The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not art

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In May, the AMC in Times Square aired 70 different screenings of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in one day. strange doctor was supposed to be a unique Marvel movie due to the fact that it was directed by one of those dark wizards of the cinematic arts – a author – in this case, Undead genre legend Sam Raimi. One of the most distinct voices of his generation, it’s impossible to watch a Sam Raimi movie without knowing you’re watching a Sam Raimi movie, and strange doctor isn’t much of an exception if you reduce Raimi to his hard-hitting editing, manic camera work, and feverish dreamy transitions.

And yet… to watch strange doctor I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t watching a Sam Raimi movie; I felt something… other – an alien entity or unwanted presence that made me doubt not only if this was a Sam Raimi movie, but if it really was a movie.

I think it’s important to accept that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is not cinema, or even art. It is the content, the real medium/form/thing of the 21st century. Approaching content with the same critical tools you would reserve for film, television, or any other traditional art form is like waging war on an alien deity with a slingshot. You should bow down to her; there’s no way to fight him on anything other than his terms. The content is entirely new and homogeneous at the same time, doomed to become obsolete as soon as it hits the shelves, but endowed with the half-life of irradiated plutonium. Content creates nothing but more content for more content, feeding its past from its present to give birth to its future.

Nowhere does content take shape more purely than within the MCU, the most successful and expansive content franchise to ever exist. With 28 movies (and at least 11 more in development) and at least 18 TV series under its belt, the MCU has come to reign supreme. content in the age of content. It suffocates its rivals in their cradle and proliferates like an uncontrolled cancer. Since Iron Man Released in theaters in 2008, the MCU reshaped an industry to reflect its cannibalistic evolution, managing to eclipse “entertainment,” as it was, with “content,” as it is, with no real barriers or competition. .

It’s been so successful that a majority of people find anything short of content repulsive and off-putting in equal measure, to the point of sending them into veritable fits of rage, like the Marvel fans who planned to storm Sony headquarters for initially failing to broker a deal to keep Spider-Man in the MCU.

The brilliance of Disney’s content deluge is how it reshapes everything around it into content as well. Be it queer identitiesschizoaffective personality disorder or Armenian Genocide – everything is water at the content mill. That’s the beauty of a product that contains nothing distinct within it. The MCU spent a decade and a half perfecting its voicelessness. This voicelessness sapped a generation of creatives like a parasite, allowing their content to have a universal pristine quality that can be adapted to any subject, any vision, any direction or direction. any change in the market. The result is something that can be anything to anyone: any meaning you can dream up can be attached to this content, like an accessory attached to an action figure.

Take, for example, the Disney+ show moon knight, starring Oscar Isaac as a character with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Whether or not Moon Knight whether the disorder’s portrayal is truthful or accurate or silly is ultimately irrelevant. By subsuming something as complicated and multivariate as DID into the MCU, the complexities of representation (in the old, artistic sense of the word) are rendered immediately irrelevant. It’s smoothed, laminated, and drained so it can fit safely alongside the MCU’s portrayal of mass death (Avengers: Age of Ultron), black radicalism (Black Panther) and PTSD (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier); another token placeholder in a blank cardboard puzzle.

In the MCU, ideas and identities are represented the same way the ideas of Snap, Crackle, and Pop are represented on a cereal box. We have the feeling that everything can be cut or pasted without the viewer feeling much. Let it be a gay kiss chopped for release in some Middle Eastern countries, CIA officer teaming up with our hero to overthrow an African ruler or end half of life in the universe with the snap of a finger, there’s an irreverence to what this content purports to depict that has a whiff of the listicle. It doesn’t matter how or why something appears, as long as it does, reducing it to the importance of a Wiki fan stub, as much a part of the MCU canon as Mjolnir or Howard the Duck.

Its mere presence allows for the proliferation of more content, whether it’s fan fiction, YouTuber easter egg lists, or articles like this – the beauty of the MCU’s content moloch is that it fuels the great ocean of content that fills every waking minute online and afar, a great reciprocal wash of ideas and images that bloom and burst like flashes of light on the endless horizon of digital media.

This simple equation has brought in more than $25 billion to Marvel, Disney and the various remora (Paramount, Universal, etc.) that exist in its ecosystem. Multiverse of MadnessThe worldwide box office of has reached $690 million at the time of writing, which puts it at 16th place in the list of MCU box office winners. Sometimes, if you stop and think hard enough, you realize that a relatively peripheral character like Doctor Strange making that much money would have been considered extremely, well, odd It’s been 15 (or even ten!) years ago, but we live in a time when characters and franchises once as obscure as Steve Ditko himself now have the appeal of an Ethan Hunt or ghost hunters.

Other Hollywood blockbusters have spent more than a decade trying to replicate the MCU, throwing everything into a feedback loop of “whatever you can do, I can do better,” whether it’s trying to reproduce the formulas of the shared universe with more or less success – RIP The Dark Universe of Universal, we barely knew you – or how 90% of modern blockbusters have embraced the MCU’s aesthetic, a flat digital appearance that resembles the faded colors of a concrete parking lot. Either way, the loop spawns distorted bastard wires like Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Morbius with nauseating regularity.

The most troubled of these bastards might just be Disney’s other colossal shared universe – or galaxy – star wars. Once the playground of an unmistakably odd little creature (George Lucas, not Yoda), and once decidedly art (I sincerely believe that Picasso would have seen a character like Dexter Jetster and cried), became, under the direction of Jon Favreau, the creative ancestor of Disney and MCU, content. Like the MCU, her future was mapped out like a sold-out child bride — her omens predicted by the coiled ossicles of think tank, focus group, and ballistic ultra-fan analysis, leading star warsironically, a far cry from what once made it interesting.

Solo and The Rise of Skywalker failed at the box office like so many MCU imitators, due to an inability to grasp what exactly the MCU is and what it contains, even though the answer is so clear, apparent and simple: the MCU is impressive. I’m using ‘awesome’ here in the terrifying sense of ‘peasant gazing at a biblically accurate angel’, because the whole thing of the MCU – both in text and in the world – should and does inspire the awe of wetting pants and Bend the knees. Its content has reshaped not only the culture, not only the market, but the imagination itself.

We’re all content creators to some degree now, and our creation mirrors the MCU’s process on a micro and macro scale. We are encouraged to think about brands, markets, and phases, with every part of us salable to the junkyard algorithm that dictates the course of everyone’s personal stat sheet. You and the MCU are basically working on the same pump, and it might be the greatest thing Disney has ever done. It extends beyond the rabid tweets, petitions, memes, and other frothy detritus accumulated by stans, and about the basic modes in which people engage with that content as a whole: the shape of conversations, debates, and theories. You are not just a fan or a hater, you are a participant, a peer, a sidekick, a Thor, a Spiderman, a Captain America – an assembled Avenger – a Venom of the Great Machine Carnage.

This is perhaps the art at the heart of the naivety of the content. In content lies contentment. By drowning us in it, the MCU offers the willing and the unwilling a chance at a blissful, market-studied singularity. Movies, TV, art: these are mutant genes that Disney’s Sentinels will purge until contentment is universal, and each of us, fan or hater, can be considered canon.

@Cormac_McCafe

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