Pulp media is a goldmine for culture for the same reason that a latrine pit is a goldmine for anthropology.

Intentional preservation focuses on ‘classics’ or things deemed important by people at the time, but the most important forces during any time period (or, at least, the most enlightening to people in the future) are the ones that remain unstated and unpreserved, because they are obvious, taboo, so omnipresent as to be unobservable, or because they represent gaps that are literally unthinkable. But pulp media is remarkably immune to these biases: pulp is defined by its low quality and editorial standards and the internal pressures toward volume and variety, and so gaps are visible statisticaly due to volume and taboos are overrepresented while the ‘obvious’ is often left in. (This is, at the time of publication, a flaw — the obvious is always seen as filler. But over time, as circumstances change, those lacuna become interesting as honest documents of the every-day psychological life of the period, even and especially if they are not representative of every-day material life, of which we have documents from actual latrine pits!)

When the repressed returns to media, pulp is where it rooms: the area of culture furthest removed from the enforcing hand of the superego. Because of its sheer volume, and because of pressures for speed and variety, the pulp potboiler represents a kind of pop-surrealism: tropes are repeated, varied, and juxtaposed in a teeming and aggressively diverse intellectual landscape, and this memetic jungle produces strange niches that tell us a great deal about the evolutionary pressures being put on our dreams.

This is kind of a-conventional media is distinct from anti-conventional media — the kind of vice signalling you expect from Marilyn Manson or Black Sabbath, where the superego’s demands are just as strong but merely inverted. The overrepresentation of salacious and taboo content in pulp is not a direct reflection of the degree of the taboo but instead a reflection of the interference pattern of taboo and desire, with desire doubled in force to fight against the taboo. It represents real desires & the extent to which those desires are repressed.

Pulp media is a trash heap of the unconscious, and like any trash heap, it tells us more about ourselves than we want to know.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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