You might have seen our post last week in a new series we’re calling What we’re reading. While that series will focus on bringing academia to pop-culture, this series What we’re watching, will do the opposite — bring the pop-culture to academia. Here, we are going to reflect on the popular media that has caught our attention lately and why we’re digging it. We’ll wax academic about anything from Avatar: The Last Airbender to No Man’s Sky to the latest MCU spectacle. If you’re looking to get the scoop on some hidden gems in the vast media landscape that is our twenty-first century embarrassment of riches, we can hook you up. — joan
Alix: Something new that I started watching this week – Veep. Yea, yea, I’m five years late to that party. I find myself enjoying the sardonic take on White House shenanigans through the office of the Vice President – without us ever setting eyes on the president. I’ve only made it through the first season and some of the second season, so I’m not sure how long my enjoyment of Veep will last.
I do think the perspective of this show speaks to the cynicism many people already had (five years ago just seems like so far away, right?) toward those responsible for leading our country. Of course, this show approaches this with a light hearted cynicism. The day-to-day games in this show might be silly and convoluted – but they’re just games! When someone loses, it’s really not that dire. It is this lightheartedness I am perhaps yearning for as I watch this show. In reality, we now have an inkling as to how dangerous these games can actually be.
Art: What I am watching right now is This is Us. . . and I am just not a fan.
I came to This is Us on a recommendation and found myself concerned about the saccharin-sweet plotlines that harken us back to a time, dare I say, when America was Great! We need to be careful with combining nostalgia with characterizations of the past, especially when it comes to how American progress becomes sentimentalized as something a character can “overcome.” A little over a decade ago, you could see this same sort of distillation on another NBC family drama, American Dreams. It pops up from time to time as a trope that blends a sense of “how far we have come” with “wouldn’t it be nice to live in simpler times.”
So, I am watching This is Us, not as a fan but as someone who seeks to understand what the narrative veneer of a fictionalized past says about those of us who watch it now. In the case of This is Us, I am deeply concerned about plotlines that require a white family to sweep in and rescue a black baby, a woman defined by her weight, and a white man just too darned burdened by his good looks that he cannot seem to be taken seriously as an actor. Are our physical bodies something to be overcome? Is there a singular, bland ideal we all must become? Is that ideal white? Male? This show seems to traffic in some important forms of cultural hegemony that beckon analysis. So, I am watching.
Andrew: I’m not watching. I’m re-watching. In this case I am watching season three of Angel. In some ways I am more a fan of Angel than I am of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel is the more “adult” of the two shows. It’s darker. It’s grittier. Everyone is ethically liminal: Angel. Wesley. Gunn. Lorne. Even “innocent” Fred. There are more bad decisions made by good people in this show than in Buffy.
In particular I love season three because it shows Wesley Wyndam-Pryce’s turn toward the darkness. He was a goofy Watcher. Now he’s going behind the back of Team Angel. I love the ethical question raised: “If you thought your friend was going to kill his own child, what would you do?” Wesley has his reasons and he has his beliefs – and THAT is the problem. He thinks he’s right – and never asks for a second opinion. Hubris: all great anti-heroes have it, and in Wesley it leads hims to darker and darker places. And he steals Angel’s son Connor.
Angel goes dark too. When he confronts Wesley in the Episode “Forgiving,” Angel tells him he understands why he stole his son. He’s calm and cool and collected. And then Angel tries to kill his best friend, by smothering him with a pillow. It’s brutal visually and auditorally as Angel, face screwed up, spit and spittle flying as he yells:
“Son of a bitch, you’re gonna pay for what you did! You took my son! You son of a bitch! You bastard! You think I’d forgive you?! Never! You’re gonna die! You hear me? You’re gonna pay! You took my son, YOU TOOK MY SON! You took my son! I’ll kill you! You’re dead! You’re a dead man, Pryce! You’re dead! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you! You’re a dead man! DEAD! DEAD!!!”
It might be the second most horrific scene in all of the Whedonverse. It gives me chills whenever I see it. And I love it.
Joan: Right now I have two major obsessions that are occupying my free-time (lol what’s that?).
The first is an animated television show on the Cartoon Network called Steven Universe.
If you’ve been to a convention in the last few years, you’ve probably seen some millenials cosplaying these “sentient humanoid polymorphic rocks” as one character from the show describes them. The main cast of the show is a combination of humans and “gems,” an ancient seemingly-matriarchal intergalactic race that makes a practice of colonizing other worlds in order to grow/procreate more gems. Steven, the titular character and protagonist, is unique in that he is half-gem and half-human. In the interest of avoiding spoilers I won’t speak to how that works exactly — in fact a major aspect of the show is Steven trying to navigate life as a wholly unique mixture. This, unsurprisingly, is one of the major draws for me as a mixed kid who has often spent life trying to figure out who and what I am, all the while knowing that my parents/guardians/family don’t have the answers any more than I do. To quote a certain sardonic raccoon “Ain’t no thing like me, ‘cept me.”
On top of the personal emotional resonance of all of Steven’s #mixedkidproblems, the show really follows in the footsteps of some of it’s spiritual (and literal!) predecessors including Avatar: The Last Airbender & The Legend of Korra, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic*, and, of course, Adventure Time, where showrunner Rebecca Sugar got her start. Like Adventure Time and MLP the show is full of amazing music and sophisticated themes largely focused on interpersonal relationships, trauma and grief as well as the expected, but by no means stale, coming of age stories.
The other thing that I am UNREASONABLY EXCITED ABOUT right now isssss….. (drumroll please!):
THE MUTHERFREAKIN LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE GOTDANG WILD!!!
This game literally just came out last night/ this morning (Friday, March 3) and I’m already obsessed. It’s huge and it’s gorgeous and I’ve been waiting for literally years. Literally. Have I said literally enough times? I won’t say anything about it because I’ve only played about an hour and a half, but I will say that it got a 98 on Metacritic, which is pretty much unheard of (much like Get Out recently got a 100 on RottenTomatoes), the score alone is enough reason to check it out. If you’re playing hit us up on Facebook and let us know what you think!
Adam: I am a big Marvel fan. Not the “memorizing every activity of every character in every alternate version” fan, but I like what they do. Some of it gets cheesy and very Disney … and this was before that whole MCU/Disney arranged marriage happened. Some of it made you think “wha???” And then there were the horror titles …
Putting all of that aside, when Marvel tries a new TV project, I will always bite. Currently, Legion is that project … and I am really enjoying it. I have always been a sucker for the mind-bender stories (I wrote my damn MA project in 2001 on, amongst other things, The Matrix), and have always had a soft spot for Fringe, X-Files (except, perhaps, that second movie) … even Altered States. Legion is an interesting angle within the Marvel Universe. It works under the assumption that, dare I say, Professor X is human and might even have a love life, the result of which is the love child named David a.k.a. Legion.
Legion is in interesting character. Often, characters within the comic universes, even those with questionable motives, fall into the “good guy/bad guy” discourse – you could not have Civil War without that, right? Legion, well, has no idea who he actually is. Seriously. Each person he comes into contact with, he absorbs the personality or at least part of it. He also is one of the few mutants/enhanced humans that can bend and warp reality to his will. He also is legitimately schizophrenic, telepathic, and telekinetic. Consider all of these in the mind of someone who is not schooled or trained on how to use them, did not grow up knowing his true parents, and is hospitalized due to his outbursts. What would you do? Could you keep it together? Would you know what is real and what is not? These are the questions that are considered in Legion … and they do it well. The arc that is taken in the TV series is nothing like the comic book arc, but it works well.
With members of the Fargo TV series in charge, we start to see the other side of a mutant reality. Not the “we can all do it together” reality of the 80’s and 90’s X-Men, but a much darker reality where, if you are not working for the government, you are controlled by them. If THAT is not your fate, then you are on the run, outcast, often locked up for being who you are. If you are not seeing the interesting parallels to some of the original ideologies considered during the initial runs of X-Men, I invited you to read through any of the Morlock story arcs. You will learn much about humanity … and a lack thereof.
The characters in the series are strong … and off. I have yet to come across a single normal character. Heck, even the family dog when David is growing up (SPOILER ALERT) is a figment of his imagination. We are passengers on David’s path to, maybe, figure out who he might be. There are MASSIVE dream/alt reality sequences – think every movie that has tried to show audiences an LSD trip-level dream sequences … or Doctor Strange-level visual reality shifts using color, light, and set design rather than CGI on crack (Sorry, Andrew, had to :-)). They are used so effectively that you, the audience member, has no idea what is real and what is not. I start and finish every episode wondering one simple thing – “Is this real?” (SE1, EP1).