Pop culture’s year of violent denial

In the final season of good fightDisorders are always there. On one side, there is a protesting crowd. On the other hand, there is a police. In all ten episodes, he never says what angers the assembled audience. The only thing that is clear is that it is growing: steadily, constantly, exponentially. However, inside the office building where Paramount Plus’s legal drama largely takes place, it’s business as usual. There are cases of winning. show must go on.

highest-grossing movie of 2022, Top Gun: Maverick, is a movie with a giant void in the middle of it. Critically acclaimed for its craftsmanship and honesty in a world where blockbusters thrive on the unreal, the film features Tom Cruise reprising his role as ace Maverick pilot training a new generation of VIPs for a mission of vital importance. Someone has a terrible weapon of mass destruction, and it must be removed. Who has these weapons? It doesn’t matter. The movie does not say. Naming them would be worse than the movie’s protagonists failing in their mission. It would rob the audience of something they feel good about.

Dealing with popular culture in 2022 has often been an exercise in denial. As in our real lives, as the institutions of government and public health continued to erode in the face of an authoritarian minority corrupting conspiracy and an ongoing pandemic, the already shaky structures that underpin the entertainment business began to crumble even as responsible executives tried to seize power as if nothing was wrong. .

Photo: Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

The film industry, still reeling from the pandemic and contributor-focused over streaming, has tried to return to a world where people show up to see movies in movie theatres, despite sobering circumstances that made that expectation foolish and mind-boggling. How many shifts in strategy in the Covid era have left audiences unsure of what to expect anymore. Even Disney, the de facto box office champ, failed to make an impression as its most popular animated features such as turns red They were relegated to streaming because mediocre or poorly marketed films flopped into theaters. With a Marvel Cinematic Universe phase feeling aimless and Star Wars dominating theaters regressing to TV series documenting their pasts, even blockbuster franchises seemed less reliable than they once were.

Meanwhile, broadcast television is beginning to explode, as Netflix enters an era of despondency and the bill for the massive Warner Bros. merger comes due. Discovery. Each of these massive disruptions manifested itself in alarmingly similar ways: sudden, drastic, barely gratuitous cuts to animated programming, a bastion of shows that feature diverse personalities and employ diverse creators, and, in the case of WBD, pulling of movies and streaming shows entirely from HBO Max’s servers, both undercut the manifesto The broadcaster’s mission is questioning the value of its only product: broadcast television.

In response, audiences have turned elsewhere: Among the biggest cinematic stories of the year is the runaway success of the Telugu blockbuster. $$$$. Franchise TV had its biggest success in The Revolution, as Dragon house And the Andor He took familiar icons and crafted them into stories of rebellion. Reflecting a moment of nationwide turmoil, the work took the spotlight in an acclaimed drama-like to cut and comedy like Primary Abbot. And hating the rich might be cool again Succession give way to white lotus or movies like food menuAnd the glass onionAnd the Sadness triangle.

Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc standing in a swimming pool holding a drink in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Image: Netflix

The troubling thing about being a passive observer in all of this—either as a casual viewer of the entertainment, or as a critic—is the staunch insistence on carrying on as if things were normal. Worrying about box office numbers seems odd when he says the reason the numbers were low in the first place — a pandemic — is still an ongoing concern. When the movies communicate, eg Top Gun: Maverickstruck the sleeping terror smilingor the end of the year Avatar: Water RoadThe reason mentioned is most likely Jordan Peles No Earlier this summer, they warned: spectacle is an all-consuming spectacle. A critic bemoaning franchise dominance is old hat, but in 2022 that franchise dominance is starting to fracture the spine of the entire company, remaking it into something that seems hard to undo.

The challenge of telling time in the digital age is a form of time inflation—one hour won’t get you as far as it has these days, with the multitude of things vying for your attention, and the creeping expectations that you’re supposed to do more with said watch than you have. in previous years. There’s an argument that it must have hit an inflection point in 2022, as the franchise hit its peak, spawning isolated stories that required all sorts of extracurricular work, out of the franchise’s exorbitant largesse. rings of power to the elusive irony of the “multiverse” as explored in the MCU yet-Spider-Man: No way home, a movie based on the franchise’s stolen guts. With the animation field shrinking and fewer places for stories that don’t rely on the massive IP, it’s hard to feel satisfied with what’s in store for 2023. Looking back, all that’s clear is chaos, as art is destroyed in favor of machines built to extract time. From the masses, if she had no money.

series finale good fight, with the ominous title “The End of Everything”, builds on a dark meta-text joke. One of the highlights of the show is the drawn-out opening credits sequence, in which office furniture—phones, desks, coffee thermos—explodes in a studio setting. The End of Everything makes these photograms literal, with the episode depicting the season-long crowd swelling into a full-blown riot, then being used by white supremacists as an opportunity to shoot up the offices of the predominantly black showrunner firm, Riddick Boseman. In shooting, the show reopens: phones, decanters, vases, laptops are smashed. Nobody dies, but the show then ended up closing the episode in the tongue-in-cheek credits sequence by rehashing it as a warning that had gone unheeded for five years.

General distillation of art into stylish takeaways is often a disservice to that art, on a basic level. Doing so in 2022 seems wildly laughable, with art treated as frivolous by its hosts, stripped down by empty commerce. It’s hard to feel as if the bright spots are footholds of optimism, as much as the bittersweet note the band plays as the ship in distress sinks.

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