Pop Culture Peeve

Every reader has something (possible multiple things) that ruins a book for them. These are little pet peeves that are unique to each individual reader and do not necessarily have anything to do with the writing skill of the author. These are simply things that a reader does not enjoy reading. For me, my reader pet peeve, my little brain tick, is pop culture reference in fiction.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but pop culture references in fiction really, really bother me. If a character refers to using her cellphone, that’s okay, but if she says the word “iPhone” I get a twitch in my jaw. If a character is playing a video game, no problem, but if they’re playing a Nintendo 3DS I start grinding my teeth. A character can be watching Saturday morning cartoons, but if the specific cartoon happens to be the most recent incarnation of Pokemon, I want to tear the page out of the book.

This pet peeve has made itvery difficult for me to get through some books that I otherwise enjoyed very much. In one particular series the main character makes constant reference to her MacBook Pro… That’s a triple whammy for me because it’s not just a Mac. It’s a goddamn Mac Book Pro.

What’s really funny about this little tick of mine is that it’s present-time exclusive. Only pop culture references that are current to the times bother me. Ageless pop culture is perfectly fine. So a character is safe if they’re watching Star Wars, but not if they’re watching The Hunger Games. I don’t mind if a character is listening to ACDC, but I can’t handle it if they’re listening to Justin Bieber. By all means, have your character own a mobile phone, but if you feel the need to tell me that the phone is the latest, greatest Samsung Galaxy S4, I might just toss the book out the window.

I suspect that the problem stems from a pop culture reference’s ability to forcefully mix fantasy and reality, while additionally forcing the reader into the present. Say, for example, we’re talking about an alian invasion story. Okay, well we know that aliens have never yet invaded Earth, so we suspend disbelief and imagine that the story is taking place in a time that hasn’t happened yet. But if a character starts talking about their PSP, we get hauled back to the present and suddenly it’s hard to get back into the story because we are fully aware that an alien invasion is not currently happening.

But Tracey, you might ask, what about stories that take place in the past, but crazy things like alien invasions happen, like in the movie Cowboys and Aliens? Easy. Those stories occur in alternate timelines or parallel universes, thus the differences from reality are fine…unless you use current-time pop culture references that bring the reader back to the present and thus screw up the illusion.

Okay, okay, it’s a flawed theory at best, but it doesn’t change the way that I feel about these things. Being slapped in the face with a piece of information that proves a story is meant to be taking place in real time, right here, right now, takes me out of the story and makes it harder for me to enjoy. To me, even if a piece of fiction occurs in modern-day Earth, I like the illusion of it being some other world. I read to escape the real world, and trying to make me feel that the story world and the real world are one in the same ruins that mood for me. I’m certain that not all readers think this way, but I’m also sure that there are plenty of readers who do. Keep pop culture out of my fiction!

How do you feel about pop culture in fiction? Annoying or unnoticeable? Do you have an other reader-specific pet peeves? Please share!

2 thoughts on “Pop Culture Peeve

  1. Those don’t sound like pop culture references. They sound like product placement. Naming things should give a sense of time and place, and an over-specific name of an item can pull you out of the story. Now if the person had a mac book air, and an iphone, and it played into the story that they are a mac-fanatic, then it would be okay. If it’s just over-specificity by the author, I understand your dislike.

    • Now that you mention it, yes…product placement, that’s totally what it feels like. It’s as though the author is getting a kickback for mentioning a specific product. *shudder*
      And yeah, I agree, if the references actually play into the story in a meaningful way I can handle it, but I hate being told a hundred times over the course of a book that the character used her iPhone when the word “cell” is just as informative.

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