Archived Opinion

It’s time to re-program pop culture’s storyline

It’s time to re-program pop culture’s storyline

Pop culture wants to kill us. At the very least, it wants to make us miserable, to ensure that from an early age we are well on our way to a lifetime of chronic disappointment.

From the time we become remotely sentient, we are bombarded with lies from every direction: children’s books, fairy tales, movies, kid shows, friends, even our own parents. Your face never really froze that way, did it? Did you ever really put your eye out? 

How are we to make sense of the competing narratives that dominate our early childhood, the first that danger is lurking every-damn-where, and the second that we’ll live happily ever after once we either rescue or are rescued by our prince or princess. If we manage to avoid being eaten by a wolf or a witch, that is. 

Religion certainly didn’t help. Eat the wrong thing and find yourself naked in front of judgmental peers and a deity who is just livid over an apple. An apple! Do the wrong thing and find yourself in a terrible flood on a boat with 1,500 smelly animals. Or, you know, swimming for it. Even the most innocuous children’s prayer had you repeating every single night: “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” And you thought fractions were hard! 

It is a miracle that all American children are not either heavily medicated or in daily therapy sessions by the time they’re 6 years old. If you do manage to survive childhood and somehow plow your way through the blinding blizzard of adolescence, you find that all the lies of childhood have been conveniently repackaged for you in the form of horror movies and romantic comedies. 

You’ll find that you’re secretly in love with that person you couldn’t really stand — you were in love all along, but you were in denial. Or you’ll fall for someone after meeting in the most unlikely way, have a brief period of delirious happiness, then be ripped apart over a misunderstanding, and only then will you live happily ever after once the misunderstanding is resolved. 

Related Items

Have you ever noticed how the credits roll before the movie ever gets into the real issues that drip by drip, day by day, paper cut by paper cut, do a real number on your happily-ever-after? Do you remember that scene in “Pretty Woman” where Richard Gere and Julia Roberts have been married for eight years and are having a loud argument over whose night it is to cook and which one forgot to go to the liquor store … again? Nope? 

How about the scene in “When Harry Met Sally” when Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have started marriage counseling for the third time because he won’t quit his stupid mugging and making a joke out of everything, while she has taken out a second mortgage on the house to “get work done” because he doesn’t look at her the way he used to. Didn’t see that one either? 

Why can’t pop culture do a better job of preparing us for what life is really going to be like?  

Instead of “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and those horrifying Oompa Loompas and the various ways bad little children can die if they are not going to inherit a chocolate factory, why can’t we see a move about why Charlie didn’t get invited to Tommy’s birthday party, when EVERYBODY else in their friend group did? How do we fix it when every friend you thought you had turns out to be a bad egg, Mr. Wonka? Is there a chocolate bar for mass rejection? 

Instead of “The Wizard of Oz” and its none-too-subtle rebuke of a young girl for daring to dream of ditching drab Kansas for a world of color, magic, possibility and far more interesting people, why can’t we have a movie about the passive aggressive cruelty of a second-grade teacher who should have retired years ago, but who seems to hang on so she can hurl little verbal darts at the unsuspecting children in her charge? No place like home indeed! 

In view of the decades-long high rate of divorce, the multibillion big pharma self-medication bonanza, a fragrant bouquet of 12-step programs, and our assorted addictions to Facebook, TikTok, iPhone games and other soul-sucking time killers, pop culture is in desperate need of new programming. We have all long since traded in our happily-ever-afters for a patchwork of diversions designed to keep us from peeking into the abyss. Just when we think we’ve escaped the Oompa Loompas, they turn up as dancers in the Super Bowl halftime show. There is no way out. 

I bet the prince never imagined the highlight of his day would be eating a whole bag of Sun Chips and leveling up on Golf Clash while the princess is in her canopy bed shopping for mattress pads on Amazon.  

And they lived happily ever after!

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.