15th Mar2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 3/15/19

by Will

Some weeks, when I know I’m gonna be “on the wrong side of history”, I really don’t want to write this post. This is one of those weeks. Why do I say that? Well, it’s because of Captain Marvel.

As I was saying online last week, it sucks when you dislike something, but can’t vocalize your dislike because there’s a group of folks out there who dislike it for the “wrong” reasons. Ya see, there are all these Men’s Rights Activists upset about how the film’s star, Brie Larson, was regarding them on her press tour. Ultimately, she remarked that she didn’t want everyone reviewing the film to just be straight White guys. She was basically calling for more diversity, but didn’t sugarcoat it, so it was east for some folks to turn it into “Marvel didn’t slap her down, so they’re in on her anti-Male agenda!” They started leaving negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and spreading lies about how there were all these empty theaters where folks had claimed the movie had sold out. It’s so exhausting.

Meanwhile, I’m over here, not excited for the movie because I’ve pretty much always hated the character. I’ve gone into detail about it here before, so there’s no need to rehash all that. Basically, I’ve never found her likable, which is something I look for in my heroes. I’m sorry this skews awfully close to making women want to ask “Why does she have to be likable?”, almost like I’m saying some shit like “You know, you’d be prettier if you smiled more.” That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is Captain Marvel (in the comics) in recent years has been equal parts Bitch and Fuck-Up. Just go re-read Civil War II to get a taste of what I’m talking about. So, when I heard they were gonna make a film about her, I wasn’t exactly clamoring for it. When it was pretty much insinuated that she was being introduced now, in order to be the Deus ex machina in Avengers: Endgame, my reaction turned to “Come the fuck on!”

Anyway, like a good little fanboy, I was sitting in a theater last Thursday night, with my trusty buddy Mike. At the end of the day, I liked it, but didn’t love it. I found it to be kinda “meh” as far as Marvel films go. I mean, it’s decent, but we’re at a point where the films have become so epic that “decent” isn’t good enough anymore. I hate ranking things, but it’s easy to place stuff when it disappoints you. To me, this movie is on the level of Doctor Strange. It simply exists, but it’s not something that really left much of an impression on me. My biggest issue, and I’ve gotten in trouble on some message boards for using this language, is the virtue signalling of the whole matter. Like, you wouldn’t believe how many folks I’ve seen who are like “It wasn’t excellent, but man am I glad it’s sticking it to those manbabies!” Or “Incels”, or whatever it is we’re calling the people we dislike this week. I’m not about to act like a “meh” movie was excellent just because of some schadenfreude that it might produce. For all of you cheering this, you didn’t “win” anything in this scenario, and you’re kinda screwing with your own integrity.

The problems…where to begin? OK, let’s get this out of the way: the whole heel turn of the Kree doesn’t come as much of a surprise, seeing as how Djimon Hounsou is playing the same character from Guardians of the Galaxy, and you see Starforce communicating with Ronan The Destroyer (who we KNOW is evil). Sure, they’re calling him off from doing what he does best (nuke the Hell out of planets), but they’re still keeping him on the bench, just in case. So, I guess this is one of those moments where the audience is meant to know more than the protagonist? I dunno, but I’ll chalk it up to that if I have to.

Then there’s the setting. The movie never feels like it takes place in the 90s, and they basically clobber you over the head with references like a late night CD infomercial. “Remember No Doubt?! Remember grunge?! OMG, remember BLOCKBUSTER?!” The setting just felt more forced than organic. The 90s are a hard decade to capture, so I get it, but it quickly became Family Guy‘s opinion of Robot Chicken: “Look! G.I. Joe, Transformers, ThunderCats, He-Man! Yay, those shows existed!” You know how a lot of folks hate Ready Player One because it’s just nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake? I felt that here. It’s like “Ooh, she hacked a pay phone with a Game Boy.”

I was also disappointed in Larson in the role. I know it’s hard to play an amnesiac, but she seemed so wooden at times. And I know they skewed younger, since the future of the MCU rests on her shoulders, but I’ve never been on board with her casting. I feel like Captain Marvel should’ve been an older, “worldlier” actor, like Charlize Theron. Someone with some “miles on her”.

One thing that stuck out to me is that it’s a movie built on the notion of platonic friendship, released in an age where everyone seems to have an ulterior motive. I’m not about to get into the sitcom trope of “Can Men and Women Be Friends?”, but there’s a weird subcurrent to the movie where you just never quite understand a LOT of the relationships on screen. I like how folks have pointed out that it’s the first Marvel film without a love interest, but is that completely true? There were quite a few scenes, whether between Carol and Fury, Carol and Space Jude Law, or Carol and Maria, where I’m like “So…they fuckin’?” I can completely admit that’s probably a personal issue on my part, but I still felt that, so I wondered if anyone else felt it, too.

Finally, and this is a big nitpicky thing but it’s my site and I do what I want, I HATED the thing with Fury’s eye. Now, I’ll completely take the blame here because a lot of us have our fan theories and start speculating about stuff with no real proof, and then we’re disappointed when faced with reality. For the past 11 years, I’ve been thinking he lost that eye in some bad ass op that we might one day see in flashbacks. After Winter Soldier, I kinda thought Pierce had something to do with him losing the eye, or was at least present when the shit went down. But, after all this time, it was the Flerken?! He got fucking scratched by a space cat, and I guess he let it get infected? What a letdown!

Anyway, it’s not all bad. I frontloaded this thing with the negatives, but there were things I truly enjoyed here. We got a Nick Fury movie without ever actually getting a Nick Fury movie. I’d love to see one where he’s actually seen some shit. I mean, here he’s like a cop who’s a few months from retirement. I know he works for S.H.I.E.L.D. but I’m not getting a “bad ass” vibe off of him. Maybe that comes once the eye is gone? Who knows? Anyway, I still like him here for what he was.

I also really loved Maria Rambeau, especially when she and Fury got to play off each other in space. We rarely get the experience of two Black people looking at each other like “Do you see this shit right here!?” in the MCU, so that was a rare treat.

And my favorite, favorite part that I loved, loved LOVED was Talos. I never knew I could love Ben Mendelsohn so much. I mean, I even liked him in his S.H.I.E.L.D. director Brick Tamland disguise, but it got so much better at the farmhouse, when he was just allowed to cut loose. He was SUCH a great character. Shit, I’d have preferred the movie have just been about him. He was just so damn entertaining!

Anyway, I can’t write the character off completely, ’cause I guess we’ll need her against Thanos, but I’m reserving judgement til I see what happens after that post-credits scene we got. I know a lot of people got a lot out of this, from the joy of representation, to the feeling of empowerment it provided. I’m glad it affected so many people positively, and I’m not trying to take away from that for anyone. I just wish I could join ya, ’cause it just kinda felt flat to me. Your mileage may vary. I give it 3 out of 5 Stan Lees.

Speaking of Marvel, we got another Avengers: Endgame trailer. Yeah, it’s nice and all, but I’m just ready for the movie already. I kinda hate how every trailer gets dissected and the fan theories run rampant. I mean, we all do it, but I at least try to keep mine to myself. Not record a 90-minute YouTube video about it. I’ve got no nitpicks here, and no fan theories. My body is ready!

Do we really have to talk about that college scam bullshit? OK, for anyone not in the know, a bunch of folks were rounded up and arrested for bribing college officials and testing coordinators to help get their kids into prestigious schools. Amongst that group were Felicity Huffman, and Mrs. Rebecca Donaldson-Katsopolis herself, Lori Loghlin. We’ve all fired off our “Aunt Becky” jokes on social media, but my final word on this is that it’s a New Money problem.

Did you ever read The Great Gatsby? It delineates between New Money and Old Money. If you won the lottery tomorrow, you’d be New Money, because you’re not used to wealth, and you’ll probably do stupid things with it, like trick out an Escalade or make it rain at the local strip club. Old Money, however, is institutionalized. Old Money have buildings named after them, they have rare and exquisite art collections on loan to the world’s biggest museums. New Money spends, while Old Money invests. Old Money knows how this college system works because they’ve been doing it since the beginning of higher learning. You donate enough money to have a library named after you, and the school really can’t say no. I mean, why risk you taking back your generous gift when all they have to do is open up a seat for your kid? Easy math.

New Money, meanwhile, is up to stupid tricks, like bribing test prep folks, and having coaches create spots on athletic teams for sports the kids don’t even play! Y’all were doing too much and, in the words of DJ Khaled, “Ya played yaself!” Loughlin allegedly paid close to $500,000 to get her Instagram influencer daughter into USC. Half a million dollars for USC?! Look, when I graduated from Cornell, they sent us a catalog detailing what we could get for each level of donation. Think of it like the PBS pledge drive, but with real estate involved. For example, $10,000 got you a practice room in the music hall, without a piano. Meanwhile, $30,000 would get you one with a piano. I remember somebody donated for the piano room, and they dedicated that shit to Jerry Garcia. There was a plaque and everything. And it still both bewilders and angers me that someone had enough money to just throw it away like that. Sure, maybe he’s a big fan of The Grateful Dead, but if I’m throwing $30K at something, I’m either naming it after my mother or Maria Stark.

Anyway, this group of “elite parents” really need some Old Money friends, ’cause there were a ton of folks, laughing their asses off, while greasing the right palms this week. I’d recommend everyone find them an Old Money friend, ’cause it’ll teach you wonders about money.

It was announced last night on The Tonight Show that YouTube star Lilly Singh will be taking over the timeslot being vacated by Carson Daly’s Later. Her show will be called A Little Late with Lilly Singh. Is that where all the hosts of the future will come from? YouTube? I mean, they got the new Double Dare host from there, and now this. Meanwhile, I’m just becoming an old man, and all these kids have names like Chad Zachary Chad and I can’t tell them apart.

In the world of comics, I’m sort of surprised that DC Comics had a bit of a Come to Jesus moment all due to the Bat Penis. If you weren’t aware, DC launched this edgier imprint, called Black Label, last year that was going to take their signature characters in some interesting directions. Well, in the first issue of Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo’s Batman: Damned, you can see Batman’s penis. I have the issue, but haven’t read it. Haven’t even seen the panel in question online. Still, it caused quite the stir, forcing delays on the rest of the series for it to be rewritten. At a comic retailer summit last weekend, DC co-publisher Dan Didio said the whole incident made them question who they had become as a publisher. Even though the image was waved off by co-publisher Jim Lee as a result of lightening the page, Didio felt like they had done some damage with their relationship with retailers, and that they had to take a step back and really think about where they were headed. Now, this is a summit for retailers – some of the most cantankerous folks alive – so of course Didio is going to try to sweet talk them. Still, I always find it refreshing when a brand openly admits “We made a mistake.” Learn from it and move on. So few companies, OR PEOPLE, seem to be able to do that in this day and age.

Finally, social media was ablaze yesterday as folks voiced their displeasure in Netflix cancelling the critical hit reboot of One Day at a Time. With this incarnation of the show focusing on a Cuban-American family, it had become quite the beacon of representation in media. So, folks felt that Netflix had a commitment to keep this show going, even when Netflix said that the audience wasn’t large enough to make a 4th season viable.

Have a seat. Let’s chat. I know you’re upset about losing a show you liked, but it’s just business. Ratings are funny because we ultimately don’t need to see them. Folks are always like “Well, what were the ratings?” when their favorite shows are cancelled. Ratings are used to SELL ADS. It’s why streamers don’t have to give us viewer numbers. We don’t know what a network has invested in a show, so we can’t really sit back and ask “Oh, you mean that wasn’t enough people watching?” And if we DID get the ratings, and they were, like, a million viewers short, what then? You gonna call a million of your closest friends? Is a network really supposed to take a loss for “representation” when the represented don’t show up to support it?

Why spend money on a show that has no audience? It ain’t a charity. Now, sure, we don’t know streaming numbers, but they weren’t enough to make them keep the show. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Folks want them to keep airing the thing so they get some kind of “brownie points” in their “commitment to diversity”. They’re just gonna create a diverse show, in house, that they’ll OWN. See, that’s the clincher right there: Netflix has to pay the show’s production studio, Sony, a pretty hefty licensing fee to carry the show. This is why Netflix has been cancelling most of the shows they don’t own, like the Marvel series. Still, some folks didn’t like that Netflix didn’t mention this in their statement. What, throw Sony under the bus when they may have to do business with them in the future?

Then I’ve seen folks use the argument that “Well, they could afford it if they hadn’t paid $100 million for Friends!” No! Stop using that defense. They threw $100 million at Friends because White people STILL love Friends and it performs well in syndication. Were that not the case, they’d have paid a lot less than $100 million. Friends is basically a “loss leader”. It cost them a lot on the front end, but they hope it’ll be an investment that brings eyes to the service. It’s not like they just flushed $100 million down the drain. The mentality is basically “Come for some familiar flavor that you know you like, and then try something new.” You need a big show for that to work, not some middling critical darling.

I know y’all out there loved the show and, no, I never saw it. I haven’t fired up Netflix since 2017. There’s just too much shit to do and watch these days. Still, I heard great things so it seems like it was quite a loss. That said, stop taking all this business stuff personally. Channel that anger elsewhere. Create your own stuff. This isn’t the end of representation and it’s possibly not even the end for this show, as Sony plans to shop it around. Based on the groundswell of support it’s gotten over the past 24 hrs, a network would be a fool to instantly pass on it. Only time will tell, but there’s more to these decisions than we like to believe.

OK, it may not have knocked my socks off, but I still know a cultural phenomenon when I see one. Captain Marvel had the highest grossing opening for a film with a female lead. It’s already crossed $500 million. And it put us at the doorstep of Avengers: Endgame. So, giving credit where credit is due, Captain Marvel had the West Week Ever.