Will "Pop-Up Video" Still Be Fun in 2011?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
May 26 2011 12:36 PM

Will "Pop-Up Video" Still Be Fun in 2011?

The Internet rejoiced yesterday as VH1announced that it was bringing back the much-beloved Pop-Up Video after a 10-year hiatus. (This following the newsthat MTV, too, is going back to the vault, with plans to reboot both 120Minutes and Beavis and Butt-Head . ) In case you missed the show's initialeight-year run, Pop-Up Video takesold and new music videos and annotates each with approximately 30 bits oftrivia, which appear in the form of little text bubbles accompanied bysatisfying, bodily-sounding bloop! s. In this go-round, the producers will includehip-hop videos, which were originally off-limits because theywere seen as MTV's domain . (Does this suggest a decline in the status of hip-hopor a rise in the status of VH1? Discuss.)

I loved Pop-Up asmuch as the next dorky kid who spent the '90s at home, watching televisioninstead of going to parties. I still occasionally wake up with the theme song inmy head, and the old videosseem as wittily crafted to me as ever . But now that the whole world looks alot like Pop-Up Video , will the showbe as much fun as it was in its dial-up heyday?

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At the height of Pop-Up 'spopularity in 1997, Walter Kirn wrote atakedown of the series for Slate . Fourteen years later, hisdescriptions of the pop-up bubbles sound like a now-common set of complaintsabout Internet commenters. The bubbles are like a reactionary Greek chorus, Kirnargues, intent on pulling down any artist who takes themselves too seriouslyand more concerned with their own cleverness than the object they're commentingon. He cites the pop-upped edition of Lisa Loeb's "Stay," in which one bubbletells us that Loeb calls her look "natural not trendy," while the next jeers ather hypocrisy by quoting the price of her "Soho designer dress."

Of course, there's a difference between Pop-Up 's curated, carefully scripted snarkiness and the free-for-all of Webcommenting. Pop-U p's exegeses feltmore like a DVD commentary from a single, unified mind than the scatteredbabble of the Internet. (Plus I think the pop-ups were a lot moreaffectionate than Kirn gives them credit for: They kid because they love.)

But show co-creator Woody Thompson himself has noted that Pop-Up anticipated the way we talk in this digital age andindeed, takes the comparison even further, claiming that his series actually birtheda mode of conversation we now take for granted:

I have sat on the sidelines for thelast decade and watched as everyone and the [ sic ] brother has ripped off  Pop Up  in some way oranother with the internet coming out of nowhere and Twitter being hauntinglyfamiliar and all of these devices that are using snarky, pithy text ...

The show's terse, sometimes cutting messages always 15 words or less dosound like the kind of tweeted commentary you might read during, say, anepisode of American Idol or theOscars. ("Not shown: the singers who provided the real voices of Milli Vanillifor 3 years," a pop-up declares during "Girl You Know It's True.") The sort ofhappy free association the show engages in also seems very Webby. (TheProclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" "wasn't a hit until used in 1993's Benny and Joon " ... "That film starred MaryStuart Masterson as a woman suffering from mental illness" ... "Repeatedlyshaking one's head [as the Proclaimer twins do] can be a sign that the personis severely autistic" ... "At the start of their career, the Proclaimers wereseverely acoustic.")

I'm not sure yet whether I buy Thompson's Al Gore-ish claimthat his show invented this kind of talk any readers care to weigh in on that? but I do know that between my Google Readerand my Twitter feed, I often feel like my work day is one long episode of Pop-Up Video , in which the object under examination isn't a single, self-contained thing but the entire sweep of the Internet. It's hard enough to know how to consume culture now thateverything is instantly available , but sitting in front of a firehose-like sprayof clever, bite-sized commentary on this, that, and the other thing makes it even harder to select, slow down, and focus. Meanwhile, distractible popculture junkies don't exactly lack for easy access to trivia these days. (Just theother day, when it was announced that ChristopherMeloni was leaving Law & Order: SVU ,I jaunted over to hisWikipedia page and learned that this versatile thespian provided the voice of Spike in theearly '90s puppet sitcom Dinosaurs ... which, I then learned, was actually an extended disquisition on thepetrochemical industry ... and so on and so forth on down the factoid-linedrabbit hole.)  

Of course, the trivia will be better-curated, one hopes. Andit will almost definitely be fresher, if the show's writers hew to the painstaking researchprocess they followed in the late 90s , in which they would actually call upeveryone who worked on the shoot to glean unreported details. I lookforward to the hungover Sunday mornings I will spend watching DVR'ed episodesof the new Pop-Up , but I'm notentirely sure I should, when I already try to limit my Internet use during mynon-work hours. As nostalgic as I am for my low-impact Prodigy days , Idon't know that I need one more thing in my life that trains me how to distractmyself.

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Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.