This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid on 22nd February 2019. If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.
Let’s start with a little thematically appropriate music.
It’s been a weird week in pop culture. We’ve had, in no particular order:
- The completely unsurprising news that every advanced review of Captain Marvel says it’s great.
- The equally unsurprising news that it’s getting review bombed anyway.
- The mystifying news that Chris Hemsworth, the artist formerly known as 2nd or 3rd Best Chris, has signed to play well known union killing, chat show host choking, roid huffing sentient moustache Hulk Hogan in a biopic about the world’s second orangest man.
- Jason Reitman, the director of the new Ghostbusters movie, who is the son of the original director, mashing very nearly every button on the racist, sexist dogwhistle board so hard their casings crack.
So there’s really two things going on here. The first is the veneration of the past that, tied to the mandatory immortality of successful Intellectual Properties, means that it’s always your childhood, it’s always your formative years. You can build the bubble of media you want to exist in and do so with relatively little money and time. The good news there is it works. We all need to escape every now and then and if I didn’t believe that then the fact I own Escape Artists would be a little weird.
The bad news is, if that’s all you do then, to return to a phrase I used a lot last year, you’re facing backwards on the rocket. Watching the culture that’s finished recede into the distance or, if you try very hard, remain stationary around you. Which is lovely. And finite. And means that you trade the challenge of engaging with modern culture for the largely static culture of the past. Facing backwards, not moving, unaware of what’s coming. Eventually you view what’s coming as a threat not just to stability but to confidence, self identity and to the blanket of amber you’ve drawn over yourself. That’s how review bombing happens. And harassment. And on a larger circuit, Presidential campaigns. It’s why, even though Reitman has walked back his comments and been supported by the director of the 2016 Ghostbusters, it’s far too late. His intentions, at this stage, are irrelevant because whatever they are he’s opened the door to the worst excesses of fannish extremism. All of whom face backwards on the rocket, and in doing so are either obscuring people with legitimate viewpoints or actively targeting those with differing ones. As starts to a PR campaign go, it’s positively Neesonian.
The other thing going on here is what always, eventually, happens; The Future. It’s taken nine years but the MCU’s next flagship character is a woman. There’d never been a western-made afrofuturist superhero blockbuster until Black Panther. LGTBQ+ representation was non-existent in mainstream pop culture until it wasn’t. The brave new world never quite renders in all at once, but it’s always there, and always here and never quite anywhere fast enough.
And so it’s easy to give up. We look at a director, intentionally or not, using dogwhistle phrases to attract the very worst elements of fandom and wonder why we bother. We look at the WWE’s frantic attempts to redeem themselves and pander to a tangerine-skinned racist and despair. That future, that constantly shifting, constantly arriving world is replaced by obsessive discussion and assessment of books, shows, films that already exist. A different country yes, but not the one we all travel to. Everything turns in on itself, and, in doing so, becomes smaller, pettier. Cooks with WAY more salt and boils far more things.
So what can we do? The same thing we always do; research! Read round an issue, make informed choices about the culture you support and, as important, the culture you want to interact with. A lot of things are extremely on fire at the moment and you have to choose your escape plan more carefully than ever. No cultural artifact is beloved by everyone (Aside from Bernard Cribbins, obvs) and that’s the point. We all like different things, we all solve the same puzzles different ways. And if we’re all facing forward on the rocket, we can compare notes and that? That is the BEST PART.
Captain Marvel opens in two weeks and I AM MADE OF EXCITEMENT.
Thorsworth will next be seen in Men in Black International and small scale indie movie, Avengers: Endgame.
Details of Jason Reitman’s astonishingly bad week in the press can be found here
Details of the horrific land war fought against the 2016 Ghostbusters movie in general and Leslie Jones in particular can be found here.