Goodbyes are hard.
We’ve had to say a bunch of them lately, from Boyz in the Hood director John Singleton, who died late last month, to 7-foot-3 Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in most of Star Wars films and died last Thursday. Christians mourned the passing of Rachel Held Evans, an influential evangelical author whose views on some spiritual issues at times made her controversial. Others said farewell to Jean Vanier, founder of a series of communities that revolutionized how the mentally disabled could be cared for. (Those communities were the focus of Summer in the Forest, one of my favorite documentaries last year.)
Many of us mourn others, too—people who might never see their names in headlines. Experts say that in around 50 years or so, the dead will outnumber the living on Facebook.
Yes, it’s hard to say goodbye, even when to characters in works of fiction.
Just ask fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones, in which some residents of Westeros said their gruesome farewells over the last two episodes as the show itself readies itself to end. (‘Course, lots of fans would rather talk about that stray Starbucks cup that found its way into the latest episode.)
Or there’s Avengers: Endgame, which closed the book on a good chunk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its release. The New Yorker acknowledged this end-of-an-era film, discussing the MCU’s 22-film “narrative experiment,” while The New York Times’ critics talked about its overwhelming influence. NBC says that Endgame is the culmination of a decade-long transition in Hollywood itself. And as we’ve already noted, plenty of folks are ponying up their hard-earned cash to say goodbye in person. Some believe the film might well pass Avatar as the most lucrative movie ever. When Chris Pratt posted a behind-the-scenes video to Instagram featuring some of the movie’s stars, it was favorited more than 5.3 million times.
“Nobody was allowed to film anything on their phones,” wrote Pratt. “I said screw it. No rule was going to stop me from seizing this once in a lifetime opportunity to capture this collection of stars, a group that likely will never be in the same room again. We are so blessed.”
But, of course, every goodbye is also an opportunity for a bunch more hellos, and Endgame is no different. Several old Avengers are getting new television shows, and a new trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home is so spoilery that star Tom Holland warns fans not to watch it if they’ve not seen Endgame yet. Oh, and because of Endgame, Robert Downey Jr. apparently said hello to about $75 million George Washingtons … and counting.
Speaking of hellos, the World Video Game Hall of Fame welcomed four new entrants through its vaunted doors: Colossal Cave Adventure, Super Mario Kart, Microsoft Window’s ever-present Solitaire game and the controversial pixelated bloodbath that was, and is, Mortal Kombat. Plugged In wasn’t reviewing video games back in 1992 when the latter was first released, but I’m pretty sure we’d have had some harsh words for it. Plenty of others did. “Instead of enriching a child’s mind, these games teach a child to enjoy inflicting torture,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman said in 1993. Lieberman obviously wasn’t too successful in squashing the franchise, though: Mortal Kombat 11 just came out last week.
The gaming industry has clearly found success in sameness—churning out slightly tweaked versions of the same game year after year. In the music world, though, sameness is stale. Taylor Swift’s new song “ME!” landed predictably at No. 1 and featured the superstar’s latest reinvention of her own image. Writing for NBC, Maura Johnston says that Swift and others “are following the path that Madonna laid down in the ’80s, when each album release doubled as the announcement of a new pop epoch.” (So maybe it is sameness after all, I guess.)
And pop’s provocative grand old lady hasn’t stopped reinventing herself yet, either. Her latest persona (rolled out in advance of her 14th studio album) is someone she calls, according to MTV, “Madame X: a professor, a cabaret singer, a cha-cha instructor, and a spy in the house of love.” MTV’s Erica Russell unpacked Madonna’s continuing influence.
She set a revolutionary precedent that nearly every pop artist who has emerged since has acknowledged, whether overtly or subtly within their own art. Even in 2019, nearly 40 years after her debut, contemporary pop’s biggest players are still taking notes.
Not everything has proven to be quite so, um, pliable. Take Samsung’s folding phone, which was supposed to be released April 26. Alas, phones sent to tech reviewers kept breaking. After initially saying the phone would be released as scheduled anyway, Samsung thought better of it and is now postponing the phone’s official debut indefinitely. Keep in mind, this was the same company that sent the Note 7 to market in 2016—a product that initially had the unfortunate glitch of occasionally exploding. Gizmodo’s Alex Cranz suggests that maybe Samsung shouldn’t be quite so eager to ship out unfinished products in its quest to be first.
On a hopefully slightly unrelated note, Samsung does hope to be the first company to release a vertical television! For Millennials, we’re told!
While we’re on the subject of public embarrassments, we might as well talk about the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie trailer, wherein the titular character has a full mouth of human teeth. Who knew that good dental hygiene could be so disturbing to longtime fans? And then there’s the case of the lifetime achievement award that UCLA’s Student Alumni Association handed to “American Pie” singer Don McLean, an honor it almost immediately rescinded after it learned that McLean had been accused of (and initially pled guilty to) domestic violence a few years ago.
We’ve talked quite a bit about loss and goodbyes and even death in this edition of culture clips, but let’s not forget that there is always hope. That even the dearly departed can and may find new life.
Case in point: Wendy’s spicy chicken nuggets.
Wildly successful (and Christian) musician Chance the Rapper is apparently a fan of said nuggets, which vanished from Wendy’s menu sometime in the distant past. In a tweet, he expressed hope that they’d come back.
Positive Affirmations for today: I WILL have a good day, I Will succeed today, Wendy’s WILL bring back spicy nuggets at some point please please Lord let it be today.
— Chance The Rapper Album in July (@chancetherapper) May 4, 2019
Wendy’s responded to Mr. the Rapper, saying that if Chance’s tweet was liked 2 million times, the chain would bring back spicy nuggets. Less than 48 hours later, it was a done deal.
Yes, goodbyes are hard. But in a pop-culture world where superheroes are sometimes resurrected, television shows can be rebooted and even hot processed chicken bites can come back from the dead, they need not be permanent.