The recent open wound left by the ending of Game of Thrones did not spark a desire for therapy, but it did leave me wondering: why that ending? GOT is one of the best TV show in our time and set a benchmark for storytelling so it’s strange how we got to that finale.
Change of hearts, betrayals, and resolutions happened in a heartbeat in the last season – and felt unjustified – whereas we were used to things taking their time, characters plotting their next move carefully, and teleportation not existing in the realm of the Seven Kingdoms (seriously, we had to wait seasons for characters to get from one place to another) in the past. For things to radically change in so little time was a disappointment to say the least.
Unfortunately, misery loves company and the recent GOT finale caused other pop culture-induced heartbreaks to resurface. Why not journey into the past and relive some past pop culture disappointments?
Or we can remain in the present times and discuss Aladdin. I don’t understand why Disney is on this spree of ruining all of my childhood favorites? (Yes, ka-ching, I know, but still…) While Cinderella and Jungle Book were decent reinterpretations, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin have absolutely no reason to exist. And my struggle is real because Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin were my favorite Disney animations growing up.
The former is a masterpiece and the latter is a troubling depiction of an entire region – the Middle East – of the world. I believe in storytelling and I (still) believe in the magic of Disney, but the two adaptations felt shallow. They have not added anything valuable to the original stories, nor have they corrected wrongs done in the past.
Beauty and the Beast, which was my earliest pop culture obsession in life (according to my mother, I watched it dozens of times growing up) made history by featuring the first gay character in the Disneyverse. However, it didn’t feel right or powerful and it didn’t send the right message. On top of that, the back story of the death of Belle’s mother does not contribute to the emotional arc of the story and the enhanced, in-your-face feminism of Belle, screams of desperation to belong to a generation who knows better than to believe in fairy tales.
Then came Aladdin which was such a magical movie for me. And funny.
I admired Aladdin for wanting to become more in life, Jasmine for standing up to tradition and advocating for the freedom to live, to marry as she chose. As an adult, I have come to understand that Aladdin fed on Orientalism, a Westernized depiction of the Middle East, which is wrong for so many reasons. The issue is not solved in the new adaptation, which makes it such a difficult pop culture pill to swallow.
I always considered Disney the creators of edutainment and trendsetters, smartly mixing values with storytelling and pop culture trends. Nowadays though, Disney is bending their artistic will to check boxes and bank on millennial nostalgia.
Disney, you can do better.
In the same category, that we will call “For the Love of Money”, fall two other non-magical pop culture products: The Hobbit and Fantastic Beasts. The Hobbit didn’t need three lengthy features. In fact, as I am writing this, I am not able to remember what happened in each of the movies. Fantastic Beasts? J.K. Rowling should know better. The return to the magical world of wizardry and Hogwarts felt like a muggle’s attempt to cast a spell.
The Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter sagas will be cherished forever, and I cannot begin to explain how much I loved their movies and books. And I know we tend to wish that the stories we love go could on forever, but I would rather accept closure than face disappointment.
Sequels are always tricky when it comes to meeting expectations, and there are really so few good Part Twos being made – so these are probably the most common form of pop culture disappointments.
The two most recent patients suffering from sequel-failure would be Pacific Rim 2 – how amazingly outrageously entertaining was the first one, right? – and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Regarding the latter, I appreciated the movie while watching it in the cinema, but upon reading the thoughts of hard-core fans, I can understand why straying so far from The Force philosophy made it a poor way to follow up The Force Awakens.
Pop culture disappointments, then, are unavoidable. We hope, we watch and we rejoice, or our hearts get broken. Storytelling is a difficult thing to get right sometimes, and we might not enjoy the destination, but let’s face it, the journeys do enrich our lives, at least with the lessons learned of what bad pop culture is.