Pop Culture Crisis

In reviewing my feeds this afternoon, I saw a headline that caught my eye: “Kevin Feige Finally Responds to Martin Scorsese”.

I must admit I rolled my eyes and sighed.

I’ve been meaning to write about pop culture and fandom and loving things for awhile now, and I guess there is no better time.

Scorsese has crafted many highly acclaimed films. Feige has helped to craft a universe of films that is only growing bigger. Scorsese criticized Feige’s films and thus we are here, inciting discussion and vitriol the world over.

The issue is larger than two filmmakers having words about the cinematic merit of the films they have had a part in bringing to the world.

This goes back to 2017 as many fans were incredibly vocal about their dislike of The Last Jedi. This itself was shades of 1999 when millions of fans were loudly disappointed in The Phantom Menace, the first Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi.

Perhaps this is much older than that. However, rather than divert into the history of culture critique, I’d rather make a simple point:

You are allowed, when it comes to pop culture, to love what you love and not love what you do not love.

Another person who isn’t into what you love does not threaten your enjoyment.

My words are not all that matter here, so I’d like to quote a few others that have insight into this discussion.

“I always tell people that conventions are so wonderful, because you’ll be surrounded by people who love the same things you love, the way you love them. But that’s not entirely correct. You’re also surrounded by people who love things you don’t even know about, but you love your respective things in the same way, so you get to love your thing enthusiastically, completely, unironically, without fear of judgement.

It’s not about what you love. it’s about how you love it.

There’s going to be a thing in your life that you love, and I don’t know what it’s going to be… It doesn’t matter what it is. The way you love it, and the way that you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes being a nerd being awesome.

Don’t ever let anybody tell you that that thing that you love, is a thing that you can’t love.

You find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can.” – Wil Wheaton Star Trek

We all are going to love different things. We are different people, and what appeals to you may not appeal to me. I love Star Wars. I don’t really care for Final Fantasy. I love baseball. Basketball? Not so much.

“I personally think that everyone is a nerd. That’s kind of one of the things we’ve been trying to do…to me, “nerd” really just means passionate. You can be a sports nerd. You can be super into basketball. Well, guess what? You’re nerdy about basketball. You can be nerdy about cars. You can be nerdy about design. You can be nerdy about all kinds of different things.” – Zachary Levi Chuck, Shazam

Levi is right on. We are all nerdy about something. Doctor Who, engines, sports, Star Wars, crochet…whatever. That isn’t the important thing. What’s important is how you love it: with passion!

“Friendly reminder: we’re all here to have fun and talk about the stuff we love. Tempers can run high when we get passionate, but let’s all remember that at the end of the day, even when we disagree, we love stuff. That’s what makes us fans. Let’s try to be kind to one another.” – @letstalkgrayson on Twitter

We love stuff. We all do. So why not encourage each other in our lives, even if the what is different. I can encourage you to love basketball because I love baseball. I understand what it means to cheer on a team, to wear a jersey, to live and die by the scoreboard.

I can be excited hearing about how you enjoy Harry Potter and what House you are in, not because I am into Harry Potter, but because I know all about Star Wars and the Empire, the Jedi, the Wookiees and on and on.

And while we are here, it must be said: you do not own what you love. The creators do not owe you what you love. You can be disappointed in a thing you love, but don’t exercise that disappointment against those that create the thing.

That way leads to toxic fandom, in which some spew hate and negativity instead of encouragement and love. In which some seek to destroy what they loved and hinder others in their love. And that isn’t good for anyone.

Creators are simply doing their best to create what they would love to see in the world. Rian Johnson did not set out to create a controversial Star Wars film. Kevin Feige did not set out to create the best cinema of all time. They seek to entertain, to create, to play in a particular universe and add to it in a positive and unique way.

And that is ok.

I didn’t care for Spider-Man: Far From Home. I didn’t think it was perfect. But you know what? It doesn’t have to be.

“Stop expecting movies/TV to be perfect. Yes, sometimes you see a thing that checks all the boxes. But stop requiring that. Entertainment is meant to be entertaining, not solve all your issues.” – David Blue Stargate: Universe

When I go to see the latest Marvel film, or whatever, in my heart I simply want to be entertained. I want to escape my world and live in another for as long as it lasts. That is why I love pop culture to begin with. It gives me great stories to escape into. Anything else is just icing on the cake, and that is no lie.

Love what you love. Encourage others to enjoy what they enjoy. And don’t let it damage your calm if someone else has different tastes. It’s love that brings us together. Focus on that love.

And maybe, just maybe, we can make this a better world for all who live in it. This is our shared universe, so let’s make it the best we can.

So say we all!

Star Wars: The Phantom Confession

At last I will reveal myself to the internet. At last I shall have catharsis.” – Darth Me

d1bef9e9ef84565dba613a95dd3ac6cb

The Phantom Menace premiered in theaters on May 19, 1999. I had just turned 12 two months before and I was ecstatic to see this new Star Wars film. You have to remember, in those days, Star Wars was a trilogy, a finished masterpiece in three volumes. It had been since 1983, four years before my birth. For my entire life, Star Wars was the best set of films there were for a nerd, young or old. It was “this colossus, this great legendary thing”.

A new film, a new trilogy, was announced. I scoured the young internet for news, images, clips, rumors and at dial-up speed, fuzzy jpegs revealed themselves for my viewing pleasure. Articles kept me fascinated. There wasn’t much being disseminated, remember, again, this was before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and every other network. We had no smart phones, no texting, no social media. I remember reading articles in actual magazines and the newspaper about this new Star Wars film. I cut out pictures from pages and savored images of Qui-Gon Jinn, whom I mistook for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Jake Lloyd and Ewan McGregor whom I thought were playing Anakin Skywalker. I also remember savoring images of the Naboo starfighter: graceful, sleek, and deadly. Much of my information also came from LEGO, who had just signed a deal with Lucasfilm to produce Star Wars branded and based Lego sets. Most of my early spoilers came from LEGO fan club magazines that depicted ships, characters, and locations in brick form. Pepsi had also made a marketing deal in which every can of every variety of soda featured a different character image with a printed backstory that you could collect. Even Taco Bell got in on the marketing with their stupid chihuahua.  It was all glorious and amazing and wonderful. I annoyed my family and friends silly because I would not stop talking about the new Star Wars film. It was to be the best thing EVER.

A few days, or weeks, I don’t remember exactly, into the premier my dad took myself and my brother to a Saturday afternoon showing of The Phantom Menace and I floated into the theater. I absorbed every sound, image, and musical cue with delight … except … except, something wasn’t quite right. Jar Jar Binks wasn’t funny, like he was supposed to be. There were fart jokes, in the middle of John William’s grand score even! Some bits blew my pre-teen mind – Darth Maul versus the Jedi – podracers roaring around Tatooine, but mostly it was boring with a shine and long with excitement. I didn’t realize it then, but every time thereafter that I saw it, my smile was less broad and the twinkle in my eye shrank. I remember visiting my grandfather, perhaps the next summer, and convincing him to Pay-Per-View rent The Phantom Menace. It was a day long thing, where you could watch it over and over again for 24 hours. I must have watched it 8 or 9 times that day. Over and over again. It was amazing! It was Star Wars! but it wasn’t quite the Star Wars I loved and had grown up with.

Truth is: I loved The Phantom Menace. Even with Jar Jar and the fart joke. In those early days, I couldn’t get enough of it. It wasn’t until 2002’s Attack of the Clones that I began to become disillusioned. 2005’s premier of Revenge of the Sith arrived and I was in college. It failed to end the new trilogy properly, but I had lost my love. Star Wars was nothing more than the Old Trilogy, as it was now known, and the new films were dead to me. I even spent time methodically watching Menace, Clones, and Sith and tearing them systematically apart on my blog (which you can still read under the Star Wars tab). I made a reputation among friends and a presence online by hating the prequels.

But. But. I did love Menace. I thought Clones had good parts. I figured Sith was mostly there. I don’t know when or why I let other people’s opinions and acidity eat through my heart of enjoyment. I like plenty of badly written movies that are chock full of bad performances and cheesy effects. So I suppose now we are here, at the end of my vitriol to admit a love I once held dear.

I haven’t watched the Prequel Trilogy in years, now, and I feel a strange urge and longing to do so. Maybe it is the 11 year old in me that collected Mountain Dew cans for their images of Yoda and Qui-Gon Jinn. Maybe it is the 12 year old that convinced my grandfather to let me spend a day watching a movie ad nauseam. Maybe it is the 13 year old that treasured old LEGO magazines and their pages of colorful LEGO Star Wars sets.

At least I am willing to admit it to myself, and now, the world that reads my blog: unabashed, unashamed, unfettered: I loved Star Wars The Phantom Menace a long time ago, and may yet love it. And that’s ok.

Embrace your famdoms, nerd out, rock on, love what you love. It makes you you and no one else. And that is the best thing ever.

Love Wins

For Robin, Ashley, Rachel, Laura and all others who today are acknowledged as the equals they already were.

How to explain what happened today to children of all ages:

Ahem.

“Now everyone in America has the right to marry whomever they love. They didn’t before and that was sad.”

I’ve tried to avoid the soapboxes and the arguments, but I’ve read too much today to stay silent. People whom I love now have the same rights as I do where yesterday they did not. This is no small thing to me. Others want to decry this as society slouching towards Gomorrah, but I rather see it as towards Bethlehem, where society is being reborn to newness of life.

Those couched in traditional Christian church culture will recognize that I am using the language of baptism. That is deliberate. A baptism signifies for a church that someone has moved from disbelief to belief, from apostasy to affirmation of truth. And that is what has happened in America today. America has been baptized into a new truth, the truth that Neanderthals and HomoSapiens are equal. The truth that people of different color are equal. The truth that people of different genders are equal.

And just as before, in a dark, racist past, where blacks and whites were unable, by law, to marry and “intermingle” as this was abhorrent and immoral and wrong and that was proved to be the odious, sickening language of hate and ignorance, so too now, we are emerging from a dark, sexist present where gays and lesbians were unable, by law, to marry and “intermingle” as this was abhorrent and immoral and wrong and that too has proved to be the odious, sickening language of hate and ignorance.

We have been baptized into a new future, where ALL legal, consenting adults have the freedom under the law to marry whomever they love. Love has won the day! Now those that were once marginalized are now as mainstream as the rest of us.

Is this the decay of society, a future of woe and trouble? Only time will tell, but like the ending of apartheid, and segregation, and the birth of Civil Rights, I think history will shine out the brighter after this. Rights acknowledged for one is rights acknowledged for all.

But what about religion, founded on a Bible, a Bible that seems to say that such homosexual behavior is deviant and wrong? Usually I don’t care about a dissenting opinion to freedom and truth, no matter how vocal or quiet, but in this case I know many who might read this who are genuinely struggling with this question. I am no Bible scholar, but I will say this: perhaps those passages have been misread. Perhaps it is your interpretation of them that is lacking. Or, if the Bible really does say exactly what you think it says, then maybe the Bible is simply wrong. The Bible is wrong about a great many things: morally, culturally, scientifically, and socially. How do you know this is not one more error?

I understand that for you this is a matter of deep belief and long held tradition, but know this: beliefs and traditions change in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons. Remember those who held most strongly to the idea that blacks and whites shouldn’t marry? Many of them were your physical and spiritual ancestors of a time not that long ago. Their beliefs and traditions were based as strongly on the Bible as your beliefs about homosexuality and they were as wrong. Please do not live an unexamined life.

As far as the Bible, and everything else goes, I believe that love conquers all. Love’s greatest champion was a Jewish guy named Yeshua. I follow his example and love all, regardless of what an ancient text may or may not say. Love conquers bad theology, upside down society, inequality, and ignorance.

Today, love has won.