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Fake Media - Not the Kind You're Thinking

Banes at 12:00AM, April 13, 2023

my webcomic, Typical Strange, uses many fake films in its video store setting

A few years ago I spotted a book in the second hand store - one I'd read as a kid. I bought it and reread it. It was definitely more suited to the younger me - it was about a teenaged kid who was obsessed with playing drums and heavy metal, and super talented. I was a drummer myself so I loved this character.

Anyway, what caught my eye on this reading were the fake band names that the kid was into: Endomorph, Black Hole, Sump Pump, Powdered Sugar…over a dozen fake bands and many fake song titles.

I don't remember if I liked those band names or not as a youth, but the older version of me thought it took me out of the reality of the story. Not that this writer's books were ever particularly realistic. That's not what he was going for.

I makes me think of some of the fake movies referenced in Seinfeld: Rochelle Rochelle was referenced multiple times in the series (“a young woman's erotic journey from Milan to Minsk”). There were plenty of other fun nonexistent movies, that were significant to the plot: Elaine is disgusted with “The English Patient”, which everyone else in the world seems to be raving about. She prefers to see “Sack Lunch”, featuring a poster of a family inside a giant paper bag. We don't see any of the movie ourselves, but Elaine laughs uproariously when she sees it in the theater. So that one mixes the real with the fake.

The first movie I remember referencing other movies were the ‘burbs, where a teenager references horror movie “The Sentinel”, and Tom Hanks flips channels between The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and wakes up to Mr. Rogers. Around the same time was “Return of the Living Dead” which referenced the original “Night of the Living Dead” as a movie that was secretly based on true events.

“CLERKS” was notable for its characters being Star Wars fans - and this was in the early nineties, when people weren’t talking about Star Wars at all. I loved seeing the characters talk in some detail about those movies. That kind of thing was very unusual at the time I think. Later, “Scream” would blow my mind with its detailed discussion of the slashers from Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I don't know how many people in the audience knew the right answer to the Friday the 13th question in that movie, but I did! What a treat that was, to see characters who knew and loved the same movies I did (some of those kids loved them a little TOO much of course).

Having fictional characters consume “real” media can make that fictional setting feel more like the real world.

In my own webcomics, I mostly use fake movies. And they appear mainly as posters in the background. These are mainly for gags/background jokes and I've had some friends get a kick out of some of those background gags. Coming up with those titles is great fun as well.

Having the pop culture be fake obviously puts some distance between the story and the real world. How much distance? It depends. But leaning too much on current events and media has its pitfalls too:

Returning to Seinfeld, one of its running themes was connecting to the trial of OJ Simpson, which was a MASSIVE news story at the time. Jackie Childs was a parody of Johnny Cochrane, OJ's lawyer, and there were many references to specific items from the trial.

Some of those references still work, decades later: Jackie Childs is a great character, even if someone doesn't know what he's parodying. Other references, like the trial where a character appears not to fit into the bra she's accused of wearing in public, or Kramer's getaway in a white SUV which mirrors OJ Simpson's real-life high-speed chase…well, they don't work that well in my opinion if the viewer doesn't know what's being referenced. Real world stuff gets dated after awhile.

Do you think “fake” media and pop culture ruins a story? Or is it better than locking characters into a specific moment in culture?

Have a good one!

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bravo1102 at 4:01AM, April 14, 2023

A lot of my work is about fake movies. The whole Belinda Brandon thing for example. Surprised no one has mentioned Big Bang theory. Marvel among other franchises and companies loved the attention they got from Big Bang Theory. Some of the actors actually lobbied to have a script with them in it produced for the show the same as at one point there was a backlog of celebrities waiting to get their cameo on the Simpsons. And it's not new. Look up the invisible man's baby sketch on a late 1960s Carol Burnett show. Leonard Nimoy comes out in full Spock costume to give Carol the baby. It was being filmed in the same studios. The Mission Impossible cast also show up in another episode. The Avengers TV series had a few meta in jokes as well, but you have to know the context.

bravo1102 at 3:47AM, April 14, 2023

@J_Scarbrough: was even as involved as removing the label or name. Often it was simply placing the prop so the name was turned away from the camera. It was actually part of the continuity and properties people's job to make sure that no matter where the camera pointed the brand name wasn't seen on screen. Another thing was simply swopping or removing single letters. Anime and manga have some really creative ones. Now it's all licensing. The brand names want their product in there and will even pay to get it in. Amazing how things have totally flipped. One of the best running gags about a fake movie was through all the work of John Landis "See You next Wednesday " will be referenced with a poster or ad.

DylanTale Comics at 9:10AM, April 13, 2023

I think that if someone who creates content that has real media in it, be it movies, tv shows, books, or comics, it shows what the creator personally likes. With my own Set 3, I have a lot of different universes with certain famous figures in them and it's from games or other media that I really like. Although, coming up with either fake or even off-brand media (Food Pockets vs. Hot Pockets), that's also creative, especially if you go as far as brand design.

J_Scarbrough at 8:31AM, April 13, 2023

Obviously, there are the legal hassles involved with including real media, or even real brands in a work of fiction, which is one of the reasons why in-universe, the media and brands contained in said work of fiction tend to be fake, so as to avoid any potential legal trouble with the companies who own the real-life media or brands. This is also why in many cases - particularly in older media that may not have had prop departments, you can tell whenever an item is used as a prop, you can clear identify the label as a particular brand, but the actual name itself is usually censored with colored tape, if not even ripped off the item.

RobertRVeith at 8:11AM, April 13, 2023

Some "fake media" favorites of mine would include the "teen speak" jargon of the movie Heathers. According to the screenwriters, they figured that if they used real teen slang, it would be dated by the time the movie came out, so they invented all of the slang in the movie. And also the fake movie montage that opens Tropic Thunder. In my comic Jovian, Gina collects comics. In the pilot episode, we see her selling a box of comics to a shop. We don't actually see her quarters in the stuff I've drawn thus far, but in the mock up for her quarters, I put comics which represent other things I've written or intend to write. An inside joke only I'll get. In the drawn scene, I used real media… a brief homage to the films that inspired the Jovian comic ( I don't know if anyone even noticed the homage. The Buck Rogers poster gets covered by a text box, but you can clearly see three other movie posters on the wall.

PaulEberhardt at 5:52AM, April 13, 2023

Fake books appear everywhere in my comic, along with some obscure titles that do exist but have been forgotten in time, and I created quite a long list of real and fake occult titles over the years. I won't mind sharing it in a forum if anyone is interested. I sometimes use fake brand names if I have an idea for a gag, but most of the time I just insert old brands that no longer exist but whose logo design I like. After all, those designers were way better at their job than I'll ever be.

PaulEberhardt at 5:41AM, April 13, 2023

@Ozoneocean: Yes, the Necronomicon is Lovecraft's creation. He and his writer pen pals in fact shared a whole fictional occult library, so a fake book in Lovecraft's stories would also be mentioned in, say, August Derleth's and vice versa, to the point that people would be misled to believe they existed.

usedbooks at 4:11AM, April 13, 2023

That said, fake brand names like Popsi are always obvious, hilarious, and break the suspension is disbelief.

usedbooks at 4:09AM, April 13, 2023

Fake media makes great gags. 30 Rock is the most obvious of those. But Gravity Falls did some recurring ridiculous TV too. However, unless it's really obvious, I am just oblivious enough to modern media that most of the time, I can't tell anyway. After all, we have REAL shows called Is It Cake?, 16 and Pregnant, and The Floor is Lava. How can anyone tell what's real and what's fake when it comes to TV and Movies?

Ozoneocean at 1:21AM, April 13, 2023

One thing I like about fake media is trying to work out what it was supposed to be imitating, that's a really fun game! Like "Rochelle Rochelle" was supposed to be "Emanuelle". I love those band names BTW. Powdered Sugar would be my glam metal band name!

Ozoneocean at 1:17AM, April 13, 2023

Was the Necronomicon originally a Lovecraft fake book?

Ozoneocean at 1:10AM, April 13, 2023

Obviously there are good reasons to use fake stuff: there might be copyright issues or you could even be sued. Sometimes though there are other reasons... like the fictional work is so exciting or interesting or weird and can't exists, like the Necronomicon from the Evil Dead or The King In Yellow from Robert W. Chambers short story of that name- that fake book was even a bit part of True Detective stories. And the Necronomicon was a part of many different shows and things itself.

InkyMoondrop at 1:06AM, April 13, 2023

Fake media can be a great way to build a colorful world or give context to characters, while real media can make things more realistic, relatable as you wrote it. One of my favorite examples of fake media is from Six Feet Under. There's a book called Charlotte Light and Dark based on a character's childhood years from a psychoanalystic standpoint and it's mainly mentioned as a reminder of how much her parents fucked up her life by dragging her to some specialist/author, because they were eccentric and realized she's not ordinary. But there's also a fictional children's story of sort in the show, that she and her brother used to read because they related to the characters in it. The more thought and detail is put into these fake stuff, the more "real they become".

marcorossi at 12:24AM, April 13, 2023

I prefer fake media, that often have inner jokes. Real media only work as a meta thing, if they hit they have a strong emotional effect but if they don't they are meaningless. It seems to me that nowadays writers indulge too much in meta stuff, in particular if they know the audience they are writing for (e.g. if writing for superhero fans) but this only works if you already have anbaudience, IMHO

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