A Very American Pornography

Donald Trump is an endlessly quotable guy: his straight-talking, no-nonsense, ill-informed speeches are analysed both by his critics and supporters for lines of dialogue to either ridicule or celebrate him, respectively. Unlike much of the internet, I don’t get much from learning each of the new stupid things the man has recently said, but in all honesty I must admit that one thing he said a few months ago (and then repeated it every time he had a microphone) on the US Presidential Nominee circuit really stuck with me, and it was one of the few things he said that did not spawn articles and outrage, and it probably should have. Back last year, in the middle of any speech he was making, he would proclaim with pride that he was personally funding his own campaign for the Republican Nomination for the 2016 US Presidential Election. In one of the televised debates last year, he boasted to his rivals that he was the only one among them who was paying his own way in the campaign.

We’ve all heard this fact, so it seems pretty innocuous to hear it again, but it is worth pointing out exactly what it means. By saying that he uses his own money to pay for his campaign, Trump is saying that he did not need to use the traditional (democratic) means of campaign funding, did not need to raise money from individuals and groups that liked what he had to say and would like to see him in office representing them, and did not need any support from the hierarchy of the political party whose nomination he wished to win. He would bypass all of this, because he was insanely wealthy and could pay his own way. And he was very, very proud of all of this. Trump was in effect boasting about being able to buy his way into consideration for the biggest job in the country, and considered this a point of honour: to him, his rivals for the Republican nomination were smaller people than him because they relied on donations while he was self-sufficient.

With his self-funded campaign, Donald Trump purchased for himself a platform with which to shout at us from, and ensured there would be no escaping the man for the foreseeable future. In the US, you don’t necessarily have to have something to say in order to be given a voice, you merely must be able to pay for the microphone. This of course ignores the fact that people in America always listen to Donald Trump, and not because he is loud and says funny things, but because he is a billionaire, and Americans worship billionaires.

trump2

When viewing a billionaire, or merely a millionaire, an American pair of eyes would not just see a very rich person, they would see a successful, great, powerful and wise person who could maybe have wisdom to impart to all of us about how to achieve similar success. This is the only way I can possibly rationalise the sudden sainthood achieved by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once his wealth passed a certain level and he claimed his place among the richest people in the world. Zuckerberg is obviously very good at what he does, and was very clever at building his product at a certain time and in a certain way that proved very successful. He engages in sizeable philanthropy, and strives towards a better American workplace in his own employment policies at Facebook. That’s all very good, but does it really make him worth listening to? Apparently so, as according to the World Economic Forum, he has some lessons to teach all of us through his choice of literature.

This type of post is so ubiquitous on the internet, we hardly even notice them anymore. A simple browse of LinkedIn will bring up posts about “7 things some rich guy says you should do before 7am”. Donald Trump himself originally achieved fame in the US by publishing his business strategy manual ‘The Art of the Deal’, which aimed to simultaneously teach the reader how to be better at business while also acting as printed evidence of how great Donald Trump is at business. Books like this, where a very successful person reveals their secrets always sell well. There is thus a direct link between the success of an individual and whether that individual is worth listening to.

The real issue here is the link between wealth and virtue in the US. While it is not explicit, in American culture it is highly apparent that success (measured by wealth) is considered a high virtue, and one to aspire to. If someone is rich, there is an unsaid understanding that that person works very hard and deserves everything he/she has achieved. The successful individual is seen as the sole author of his/her success, and therefore this person is an authority on success and can impart wisdom to others in and help them achieve similar success. The problem here is that there is no role given to luck or good fortune in the success story. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t benefit from being born into an intellectual family that encouraged education. He didn’t benefit from being born at the exact right time and right place to take advantage of technology and resources. Donald Trump didn’t benefit from being born into a rich family and honing his business acumen with massive private wealth as a safety net in the event of failure. Both these men are great successes, but it is difficult to argue that they both have not been incredibly lucky also.

Many reading will see aspects of this mentality in their own cultures, and indeed it is prevalent worldwide, but this is only a by-product of globalisation and the Americanisation of culture. The link between wealth and virtue is an almost uniquely American idea. Asking a Russian billionaire for tips on how to make money would involve merely a few sentences about being friends with Putin. Similarly, for the Chinese super-wealthy, all the tips would be about cultivating ties with the ruling political party. But even in ‘free’ democratic countries, there is an understanding that wealth and success are a mix between good fortune and hard work. The graph below shows how far the US is out in front of other countries with regard to individualism (The UK is in there too: that’s what Margaret Thatcher did to the country).

Americans Stand Out on Individualism

The stand-out statistic is the 26 percentage point gap between German and US opinions about the role of luck in success. Similarly, 73% of Americans see the sole act of working hard as the driving force of individual success, while other developed countries are far more cautious.

This idea that any American can achieve individual virtue through success (obscene wealth) by simply working hard is the American Dream in abstract, yet unromanticised terms. It is the reason brash billionaires are not only tolerated, but celebrated. The super-rich are the chosen few who have reached the highest level of American society. There are people who listen to Mark Zuckerburg and Donald Trump and dissect everything they say, in order to gain wisdom on how it is they became so successful, and then attempt to apply this to their own lives and achieve the same success. This is the same with the books written about success stories: Steve Jobs’ autobiography didn’t sell millions because people were interested in his life, it sold because people want to know his secret to success. This is why his profound quotes litter the internet, as people attempt to use the life of Jobs to sow the seeds to their own success. He wasn’t good, he wasn’t great, but he was rich, so there must be something he did right.


“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”.

John Steinback

The reason Donald Trump is tolerated, and admired, in the US is solely because he is obscenely wealthy. His admirers like him because they have dreamt of being in the same position themselves, and can imagine all the sort of crazy things they would do in this situation: be mean to people, say stupid things on TV without caring, attempt to buy the presidency of the country. It’s a fantasy, a uniquely American fantasy, and this is why I see this billionaire worship as just another form of pornography, playing out in the minds of millions all over the United States of America, and probably beyond.

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2015: Europe Awakens

It would be pointless to pretend that 2015 was not the darkest year in living memory. 2001 was dark, but that darkness was more America-centric than many would dare admit publicly. 2015 pulled the rug of complacency out from under European feet in so many different ways, the events of this year are likely to affect the region for decades to come. At the start of the year there was the calculated atrocity of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, followed closely by the seemingly random pointlessness of the GermanWings plane crash. While Europeans grasped the complexity of both these events, their currency was in jeopardy as the looming sovereign default of Greece edged dangerously over its precipice. As it edged closer, Greece was pulled back decisively, but at a cost that will be felt by the Greeks forevermore. As holiday season began, the Tunisia attacks took place, as European tourists were massacred on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. By August, most of these events were forgotten, and then the photograph of a toddler’s corpse on a Turkish beach was published, capturing in stark imagery just how desperate the migrant wave towards Europe had become. This, and the discovery of a van parked in sleepy Austria filled with the suffocated bodies of 71 migrants (who each had paid handsomely to be smuggled into the EU for protection from certain death) caused a monumental response in welcoming the newly dubbed ‘refugees’ into our borders. While some countries (the UK and some Eastern European nations) were decisively anti-immigration, the consensus was that this was an issue that needed to be solved, and solved together as a group rather than individual nation states. That was until the Paris Attacks on November 13, when Europeans were shown exactly how safe they really were.

These are dark days indeed, and they are not likely to lighten up anytime soon. That’s not to say the world isn’t getting better. Catholic Ireland voted in favour of Marriage Equality, transsexual people finally have a champion (even if she is a quasi-Kardashian), and Ireland qualified for the European Championships in 2016. None of the terrible things that happened in 2015 were solely manifested within that year, 2015 was merely the year that we all woke up to these massive threats and problems that we have ignored for so long. 2015 was the year that Europe awoke to the 21st Century, and finally recognised that the actions of our complacent community have consequences. 2015 will be known as the year that Europe woke up to its place in the modern world, as an actor rather than a passive journeyman. In this line of thought, there is a sliver of light to be found in the darkness of events this year, and this is as good a time as any to bridge into my usual annual review of entertainment nonsense that occurred this year. The connection I think is that this might be a hopeful year despite everything, and we all need cheering up in the meantime. I shall definitely clear all this up in the editing process before publication. As ever, I aim to make this particular post as interactive as possible, so there is clickable goodness available wherever necessary (all links open in a new tab), as well as some embedded content that drove me absolutely mental trying to get into WordPress. Anyway, enough paragraphs: enter the listicle.

 2015 europe

THE YEAR IN MOVIES!

Movies of the Year (unranked): Whiplash, A Most Violent Year, Youth, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight*, Steve Jobs*, Black Sea, Beasts of No Nation.

*Big thanks to Hive-CM8

Biggest Let-Down: Aloha. Cameron Crowe is one of my favourite directors (I even liked Elizabethtown), but his past two movies suggest he is past it.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: Furious 7. Garbage, filthy garbage, but it knows what it is.

The “Lesser of Two Evils Award” for which movie was the better of two movies that had exactly the same plot: Starred Up was the best movie this year about a teenager going to prison and meeting a father figure who is serving a life sentence. Son of a Gun, with Ewan McGregor, was most certainly not.

The Official Verdict On the new Star Wars (Spoiler Free): It was a good movie, and a great Star Wars movie. Undue pressure is put on Star Wars sequels, since its first sequel happened to be one of the best movies of all time. The Force Awakens, not The Empire Strikes Back, should be the new benchmark from what to expect from a new Star Wars movie. It took me a while to get here, and just for those who like clicking on arrows, here’s a(n interactive) history of my relationship with new Star Wars, through the medium of Facebook posts over the past three years. The movie script is in development.

THE YEAR IN TV!

TV Show of the Year: Mr. Robot. This let me down a bit in the final two episodes, but it still deserves it based on what went before. Watch an episode of the show, and then afterwards remind yourself that the story was mostly told through the voiceover musings of the main character.

TV Discovery of the Year: Halt and Catch Fire. A stylish 1980’s mash-up of Mad Men and Silicon Valley, this almost got TV Show of the Year (I had it typed and everything), but its second season this year (for all its female empowerment) just wasn’t as good as the first. In coming seasons this show will gain a stronger cult following and eventually break into the mainstream, just like Breaking Bad. I only wish I hadn’t discovered it so early, as now I have to wait so long for new seasons and episodes.

Sitcom of the Year: Bojack Horseman. One of the smartest sitcoms out there, animated or not.

TV Disappointment of the Year: The Man in the High Castle. A very interesting premise realised as a very dull mystery thriller. I got two episodes in, and am satisfied reading the plot synopses of the remaining episodes on Wikipedia.

THE YEAR IN MUSIC!

Song of the Year: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Theme Song!

Yes I am old and have no clue about modern music, but that is not to say the greatest TV theme song since The Simpsons should not be recognised in its own right. Not only is it extremely inventive (the song is an autotuned remix of an interview from the very first scene of the first episode that explains the plot of the show), but it is actually impossible not to sing along to. Uuuuuun-BREAK-able…………………

Here’s some 2015 music that I actually listened to and liked. Note the brevity of this playlist: I’m getting old. Plus, two of the songs were added simply because they were popular: can you guess which two?

It is late, and the Spotify embedded playlist is not working yet, so it is available here should it not work for you: https://open.spotify.com/user/116764751/playlist/2kIJ2pV0EOgEW1jJzCtjyN

THE YEAR IN SPORTS!

Game of the Year: Ireland 1-0 Germany. Because f**k you, Germany! One Long ball punt up the field and that World Cup trophy has lost a bit of its lustre.

Goal of the Year: Shane Long, Ireland v Germany. Because f**k you, Germany.

Transfer of the Century: Anthony Martial, Monaco-Manchester United, €80m. This deal was so bad that Manchester United originally tried to conceal the full fee by proclaiming it as €40m plus add-ons. That these add-ons turned out to be playing for the club a few times and scoring a few goals for France implies United are quite embarrassed about the full fee. As well they should, paying €80m for an unknown French teenager. I don’t care if he ends up being their record goalscoring legend and captaining the club to successive Champions Leagues: the fee is still ridiculous, and has distorted the transfer market for the foreseeable future.

Sports Disappointment of the Year: Ireland in the Rugby World Cup. No further comment necessary.

 

THE YEAR IN INTERNET!

App of the Year: Anything that can use the Chromecast. If you have a TV and wireless internet, just buy a Google Chromecast.

Meme of the Year: Confused John Travolta. Is it me or have good, long-lasting memes disappeared? Everything is a meme nowadays, and then vanishes after less than a day. Anyway, this one is just a month or two old and seems ok. Who cares anyway?

Stupidest Meme of the Year: Condom water balloon. Again, nobody cares, so why not?

“Grandpa Award” in recognition of a Youth Trend That I Don’t Understand: I’m kidding no one: I don’t understand anything anymore. To me, anyone under 27 is a baby talking nonsense.

Thing of the Year: European Borders. They’re back, and they are angry. Due to the Schengen Agreement, in mainland Europe we have come to take the free passage across borders for granted. This year was a rude awakening to the idea that when it comes to social constructs, none are better constructed than territorial borders.

THE YEAR IN REALITY!

People of the Year: The Heroes of the Thalys Train Attack. Failed terrorist attacks obviously do not get the same media attention as successful terrorist attacks. The attacks that succeed have thousands of stories, as thousands of lives were affected forever by what had occurred. The attacks that don’t succeed have only one story: and this one is a remarkable story of bravery, quick-thinking, and luck. If you haven’t heard of these guys, it’s because in the space of about 45 seconds, they reduced the amount of possible stories told about that train ride from thousands to just their one.

Idiots of the Year: Anyone, anywhere, who engaged in Tragedy Shaming. A dark year was turned into a stupid game in the wake of the Paris Attacks, as people online who read the news suddenly became offended that terrorism in France is worse than terrorism in Lebanon. I’m gonna put it out there: terrorist attacks in Paris are undertaken for very different reasons than those for terrorist attacks in Beirut. All people are equal, yes; all deaths are equal, yes; but this is an entirely different issue from treating all terrorist attacks as equal. The tragedy shaming sensation is part of a broader online trend of aggressive (and ignorant) political correctness, and this is set to increase in 2016.

Special Award for Billionaire Pornography of the Year: Mark Zuckerberg. In the birth of his first child, the Facebook founder this year found the perfect crux in his mission to rebrand himself as a real person following the release of The Social Network five year ago. That movie used verbatim legal depositions from Zuckerberg and others as the basis for its script, portraying him as more of a bitter, sociopathic monster rather than the cute, cuddly, Social Justice Warrior that we are now presented with on his Facebook Timeline. Mark is a nice guy because he has a dog. Mark is a good person because he looks after his baby. Mark is a hero because he pledged to give away 99% of his wealth to charity. I am not going to get into the controversy of the Charitable Foundation debate, but I will say that he had already pledged to basically do what he said in that letter, over 3 years before.

And Finally….

The “Kardashian Award” for News We Shouldn’t Care About But Was News Nonetheless: That Apparently Famous Australian Instagram Girl who Quit Instagram. I don’t know her name, and I am not going to google her. Please don’t google her. I don’t want to be responsible for more clicks for her new website. I should really just not mention this at all.


But What’s Next?

That’s all for 2015, but 2016 promises much. In Ireland, we will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which was the starting point for our nationalist movement, resulting in the Irish War of Independence and subsequently the Irish Free State and finally the modern Irish Republic. Other notable commemorations include the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Moores Utopia, which is seen as the key foundation stone of our modern understanding of the idea of progress. Also celebrating its 500th Anniversary is the 1516 Purity Law, which has defined the craft of German beer brewing ever since. And if you think there isn’t a blog entry coming up of me trying to link German beer purity to Utopia, then you don’t come here too often. Happy 2016 everybody, and thanks for reading!

Eurovision Drinking Game 2015!

It’s that time of year again, so get your drinking hats on and sit down in front of the cheesiest night in the European calendar. Before we start, there are two things that are completely irrelevant to this game:

  • If you like Eurovision music.
  • If you dislike Eurovision music.

Since that is out of the way, the following is a list of situations and directions where you must drink an alcoholic beverage of your choice while watching the live Eurovision broadcast. This is an updated version of a post from last year, which was itself a version of this. Enough chat: to the rules!

For those unfamiliar with the Eurovision: The Contest is split into two parts, The Performing Round, and The Voting Round. Phase 1 deals with the performances. Unless otherwise stated, you must drink whenever……..

PHASE I: THE SONGS

  1. Every instance within a song:

I.A.1 The Dramatic Key Change. Or, as Louis Walsh used to refer to it: “Stand up for the key change”. The song starts slow and restrained, but is clearly heading towards a dramatic key change into the chorus. Unsure of what a key change is? Here’s a primer.

I.A.2 The Bucks Fizz. Whenever performer(s) sheds a piece of clothing – once only for every instance, whether executed by an individual or as a group. Finish your drink if the clothing loss is obviously unintentional.

  1. Once per song only:

I.B.1 Is That English? Whenever someone notices that the singers have switched from their native language into English in an attempt to win more votes. Two drinks if the pronunciation is far from perfect.

I.B.2 The Fine Cotton. Any appearance of mercenary talent flown in to represent a foreign country. Two drinks if they’re Irish.

I.B.3 Las Ketchup and the Waves. A country drags a legitimate, real-life, one-hit wonder out of obscurity in the hope that name recognition can buy them some points. This is additional to I.B.2.

I.B.4 The Cultural Rainbow. Every time an entrant blatantly rips off last year’s winning performance. Finish your drink if last year’s winning country rips itself off.

I.B.5 The Wandering Minstrel. Unless it’s a solo guitar or piano, Eurovision insists on backing tapes. It’s in the rules, so don’t accuse some entrants of cheating; but take a drink if performers pretend to play a musical instrument in a blatantly fake way, as part of the choreography. One drink per fake instrument!

I.B.6 The Greeks (formerly The TaTu). Finish your drink if the audience boos (on the telly, not in your living room.)

I.B.7 Don’t Mention The War. The German entrant sings something about everyone being happy. This is a legacy rule, as in recent years it has largely been supplanted by…

I.B.7a Don’t Mention The Wall. The Israeli entrant sings something about everyone being happy.

I.B.7b Putin’s Gamble. Russia sings about hope, peace and happiness.

I.B.8 We Blew Our Load Too Early. The performers lack the energy to go for it in the crescendo, and the performance peters out a minute early. They may scream and enlist help from the audience to clap and ‘make some noooo-ii.zzzzze’, but everyone knows the game is up.

I.B.9 The “Fire At The Disco”. Pyrotechnics. Any type of fireworks display.

I.B.9a Gene Kelly and Jerry the Mouse. Since this year there is an advanced background and floor to the stage, drink whenever the act interacts with the animations of the stage. You will know it when you see it.

I.B.10 The Hurricane. A sudden gale of wind engulfs the stage, forcing the performer to valiantly struggle against the elements. I mean a wind machine, of course.

I.B.11 The San Remo. Any occurrence of visible armpits and/or pointing at nothing in particular. Two drinks for a hairy armpit.

I.B.12 The White Suit. Self explanatory. You’ll know it when you see it; and you’ll know it again when you see it again, and again…

I.B.13 Break It Down. The performance includes a rap segment.

I.B.14 We Can Dance If We Wanna. For any instance of ethnic dancing within a performance. Three drinks if the dancers are elderly women.

 (There is an intermission here of about 30 minutes. Perhaps drink some water? The next round can be brutal.)

PHASE II: THE VOTES

II.1 The Wardrobe Change. Each time the female host changes frocks. Two drinks if the male host changes suits. So yes, during this game, each and every one of you will have to individually decide whether Conchita is male or female, and imbibe based on this choice.

II.2 The Gimme. When Greece gives at least 8 points to Cyprus.

II.2a The Gastarbeiter. If Germany still gives at least 8 points to Turkey.

II.3 The Old Europe. When the UK gets nul points from France.

II.4 The Sympathy Vote. When anything sung in French first gets a point, and/or the last country without any points finally gets off the mark. A special toast at the end to any country which did not receive so much as a single vote.

II.5 The “Viktor, You Very Unattractive Fellow.” Two drinks if the hosts speak in rhyme and/or pretend to flirt with each other. Finish your drink if the flirting is serious.

II.6 The “We’re going Digital Next Year”. A voting countries broadcast feed is of noticeably lower quality than those which have gone before.

II.7 The Hurry-Up. Every time the announcer from each voting country is politely asked by the hosts to move it along (i.e. “Can we have your votes please?”).

II.8 The Curse of the Green Room. Each time an announcer reads the voting results wrong. Two drinks if they get so confused they have to start over.

II.9 The Sally Field. Each time they show contestants backstage during the voting looking genuinely surprised and pleased with themselves when they get the same politically-motivated votes they get every year.

II.10 The New Europe. When the Baltic or Balkan states all give each other twelve points, or a former Soviet republic gives Russia twelve points. Do not attempt without medical supervision.


THE WILDCARDS

W1 A person must finish their drink if they ask:
W1.a why Israel is in it;
W1.b where the hell is Moldova (or any other participating country, for that matter)?

W1.c Who won last year?

W1.d Which country’s flag is this?

W2 Drink to any display of national resentment or self-pity related to the current Eurozone crisis. Pay close attention to Greece.

W3 A toast to the first person who expresses dismay when they realise how long the voting is going to take.

W4 Players must drink during the entire duration of any technical difficulties that plague the broadcast

 


RUSSIA, YOU ARE BAD!

CC1 The “Please Don’t Invade Us”. A country that borders with Russia gives Russia more than 8 points.

Participating Russian Border Countries: Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan

CC2 The “We’ve Had Enough, Mr. Putin”. Finish your drink if Russia gets NUL POINTS from a former Soviet Republic. (Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia)


 

Instantly Disposable Rules for 2015 Edition!

I’m going to divide this into three sections: Conchita, Australia, and 2015 Wild Cards.

Conchita

2015.1.a Daahling! Yes, you must drink whenever Conchita says the word ‘darling’,

2015.1.b Smooth Segway, Connie! Conchita is buzzing around the greenroom, and she bridges the gap between interviews by making a reference to the song title of her next victims as she walks towards them.

2015.1.c Your English Is Just The Wurst! Conchita’s interviewees don’t understand her question.

2015.1.d Wardrobe Malfunction. THREE drinks if Conchita is wearing the same clothes in two consecutive appearances (must be at least a five minute gap between appearances). Don’t worry, you won’t be needing this rule.

Australia

2015.2.a International Homonyms! Someone says Austria instead of Australia, or vice versa. FINISH YOUR DRINK If it is someone from Austria or Australia. (I am warning you, this happened in the first semi-final when the main hostess interviewed the Australian act).

2015.2.b Good Morning Sydney. The Australian voting studio has Sydney Harbour (Opera House) in the background. Two drinks if the Austrian hosts banter about there being no kangaroos in Australia.

2015.2.c Balkan Dream. Australian immigration since the 1960s has been pretty Balkan heavy, meaning that Australia really can be interpreted as just extra votes for the Former Yugoslav Republics, along with Albania and Greece. Two drinks for EACH and every one of the following who don’t get votes from Down Under: Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Cyprus, Albania. That’s right, it’s four drinks if two of them get null points from the Aussies.

2015.2.d Pleasure O’ her Majesty. We will finally get to see how Australia treat their former colonial overlords, the British. One drink if they give them anything. Finish your drink if it’s 12 points to the bloody PoM’s.

2015.2.e It’s an occasion. Since Australia are a special entry, and won’t be returning unless they win, a toast to Australia whenever they are awarded points.

2015 Wild Cards

2015.3.a geNOcide .Two drinks if a Turkish flag is shown waving during Armenia’s performance.

2015.3.b #VoteYes A toast if the winners give Ireland a shout out because of the marriage equality referendum result. Finish your drink if they don’t.


Return of the Rise of the Megafranchise

A lot has changed in the world of the megafranchise since I first wrote about the topic almost 6 months ago, so I think it’s about time for an update on where all these gigantic projects are headed. If you don’t know what a megafranchise is, you should check out my original post. Alternatively, you should just think of the current Marvel Avenger movies model, where lots of different characters have their own movies, and then all get together every few years for a ‘gangbang’ movie, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is released at the end of this month, and if I had any patience, I would wait a few weeks until then, as more people would be reading this. Anyway, if you recall, I previously divulged the plans of various movie studies to build megafranchises around X-Men, Spider-Man, Star Wars and DC Comics (Superman, Batman etc), as well as the already up-and-running Marvel Cinematic Universe (The Avengers. I’m going to run through what’s happening in each of those megafranchises, and then offer a brief conclusion.


Star Wars

The big development since I last wrote about the new Star Wars Megafranchise is that Episode VII isn’t called Episode VII anymore. In early December, a trailer for the film was released, simply referring to it as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I didn’t really get the true significance of this subtle change in subtitling until early March this year, when details emerged of the first spin-off movie of the new megafranchise. Last time round, I hypothesised that the spin-off movies would be centred around recognisable characters such as Han Solo or Yoda, but this is not going to be the case. The first Star Wars spin-off is called Rogue One, and will revolve around some minor characters introduced in The Force Awakens, as well as some new ones. What this means, in the grand scheme of things, is that this series of new Star Wars movies is not aimed at long-term fans, but more at creating new ones. By taking away Episode VII from the title of the first movie out this year, JJ Abrams is telling us that this is not a continuation of the Star Wars story, but a reboot, with a new cast, for a new generation. This is disappointing, but probably makes sense from a commercial point of view.

X-Men

There hasn’t been much of a change in the release schedule of the burgeoning X-Men megafranchise, which is to say that it is still delicately poised between being a traditional movie franchise, and committing to the megafranchise model. The X-Men series currently has four movies on its production slate, with three of them (Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Gambit) all set for release in 2016. The remaining movie is Wolverine 3, set for 2017, which Hugh Jackman recently revealed will be his last time playing the character. As Wolverine is the central character in the X-Men movies, this means that the people behind the potential megafranchise have a lot of work to do in creating a viable narrative going forward in the series. A further blow is that Jennifer Lawrence confirmed at the end of March that she won’t be doing any X-Men movies after next year’s Apocalypse. This is interesting, as it seemed that she would be the lynchpin of any future plot arcs, and also would inevitably get her own movie. With the necessary recasting of both Wolverine and Mystique, I would downgrade the possibility of a successful X-Men megafranchise, unless the potential X-Force TV show/movie project breathes new life into the franchise that can be translated into the main X-Men movie series.

 

Marvel

See the entry for Spider-Man.

DC

No Change.

Spider-Man

If you read my original blog post about megafranchises in October, you may recall that I was very pessimistic about the movie universe that Sony were attempting to build around Spider-Man. Sony agreed, and have since scrapped all the plans I described back in October. At the time I was writing that megafranchise post, Sony were actually negotiating with Marvel to lease Spider-Man to Disney, who operate the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is the Avengers megafranchise. Negotiations weren’t going well, and had reached a stalemate. That was, until the Sony Email Hack occurred, and the North Korean government (I don’t believe it was them, but it makes for a more interesting click-baitable story if Kim Jong-Un is involved) released thousands of emails from executives at Sony Pictures. One narrative in the emails was the negotiations between Sony and Disney, which revealed that Sony weren’t happy with their current Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and were therefore exploring other options with the character. Once this information became public, Andrew Garfield’s position was untenable, and Sony’s bargaining power with Disney weakened considerably, meaning a deal was fast-tracked and now the Marvel Cinematic Universe will have Spider-Man in at least one movie in the near future. This is widely believed to be 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which will also feature Iron Man. The role of Spider-Man will be recast.

If you are confused by all this, you should be. Spider-Man is a Marvel Comics character, yet his film rights are owned by Sony Pictures, while most Marvel characters are owned by Marvel Studios, which is a Disney subsidiary. Sony gained the rights to Spider-Man during a period at the end of the 90’s when Marvel were going bankrupt, in a similar way to how 20TH Century Fox own X-Men and Fantastic Four (both are also Marvel). The details of these agreements require the studios to release a film version of the characters every 5 years, or else the rights revert back to Marvel. Leasing Spider-Man back to Marvel in the short-term gives Sony more time to rethink their plans for the character. They currently intend to release a new Spider-Man movie (with a new Spider-Man, and more than likely a different one from the guy who plays him the previous year in the Captain America movie) in 2017, and have not officially cancelled their Sinister Six movie, which will be the next of their Spider-Man movies, should any of this happen. I sincerely doubt any of this will happen however, and I expect Marvel to make Sony an offer they can’t refuse for full Spider-Man rights in the next year.

Universal Monsters

One thing I failed to mention last time was that there is another megafranchise in the works, based around Universal Studios back catalogue of monsters such as Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein and the Wolfman. Rumours had been spinning for a while about the potential megafranchise, but were only confirmed at the end of October 2014 (when I wrote the first post about megafranchisement), when producers at the premiere of Dracula Untold confirmed that the movie takes place in the same universe as the reboot of The Mummy, which is due for release in 2016. A reboot of The Wolfman is also being written, which takes place in the same universe. If you are wondering how they intend to bring all these guys together, the few people who saw Dracula Untold may remember Charles Dance’s character of The First Vampire, the vampire who creates Dracula. If you stuck around to the post-credits scene of the movie, you would have seen Charles Dance in modern day London following Dracula around, and seemingly intent on pulling him into a world of shady monsterdom. Charles Dance is therefore going to be the link that draws all the elements of the megafranchise together in a similar way to Samuel L. Jackson did as Nick Fury in the early Marvel movies, appearing in the background of all the individual movies, and in the inevitable gangbang movie, we will see them all group together and fight him. One caveat I will add here is that Universal Studios aren’t really a big studio anymore and therefore are playing this one very cautiously. Dracula Untold was budgeted quite low compared to other megafranchise releases (around $70m), yet still wasn’t a great success, and it seems that the studio will wait to see how The Mummy goes before committing more money to the megafranchise.

Current Megafranchise Release Schedule

 Revised Megafranchises

Epilogue

Megafranchises are all about being big, and it is not really a surprise that some of the potential megafranchises out there that are not as big as others are losing their way a bit. I believe that in a year’s time, if I am doing an update on this topic, I will only be discussing the Big Three of Marvel, DC, and Star Wars. Only those three seem up to the task of competing in an environment that demands vast amounts of money poured into creating and leveraging on brand recognition over the course of half a decade. The Universal Monsters series has a chance, but only if they keep the costs down, as a movie about The Wolfman is never going to make as much money as a movie about Iron Man, or some Star Wars character we haven’t even been introduced to yet. If they do however, the rewards will be worth it. Below I graph the profit (=total international box office – production cost) of every megafranchise movie so far, in US$(millions). (I have unilaterally designated The Wolverine as the beginning of the X-Men megafranchise, since the closing post-credits scene sets up Days of Future Past).

profMega

These movies cost an awful lot of money (the average cost of the megafranchise entries graphed above is $177m), but they also make a ridiculous amount of money (average worldwide box office of these movies is $667m). An average of around half a billion dollars profit is therefore too good to pass up, and every studio out there really needs to at least try to get a megafranchise up and running, as by the end of the decade they will have crowded any original standalone blockbusters completely out of the market. While 2015 will be considered a lull in megafranchise activity (only 3 are scheduled for release this year), this is simply because billions of dollars are currently being spent by the big Hollywood Studios to ensure their output for the rest of the decade. At least 9 megafranchise movies will be released in 2016, which equates to one every 40 days, and given that each one will be pre-empted by at least two weeks of cross-platform advertising, there will rarely be a significant time period next year where you are not in some form of contact with the stuff I am ranting about, and you have been reading about, right here.

A Simple Guide To Understanding European Tabloid Newspapers

Travelling around a Europe and can’t understand the local tabloid headlines? Fear not, this simple guide should put you on the right track!


Monday

1

Tuesday

2

Wednesday

3B

Thursday

4

Friday

5

Saturday

6

Sunday

7


And, REPEAT.

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Men World

After having abandoned Mad Men about halfway through its 6th season a few years ago, I reasoned last week that a freezing January weekend was as good a time as any to give it another shot, especially since the show will end this spring and we’ll all soon find out what is to become of poor old Don Draper. I originally gave up the show because it had lost the atmosphere of the first few seasons, and by the middle of Season 5 had become a parody of itself. It turned out, putting a pin in Season 6 and returning to it later over this past week was beneficial, so much so that I am actually looking forward to new episodes this April. It’s decent TV after all, it’s very well made, and its meticulous attention to detail is admirable. One of these details stuck with me more than others however. In the last episode of Season 6, Don Draper at the zenith of his alcoholism hides his drinking by pouring his Canadian Club into a mug at his office. It’s a colourful, psychedelically designed mug and is therefore one that the dour old fashioned 1950s man Don Draper has no business possessing. He knew it too, as he grimaces at this mug as the camera lingers upon it, before he takes one more gulp. The noticeable mug of course bears the logo of the newly rebranded company (Sterling Cooper and Partners) he now works for, and this grimace of course is meant to symbolise both his distaste for his current lifestyle and also his queasiness at his position in the restructured advertising agency. It serves a point therefore, both physically and thematically, but the camera lingers a bit too long on this mug for me to think anything else than they want me to go online and buy it. Continue reading