frame. But constant name dropping and if it’s in anything other than a contemporary read – just NO!

  7. Beware Of The Reader says:

    Haha Joe yes Taylor’s songs are tricky like that. No I don’t think it would diminish the reading’s pleasure in ten years. What it could do is revive these songs or movies as the reader could be curious and look after it.

  8. I agree, that it may not hold the same weight in a few years. Even now when I read about references I don’t understand I’m a bit like …. ok I don’t know what this is but I’ll just skip it. But then I read something like Percy Jackson that is full of pop cultures references and it’s totally hilarious, and I can’t help but love it.

  9. Definitely a topic on my mind lately as my current project takes place in the late-80’s so I was originally filling it with pop culture references. I’ve since gone back and toned it down to those most relevant to the character or story. If I can introduce the reader to something they didn’t know from my heyday is fine but I do not want them removed from the moment.

  10. I agree that pop references are a bad idea, but it can be tough! Not only do you have to consider leaving names out of the mix, but things like punching in a number on a phone or swiping to answer, etc., may sound “old-fashioned” in the near future. I want my stories to be as ever-green as possible and I’d hate to lose a reader to confusion or have them hesitate to understand the meaning of a reference. I say the fewer pop culture references in a book the better.

    • J.W. Martin says:

      Not only is it possible that swiping to unlock a phone could become obsolete, but the phone itself is in danger. I’m another 10 years it could all be through watches, no separate phone required. Or some form of glasses if Google can nail that tech down.

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