Pop Culture I'm Thankful For-Andrea
By Andrea Thompson
2016 has been difficult for even the most committed optimist. Things just seem to have gotten so much worse, with so much ugliness and nastiness popping up everywhere. Of course, the election comes to mind, but then there was also the loss of so talents like David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Muhammad Ali, Leonard Cohen, Prince, and Alan Rickman. Seriously, was this year cursed or something??!! Also, the water crisis in Flint. The refugee crisis. Standing Rock. The Orlando shooting. And the news overseas often didn't seem much better, what with Brexit and the Bastille Days attack in France. So now seems like a good time to remember the pop culture I'm most thankful for, both recent and not.
Beauty and the Beast
Before the live-action remake hits next year, I just want to restate my appreciation for the original. It's hard for many today to imagine just how revolutionary this movie was, both in style and subject matter. Clever, more adult kids' movies are plentiful now, but many forget that no animated film had been nominated for Best Picture until “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991. Some even go so far to argue that Disney has been trying to replicate its appeal ever since. Belle was also a different kind of heroine, especially for the House of Mouse. She was older, she was bookish, she was an outsider, and she longed for an adventure, something greater than herself, rather than a love interest. The villainous Gaston was actually the town hero who believed Belle was practically his property, and bore a close resemblance to kind of men that Belle would have ended up with in a more traditional Disney movie. There are a few problems with remaking a film like this, but if it does fail, it's good to know we'll always have the one Disney got right.
In my opinion, “Last Week Tonight” is one of the best things HBO has ever given us, with host John Oliver channeling the comic voice he has sharpened to a fine point so we laugh rather than cry at the many, MANY difficult truths he addresses on his show. Such harsh awakenings are often hard to take from an outsider. The U.S. is kind of like my mother: I can criticize, but anyone else sure as hell better watch out. But whether he's discussing the opioid addiction epidemic, school segregation, or how we all feel about 2016, John Oliver is just so damn passionate about changing things for the better, standing up for the underdog, and speaking truth to power that it's impossible not to be won over.
“The Love Witch” is the kind of film I didn't know I needed until I saw it. As fun as it is feminist, the movie is also a tribute to the Technicolor sexploitation films of the 1960s, as it follows the titular witch, Elaine (newcomer Samantha Robinson), after she moves to a small California town and wreaks havoc in her quest to find love. “The Love Witch” is also fortunate enough to have Anna Biller at the helm, who not only wrote and directed, but also edited, produced, and designed the costumes. The result is a wickedly satirical film that subverts the genre Biller clearly adores for the female gaze. But alongside such style is a whole lot of substance, with a deeply complex anti-heroine in Elaine. She owns her sexuality, but still believes she needs a man to complete herself. She devotes herself to making men's fantasies come true while also demanding they live up to her own fairy tale fantasies. Elaine is also as pitiable as she is monstrous, so desperate for love that she is willing to accept the impossible standards the men in her life have insisted she meet. Soon the bodies are piling up and Elaine might just meet her match in the worst way after a handsome cop comes asking questions. It can't end well, but the seductive spell “The Love Witch” casts means you won't be able to stop watching.
When Michelle Obama has her last day in the White House, it'll feel like we're losing a national treasure. A First Lady who has style and substance in equal measure, she has consistently defined herself when others have tried again and again to put stereotype her. It's pretty hard for someone in such a high position to have...a common touch, for lack of a better phrase, but Michelle Obama seems to have a remarkable ability to relate to everyone whether she's appearing as herself on various TV shows, or just meeting with students to encourage them to work hard and dream big. Her speeches are often as stirring as her husband's, and sometimes even more so. In the midst of this year's ugly political campaign, she seemed to single-handedly raise the bar at the Democratic Convention when she stated, “When they go low, we go high.” Farewell, Mrs. Obama. We'll never have another FLOTUS like you.
“One Day” is a simple book with a simple enough premise in that it follows two people, Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley, on the same day over the course of twenty years, beginning with when they're fresh out of college. Over the next two decades, they will have tremendous highs, lows, and heartbreak, but throughout it all, they'll never stop thinking of each other. It's not like we haven't seen this story before, the one with the working class girl and the rich boy, whose star falls as hers rises, and above all, two people who are clearly meant for each other. But author David Nicholls is just so damn compassionate and insightful that you feel like you're seeing Em And Dex for the first time, along with all the compromises and struggles as their lives end up very different from how they'd imagined. Any time I want to feel soothed, or inspired, or hopeful, or really anything positive, I just pick up this book and turn to a random page, where I'm sure to encounter something touching, insightful, or humorous, as Nicholls seems to know exactly what it's like to be any age. And I'm thankful that I don't feel the need to hate-watch the godawful, spectacularly miscast movie adaptation.
Samantha Bee has always been aware that she's the only woman hosting a late-night show, and a political one no less. She can't just be funny, she has to do in a way that means she won't be slapped with any of the labels that can mean death for a woman's career, whatever it may be: loud, shrill, fat, scheming, weak, demanding, and worst of all, unlikable. But remarkably, none of it has stopped the Bee from giving us Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, a smart, clever show that is hilarious as hell with none of the smugness so inherent in Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. She is also unapologetically passionate about women's issues, which can be a hard sell in entertainment. But whether she's discussing Catholic hospitals, the refugee crisis, or anything to do with the election, expect brainy feminism and brilliant comic timing in equal measure.
I didn't have a favorite until I saw this mostly unknown, 1952 swashbuckler. This has it all: wit, action, romance, a charming, roguish hero, a dastardly aristocratic villain, and two very different, equally fascinating love interests who continually save the hero's life. It all goes down in France just before the Revolution, so expect lavish costumes and plenty of political intrigue, along with Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, and Janet Leigh in major roles.
Sure, SNL has had a few missteps this year, but it's mostly continued its hot streak by making us laugh at everything from some damn good impressions to the reaction to Beyonce's “Lemonade” album, the continuing success of the Black Jeopardy skit, and perhaps most importantly, throughout what may have been the most insane election this country has ever seen. And its first skit after it was over is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Thanks SNL. Hope you're around for many more years to come.
Super Mario Bros.
This is the first video game I loved, and it continues to my favorite. Sure, I moved on and played many others as Mario Bros. and video games in general have improved beyond recognition. Hell, they've practically become movies in themselves as they explore a whole lot of complex ideas and dramatically changed how we view gaming. But I always come back to this one eventually, fondly sitting down and reminiscing on the great joy to be found in flattening Goombas, disposing of Koopa Troopas, and the thrill of Fire Flowers.
The Venture Bros.
Yes, go Team Venture! This is a series that explored heroes and villains from pop culture, and what that world would actually look like if it was a part of our everyday reality. It means there's parodies of everything from Johnny Quest and the Hardy Boys to the Fantastic Four, and lately, the Justice League. But the show easily stands on its own with great characters like the underachieving Dr. Venture, his well-meaning but incompetent teenage sons, the titular twin Venture brothers, the bloodthirsty bodyguard Brock Sampson, the passionate but ineffective costumed villain The Monarch, his wife, the deep-voiced, brilliant Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, and the universe it's built that includes a professional supervillain organization called The Guild of Calamitous Intent. The result is an amazing combination of great writing, character growth, and humor in a show that's as entertaining as it is creative, with endless inspiration and cosplay ideas for for nerds everywhere.