Every month at the AE offices, we choose our Pop Culture Picks. It could be an album, a band, a book, a movie, a TV show, a podcast, or anything else we enjoyed over the previous 30 days. Keep scrolling to find out what caught our attention this month!
Love, Death & Robots
TL;DR: Love, Death & Robots is a new animated anthology series available on Netflix and has its roots in a concept developed by producers David Fincher and Tim Miller to reboot ‘Heavy Metal‘ for a new generation.
The series comprises 18 episodes by different creative teams from all over the world. Each has its own unique animation style and storyline. Episodes range from 10-20 minutes in length.
I collected a lot of Heavy Metal as a young adult and beyond, and really enjoy the classic animated movie (John Candy voicing Den!) so this was definitely right up my alley.
Some of the critiques I have seen so far say that the series appears to favor quantity over quality. I’m not sure I agree with that. Not that I think every episode was a masterpiece, but I like the fact that because there is so much there, you can choose yourself what to watch, when, and in what order.
In this way, it really did give me that Heavy Metal feel. You can curate your own experience, and what works for one person may not work for another. But at least there is more opportunity to appeal to a broader audience.
When I bought copies of Heavy Metal I would never read it from start to end in order. I would see what stories there were and take my own path. Sometimes I wouldn’t read one of the stories until months later. Some I re-read over and over.
My suggestion would be to check out the episode list, pick and choose what sounds interesting and take your own journey at your own pace.
In case you’re curious, here are 5 of my favorites from Season 1 (tough choice!):
– Three Robots
– Good Hunting
– Fish Night
1984 by George Orwell
TL;DR: 1984 is the ultimate dystopian novel which dives deep into topics such as the treatment of humanity, freedom, thought, language, perception of reality, and history.
My pop culture pick this month is the classic novel 1984 by George Orwell. I thought I knew what I was getting into and hooo boy, I was not ready. This book is intense.
The story is set in the year 1984, following decades of war that has redefined the world. A mysterious “Big Brother” leads the nation, and everyone is watched 24/7; words, actions, and even thoughts are monitored constantly. There’s propaganda, rations, and constant reports of a war that is happening with one of the other two continents (the world is now Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia). If anyone shows even the slightest hint of rebellious thought, they are severely punished (tortured) and eradicated.
The story follows Winston Smith in London, Oceania. He is an average worker who just goes about his routine every day. This all changes when he buys an illicit journal and starts to write out his thoughts…
1984 delves deep into many philosophical and psychological topics, one being the right to freedom of thought and speech. Since no one is allowed to own any physical records of anything (I’m talking newspapers, books, audio, etc.) and Big Brother is constantly rewriting history, it is impossible to know truth or to develop personal beliefs. The English language is also rewritten to be much more basic. Because, as the book explains, if people can’t express their complex emotions, then, eventually, they become more simple. There’s a lot more to unpack here, but the erasing of history and control using language is what struck me the most.
I was truly blown away by this book and every day since I’ve read it I’ve thought about freedom, and how our world is defined by our choices, individuality, history, and language. As I sit here listening to some nice music and writing my Pop Culture Pick, I imagine the consequences I would suffer in that world, for such small actions.
Octopath Traveller (Nintendo Switch)
TLDR; Classic JRPG action with unique graphics and 8 separate characters for you to try on and explore.
The Nintendo Switch is basically the perfect machine for JRPGs – play on the go, level up your characters, plug it in on the big screen, and continue your adventures. Octopath Traveller is a Switch exclusive from the folks that put out the Bravely Default games on the 3Ds (also well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre).
The game takes its name from the 8 different characters available for you to control, each with their own separate adventure within the game world. The most striking thing about the game is its unique graphical style – 2 dimensional character sprites on a 3D background – and it looks fantastic. Gameplay is pretty standard for a classic style JRPG, with an excellent battle system. Each of the eight characters has their own unique abilities in both battles and while adventuring, which provides plenty of reasons for exploration.
If I have one criticism, it’s that the story and missions can be a bit generic. But that’s to be expected with the complexity of maintaining 8 separate character arcs. With so much going on there is plenty to keep you entertained in this lovingly crafted retro-JRPG.
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Long story short: Costumes, make up, and theater make this series the best of “bad TV.”
I’m pretty careful about what I watch.
I usually wait for TV shows to be recommended to me by people who know me rather than by Netflix’s algorithms. I just have a million and one things to do (like everyone else), and I hate the idea of spending precious time in front of a screen.
But sometimes, you just want to be entertained. And, as I’m slowly learning, that’s okay! We all have our favorite “bad TV shows.”
For me, this is RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s a mishmash of many things I love and it doesn’t leave you with that tugging sensation to watching more, more, more as many shows do these days.
RuPaul’s Drag Race first aired in 2009 and is currently filming its 11th season. The host of the show, RuPaul, is probably the most well-known and influential drag queen in the United States.
Each season starts with around 14 contestants. Thanks to the wildly diverse and hilarious challenges, one contestant is eliminated each episode. Two are left remaining at the end of the season to compete in the final challenge and win the $100,000 cash prize.
Here’s what I love about it (and what you might too!):
Costume challenges: As an amateur sewist and someone who spent their teen years watching Project Runway, I love seeing what the contestants come up with under pressure.
Drag makeup: It’s so cool to see how makeup transforms each of the contestants’ faces differently. I’m a big fan of challenging gender norms and authentic self-expression.
Singing & dancing: Challenges often include theatrical elements, not to mention when the bottom of the tier contestants lipsync to save themselves from being eliminated.
Big personalities: The contestants are all so unique and throughout the season, you get to learn more about their lives and what brought them to drag.
All in all, it’s very entertaining and I recommend giving in a shot if any of the above appeals to you. If it’s your first drag race, don’t worry about starting with the very first season. In fact, I don’t recommend it- the show has come a long way in 10 years!
Well, as RuPaul would say, it’s time for me to “sashay away!” Until next month.