Welcome again to We Have Always Live the Kraken, a pop culture blog transmitted directly to you from the belly of the beast. Here in the Notes we’ll show you this week’s posting schedule, but first here are some thoughts.
This has been a strange week. Donald Trump won the American Presidential election, to the surprise of just about everyone. There are plenty of people discussing right now what this means for the future of our politics, our country, and the world as a whole. But here in this little corner of the internet, we still believe it’s worthwhile to talk about pop culture. Perhaps more worthwhile than ever. Books and movies and video games and TV and all the rest, they still have the ability to offer welcome escapes from what’s happening on the news or in our daily lives; they still have the ability to enlighten and ennoble, inform and inspire; they still guide the way we communicate and the expectations we set for our lives. How they do that, how well they do that, and to what purpose are still questions worth examining.
This is particularly true given the extraordinary, sweeping change this election represents, because art has always responded dramatically to cultural and political shifts. Cinema is the clearest example. 1999, a year when the country was economically secure and politically complacent, saw the release of movies like American Beauty, Fight Club, Office Space, Eyes Wide Shut, The Matrix and Magnolia, films which argued that in the absence of privation, most people’s biggest concern was ennui, and how quiet dissatisfaction with their lives made it difficult to connect with others. “We’re the middle children of history,” preached Tyler Durden in Fight Club. “We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.” That was the sentiment of the time, and that was what our popular art ended up expressing.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, artists consciously turned to art to try and make sense of the world–some directly, as in Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadows of No Towers, but most indirectly. It’s no accident that superhero comics and films have become the dominant cultural force; in the past 15 years, America’s place in the world and relationship to terrorism has expressed itself through morality plays starring Iron Man, Captain America, and Batman, from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (an examination of the Bush-era “the ends justify the means” mentality) to Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (among other things, a look at drone strikes). Some of the most poignant of these stories explored the responsibilities our dreams had to protect us from tragedy, like Brian K. Vaughn’s Ex Machina, a mix between sci-fi and The West Wing about a superhero turned politician who became Mayor of New York after saving one of the Twin Towers. Other stories seemed to unconsciously take on the tenor of the times–Liam Neeson’s xenophobic action film Taken, for example. The last decade and a half in American popular culture has been a grappling with the sweeping political (and technological) changes that have characterized the period.
It may take some time, as cultural forces are not always swift to turn, but I expect the 2016 election will also represent a significant turning point in what our art will say to us. A lot of Americans just had a rude awakening about the nature of their society; a lot of artists are going to spend the next few years feeling more like a resistance force than ordinary citizens. I don’t know yet what the dominant metaphor will be yet for the rising tides of racial prejudice, sexism, and autocratic fascism; maybe shark movies are about to get really, really popular. But some people definitely seem poised to take the lead. Disney couldn’t have picked a more apt moment to release a movie about rebelling against an evil Empire. The dark sci-fi show Black Mirror continues to be prescient about the ways in which technology facilitates social and political discordancy. Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War presented a fictional conflict to match the real-world political divide, and its overarching story about the uses and misuses of power both by those in and out of its untrustworthy government feels like it will continue to be apt, and perhaps no moment encapsulates the sense many on the left have of their country’s unexpected betrayal than the infamous “Hail Hydra” panel.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. But if it’s true that the political and emotional conflicts of an era express themselves through our art as a kind of collective unconscious, it’s also true that art gives us a way to work through those conflicts behind the safe filter of fiction. Whatever its subject, art will always work to ennoble and inspire, to help us communicate with one another, to help us understand how we really feel. Those of us who have always lived in the Kraken will keep looking to that art. I think in the next few years, we’re going to need it.
Josh Kyu Saiewitz
From the depths of the Kraken, here is what we are bringing you this week.
- What goes on in a 25 Hour Gaming Marathon? Well as you may have heard David recently did one, and this week he will offer his thoughts and insight into all that went down in A Day In The Extra Life.
- David is attending the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles this year. Check his quick thoughts in Part 1 and Part 2.
- On Saturday, Baturdays returns at long last with Detective Comics #50, “The Case of the Three Devils,” a story in which Batman and Robin face costumed, acrobatic foes without even once acknowledging the irony.
Catch of the Week:
Each and every week the residents here in the Kraken will offer one recommendation for the week that we think you all would enjoy. It might be a movie. It might be a book. Who knows? This is your… Catch of the Week.
Kyu: Ever since Serial, there’s been an explosion in true crime podcasts. Some of them are simply entertainment, but a surprising number are the result of career journalists using the medium to tell long-form stories about the flaws in our criminal justice system. One of the best of these of late was In the Dark, a ‘cast about the abduction and murder of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling near his home in rural Minnesota. As reporter Madeleine Baran details in this patient, well-written 9-episode series, there were serious deficiencies in the police investigation of the crime. Police failed to do basic tasks in the immediate aftermath, like talk to all the neighbors that day; and in the decades since, as Congress passed a law in response to the crime creating the sex offender registry, the police dithered and made excuses and slandered an innocent man as a “person of interest.” But the most fascinating thing about the case and the podcast is that when Baran began working on the project, the focus was how the police had failed to find the killer. By the time the podcast started airing, however, a man named Danny Heinrich had confessed to Jacob’s murder. This crystallized In the Dark, because now the whole story could be framed in terms of how the police missed what we now know were the answers that might have brought this man to justice decades earlier. It’s a really excellent, self-contained miniseries well worth listening to for anybody interested in podcast journalism, true crime, or criminal justice reform.
David: So 2016 has been a weird movie year, but things have finally started to pick up as we hit the stretch run. Part of this is because a lot of the hyped films from festival circuits are finally trickling into theatres for more of the public to see. One such film is this week’s recommendation Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, which has had a lot of hype thrown its way. Being one of if not the best reviewed film of the year (it has a 99 on metacritic for crying out loud right now), Moonlight explored one man’s journey through three stages of his life towards self-discovery. This film is a beautiful exploration of sexuality from the African American perspective, and is shot beautifully. It is messy in all of the right ways, and is raw and real. Admittedly, it may be somewhat hard to see this film in theatres, but if you get the chance see it however you can.
That’s it for this week. Please note that the spinal elevators are, for some reason, only going down this week. Visitors who wish to ascend should try the nearby Penrose stairs.