Bandwagons, we all jump on ‘em. They’re fun - a roller-coaster ride away from our tepid normalcy. And, boy, has this been a week (or two?) for bandwagons. The Powers That Be (Buddha, Baby Jesus, Baha’i Superman, what-have-you) bestowed upon the comedians of the world a bounty of material. Within days of each other, Ben Affleck was announced as the new Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, and Miley Cyrus did…horrible things to teddy bears at the MTV Video Music Awards.
The Internet went - well - bat-shit.
I’m not one to usually use this blog for commentary on contemporary pop-culture. Reason being, said subject matter(s?) would be dated within minutes of the post. I prefer such entries to withstand the test of time - “Internet years” or otherwise. However, sometimes, there’s a special case. Let’s start with the first and most “comic”.
The announcement of Batman’s casting in the as-of-yet-untitled Man of Steel sequel left many a jaw agape, including mine. I was still reeling from the July announcement that Batman was going to be in it at all. Yes, there was a love/hate bromance between Batman and Superman. It was canon in every DCU permutation out there, but I felt it was too soon to make that introduction.
True, Warner Bros. was probably on a time-crunch to set up the preludes for the proposed Justice League movie in just two short years. Unfortunately, the new Superman hadn’t been given enough time to fly on his own two feet. Returning to the time-tested Batman trough showed very little confidence in the “super” source material.
Then came Ben.
Everything about that announcement just didn’t bode well. Affleck semi-retired from acting after a string of terribad films, but reinvented himself as a character actor and director in subsequent years. Gone Baby Gone and Argo were nothing short of spectacular. (Seriously, a Matt Damon-penned/Ben Affleck-directed movie would bleed Oscar worthiness.) Affleck donning a mask again, though…um…
Daredevil tried. It really did.
Just picturing Affleck “bro”-ing up Bruce Wayne invited a million yucks. I dished out a few of my own. Then I read a status update by the ever-petulant Patton Oswalt. I won’t post the whole thing, but this paragraph best illustrated the point he was trying to make:
“A Batman portrayed by someone who’s tasted humiliation and a reversal of all personal valences — kind of like Grant Morrison’s “Zen warrior” version of Batman, post-ARKHAM ASYLUM, who was, in the words of Superman, “…the most dangerous man on the planet”? Think for a second and admit that Ben Affleck is closer to THAT top-shelf iteration of The Dark Knight than pretty much anyone in Hollywood right now.”
And that’s when I realized that I had blindingly boarded the bandwagon. I didn’t stop and think for a moment that maybe there is something more to this casting than meets the eye. Let’s be honest, too, he does have the chin for Batman.
Now, on to Miley.
I didn’t watch the VMAs. For me, they haven’t been “a thing” since the late-90s. MTV is about as relevant today as…oh…awards ceremonies in general. Sometimes, though, there are things that happen at the VMAs that grab public attention. The last occurrence that caught my aged eye was the Kanye West/Taylor Swift debacle of a couple o’ years prior. Since then, I hadn’t paid them any heed. I’m in my late-thirties, I have a bedtime now.
Rumblings of Miley Cyrus’s performance surfaced first on Twitter, followed by a smattering of updates from friends on Facebook. Then the ridicule poured out like a deluge. What had happened? What had she done now?
Yes, I was aware that her attempts at an image reinvention were a mixed bag. “We Can’t Stop” was one of the worst pop songs I’d heard in ages. Say what you want about her teeny-bopper stuff; at least it was catchy. That compounded with her makeover into a pseudo-Pink just struck the collective public consciousness as a cry for help. But then…that happened…
A whole new level of “WTF?!” I half-expected Sean Connery to pop out of one of the dancing teddy bears? Don’t get that reference? Well, you should, damn it. Sean Connery in a bear costume is hilarious.
The things she did with a foam finger made me never want to put my hand in a foam finger ever again. I would always wonder where it’d been. And the tongue stuff. What was with the tongue stuff? Not even Billy Idol in his prime used so much tongue. Teddy bears, I can accept. White girls twerking? Pedestrian. KISS tongue? I start pondering.
A day passed, and I had a moment to think on it. Was her performance really that bad? Sure, it was laughable, but was that the point? Was that simply the reaction that her new puppet masters were hoping for?
I thought back to Lady Gaga’s introduction back in ‘08. She came across in much the same way - brash, borderline offensive, asexual and…gross. But her shtick caught on like wild fire, pumping her to the top of the charts like her possibly-fictional penis. There’s also that. The penis rumors reeked of “plant”.
Gaga’s meteoric rise differs from Miley’s in that she seemed smart and talented enough to exhibit some control over her image. I’m not so sure that Miley asserts that much authority over her own career. All of this shock-‘n-schlock smells manufactured - drastic, even. But for the moment, it appeared to be working. Until the VMAs.
Given time to think on it, I don’t think her performance was terrible. Quite the opposite in fact. She sang quite well. What the performance was, though, was uneven. Miley was not in tune with the performance around her. Compare it to Russell Crowe in Les Misérables. He didn’t sing particularly badly. He was just bad for the performance that was required of him.
Several years ago, I remember trying to karaoke “St. Elmo’s Fire”. I was three beers in, and I thought I could handle the extreme octave change toward the end of the song. Boy, was I wrong. It was tragic. Epically tragic. Just like Russell Crowe. Just like Miley. I was not in tune with my performance; it was not within my range.
Being a rebellious wild child is out of Miley’s range.
I still think she has a lot to offer as an artist. She’s trying to show that she’s a mature, sexual presence, but hasn’t quite figured out how to convey it. Y’know…like a college sophomore. And guess what? She’s about the age of a college sophomore - not a coincidence! There’s real talent there, and a beauty to boot. She just needs to ditch her current handlers. They make Disney look like a harmless petting zoo.
In summation, before people go with their gut reaction about a particular performance, news article, meme, or story, it is best to take a moment and reflect. If everyone is voicing the same opinion, there must be something wrong with it. The world doesn’t revolve (or evolve) around a herd mentality. But don’t take my word for it…
I’m writing from the backseat of the bandwagon.
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