RANTS: What does “Pulp” mean i.e., “Pulp Fiction”?

When we were kids, at any decent newsstand, you could find plenty of anthology fiction short-story magazines. They were filled with wild short stories, ranging from the sensational, to the sleazy, to the sentimental. Cheap to buy, they were printed on the cheapest of paper or wood “pulp stock”. The titles covered the genres of romance, westerns, “true crime”, adventure, sci-fi, horror, suspense and more! Also, the magazines had wonderful, colorful covers meant to pop-out on the newsstands, many of which are collected here:


My Aunt Winnie was an avid reader of “pulps” (aka “pulp fiction”) including the suspenseful “Hitchcock Anthology” and detective “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine”. I was lucky to catch the tail end of the horror pulps, and enjoyed reading them on the way home from school on the bus.

Pulps are largely gone now, except for a few hold-outs, revivals and digest anthologies. These days newsstands are filled instead with glossy rags filled with ads and more ads.

However, as you have noted, the term “Pulp” lives on to describe films that recapture the crime/detective dramas’ sensationalism and hard-boiled characters. Tarentino brought the genre and the style back big-time with the great homage “Pulp Fiction”. His film made such an impact that the term “Pulp” lives on to describe mainly hip crime dramas that carry-on in the same spirit/direction of his work including:

Let Him Have It
The Grifters
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
The Limey

Also, amongst hardcore Internet movie fans (aka “fanboys”) the term “pulp movie” has broadened over time. Amongst their pimply kind, “Pulp” can be used to describe any movie that owes a debt to the long-lost Pulp magazines in terms of slick-style, subversive or perverse content, and cheap-budgets too. Blurring the meaning further, other countries have revived their Pulps on the big screen too! In Korea, a “pulp movie” can describe a crime-drama movie or a wild-action Samurai flick too!

I suspect that any acknowledgment to the original meaning has evaporated away in that particular context, but it leaves us with a great, fresh adjective for movies we like.

Viva Pulp!


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