Culture Clips: A Good Year for the Bad Guys

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Frank Griffin from Godless

We’re three whole days into 2018 now, but it’s still wholly appropriate to look back at the year that was. Researchers have weighed the data to determine the year’s most popular books, movies and videos. Pundits have opined on the year’s biggest entertainment stories. But one thing’s clear, at least to the Los Angeles Times’ Jeffrey Fleishman: It was a banner year for the bad guys.

Fleishman singles out a few of them: The Scripture-quoting Frank Griffin from Netflix’s Godless; the racist cop Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; the Colonel in War for the Planet of the Apes, to namecheck a few. He suggests their power is a product of a polarized society and our own societal wrestling with the day’s big social justice issues:

The villain resides in our imaginations like a piece of darkness, rousing the hushed things deep within, part human, part something we’d rather not contemplate. We revel in their cunning, recoil at their perniciousness and bloodlust. They are fallen angels who hold our fears and weaknesses to the light, coaxing us into accepting their vileness or granting them a measure of understanding.

Granted, not all villains are so sympathetic. It’d be a rare (and rather disturbed) person indeed who would grant IT’s Pennywise the Clown a “measure of understanding.” But Pennywise was arguably the year’s most influential villain. Indeed,  thanks to IT’s popularity (the film made $327.5 million in North America), the horror genre has gone from marginalized to mainstream.

Not everyone is thrilled with this cultural turn to the Dark Side, though. Take, for instance, Mark Hamill, who was originally none-too-pleased that his iconic good-guy character, Luke Skywalker, seemed a bit jaded and discouraged in Star Wars: The Last Jedi—and he said as much before the movie was released. Now that the movie’s out, though, Hamill says he was wrong to voice his “doubts and insecurities.” “All I wanted was to make a good movie,” he wrote on Twitter. “I got more than that—[director Rian Johnson] made an all-time GREAT one!” (Hear that, you Jedi naysayers? Luke Skywalker agrees with me!)

(Oh, and while we’re on the subject of Star Wars—and possibly of pop culture villains—Star Wars creator George Lucas says that he may have gone “too far in a few places” in The Phantom Menace.)

Another star is apologizing for going a bit too far this week. Popular YouTube personality Logan Paul took a trip to a Japanese forest notorious for being the site of dozens of suicides—taking a camera crew along, naturally. Sure enough, he came across an apparent suicide victim, recorded it and posted it on his YouTube channel. The backlash was swift and severe. And after Logan first attempted to justify the video as a way to raise awareness for suicide prevention, the YouTube star pulled the video altogether and posted an apology on Twitter. “I’m often reminded of how big of a reach I truly have & with great power comes great responsibility … for the first time in my life I’m regretful to say I handled that power incorrectly,” he wrote. “It won’t happen again.”

Speaking of apologies, Paul Stark is looking for one, too from his favorite professional football team. According to the 80-year-old’s obituary in the Sandusky Register, Stark died after a brief illness that was “exacerbated by the hopeless condition of the Cleveland Browns,” who finished  0-16 this year. Here’s to hoping the organization at least sent flowers.

The new year is obviously a popular time for making resolutions, of course. (I, for instance, have resolved to stop using so many puns in my Monday movie blogs.) But as lots of us commit to cutting back on sweets and exercising more, several experts suggest that we—or our kids—could use a digital or social media diet. Oh, and the World Health Organization thinks that we really, really should cut back on our gaming: It’s getting ready to classify “gaming disorder” as an official health problem.

Meanwhile, Nintendo hopes to sell 50 million Switches by 2019. Hmmm.

The turn of the new year doesn’t just mean saying hello to another calendar: It means saying goodbye to some folks, too. And we lost plenty in 2017, from Mary Tyler Moore to Bill Paxton to Tom Petty. But 9-year-old Brian McGilloway was particularly upset about losing his favorite Doctor in Doctor Who—Peter Capaldi, who stepped aside to make room for Jodie Whittaker in Britain’s long-running sci-fi series. (The show has been running since the 1960s, more or less, and by necessity “The Doctor” regenerates on occasion.)

Well, Capaldi wrote a personal, handwritten letter to his despondent fan. “The new doctor always becomes your favorite and the one that goes… well, he never really goes, he is always there, somewhere in time and space, and if you think about him hard enough you’ll see him, and he’ll see you,” Capaldi wrote. “It’s like the Doctor says, ‘Everything ends and it’s always sad. But everything begins again, and that’s always happy. Be happy.’”

On the dawn of a new year—a new beginning, if you will—seems like good advice.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 15 days ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

That awkward moment when you find out that the Rotten Tomatoes audience score for Justice League is higher than The Last Jedi's.
bobed 15 days ago
Fans don't like The Last Jedi. I mean, really don't like it. My oldest daughter is a big fan of Star Wars and kind of an "internet fandom" kind of girl, and she says that the only thing she sees towards the movie from fans is negativity. 
Anonymous 15 days ago
I posted this on the last article, but didn't see any response so I figured I would put it here to see if others have found the same things I have:
The fan backlash for The Last Jedi is kind of foolish to be honest. I have seen the film, and I really enjoyed it. Curious as to why people disliked it, I read multiple reviews, both critic and fan, and talked with others who saw the film. What I will say is there is no consensus on why the film is bad. For example, some felt it was too rushed, others feel that the whole trilogy should be scrapped and replaced with the Star Wars Legends (basically all the books that were written about what happened after Episode 6 that Disney threw out), and I even found a reviewer who was annoyed that there were no female aliens commanding a Rebel Star Ship.  People that I have talked that disliked it have spoken eloquently of the flaws of the film, and then basically admitted that it wasn't their kind of movie. Personally, I really enjoyed it. I have to see it again, but it is definitely the best Star Wars film that has come out since the Originals, and parts of it rivaled the Original Trilogy in my opinion. It is truly sad that not all people enjoyed it, but that's to be expected with any fanbase. I've just taken it as a sign of a fickle fanbase, and moved along. Nothing to see in my opinion.
-AR
bobed 15 days ago
There's a pretty cohesive consensus on why the film is bad, actually. 

A) It ruins the character of Luke Skywalker. Like, I mean, absolutely takes a sledgehammer to the poor guy. I'm not even really a fan of Star Wars and when I read what happens to this guy in The Last Jedi, even I winced. 

B) The relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren is, in the words of my kid (not mine, so don't bite my head off), "cringy." 

C) The character of Poe is turned into an aggressive and rude risk-taker who ultimately has to be punched into submission by a superior, which is contrary to how he was previously characterized in the last movie and in the comics. 

There are many other complaints I've heard about the movie (and I've become veeeeery interested in the criticisms, so I've done a little digging myself), but these are the three biggies. 
Anonymous 14 days ago
Hmm. This is actually very interesting. 
Personally I enjoyed the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren. I thought that both Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver did a fantastic job when they were onscreen together. I understand the Luke Skywalker argument, but I do not think that he was ruined at all. His story arc honestly made a lot of sense to me, but that could be just me. The Poe Argument makes sense, but I would argue that we didn't really get to know him all that much in 7, so I didn't feel that his character was contrary to previous characterization. I have not read the comics tho, as I tend to avoid things that are not strictly canon. 
I would highly recommend seeing the film if you haven't already. If you see it and don't like it, fine. If you see it and do like it, fine. Its the kind of movie that I believe has to be seen to truly understand both the criticisms and the praises for its story and creation. 
Thanks for outlining the main complaints you've heard! I had not heard them written in a cohesive list before. 
-AR
charitysplace 13 days ago
I think the backlash is overrated. It's a solid movie. My mother, who has never cared for Star Wars, even enjoyed herself! I'm sorry being so busy over the holidays hasn't let me see it more than once, but I'll buy the BluRay when it comes out.

People were shocked that Luke has... flaws? He ... made a mistake? How... realistic! Luke isn't going to be the same at 65 as he was at 25. I thought his character development was profound, and it had a lot to say about people fearing the darkness instead of accepting it's part of life. Reys' approach to the Dark Side is the correct one: it exists, so what?

I've been Reylo since the first movie came out, so to see what happened unfold exactly as I suspected it would was... gratifying. Heh.

Poe... was awesome. Just saying.

Go watch the movie for yourself, it's a lot of fun.
Anonymous 11 days ago
TLJ had so many flaws and plot holes it would take forever to list them all but my main issue with the film was that it took forever to accomplish almost nothing. It wasted the setup of episode 7, cut out all the interesting plot threads, had the bare minimum of real character  development,and was just a huge, huge disappointment. I’m sad to say that it’s actually the only Star Wars movie I actually straight up dislike.
Alex Clark 8 days ago
I'm unfortunately on the backlash side of things, and felt the movie was actually the weakest star wars movie that's been made.  The effects were good, and I liked all the stuff with Rey, Luke, and Kylo, but the rest of the movie I found less interesting, and the movie seemed uninterested in giving us satisfying payoff for the story or exploring things in an interesting way.  I was put off that the entire movie was basically just one long chase sequence for the rebels, and it seems like their victory in the previous movie has made little difference.  I disliked that Poe's plan to save the day, which was developed for a significant amount of time, just comes to nothing, and the Code breaker guy just disappears from the movie with little exploration and development.  But most of all I disliked how they handled Snoke.   From the beginning (in Force Awakens) I've felt like the New Order was an extremely boring and underdeveloped rehash of the Empire, and this new movie did nothing to change that view.  Force Awakens left us a lot of mysteries and I gave it the benefit of the doubt because I expected those storylines would be more developed in the next movies.    But now it seems like the writers have no intention of making the villains (other than Kylo Ren) anything other than a one dimensional "Empire 2.0" to just give the heroes someone to fight.  

And I am also an EU fan.  I don't care what Disney says, for me the true episodes 7, 8, and 9 will always be "The Thrawn Trilogy" and that will probably never change no matter how good the movies Disney makes; and I hate what Disney did to the old EU stories.  Alternate Continuities and reboots certainly are common these days, but *usually* all continuities remain equally canon.  Just because Marvel came along and made "Spider-man Homecoming" doesn't mean that Sam Raimi's Spider-man movies or the "Amazing" movies suddenly became unofficial.  When Toho made the Heisei Godzilla series as a direct continuation of the original Godzilla, it didn't downgrade the previous Showa movies.  But it feels like that's exactly what Disney did to the EU, or "Legends" if you prefer and are on their side.  I am not really pleased that Disney took all the old stories except the movies and said "all this stuff that used to be important is now "second class canon"".   Now for a whole generation only what Disney has created will be considered "real" Star Wars and all the old stories will probably be dismissed as basically "official fanfiction".    
Anonymous 15 days ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

50 million Nintendo Switches by 2019? Maybe one of those will eventually be mine!

I'm holding back on buying a Switch for right now because
1) I just bought a PS4 a few months ago, and I'm already having a blast with it; no need to blow another $300 so soon, and
2) Smash Bros hasn't come out on the Switch yet.

As for George Lucas, hey, don't feel so bad. Without you, we wouldn't ever have Star Wars. Plus, not everything about the prequels (or everything that came from it) was bad. Sometimes, we have to go through a Batman and Robin in order to get a Batman Begins. Or in this case, sometimes we have to go through the Star Wars prequels to get the excellent Clone Wars cartoon.
charitysplace 16 days ago
I'm sorry to lose Capaldi's Doctor Who too, especially since I thought his Christmas farewell was a little lackluster. I've yet to love any of the Who Christmas specials, but this one felt a little... self-indulgent and flat. I actually got bored, which saddens me, since I hoped to bid him a proper farewell. Ah well. I still have his past three seasons to re-watch. I'm suspending judgment on a Female Doctor for now. I wasn't happy with the announcement; we'll see how it goes.
bobed 16 days ago
This Logan Paul fellow sounds like a real piece of work. But it's to be expected. People whose entire lives revolve around parading themselves on social media probably aren't the best at understanding when to stop and be respectful. Just a theory of mine.
Anonymous 15 days ago
bobed, just dab on dem haters

-Steved
Anonymous 15 days ago
Sadly true, Bobed. Although it will be interesting to see whether this becomes a wake-up call that inspires some of the "look at me" social media crowd to think about how their actions and posts affect other people. A little empathy will never steer you wrong.
Andrew Gilbertson 16 days ago
"I, for instance, have resolved to stop using so many puns in my Monday movie blogs."

Noooo! Say it ain't so!
AsayPaul 16 days ago
Well, given that most of my resolutions last well into, like, the second week of January, you probably have nothing to worry about ...