What a chance encounter with Punky Brewster taught me.

Pop culture is personal.


The road to being a writer is anything but straight. And the road to being successful on Medium can be even rockier.

That’s why I am glad to share some of the lessons I’ve learned on my own journey. Because I have a PhD with a specific focus on writing instruction, I tend to try to understand any writing situation. I get joy both out of writing and sharing encouraging others to write well.

One way I am able to do both is as the owner of the publication Pop Off, which focuses on everything pop culture. I was inspired to create it because I could find nowhere to publish some of the kind of articles I wrote and wanted to read.

Pop culture isn’t just a interest of mine. It is part of the fabric of my formative years. Since before I was born, my parents had a production company in Houston, TX. When I was 12, my father enrolled in film school in California and soon after we transplanted to the L.A. area. I was exposed to pop culture from behind the scenes for many years.

This perspective nurtured my interest in pop culture, but it also helped me see how it is a subject interwoven with our experience as people, not just idle entertainment.

Let me give you an example that is actually timely. After watching Soleil Moon Frye’s documentary on Hulu that just came out, called Kid 90, I was reminded of my own chance meeting with this former kid star.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, Frye uses her personal video camera to chronicle her own life and interactions with other youth also working in the entertainment business.

In a way, she and I lived parallel lives, not too many miles from each other in Southern California. She is only a year younger than me, as well. I didn’t work as an actor—I got to be a regular kid. I didn’t hang out with other future celebrities. But, my whole childhood was chronicled by way of my father filming us with his own video camera.

It’s worth mentioning that both instances of home videos took place before our age of selfies and posting videos and pictures of our lives online. For Frye and my family, these videos were destined to be a time capsule, to be dug up when we wanted to reflect on those past years, rather than communicate our daily lives with others virtually.

Ironically, it is because of my father’s video camera that Frye and myself actually ended up interacting.

Let me back up, I had actually seen the filming of the Punky Brewster television show twice a few years before I met Frye personally. My dad brought me after connecting with someone in production. He thought I would like seeing a child-centric show up-front and personal.

But, the point that I actually met Frye face-to-face was a day that my family went to Universal Studios. Like always, my dad was carrying his video camera. So, it came in handy when we noticed Frye and her friend.

I whispered to my dad, “Hey, that’s that actress from Punky Brewster.” By almost instinct, he handed me the video camera and said, “You should interview her.” I was little bit embarrassed and shy, but, with a little prodding from him, I got Frye’s attention and asked her if, for fun, I could interview her.

Graciously, she agreed and it was a fun experience getting to ask her some questions. But, then she turned the tables and asked to borrow the video camera and interview me.

Now that I’ve seen the documentary of hers, I understand that turning the camera on others was second nature to her. It was a way that she both protected herself and connected with others. These were similar motives to why my father carried that camera everywhere we went.

We have that video somewhere, either at my younger sister’s or mother’s home. I haven’t seen it for years, so I have very little recollection of what we all said. But the memory of filming each other, of connecting beyond star and fan, stays with me as evidence of how pop culture is personal.

This week I addressed the different ways we can write about pop culture in an article I wrote about how to be a successful Pop Off writer. To me, some of the best writing connects to our personal experience. The more we reveal to our readers, the more connected we feel. And this leads to an intimate relationship between reader and writer. It’s in that relationship that writers at Pop Off, and on Medium generally, have an opportunity to find success.

When I look back at my chance interaction with Frye, and then saw her documentary, I’m struck by how pop culture is part of what connects us in our modern era. It is that connection I’m glad to have the opportunity to explore.

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