Television Tribune: Educational Television

BIg BangBy James

I am, first and foremost, a learner. While some people look to films and television for art and entertainment, I look to learn. Sometimes I learn about a plot or a character. Sometimes I take away a song, and very rarely, I take away a lesson. House of Cards managed to provide all three. House of Cards centers on South Carolina Congressman Frank Underwood, the majority whip in the House of Congress. For those of you who have no idea what any of that means, it’s okay, because the show explains it. The show is almost Shakespearean, from the asides the Congressman makes to the political intrigue and betrayal. The story pulls quotes from Oscar Wilde to add to the depth of the story, and uses a high level of symbolism to reinforce the idea that every political machination is all just part of a larger game. The idea that everything is a game is utterly pervasive throughout the show. Every step of Frank Underwood’s ascent is weighed, measured, and executed. The logic is very remarkably simple, as long as the fundamentals are remembered. Throughout the course of the political action, everything starts to make sense, and the viewer is put into the seat of power. The greed, betrayal, and complex set of alliances seems like a second nature that can be controlled and harnessed.  Everything becomes a simple piece of the puzzle.

Similarly, the BBC show Sherlock gives the viewer the sense of progressive understanding. At first, the workings of Sherlock’s brain seem mysterious. He has an almost inhuman ability to pick out the important facts, make a logical conclusion, and come up with an answer. The deductions he makes are simple, and require only certain information. The phone is scratched around the charging area, so the owner of the phone habitually is drunk when plugging the phone in to charge. In that way, Sherlock’s powers are almost magical. While they seem mystifying and arcane, in the end, the revelation of the truth feels almost disappointingly simple. However, just like a magician practicing his trade, what takes a few seconds to learn takes years to master. However, the viewer is given the tools required to think like Sherlock Holmes, if not the experience.  But given enough time, it is possible to master Holmes’s deductions.

Television shows have great potential to be informative. For years, Sesame Street has taught young viewers the basics of letters and numbers, while also preparing them for real life social situations. Television shows can enforce vital concepts while making the viewer interested in the material that they are learning.  For example, after the television show The Big Bang Theory gained a popular following, the number of physics majors sharply increased. A similar phenomenon appeared when the television show Scrubs aired, significantly increasing the number of students who applied to become medical students. The fact is that a popular show will at least divert attention onto the surroundings in the show. Be it a hospital, a physics lounge, or a bar, people notice the places where their characters work, drawing attention to different professions and different walks of life. Even without any educational content, by sheer dint of the fact that people become invested in their favorite characters, people become invested in professions. The implications of this are huge. Shows could showcase different walks of life that were previously unknown. It is relatively well known that William Shatner deliberately flubbed his lines in a take so that the show Star Trek would be forced to showcase the first interracial kiss on television. The use of a television show to forward a social viewpoint is certainly well established, and it would be a relatively easy step to transition to an educational viewpoint. This wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest that the shows would become overburdened with the educational emphasis, but even just the change in setting from a bar to a psychiatrist convention could be enough to give a proper foothold in the world that most people did not even realize. As long as the writing remains at the forefront of the show, a show that expands horizons could be just as brilliant as the show that stays at home, and what’s more, educational television will no longer be just for kids.


Three By Three: Sci-Fi Gadgets

Sci-Fi GadgetsThe Category

We here at Pop Modern, as you may have noticed, are big fans of science fiction. Whether it’s a big budget summer blockbuster or two guys in their backyard with rubber masks and half-faded glowsticks, something about the genre is infectious. Science fiction dares us to dream, to think beyond the confines of our reality, and to see our world in a whole new light. That, and there are so many flashy gizmos. So, in honor of this beloved genre and all of its assorted baubles and whats-its, this week we’ve decided to bring you our favorite sci-fi gadgets.

The Choices


The Tricorder from Star Trek: Some of my favorite fictional gadgets are the ones based in concrete reality. The Star Trek series is known for a fairly serious tone and deep fiction, and the tricorder is an essential part of any starship team’s equipment. It’s essentially an all-in-one device, capable of foreign atmosphere analysis, cross-species communication, and even basic teleportation. Like The Force, tricorders are cooler when they aren’t explained in the universe, and are just this magical, cell phone-esque piece of technology that comes in handy at all the right times. 

The Neuralizer from Men in Black: We’ve all wanted to forget certain parts of our lives, or erase our actions from the minds of others. With the neuralizer from Men in Black, nothing is permanent. Tired of holding a grudge against someone? Tell them how you feel, and then wipe their memories! There’s something inherently nefarious about messing with the minds of others, but isn’t the breaking of the laws of physics part of what makes sci-fi so much fun?

The Holographic Touch Screen from Minority Report: Yet another gadget that we’re mere years away from, the computers in Minority Report function only to make Tom Cruise look cool while he researches criminals, but it’s actually a fascinating piece of tech. Slip on some gloves, enter a password, and you’re interfacing with a high-tech computer. The practical implications are mind-blowing, but I mostly want a touch-based hologram computer so that I can finally live out my dream of lazily browsing the Internet with just my fingertips.


Darth Maul’s Double-Bladed Lightsaber from Star Wars: On every sci-fi gadget list, there needs to be an obligatory lightsaber. The thinking man’s weapon, the lightsaber requires years of training, and a keen reliance upon the Force. While this is fine, like most good things it’s even better if you double it. The double-bladed lightsaber is probably extremely impractical, and leads to self-mutilation more than it leads to enemy injury. With that being said, the double-bladed lightsaber is every kid’s dream come true, a combination of staff and sword. If not for me, this choice would still be important so that my 8-year-old self did not preemptively kill me.

The Heart of Gold from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The ship from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was as improbable as the books themselves. The power source for the ship ran on infinite improbability, and as such, anything could happen while using it. Knowing exactly how improbable any event is allows it to happen, usually without too many permanent side effects. The ship really holds its own when it comes to technology and style, a combination of raw power with the smug, opulent feel to let you know that the ship will never need to use any of its power. Note: Hangs in the sky in much the same way as a brick doesn’t.

The Web-Shooters from Spider-Man: This is another invention that my 8-year-old self would require. Though it would probably wrench my arm out of its socket, I would need to try to swing around the Cleveland skyline, fighting crimes with the aide of my web-shooters. Versatile and fun, the webs can be used in place of typical adhesives saving hundreds of dollars on crazy glue. Then again the cost of web-shooters would probably offset the savings, but you need to spend some money to keep happy.


The Portal Gun from PortalThe perfect blend of rad and utilitarian, Chell’s Portal Gun from the acclaimed puzzle-shooter is a must-have addition to any arsenal of science-fiction gadgets. After all, not only are there endless uses for such a weapon in battle, espionage, and other strategic applications, it’s also a drastic improvement to one’s quality of life. The sky’s the limit when it comes to portals, and any quotidian task would be rendered either significantly easier or just plain obsolete with a Portal Gun.

The Mr. Fusion from Back to the Future: I figured it would raise a few too many eyebrows if I put a time-travelling DeLorean into the “gadget” category, so I settled for another tribute to the classic science fiction series that would ultimately be far more useful in everyday life: The Mr. Fusion. Think about it, a thermos-sized reactor that can turn trash into green energy. That’s monumental, that little gadget would change our lives as we know it. Sure, it’s no time machine, maybe it’s about time we focus on wacky gadget that would solve our problems, rather than lump physics-bending paradoxes on top of them.

The Thermal Detonator from Star WarsFor my last choice, I thought I’d cool off on the practicality spiel and go for something a bit more deadly. Unfortunately, James already went and grabbed the lightsaber, so I had to poke around the Star Wars universe for something just as deadly, though much less dignified. I’m talking about the thermal detonator, the hand grenade to end all hand grenades, the explosive that can make Boba Fett quiver in his boots and Jabba the Hutt quiver in his…well, he’ll be quivering.

The Conclusion

Questioning why we chose what we did? Quibbles, queries, or any other issues with our selections? Quell your frustration by heading down to the comments and making yourself heard. Quaking, we’re practically quaking in anticipation.

Monday Match-Ups: Kirk vs. Picard

Kirk vs. PicardThe Setup

We like tackling the tough questions here at Pop Modern. Like, what’s the meaning of life? How can one find true happiness? Who’s cooler, Captain James Tiberius Kirk or Captain Jean-Luc Picard? Indeed, we’re pulling at the frayed ends of thread that weave our society together. And we plan to tug. Hard. Of course, what can be said about these two science-fiction greats that hasn’t already been posted on forum, or shouted at some convention, or nailed to some church door (turns out Martin Luther was a HUGE Trekkie)? Well, rather than say something new, we’re going to go ahead and ask something new, like…Who would win in a pie-eating contest, Kirk or Picard?

The Contenders

Captain Kirk:
Captain Picard:

The Verdicts

Allen: Gather round, redshirts! Zip it, listen! This matchup is easy as pie to predict. Kirk has this IN. THE. BAG. Picard (and Sir Patrick Stewart by extension) has the motivation and wherewithal to knock back a classy pumpkin pie or two, but I can just imagine Kirk would guffaw at Picard’s foolish attempts to consume these sugary treats before laying down the law. I like to imagine that this is all happening on some weird planet where there’s a county fair going on 24/7. Kirk pulls up to the bench, pops a squat Riker-style just to insult Picard, throws away the fork and knife, and goes face-first on some raspberry goodness. His Iowa heritage means that pies were probably a staple of the Kirk family diet, so he’s prepared for this. Four whole pies later and not a breath spared, Kirk comes out on top. It’s a match for the ages, as Picard screams in agony at his opponent’s table, “THERE ARE FOUR PIES!”

James: Obviously Kirk would win. Let’s look at the facts. Nervous habits seem to affect Kirk and Picard in different ways. Picard’s lack of hair clearly indicates that he was a hair puller, leaving him as bald and beautiful as he currently is. Kirk seems to be a stress eater. From his stint as admiral between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Wrath of Khan, Kirk put on the pounds. It appears that he was psychologically and physiologically preparing himself for the ordeal. As a captain, Kirk also has a more hands-on approach. Used to fighting planet side and dealing with his issues face to face, Kirk sets the phasers to kill when his eyes are on the prize: in this case the pie. Picard, a captain who delegates more is therefore unlikely to deal with the singular challenge of an eating contest quite as well. Kirk would destroy those pies faster than a Klingon bird of prey can uncloak.

Magellan: Cards on the table, I have to admit that I’ve always been more of a Star Wars fan, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. That being said, I’ve seen my occasional Star Trek and Next Generation episodes (or pieces of them, anyway) and I just spent a cool fifteen minutes with the Google results for “Kirk vs. Picard,” so I feel like I’m as level-headed and rational a member of this debate as any. Now, the way I see it, this is a classic tortoise-hare situation. Kirk is brash and charismatic, charging head-first into any competition. Now, this may work for him in his travels on The Enterprise, but in a pie-eating contest that sort of behavior is a choking hazard. If you don’t properly pace yourself, you’re in for some swallowing and vomiting problems. Picard, on the other hand, is the tortoise here: wrinkle-necked, smooth-headed, and patient. Sure, he may not be as quick to plunge head-first into an apple pie Jason-Biggs-style, but against all odds I think a cool demeanor wins the day.

The Results

Kirk wins 2-1

Finally, the debate has been solved and we can all go home and watch something new for a change. Like Deep Space Nine! Oh, or Voyager! Or Enterprise! Actually, maybe not Enterprise. And then I guess there are those new movies for when we get tired of traditional, flare-less lenses. Come to think of it, there’s a lot of Star Trek we could be watching right now. It’s a wonder we wasted so much damn time on this silly argument at all. If you’re still not through with it though, go ahead and vote in our poll and comment below, just try and set your phasers on polite, people.