One of the problems that seem to have arisen from the apparent mainstreaming* of geek culture has been that it carries additional forms of pressure. The pressure to keep up, to not miss out (FOMO - which you know my feelings on), which is balanced by other impulses, the desire to establish one's bona fides as a 'real' geek, and to seek out authenticity. We've seen this not only in terms of the now infamous, and erroneous, belief that girl gamers must be fakes because obviously, no women really like comics, gaming, and other nerd stuff, right?** I'm guilty of nerd shaming myself, because I don't believe turning on a TV set to watch a superhero show is as authentically nerdy as going out to find your next fix in the form of a comic (especially as I date from a time when there was only Forbidden Planet to get a reliable flow of comics from, I remember going to a newsagents in Leamington hoping that they would have the next issue of Uncanny X-Men and I wouldn't be left with a disjointed comic collection).
In the same way, SF TV shows in the UK were either shown late at night, or at tea time and there was a stigma attached to them. Even Star Trek was 'for kids', not the sort of thing adults bothered themselves with. This was true of a whole raft of things, I don't remember my parents expressing anything but bafflement at computer games, and there was a clear demarcation between the worlds of child and adult that no longer exists. In many respects, this is why we have issues around children getting hold of unsuitable computer games - there's still a section of society that thinks, like my parents, that computer games are for children and so will ignore the PEGI age recommendations (and that's before you take into account pester power). I think in the USA the same is true for many comics, and that's led to a great many lawsuits including one against a university whose Comics course wasn't about superheroes but about titles like Preacher and Sandman. Part of me is sympathetic, while another part thinks that Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and other mature books are all over 30 years old and these examples of ignorance about an important artform are a direct consequence of the ghettoisation of comics and of nerd shaming. One might make the same argument about most geeky things, by shoving them out of the light they've grown and multiplied and, as in the case of Iron Fist***, haven't been questioned.
The question, therefore, is how do we deal with some geeky things being in the mainstream. I use the word 'some' because for every success story, be it Marvel's films, Game of Thrones, or what have you, there are authors and books losing out. I'm far from convinced that the success of superhero movies has helped comics sales - if it had I doubt Marvel would be using their start-stop strategy of fresh reboots and endless events to get a sales spike. I'm still waiting for evidence that these things are leading to a sustained investment in geek things. Which is fair enough, money is tight and there are only so many hours in the day (and let's face it these days comics are a pretty awful investment, being too expensive for the amount of enjoyment they provide).
What concerns me though, is this idea that if you don't keep up you're not a nerd or a geek. That you're missing out, even when there might be a dozen things you're enjoying despite, or maybe because, the lack of attention to them. In a world that has so many voices, so many stories, and where things arrive very quickly, almost in a rush of content, there seems to be no real way to pause and digest, and to mull things over. And while I get that 'take things slower' is an annoying message, I do wonder if we're overstimulated, culturally speaking. I'm also concerned that 'Geek' has become something of a straightjacket, and it has prescriptive meanings that link it definitively to shows like Arrow, Star Trek Discovery etc, etc. I don't watch much TV, but I feel the same is happening in books too, albeit in a gentler fashion. I feel I've been nerd shamed over my lack of interest in GoT and other shows, and by the fact that I'd rather read Tim Powers novels than the latest Harry Potter thing. Where geekery was at one point quite a forgiving place, it seems to have become far more judgemental on all sides.
So, this is an area where a lot of fans need to improve (and I do wonder if defining ourselves as 'fans' is part of the problem?). I need to be more forgiving of people who are love with the newer versions of the characters and stories that I remember differently and to be less obsessed with authenticity. I'm sure there are changes other people need to make (but I feel as if I'm already entering the 'bully pulpit' zone). Perhaps the most important things, on the wider scale, are to remember we're people first and geeks second and that like everything else, this moment will pass and we must be ready for the things we love to fade away. The question then will be, do we cling to them or will they become 'things we used to like'. Perhaps then, all this sound and fury won't seem so important.
* My feeling is that this is a convenient fad or fashion and that within the next decade we'll see superheroes and fantasy, in particular, return to the category of 'things that are seen as childish and nerdy.
** Which I suspect is more that there's a problem that a lot of geeky guys are trying to find love in the mainstream, not the geek world.
*** Who's a cool character and, while I can appreciate that 'white guy becomes the saviour of Asia' is problematic, I do feel that 'another Asian character who knows Kung Fu' raises as many problems because it's routinely assumed Asian people automatically know some sort of martial art, as if it's in their DNA. I'm reasonably sure this isn't just a British stereotype as the creators of the excellent Chew have stated that part of the reason they created their comic was to attempt some counterbalance to the idea.
Soooo, I saw Thor: Ragnarok last night. Eve, my spouse, went to see it at the cinema and she's a massive Marvel Cinematic Universe fangirl, so she bought the DVD. Hence, me getting to see it.
The short version of this review is, I didn't like it very much.
You can stop reading here if you like?
On the other hand, if you want to stay for the dissection then let's go... (Of course, this is a review, it's my personal thoughts on the film, and I'm not claiming to be an expert okay - it's my gut reaction).
First, the film felt self indulgent and sloppy. It felt wasteful. Did we need the hideously jarring scene at Bleaker Street where the set kept changing, or indeed for Dr Strange to be in the movie at all? After all, he was nothing more than a glorified tourist board. Come to that, did we to be told how dangerous Hela was not once but twice? We saw her break Mjolinor and then, to add a great big exclamation mark to that, we have to see her slaughter the Asgardian soldiers, presumably just in case we missed the point that she's dangerous. As a villain, she's incredibly shallow, with only one motivation and barely any history. There's no real sense of why she's doing what she's doing outside of good old fashioned revenge (and in dramatic terms there's nothing wrong with that) and no indication that her exile to wherever she's been, as I don't recall it being revealed, has done anything to her at all. Somehow her time in banishment hasn't changed her, even to make her madder or more twisted. It's as if she's been held in stasis from what we can tell.
In the same way, the reasons for Odin stopping the surge of conquest that Asgard had been involved in weren't really explained. Sure, he was nearly overthrown by Hela, but having a rebellious child is rarely a reason for changing your entire foreign policy. I don't look at the Roman histories and see that Mark Anthony's rebellion against Rome, to assist Cleopatra, made them rethink conquering a lot of Europe. It's a move that doesn't hold up and indicates sloppiness on the writers' part.
The film isn't just wasteful in terms of motivation though, it slaughters characters willy-nilly without any real thought. The Warriors Three being cut down was, I suppose, a nice way to show that this is a new dawn for the franchise, but at the same time, it felt like the Director throwing toys out of the sandbox because he was bored of them. And their replacements felt unconvincing, shoehorned in to create... something. I'm sure the intent was to make the cast more multicultural but it just felt sloppy and stupid. Korg, who I'm sure was meant to be funny, just came off as annoying and if he was meant to add anything to the vague ,and it was vague, colonialism theme, then he failed. Instead he was Thor's Snarf or Godzookie, nothing more than an annoying sidekick.
This was a problem with the characters all the way through. I understand why they changed the tone of the characters but it felt like they were trying to enforce a line wide tone to make things more 'snarky', which doesn't really work for Thor. I appreciate that the first two films were, frankly, turkeys, but quippy Thor with a come back for everything didn't feel like the character, which was a shame. The thing with Mjolinor being a way to focus Thor's power was confusing, especially as there's the whole 'worthiness' thing about it and Vision could lift the hammer in Age of Ultron. It just didn't feel right, or as if it made sense.
Ironically, as a fan of the Planet Hulk storyline, I was disappointed that Hulk didn't change and we were denied the delights of seeing him as Conan Hulk. Mark Ruffalo's Banner was okay, though, at the same time, the need for him to be funny made the character feel tone deaf. The thing I did like here was that in some ways Banner's fears felt like they might be a self fulfilling prophecy. After all, when he hits the Bifrost Bridge, he's dead and while Hulk comes back, the audience is left with no idea whether Banner does.
Other characters felt like they were being phoned in by the actors, never really being convincing, and were problematic in the way they were portrayed. Valkyrie apparently has PTSD but Thor can cure that, and her desire to get drunk, just by turning up and being heroic. Let's be clear about this, feminist icon she is not. Instead, she's little more than an add on to the cast because Marvel needed a woman to be in the cast and in a significant heroic role. Haven't they got therapists in space? Tessa Thompson really didn't feel like she believed the character and it showed in a performance that, honestly, felt flat.
Skurge was a similar problem, never really feeling like he had a foundation in reality and lacking the chops to make an interesting secondary villain. Honestly, he felt more like a patsy than anything else. Even his journey from Asgardian coward, which at least showed us that they aren't all big, bluff, and heroic, to the 'worm that turned' moment felt like it had no emotional weight at all. Like Hela, he was very one note and didn't really work.
And then there's Grandmaster... Yeah, he was special... Was he meant to be sort of jarring and camp? He felt really out of place somehow and really quite unbelievable as the rule of Sakaar. Again, it felt like Jeff Goldblum phoned the performance and frankly Grandmaster never felt like a threat, more like someone who was responsible for Sakaar's deforestation because he was chewing on so much scenery.
To be honest, I find myself wondering if Anthony Hopkins was glad his character died so he only had to turn up as a ghost, Alec Guinness in Star Wars style, and offer gnomic advice.
Let's talk about the colonialism thing for a moment, because Marvel is getting lauded for it. It really is very slight, in my opinion. Sure, we have the revelation that Asgard has a blood, war like past, but that was hinted at in both the other Thor movies and in Thor's own adventurism against the Jotun. The way that the characters assume they are 'chosen ones' confirmed that there was something wrong in Asgard long before it was spelt out. In many ways, the only thing Ragnarok does is deepen our knowledge and provide a bit more context for the atrocities. As a Brit I suppose I should be taking it as some sort of moral lesson, but I'm not because I was well aware of my country's more sordid history (and for the record I doubt anyone who sees this is, and probably Black Panther*, is going to come out of the cinema or switch the DVD player off with a chastened air. If you want to impart lessons about... well anything, a fantasy film is hardly the place to do it, though that's more to do with the fact that film is a shitty genre for that sort of thing than that SF and Fantasy struggles to discuss that sort of subject. If you're looking to light entertainment for your moral compass, something's seriously wrong.
The thing is that while the Guardians of the Galaxy films had emotional weight, there wasn't really any here, and the film suffered for it. There was nothing to give it substance.
Aside from the Hulk moment, I liked the way Surtur was done. The Thor/hUlk fight in the arena was good too. Yeah, damning with faint praise, I know.
* Which would you rather have, a film with a black superhero, or fewer people of colour on Death Row, and with better housing, jobs etc? Entertainment, like talk, is cheap in the sense of social justice.
This week has been rather difficult. On Tuesday we had to let our Tortoiseshell cat go. She had mouth cancer, something she'd developed very rapidly and the cancer seemed to have been spreading to other places, as she had a lump on her stomach. There was no way to save her and so we had to have her put to sleep.
It's hard to think of it and both of us were crying our eyes out because it seemed so unfair and so cruel.
Dita was a real character, the only cat I've ever met who seemed to have comic timing. She was a chatty, almost insolent character who would happily answer back to things you said, usually when she was hungry but it wasn't time for more food. She loved her fuss and had a fondness for junk food, which makes me think that when she was a stray she'd found a chippie and taken to raiding the bins. When we met her she didn't bother to get up out of her bed and just lay in her pen letting us fuss her. This insouciance towards life characterised must of her nature, we were never allowed to see her play and you'd only hear the sound of her paffing toys around in the next room. If and when either of us tried to look in and watch, we'd find a chunky tortie sitting there looking for all the world as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. 'Me, play? Oh no, you've confused me with that other cat you have'.
Her relationship with Hobbes was strange, one moment they'd tolerate each other and the next he'd be trying to beat her up. I think he wanted to play, but she wasn't interested and would make that plain, usually rather loudly. They never played together, though sometimes she'd play a strange sort of 'minesweeper' where she poked at him through the cover until he emerged. I always felt so blessed if they snuggled up together and had a nap because it was always my hope that they would learn to love each other like siblings. Alas, it never happened. I don't know if he always saw her as an invader or if he just wanted to play, usually boisterously, and she didn't want to know. It was a shame for both of them because it meant their relationship was always pretty fraught and they never go what they wanted.
She was a lovely animal, one who loved having a tummy rub and would often stretch out more in her sleep if you stroked her belly. She also loved her head being fussed and would sometimes just rub against your hand to make it smell of her. I remember one time, the only time when she sat diligently rubbing against my hand and then knocked it down and proceeded to use me as a pillow. It was so sweet and really made me feel as if she loved and trusted me. I hope I repaid that trust.
Farewell, sweet princess of cats and may you be at peace now. I don't know if I believe in anything supernatural but if Bast and Sekhmet exist anywhere but the minds of humans, I hope you're sleeping on warm sands in the ruins of their city, drinking from the oasis and you're with cats you love. Sleep well and I'm sorry I can't express how sorry I am to see you go, too early and too horribly. If we wronged you, forgive us please.