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Sean P. Means: Enough with the pop-cultural anniversaries!

By Sean P. Means

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jul 17 2014 10:59 am • Last Updated Jul 17 2014 04:17 pm

I’m getting tired of pop-culture anniversaries.

I say this knowing that I may sound hypocritical because I spent a good part of my week writing a story (also on this page) about the 15th anniversary of the Salt Lake City music venue Kilby Court.

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It could seem doubly hypocritical because in this space two weeks ago, I raved about The Beatles’ classic film "A Hard Day’s Night," which celebrated its 50th anniversary this month.

I will defend the journalistic reasons for writing both of those articles — as events that are unusual (most music venues don’t last to 15 years) or have a local "news peg" ("A Hard Day’s Night" was screened at the Tower Theatre).

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional backward glance at milestone events in our shared culture. But it seems to have gotten out of hand lately.

This summer, I’ve seen items in print publications, pop-culture websites and TV shows about the following anniversaries:

• The 30th anniversary of the movie "Ghostbusters" and Bruce Springsteen’s "Born in the U.S.A." album.

• The 25th anniversary of the romantic comedy "When Harry Met Sally …," Spike Lee’s movie "Do the Right Thing," the baseball movie "Field of Dreams" and the debut of the sitcom "Seinfeld."

• The 20th anniversary of the Oscar-winning "Forrest Gump" and the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick "True Lies."

• The 10th anniversary of the indie comedy "Napoleon Dynamite."


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The reasons for this overflow of anniversary observances are multiple.

For starters, they’re easy to write. It doesn’t take much for a young movie blogger to search back his or her memories, or pop a disc in the player, to appraise an old movie, TV show or album.

They stoke nostalgia in readers. Unlike a review of a new work, rehashing an old one puts the reader and writer on an equal footing — because they both are familiar with the material.

They allow for comparisons of an artist’s old work up against his or her new stuff — often to the detriment of the new work. (Poor Rob Reiner, the director of "When Harry Met Sally …," is facing that with his latest, "And So It Goes," which I’ll review next week. Don’t get your hopes up.)

They also make room for a different comparison: that of an original work to its many imitators.

Anniversary stories lend themselves to easy click-bait for pop-culture web writers. A "where are they now?" slide show of actors then and now is an easy lure to readers, as is a list along the lines of "10 reasons ‘True Lies’ is really Jim Cameron’s best movie ever." (I made that one up — then and now, "True Lies" was terrible.)

Often, anniversary stories are pushed by entertainment companies with something to sell. This can range from a new DVD release to, in the case of "Field of Dreams," promotions at ballparks.

Take, for example, the 20th-anniversary stories about "Forrest Gump," which included an announcement that director Robert Zemeckis will re-release the movie in a remastered IMAX format in September.

This glut of pop-culture anniversary observances is not without its risks. One is an overdose of forced nostalgia, a corporate-driven push to equate what was popular with what was actually good.

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