The popularity of "Ready Player One" the novel (a New York Times bestseller and recommended reading for employees at Oculus VR) and film (grossing over a half billion dollars worldwide) serves as an initial reflection point in this talk about our culture’s collective vision of the popular, and pop culture in particular, as a way of thinking and imagining the future. What is pop culture for? How do we imagine pop culture as a way of imagining both our present lives and our aspirations for the future? More particularly, how are pop cultural images of the future — through a variety of dystopic and utopic televisual, film, musical, and virtual “texts” — providing us opportunities to think critically about where we’re headed? And, given current technological capabilities and the opportunity for many consumers of pop culture to become DIY producers of their own pop culture, what kinds of futures are fans imagining and enacting in their own content creation? Starting with "Ready Player One," we’ll move to a broader attempt to answer these important questions about contemporary pop culture and its relationship to how we imagine the future.
Jonathan Alexander is Chancellor’s Professor of English and Informatics at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of fifteen books, including the recent "Writing Youth: Young Adult Fiction as Literacy Sponsorship." He studies how a variety of pop cultural genres (from SF and YA to memoir and computer games) affect, shape, challenge, reify, and sometimes transform ideological views and political rhetorics.