Note: This is a collaborative piece by both Amanda and Stephanie
Unless you’re a rich, cis-male white supremacist, this was just not your year. But we’re not here to dwell on serious issues, like the barrage of sexual harassment/assault allegations that shed light on the dark impact of rape culture in pop culture. We stick true to our purpose of providing thoughtful/irreverent pop culture analysis and completely thoughtless/even more irreverent drinking games. Therefore, in our reflection of 2017’s bullshit, we’re focusing on some of the complete nonsense that occurred during this terrible, no-good, very bad year.
American Horror Story Disappoints—Even More Than Usual
My title of this section probably comes off a bit harsher than I mean. I love every season of AHS, including Cult. Ryan Murphy always takes us on a kitschy, ridiculous ride that guarantees a little bit of creepiness and a lot of man butt. In addition, AHS provides fodder for think pieces with his homages to horror films and poignant scenes with provocative social commentary. However, we also can always expect the plot or a character’s storyline to go completely off the rails. This year, with Cult centering on the 2016 election, the sloppiness of Kai Anderson’s character development is especially disappointing.
Without a doubt, the strongest episodes centered on Kai, played by AHS favorite Evan Peters, who gave a strong performance that was both compelling and hilariously over-the-top. (If Stephanie and I ever create a drinking game for this, we would instruct participants to drink every time Peters said something about being a humiliated man.) I was hooked from the first episode, not because of Sarah Paulson’s incessant crying and screaming, but because of the exploration of masculinity and the role of fear in politics that we were already getting from Kai. As the season progressed, so did the idea that we didn’t really understand what was lurking below the surface, even as more was revealed about the enigmatic cult leader.
Unfortunately, the show didn’t seem to understand either. The season never delivered on providing a surprising and thoughtful exploration of Kai’s psyche. We were given about half a dozen possible origin stories, but ultimately, he was reduced to a crazy misogynist, with hallucinations of Charles Manson and lunatic ravings. AHS is perhaps one of the more progressive television programs in regards to portrayals of disability, but displaying the most played-out and troubling stereotypes of mental disability tarnishes its record. Whenever a mass shooting or another violent act occurs, reporters immediately speculate on the mental health of the perpetrator, buttressing terrible assumptions of mental illness which proves detrimental to the already underserved disability community and ignores larger issues such as America’s love of guns.
This is only one of many issues with Kai and the series, but there is plenty to enjoy and think about as well. What is perhaps most disappointing is that there is very little man butt, and absolutely no bare bottom shown from the hunky Colton Haynes. Come on AHS!
Wonder Woman Isn’t That Wonderful
I’m not here to rain on the parades of many who enjoyed finally having a good female superhero on film and a decent DC film. I enjoyed Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, with her fierce determination, her grappling with sexism and the evils of mankind, and her kickass superhero powers. Of course women felt empowered and excited to see her on screen.
But come on critics, calm down! From The New York Times to AFI, several prominent institutions have positioned Wonder Woman as one of the top 10 films of the year. I get it: this is a bad year for women, so let’s give women a win by putting the female-directed, feminist, female-led superhero movie in the top 10 list. However, this undeserved high praise is actually more insulting than it is supportive of women in film.
The movie itself, though enjoyable, is kind of a mess. That last fight scene was such typical DC bullshit: a boring, CGI clusterfuck. And Wonder Woman’s morals are a little confusing. She spares Dr. Poison (a very boring villain, by the way, and one of three awful antagonists the movie pits Gadot against), but she rips through German soldiers as if they are Nazis. Remember, this is WWI, so she isn’t killing Nazis. There is no simple good vs. evil dichotomy at play, and our heroine is probably decimating German teenagers forced into war because of complicated politics they didn’t understand or have personal investment in. And as I stated in an earlier piece, the film’s treatment of PTSD is troubling.
Do critics expect so little from women that even if we deliver one of the less competent superhero movies of this year—because, with the exception of Justice League, this was a great year for the genre—we get applause just for being adequate? Movies made by women, people of color and other discriminated populations need to be held to the same standards, not given high marks for being merely passable.
An Acceptance Speech Is Not a Song, BTS
With BIGBANG on hiatus/performing without one of its members (yeah, it’s confusing), BTS has stepped up to dominate K-Pop and social media. The success of their mini-album Love Yourself and appearance on the American Music Awards further solidified BTS’s position as the top boy band, and it seems that their success might have gone a little bit to their heads. The group randomly dropped their acceptance speech from the Billboard Music Awards in the middle of Love Yourself. Those cocky little bastards.
On one hand, I get it. The album is basically split into two halves—the first emphasizing the singers of the group, the second emphasizing the rappers. The acceptance speech is there to separate the two. Plus, the speech thanks their fans and even tells them to love themselves—appropriate to their album and a kind tribute to the fiercely loyal ARMYs. But it’s still a weird thing to do. Nobody wants to listen to acceptance speeches, except for this one, and people really just want to watch Winona Ryder’s face, not hear David Harbour’s speech.
Though I get the reasoning for wanting to include something to split the two parts, it really wasn’t necessary. It would’ve been exciting to go immediately from the string of slower pop songs into “Mic Drop,” a surprisingly hot rap track for an album called Love Yourself. Instead, I go into “Mic Drop” still baffled and annoyed by the inclusion of that damn acceptance speech. This was certainly a misstep on an otherwise solid album, but who cares what I think. They won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
I’m Not in Love with the “Shape of You”
This year had some jams. Justin Bieber continues to collaborate with the right people, lending his voice to hit songs “Despacito” and “I’m the One.” Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” set the record for longest running female rap single. And 1D fans got hits from each member of the boy band.
But even with the plethora of hits, one song played on the airwaves over and over and over. And over. I’m over it. Of course that song is Ed Sheeren’s “Shape of You.” On an earlier All Songs Considered podcast, an NPR music critic remarked that he wants this song to go into space and get burned by the sun, never to be heard again. It’s easily the best thing I heard on a podcast this year. I admit, my contempt for Ed Sheeren is unfounded and downright cruel. I don’t like looking at him. I don’t like listening to him. I am confused by him, and I think he is confused by himself. He looks like the dweebiest Weasley with a tattoo sleeve. He sings sappy indie songs about cocaine, swelling pop ballads and attempted jams. What is you, Ed Sheeren? A Weasley? A rocker? A balladeer?
“Shape of You” is one of these attempted jams, and it fails. It has a simple, enticing groove upon first listen, but it quickly lost its little bit of appeal for me and continued to be played long after that loss. Ultimately, Sheeren’s songs span the spectrum of bland and generic.
And the Award Goes To. . . White People!
Sometimes, the Grammys get it right, like when they awarded Adele as best new artist. More often, the Grammys get it way wrong, like when they awarded Adele’s 23 as best album over Beyoncé’s revolutionary Lemonade. The Grammys are endlessly confounding, robbing Kendrick Lamar twice by handing the prize for best rap album to Macklemore and the prize for best album to Taylor Swift and robbing Beyoncé yet again by awarding Beck’s album over her self-titled masterpiece. There’s an undeniable racial component to these Grammy debacles, but to classify the Grammys’ bad choices as strictly racial doesn’t account for its other foibles. The list of artists denied even a nomination is astounding: Sufjan Stevens, Sleater-Kinney, The Mountain Goats, Tegan and Sara (they’ve only been nominated for long form music video), Grimes. All of these artists have been at or near the top of year-end album rankings for distinct, innovative works and built loyal fan bases, but the Grammys denied them earned recognition, often in favor of weaker mainstream hits. The outrage after Macklemore beat out Kendrick should have taught the Grammys a lesson, but sadly, this year proved that the Grammys have a long way to go. Here’s hoping Kendrick finally gets the top trophies from the Grammys in 2018.
In an even stranger turn of events, an award was given to white people even though it was meant to go to black people. I’m of course talking about the Oscars. Unlike the Grammys, the Oscars made the correct choice by naming the poignant Moonlight best film, but Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty made the wrong choice by calling out La La Land as the winner. Last I checked, a card that reads for the best actress prize to go to Emma Stone does not mean that the film she was in gets the award for best film. This gaffe was by no means racist but it was both hilarious and bullshit in its total incompetence.
LGBTQ Representation in Blockbusters … Kinda in Theory, But Not Really
Thor: Ragnarok and Star Wars: The Last Jedi are two massive hits with a lot in common, probably more than most people realize. Sure, they’re both colorful space odysseys that explore what it means to be a hero, how to accept failure and the true meaning of family. True, they’re both owned by Disney. But did you know they both feature prominent characters that aren’t heterosexual, a huge first for both franchises? What, you missed it? Well, both films feature bisexual characters. Ragnarok has Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and The Last Jedi’s got Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo. Of course, there is no reference to these characters’ sexuality in either film, and neither gets any sort of romantic subplot. But hey, actors and creators talked about these characters’ bisexuality in interviews after the films’ releases. So that’s something … a very, very little something.
Ragnarok gets a little more credit than The Last Jedi. A scene was actually filmed to confirm the character’s queerness, but it was ultimately cut. Thompson was also aware of her character’s sexuality and tried to make it a part of the performance. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Vice Admiral Holdo. Dern had no idea that the character was bisexual, and the character’s sexuality is only hinted at in a tie-in novel. A freakin’ TIE-IN NOVEL! We all know everyone who helped the film gross almost $250 million opening weekend also picked up Leia: Princess of Alderaan, in which a young Holdo tells Leia it’s kinda limiting to only consider humanoid males as potential romantic partners. That’s the kind of representation the LGBTQ community is scrambling for. You know the kind that might be just as much about banging Wookies and other aliens as actual representation.
The Last Jedi also had greater opportunity to include LGBTQ represention. Thorki is never going to happen (my apologies to certain corners of the internet), but Star Wars’ latest fan-favorite, homosexual pairing at least felt possible after The Force Awakens. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega’s easy chemistry gave Poe Dameron and Finn an instant connection and rapport, and it’s not shocking that people latched onto to it. But The Last Jedi threw another (we can’t forget Rey because Finn certainly hasn’t) potential heterosexual love interest at Finn and kept him separated from Poe for the majority of the movie. And it’s not like fans are alone in shipping the couple. Dern and Kelly Marie Tran (the new love interest) have both expressed their approval of the S.S. Finn and Poe. And if The Last Jedi taught me anything, it’s calm down and trust Laura Dern. She knows what’s up.
But ultimately creators talking about what they wanted to do or agreeing with fans isn’t enough. The representation needs to actually make it to the screen, and it would be nice if it were actually substantial. Seeing a woman leave a female character’s bedroom (what Ragnarok would have offered us) or featuring a vague conversation about romantic options is a step, but it’s such a small one. However, 2017 was a year in which we couldn’t even really inch forward. Fan-freaking-tastic.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Power Rangers here. It was the first movie this year to make a splash by featuring a queer character in a major franchise (if Power Rangers really counts as one), then have some audiences disappointed with the outcome. But at least Power Rangers actually includes a moment where the Yellow Ranger (Becky G) is presented as still figuring out her own sexuality. It’s a hell of a lot more than what Ragnarok or The Last Jedi ultimately do. And I bet you thought Power Rangers was only good as a Krispy Kreme commercial and an excuse to ogle a shirtless Dacre Montgomery sans mullet and hate crimes.