Daniel Harmon (not to be confused with Community creator Dan Harmon) is a pop-culture aficionado, but never thought he’d be able to do it “by day.” Somehow, he made it work and has released the highly intriguing Super Pop!: Pop Culture Top Ten Lists to Help You Win at Trivia, Survive in the Wild, and Make It Through the Holidays (published by Zest Books, where Harmon spends his days as an editor).
After working in nonfiction and academic publishing for a number of years on the East Coast, Harmon moved back to his hometown of San Francisco. He began working on young adult books with Zest Publishing and never looked back. His new book is a (rather large) collection of lists and subtitles on such esoteric topics as “Cheat on Your Homework: Essential Literary Adaptations” and “Achieve Mindfulness: Movies that Will Show You the Way.” Harmon recently spoke with us about his fascination with pop culture and his hopes for this comprehensive tome.
In discussing Harmon’s process, we started at the beginning. At the core of Harmon’s approach was a sincere attempt to build one-of-a-kind lists:
I wanted to make sure that these lists were unsearchable [elsewhere]. What I want to see, and what I hope this book offers, is lists that move beyond the expected.
Super Pop! consists of about 450 lists, each with 10 items, every one carefully summarized and elucidated. Harmon tells us that prior to writing the book, he was already familiar with a whopping 60–70 percent of the content — and after combing through podcasts, websites, and friends’ noggins, he has now consumed every single item enumerated in the book… with one exception:
There is redeeming value in everything in [Super Pop!], except The Land Before Time 13, which is only included as a joke — the only thing that is included in this book that is not a real recommendation. Also a hilarious movie which I will never see. Just the premise is enough… 13 movies!
Talking with Harmon, it’s clear that he really does delight in everything pop culture. He explains:
As long as someone consumes it for entertainment, I consider that to be pop culture. I certainly consider the classics — The Brothers Karamazov is in here, In Search of Lost Time is in here, operas are in here. That is all pop culture to me. That distinction between high and low is shifting and arbitrary. I tried not to make my own ignorance, where genre is concerned, a barrier.
When asked about the origins of his pop culture obsession, Harmon describes his formative experience with Star Wars as something he didn’t particularly obsess over in of itself, but felt deeply that it was culturally integral.
I’m not a Star Wars fan today to any extensive degree, but as a 12-year-old, for a moment, I thought, “Oh my god, this is so great.” I would be so sad if this were lost to future generations. From an early age, I was really concerned about, not even my own recommendations, but cultural loss of things that other people held dear slipping outside the realm of memory. I hope that this book offers reassurance for adults. It includes contemporary things of modern relevance — that’s what teens will know and get to, and through that I hope that they’ll put some trust in the recommendations and be willing to dive deeper in the loose genres or affiliations that they can recognize to find the things they like. I really am here to be an advocate for the art that is slipping away and the things that have already slipped from popular culture.
Super Pop!, while seemingly comprehensive in scope, offers a window into the cultural consciousness. Harmon’s biggest hope is that it serves as a jumping-off point for both teens and adults — if a particular list’s topic strikes a reader, and that reader were to watch a movie or read a book from that list, it could open one’s eyes to an entirely new genre. In some senses, this is Harmon’s own goal for himself, and he relates this back to his youth, which was during the heyday of video rental stores.
There was Blockbuster, where there was no creativity, just a section for New Releases, and then everything else. And then on the other hand there were these used video stores: two kinds. One was curated and that was great, but they were much smaller than Blockbuster so there, too, you found a sort of death after you’d gone through everything. So eventually that became a smaller Blockbuster. For me, what was the best were the movie stores that were chaos. Maybe there’s some curation, but you have to go through everything. In that environment, you’re more inclined to take everything seriously.
Harmon envisions a world where his audience will take these recommendations, discover new things, and add to the cultural archive with their own lists and recommendations. In this way, everyone will have an investment in keeping artifacts of pop culture from “slipping through the cracks,” as he put it.
“I did not intend these lists to be an endpoint,” Harmon said, “but rather a beginning.”