Pop will eat itself

I’ve got an affinity for all things pop culture, as well as a capacity for remembering little tidbits of really stupid, useful information. Now, I’m not talented enough to be your secret weapon at the Streets of London weekly pub quiz—once, while playing Trivial Pursuit, I could only sputter-shout “Shark! Shark! Shark!” when Jaws was the needed answer. Still, I can tell you, off the top of my head when Britney Spears’ birthday is (December 2), Elton John’s real name (Reginald Kenneth Dwight) and why Pop Rocks candy was taken off the market in the ’80s (hint: It had nothing to do with Mikey).

I’m not necessarily proud of this dubious talent, but maybe it explains why I actually waste brain cells worrying about the State of the Pop Culture Union—at least when it comes to TV.

Here, lost in the flat-screened, high-deffed, DVRed state of being, pop culture is killing itself, one useless, microscopic tidbit of information at a time. I’ve been trying to watch less television but, New Year’s resolutions aside, there are three shows I can’t give up: 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights and Lost.

The latter two—one about a small town Texas high-school football team, the other about airline crash survivors drifting between various schisms in the space-time continuum—exist in universes that seem, largely, undefined by time or current trends. While there are allusions that place them in the 21st century, they’re general enough to keep each episode’s exact place in time relatively vague.

On 30 Rock, however, the references are so precise you could, in theory, date the writing of each episode down to the exact calendar day based on its jokes alone.

And that’s not necessarily a good thing. 30 Rock is, arguably, TV’s funniest show, but every time you throw out a joke, barb or witty aside that references the in-joke of the day, you run the risk of packaging your show with a stringent “sell by” date.

This season, for example, the show’s aimed jokes at Lady Gaga, Gossip Girl and the Jay Leno TV brouhaha. While the one-liners are usually hilarious the first time around, they don’t hold up well in repeated viewings. I watched one episode when it first aired in September and, by the time the episode re-aired December, there were at least two Us Weekly-worthy jokes that fell flat as I tried to remember the current events upon which they riffed.

OK, so maybe that’s just an indication that my brain’s been sucked into a horribly vacuous pop-culture cycle.

And, obviously, there are bigger problems in the universe (I get that, so please hold the condescending e-mails), still I can’t help but think back to classic TV comedies such as M*A*S*H and Seinfeld. Although the former show is rooted in a particular place and era, its pointed news-of-the-day jokes are surprisingly few and the resulting humor is timeless. Meanwhile Seinfeld, which often relied on a second-by-second breakdown of ’90s-era events, doesn’t always hold up in the rerun department. Seriously, that episode about The English Patient? Not funny 15 years later.

So 30 Rock, please, I’m begging you, leave the Snooki and Situation jokes to The Soup—such 15-seconds-worthy fame whores should be Joel McHale’s bread and butter, not yours.