The Art and Musings of Felix Quinonez Jr.

On Grief

 Screenshot from Maniac

Screenshot from Maniac

Felix Quiñonez Jr.

 

What is it about grief that people find so appealing? Why are people so drawn to someone else’s suffering?  Sometimes when you lose someone, you just want to be alone but your grief acts like a light tower that guides people towards you like ships in the night.

Grief has a way of uniting people, bringing them together. Even people who have stopped talking to you will reach out to tell you that they are there for you even if their previous actions would have led you to believe otherwise. They will even tell you that their offer of affection doesn’t expire.

The thing is people want to take care of someone in grief. They want to be the one who puts you back together. And the bigger, the loss, the bigger the grief is supposed to be. And because of that, the bigger the reward they expect for their troubles.

But what happens when you don’t actually feel any grief? Some things, like losing your father, are supposed to be devastating. But what happens when your father is a stranger? How do you mourn someone you don’t know?

Like all things in life, grief doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of something bigger. And with it, comes a societal contract that has strictly defined, performative roles. And even though you are the one grieving you’re just part of the act.

And your loved ones or even just acquaintances all want to play their role in this sad, little theater. But that puts a certain expectation on you. People expect you to feel a certain way and think it’s weird if you don’t. Even if they don’t mean to, it’s like they’re asking you to dance for them, to put on a show. And they don’t like it when you don’t behave the way you’re supposed to. You have to be sad, you have to be broken, and you certainly can’t be fine. That’s not allowed. And if you try to tell them that you’re fine, they explain to you that you’re actually felling numb. They tell you that it’s ok to be sad, it’s ok to not be ok, as if they’re revealing some sort of secret to you or granting you permission.

But what happens if you can’t do what’s expected of you? What happens when you can’t do the dance of sadness for them? What happens when you can’t put on the show they all want to see?.

People don’t seem to understand that good intentions aren’t always enough and even if they mean their best, their actions also seem to imply that you’re not grieving the right way which just makes you feel worse. And then you also feel guilty for your inability to provide them that catharsis they seek.

So, you unwillingly play the role, hoping they’ll believe your performative grief. But unfortunately there’s also something appealing about all the attention and affection.

There’s something intoxicating about all these people wanting to take care of you. So, it’s not hard to fall into the role. It’s quite easy, actually. All it takes is a little push and the rest comes naturally.

You find yourself performing for people, giving them what they want. You perform tricks of grief for them the way a dog will sit or heel with the hopes of earning a treat. Except here, you aren’t working for a dog treat, you’re working for affection.

You cry, you share memories of your relationship with the deceased. You find yourself going through the motions of grief. And it makes everyone feel better. It puts things in order, the way they’re supposed to be. It puts the situation in a way that everyone understands. And it allows people to play their respective roles. This allows both of you to get what you want.

But eventually the guilt returns. You feel guilty that you aren’t going through the things you’re acting out. So, you tell yourself that everyone grieves in different ways. You tell yourself that it takes longer for some people. You convince yourself you’re not lying but instead taking out an advance on the grief that you know is coming. Any day now, you’ll feel all of the things you’re supposed to feel when your father passes away. Any day now, your heart will break like it’s supposed to.

And each day that passes, you feel more doubt that it’ll ever come. And you can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with you? And you start to feel trapped by the attention that people are giving you. It feels like a spotlight is being held above your head.

And you feel guilty for accepting all of the affection that you know you don’t deserve. All the care that you know you’re unworthy of. And you start to wonder how long it will be until you are found out. Until people realize that they have been wasting their time on you.  Until you are exposed for the heartless, cold shit that you really are.

And there are nights when you can’t fall asleep so you lie in bed, engulfed in darkness as all the clichés you’ve been told about love and loss run through your head. Aren’t you supposed to feel loved ones after they’re gone? If that’s the case how come you feel nothing but an empty void? Then you toss and turn in bed until the sun comes up. There are other days where you can’t drag yourself out of bed. No matter how much you sleep, you’re tired. You also find yourself wanting to eat all the time even when you’re not hungry, hoping to fill that emptiness you feel, any way you can.

It’s now been about two weeks since my father passed away and there’s still nothing there. I haven’t broken down. I haven’t felt anything close to what I imagine I’m supposed to feel. (Or what I keep being reminded that I’m supposed to feel)

I still remember the moment I found out that he passed away. My brother called me. He was crying, his voice was cracking, he could barely speak. But eventually he got it out.

And when I found out, all I could say was, “are you sure?”

He paused as if trying to understand what I was asking. Then he told me that, yes, he was 100% sure, our father was gone. And before he could continue, I said thanks and told him I had to get back to work and I did.

I went back to work as if nothing happened.  I smiled, I talked to people. When someone asked me how I was, I said “can’t complain.” Who says that? Why would I say that? Am I a terrible person for saying that?

The thing is I  never knew who he was and I guess now I never will. And I find myself dreading people asking me to tell them about him. Because I feel like I don’t know him at all. So, I store anecdotes on hand, ready to share at a moment’s notice. But I don’t think we ever really had one full conversation together. He and I never got to the other side of the parent/child tunnel. We never reached the place where you can see each other as two fully fleshed out human beings, flaws and all.

I’ve seen that happen so I know it’s possible. I know people who have developed healthy, real relationships with their parents and are actually friends. They are able to hang out, open up and have real conversations with one another. But my father and I never got there. He never became a real person to me. He was just a vaguely drawn figure looming over me.

And I find myself wondering who he was. I try to map out a history of our relationship in my mind. I scour through the collection of memories in search for moments of genuine happiness. But I end up frustrated in my inability to come up with anything meaningful. We spent a lot of time together, so statistically speaking, it couldn’t all be bad. I know there are moments there, but all I remember are fragments, hurt feelings.

I remember the large shadow of intimidation he cast over me and the rest of my family. I remember the eggshells we walked on, hoping he wouldn’t get mad at us. I remember how it often felt like walking through a landmine field, trying to avoid stepping on anything that would set him off.

I remember how the house, so often, felt so big and everything seemed so far away. It often felt like an island that I was stranded on or was held hostage on. There were good moments. There had to be but they slip through my fingers like grains of sand as I reach out for something to grasp.

I remember the way he would push me away when I’d try to hug him. And as a seven-year-old child, that denial of affection felt so hurtful. It also probably had something to do with the reason I’ve always had difficulty establishing meaningful physical and emotional connections. And I can’t help but see that as, at least part of, the reason I have spent a big part of my life pursuing the affection of people who don’t have any to give to me. In fact, it’s usually their lack of affection towards me that fuels my interest in them to begin with. But he also instilled ideas in me that of what a man should be. And his ideas of what a man should be stood in stark contrast to the person that I am. That put a wall between us and made me feel insecure.

When he left 11 years ago, I didn’t feel anything. In the time since then, I mostly forgot about him. Out of sight, out of mind. He was mostly just an empty spot in my life and heart. So, it wasn’t too different than when he was around.

It was then that the anger I felt towards him, calcified into indifference. He would call the house every now and then. And if I happened to be there, visiting, I’d wave the phone away and walk out of the room when I was offered the opportunity to speak to him.

It was in those moments that my veneer of indifference melted away and I realized that I still cared. And that embarrassed me, as if, somehow, he still held some sort of power over me. I felt weak and didn’t like that so I became angry. It was an anger I was never able to work past.

I let it stop me from reaching out. I let it stop me from opening myself up. I should have been the bigger man but I didn’t know how to. He never taught me how.

But now, I realize that it doesn’t matter anymore. Of course, now it’s too late. I let my own pain and anger stop me from realizing that he was just a person too. He was just a person with his own problems and flaws.

And I can’t help but wonder if, in the end, it mattered to him that we were complete strangers? Had he been expecting me to, one day, reach out? And when he realized that wouldn’t happen, did he hate me for it? Did he think of me at all?

 I never got to meet him as a person and I realize that was and will always be my loss. I look around the people who are saddened by his passing. There are people on two different continents mourning. There are people who I will never meet whose lives he impacted. And I think about my own indifference and I am again reminded by what I missed out on by never getting to know him.

And in those moments, I can’t help but feel jealous of those who are genuinely heartbroken. I get jealous that I can’t feel that. And I wonder why he was so important to them. Why were they able to establish a meaningful relationship with my father when I couldn’t? If he mattered to them, they must have mattered to him. And if I couldn’t matter to him, do I matter to anyone?

Then I think about my own life. And how closed off I choose to be and what little impact I’ve made on anyone’s lives. I think about how few people really know me. I think about how, were I to die today, how little would it matter?

Did Kanye West's Wyoming Experiment Suffer From Too Much Music?

  Ye  album cover

Ye album cover

Felix Quinonez Jr.

Kanye West is one of the rare stars whose every move triggers a response. So, it’s no surprise that when he announced his ambitious plan to produce and release five albums (seven songs each) over the span of five weeks, people took notice. But during the buzz of his announcement, it seems that no one thought to ask if this was even a good idea. Or was it simply too much music, too fast?

Understandably some people greeted his plans with an “I’ll believe it when I see” attitude. His last album, The Life of Pablo, came out over two years ago and he kept making changes to it even after it was released. So, it could be fair to say that punctuality is not his strongest suit. But as usual, he managed to commandeer the collective conversation and people wondered if he would actually deliver these albums on time, if at all? But then a funny thing happened, Kanye proved he could still surprise us by actually sticking to his plan. He delivered the albums and on time, no less.

But the defining characteristic of this experiment may have been its biggest weakness. The fast-paced schedule works against the releases. It doesn’t give people enough time to get into the album before the next one comes out and steals the spotlight. So even though he did silence all the doubters by meeting his self-imposed deadlines, was that ultimately a good thing?

Regardless of Kanye West’s public persona, it’s hard to deny the fact that he’s put out a lot of really powerful and influential music. When looked at, objectively, his body of work can easily stand next to any of the artists, in any genre, that we have collectively labeled geniuses.

He’s reshaped hip hop and even popular culture in his own image at least several times during his career. He’s even pushed the boundaries on what we collectively consider hip hop. He has so often been fearless enough to take his music into new territory even if the results were initially polarizing. But once people caught up, it became evident that he was blazing a trail for others to follow. A whole book could be written about the influence 808’s & Heartbreak had on hip hop and popular music. It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that popular music could be divided into before and after 808s & Heartbreak.

Unfortunately, for a while now, his public persona has been overshadowing his music. This is of course nothing new, he’s been a provocateur almost his entire career. But being an enfant terrible is a tight rope act that requires skill to strike the right balance. For a while he seemed to have found the formula. He annoyed people and got the headlines but his music was still at the forefront. His music was our reward for putting up with his egomania and ridiculous stunts. And the music was always worth it.

Whether or not we should be looking to our pop stars for role models or for political guidance is another question entirely. But if we look to Kanye West to give us great music, he delivers every time. However, that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world that if someone makes song, or movie, etc. that we like, we demand that they be everything we need. An argument could be made that we seem to hold pop stars to higher standards than we do for our president.

But whatever the case, at one point, Kanye lost control of the antagonist narrative he had been intricately weaving. It’s hard to say what specific thing made people finally lose their patience with him. But it’s clear that a lot of people have completely written him off, some of them even used to be fans.

That’s not to say that he’s become an artist without an audience. There are still plenty of people who still believe in his ability to make great, often cathartic music. Unfortunately, for a while it seemed that there wasn’t any new music on the horizon. His last album, the underrated, The Life of Pablo came out over two years ago. And in the time since then, he seemed less and less interested in putting out another album.

But because he’s the kind of artist that inspires feverish devotion, fans have been dissecting any public statements hoping to find any clues hinting at new music. So, no matter what, his new music was going to get attention. But the amount of music is what really got people talking. And even people who probably didn’t care about Kanye West anymore took notice. But the very nature of what made the experiment so attention grabbing was also what made it inherently self-sabotaging.

  Daytona  album cover

Daytona album cover

And even for someone who doesn’t over think things as much as Kanye tends to, it would have been a stressful task. So, a lot of people thought it was just an attention seeking, publicity stunt.

But Daytona, by Pusha T, the first of the bunch to be released, and on time no less, was an unqualified success. The album was, almost unanimously, praised and has already made a strong claim for album of the year. In hindsight, Daytona was the best way to start the slew of releases from the G.O.O.D music Wyoming sessions. The album found Pusha T in peak form and it validated the experiment’s arbitrary, self-imposed, seven song limit. The brief running time worked to the album’s benefit. Its brevity leaves no room for filler and the result is an album that is airtight and polished. It’s the rare case where it’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite track simply because they are all so good.

And Daytona garnered all the acclaim it deserves. It also put Pusha T in the spotlight as he should be. And it, at least temporarily, silenced the people who were still suspicious of this experiment. But unfortunately, it set the bar really high for the rest of the albums.

Ye, by Kanye West himself, followed as the next release. And let’s face it, no matter what, a lot of people had already made up their minds about the album before even hearing one song.

Since The Life of the Pablo, his 2016 release, Kanye West had been mired in almost constant drama and other genuinely concerning issues. And his political views had become polarizing, off putting and downright disappointing.

Many fans struggled to accept the fact that the man who once, boldly, declared that George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people, on live television was now walking around wearing a MAGA hat. (In 2005, during a live telethon event to help with the relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, Kanye West used his platform to call out the president for the government’s disastrous response after the hurricane) And reading some of the reviews on the album makes it clear that when talking about Ye, both the person and album, the music is almost beside the point.

And while Ye is obviously not his crowning achievement, it’s still a great album. Although it’s not groundbreaking or a reinvention in the way we, perhaps unfairly, expect from Kanye West, it’s a distillation of his past work that rewards the listeners with some great music.

It may be uneven but it is still a worthy addition to an already incredibly strong discography. And more importantly it has at least one song that is a straight up classic. (Ghost town) And Kanye once again makes great use of his uncanny ability to bring out the best in his collaborators. He plays to their individual strengths in the same way a great painter knows how to perfectly use different materials to come up with a something that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

  Kids See Ghosts  album cover

Kids See Ghosts album cover

The third release, Kids See Ghosts, a collaboration between Kanye West and Kid Cudi is arguably the highlight of the bunch. (Although Daytona could credibly make a claim for that as well) It is the most experimental but, at least initially, also a bit off putting.

But once you get your head around it, the album reveals itself to be a haunting, equally beautiful and melancholy album in which both artists push each other and bring out the best in one another. It is an intriguing, atmospheric album that touches on heavy subject matter like depression and mental stability. Like Daytona it’s an album that makes it hard to pick a favorite song because the album is so strong. A credible argument could easily be made for at least three of its songs, Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2.) Reborn, and Cudi Montage.

And the artists prove what a strong team they make. Cudi’s emotional sincerity is a wonderful balance to Kanye’s often brash, domineering presence. The album also reminds you that, together, they helped make 808s & Heartbreak one of the most influential albums of the last decade. That was clearly a Kanye album but Kid Cudi’s undeniable contributions played a big part in making that album the classic it is.

  Nasir  album cover

Nasir album cover

Nasir by Nas followed. Unfortunately, no one will argue that this is Nas’ best album. But it still has some great moments. Cops Shot the kid is as powerful as it is catchy. But Nas doesn’t exactly bring his A game to the entire album. It could even be said that, at times, he sounds lost or uninspired.

Perhaps this is a release pattern that does not play to his strengths. And it manages to diminish what should have been a triumphant return for the rapper. It’s hard to believe that the collective shrug the album received was what Nas was aiming for. On the other hand, Kanye sounds very inspired to be working on with Nas, someone who was clearly very influential to him. And he makes some of his best beats.

And the last album was K.T.S.E by Teyana Taylor. It is a great album that showcases her strong voice and blends different eras of R&B to create something really enjoyable. It also inspired Kanye to make some “old Kanye” type beats that a certain sector of his audience has been clamoring for close to a decade now.

But the rapid-fire release rate at the center of the experiment was a double-edged sword. It was no doubt thrilling to see it happen but at the same time it turned out to be a bit self-sabotaging. Pusha T’s album was a solo career highlight for the rapper. But it barely got a week in the spotlight before it was overshadowed by the next release. Daytona is a complete artistic triumph that didn’t sacrifice any street cred. But it was also so damn catchy that it’s not inconceivable to think that, given the chance, it could have become a crossover success. If it had the time, its buzz could have caught on and the album could have found a larger audience through the ecstatic word of mouth. But it never did get that time because Kanye West’s own, much more hyped, album Ye came in a week later and sucked all the air out of the room.

And in the case of Ye, the deadline seems to have resulted in an album that, despite all its strengths, at times feels rushed and arguably unfinished. Because people are so used to a Kanye West album feeling like a big event onto itself. The fact that Ye was released as part of a package, made the album feel minor or somehow less important.

On the other hand, Kids See Ghosts is the kind of album that requires a few listens for it to really grow on you. But Nasir was released just a week later and stole the spotlight from it. And that’s too bad because it’s an amazing collection of songs.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to argue that this release strategy was a good fit for Nas but if it weren’t for this, maybe we wouldn’t have had a new Nas album at all. As for Teyana Tailor, it seemed that it was finally time for her to take the spotlight and earn the recognition she deserves but by the time K.T.S.E came out it audiences had collectively lost interest in this experiment and the album was unfairly overlooked.

But that is not all that surprising. In the end, the event overshadowed the albums themselves. And they became just a part of a stunt that by its very design made the albums feel a little less special.

 

 

 

10 Years Ago Marvel Took a Bold Risk That Reshaped the Movie Industry

  Avengers: Infinity War  movie poster

Avengers: Infinity War movie poster

Felix Quinonez Jr.

When Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters this Friday, 4/27, audiences will show up in droves, screenings will sell out and everyone will be talking about the movie. By the end of Sunday, we might even have a new opening weekend box office champ. But somehow none of that will surprise anyone.

By this point, we’ve all gotten used to the summer movie season being rung in by a Marvel movie. It’s more or less a tradition by now. The only thing that could be surprising at this point would be if it didn’t make an insane amount of money.

Although the fact that it was moved up one week does seem to signal the growing trend of “Summer blockbusters” taking over more and more of the calendar year.

But the bigger significance is that it marks the 10th year anniversary of what we now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (MCU) In 2008, Iron Man kick started what was then a bold and risky experiment. And since then it has grown beyond what anyone could have reasonably expected or even hoped for.

These days MCU movies come like clockwork. Infinity War is their 19th movie and 2nd of 3 movies for this year alone. The movies can hardly be described as risky since they are all but assured box office dominance.

  Iron Man  movie poster

Iron Man movie poster

But it wasn’t always this way. Iron Man kicked things off and its success had a huge influence on the superhero genre and the movie industry at large. But the movie, directed by John Favreau, was by no means a guaranteed success. Robert Downey Jr. was no one’s first choice, or in fact anyone’s second choice for a leading man in a big budget movie. And Favreau was completely untested with this kind of movie.

So, to say that there was a lot riding on the movie’s success would be a monumental understatement. Although it’s hard to picture anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. playing the role, at the time, casting him was a huge gamble. Because of his history of drug abuse, he was basically uninsurable. But the gamble paid off and he became the cornerstone of the MCU. And the movie was the fruition of years of work on Marvel’s part. They had wanted to get into the movie making business for a long time. But these plans were abruptly put on hold when they filed for bankruptcy in 1996.

They were losing a lot of money and had plenty of debt. Coincidentally enough, its biggest debt of $1.7 million was to Disney, who would one day go on to buy Marvel. At one point Marvel had to fire about one third of their employees. But eventually they came up with a plan to license the movie rights of some of their most popular characters. This provided Marvel with an influx of much needed capital which they could use to pay off debt.

The first movie that came out of this arrangement was Blade, starring Wesley Snipes. People tend to leave Blade (1998) out of the conversation in regards to the current era of superhero movies but it was a decent sized hit. It grossed over $130 million worldwide on a relatively modest $45 million budget. But it was Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) that kicked the genre into high gear. That movie was well received by critics and fans. It was also a very big box office hit and it launched a franchise that is still going strong 18 years later.

  Spider Man  movie poster

Spider Man movie poster

But if X-Men was a hit, Spider Man (2002) was an all-out box office smash. Spider Man, directed by Sam Raimi, grossed over $800 million worldwide and demonstrated just how huge these movies had the potential to be.

But the problem, for Marvel, was that these movies were making money for everyone but them. After the initial sales fee, they were only seeing a fraction of the profits. It is said that Blade only earned Marvel $25,000 in royalties. And because of a particularly unfavorable flat-fee negotiation, Marvel saw none of the profits from X-Men.

Because of this, it’s understandable that Marvel wanted to cut out the middle men and release their movies themselves. The plan was to form their own production studio to make their own movies and retain 100% of the profits. In order to do this, they struck a $525 million financing deal to launch Marvel Studios. The deal would give Marvel complete creative control. But in order to attain the financing they had to put up the rights to some of their most popular characters (Captain America, The Avengers, Nick Fury, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Cloak & Dagger, Doctor Strange, Hawkeye and others) as collateral. If their plans failed, the bank would own those rights and the MCU would be dead.

Although Iron Man could be, generously, described as a c-list character. There was a sense that this movie would be something special. The super bowl trailer that preceded its release was genuinely thrilling and it struck a chord with audiences. People were excited for it and waited with bated breath. And those who were paying attention to the behind the scenes action knew that this was an important release for the superhero genre.

Looking back on it now, it’s easy to imagine that writers were equally prepared to report the movie’s eventual failure or success. Had the movie flopped it would have had a very different impact. It could have signaled, if not the end at least the decline in the genre.

So, when it was a hit you could practically hear the sighs of relief from studio executives. And because it was such a success, it marked a turning point for superhero movies. It steered the genre away from the insular, self-contained nature of the most of the movies that came before it.

And it didn’t hurt that the movie was a wildly entertaining breath of fresh air. Critics and audiences loved it. There was even talks of Robert Downey Jr. getting an Oscar nomination for his performance. But he was probably overshadowed by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and the academy was more than likely hesitant to give out two acting nominations for movies in the superhero genre.

 Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in  Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man

The movie has a freewheeling energy to it that captivated audiences. It was reported that the movie didn’t actually have a script. And that’s probably why it often feels like they are figuring things out as they went along. Robert Downey Jr’s performance has arguably grown into a shtick or at the very least lost some of its freshness. Repetition can make that happen but, in this movie, he was downright revelatory.

The movie also introduced some of the hallmarks of an MCU movie, for better or worse. The villain in this movie is very forgettable and that is something that most MCU movies tend to suffer from. More specifically they went with the “mirror” villain in this movie and repeated that several times afterwards. The movie also established the trope of killing off a mentor so that the hero could advance. But most importantly the movie established a connection to a larger universe.

By now, most people have come to expect after credit scenes from MCU movies. (It’s always shocking to see people leave a theater right after the movie ends.) But when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) showed up at the end of Iron Man to talk about an Avengers initiative, it was genuinely thrilling. But beyond the spectacle and clever quips, Iron Man had emotional resonance at its center. Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow were great together and helped make the movie truly special.

And the fact that the movie was genuinely fun shouldn’t be overlooked. It captured the joy of becoming a super hero in a way that often gets overlooked in a genre that has often mistaken pessimism for realism. But at the end of the day profit is what allows movies to become franchises. And Iron Man wasn’t just successful, it was an undeniable box office smash. It grossed over $300 million domestically and almost $600 million worldwide.

But even though the movie was a gamble, its commercial potential, and that of the rest of the marvel roster, must have been evident because it didn’t take Disney long to snatch up Marvel studios in December of 2009 for $4 billion. And the fact that they moved in so quickly suggests that Disney must have already been planning the acquisition. It seems they were just waiting to see how Iron Man performed at the box office before making the move.

The movie also catapulted Robert Downey Jr. into the A-list and revived his career. And after Iron Man everyone wanted their own “shared universe.” But so far no one has really been able to replicate the success that Marvel has had.

  Avengers  movie poster

Avengers movie poster

After seeing how successful The Avengers (2012) was, Sony didn’t waste one second to kick-start their own interconnected cinematic universe. The result was The Amazing Spider Man 2. Although that movie was still entertaining and had an unique sense of charm, it suffered from being stuffed to the brim. The studio’s attempts to set up more franchises were so blatant that it often forced the actual story to take a back seat. At times if felt like watching a series of interconnected commercials for the spinoffs that never came to fruition.

That movie disappointed fans and critics and was easily the lowest earning Spider Man movie at the box office. Because of this, Sony teamed up with Marvel to bring Spider Man into the MCU fold with hopes that they could bring back some of the luster the character had lost.

And to no one’s surprise it didn’t take long for DC to try to get into the Cinematic universe game. They actually had an earlier attempt in 2011 with Green Lantern, directed by Martin Campbell. But that movie was so reviled that they scrapped their plans altogether.

Their current cinematic universe began in earnest with 2013’s Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder. Although that movie’s reputation has plummeted over the years, at the time, it was a—somewhat—promising start. It wasn’t until 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, also directed by Zack Snyder, that the wheels really fell off. Almost everything about that movie seemed to reek of desperation. There was a general consensus that Man of Steel didn’t make as much money as it should have and DC felt the need to bring their star player Batman off the bench.

And if that wasn’t enough, they also added Wonder Woman, Doomsday, and Lex Luthor. Batman fights Superman and they also crammed in the death of Superman story line. Basically, any one of those would be enough to carry a movie but instead DC chose to stuff them all into Dawn of Justice without really making something that was coherent.

It was as if they wanted to desperately achieve the kind of success Marvel had without putting in the work that was necessary. They just wanted to jump to the point that took Marvel years to reach. And their next movie Suicide Squad was a mishmash of tones and it was almost completely nonsensical. Its only accomplishment seemed to be that it wasn’t as bad as Dawn of Justice (Although to be fair there were a couple of pretty good performances in there.)

So far, their only real bright spot has been Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins. It got great reviews and was a huge box office hit. And Gal Gadot’s star making performance was so good that most audiences could forgive its formulaic last act.

But even that wasn’t enough to correct the ship. By the time Justice League, directed by Zack Snyder, (with help from Joss Whedon) came out it seemed that they had already burned through too much audience goodwill and the movie was mostly overlooked. Justice League was supposed to be the payoff where all the heroes finally come together for a rousing event. And it was supposed to be a huge box office success. (Avengers grossed over $600 million domestically and $1.5 billion worldwide) But instead Justice League became the lowest grossing DC movie. And now the DC cinematic universe is, to be generous, on shaky ground. And the less said about Universal’s dark universe, the better.

These days comic book characters are perhaps as popular as they’ve ever been. (Even if comic books themselves haven’t gained much in popularity.) The comic book movies started influencing the comics. And the characters have made their way to the small screen and even Netflix.

MCU movies have become very trusted by fans have garnered unprecedented amount of audience goodwill. Because of this, audiences are willing to follow the studio wherever they lead them. And that success and loyalty allows the studio to bring more and more of their characters to the big screen, no matter how obscure they might be.

  Guardians of the Galaxy  movie poster

Guardians of the Galaxy movie poster

Before 2014, very few people knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were but their first movie was one of the biggest hits of the year. Like Robert Downey Jr. before him, Chris Pratt was turned into an A-List star after his MCU role. All of their success allows them to take chances and because of that we got the first African American big budget superhero movie with Black Panther. And the gamble paid off once again. That movie is one of the biggest hits of all time. It’s already the #3 movie domestically and has grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide.

But like with anything else, the MCU has had its ups and downs. When Ant Man and the Wasp hits theaters in July, it will be the 20th MCU movie. (In 10 years) Because of this, it’d be unrealistic to think that they would all be cinematic masterpieces.

They have their share of home runs that are genuinely fun, exciting movies with emotional resonance: Iron Man, The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Black Panther.

Then they have their second-tier movies that are still genuinely great even if they don’t hold up as well after repeated viewings: Civil War, Avengers, Spider Man: Homecoming.

Below that level are the movies that are entertaining and have genuinely moving moments but don’t quite reach the level of greatness: Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

After that come the movies that are superficially fun and sometimes genuinely exciting but ultimately forgettable: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Thor Ragnarok

They also have movies that are basically well-done retreads of the first Iron Man: Ant Man and Dr. Strange

 And of course, even the MCU has their share of duds: Iron Man 2 and 3, Incredible Hulk and Thor the Dark World

 Age of Ultron seems to fall under its own category. Although the movie didn’t quite come together it does have its moments of greatness. The movie was unfairly written off by most audiences but at least part of that has to do with the unrealistic high expectations it had to meet.

And although its climactic finale is yet another case of the heroes battling a faceless army it does have a lot of genuinely thrilling action along the way. But more importantly it is a movie that raises interesting philosophical themes that audiences forgot over time.

The movie ponders humanity, the beauty that comes from its frailty, our place, as humans in the world and the nature of war. And the vision/Ultron meeting at the end is one of the most heartfelt, moving scenes in any MCU movies. The movie also ponders the nature of heroism and it makes an intriguing point that every triumphant victory is a devastating loss when seen from the other side.

But even their duds aren’t all out terrible movies. And fans are able to overlook them or at least forgive them because they are part of a larger universe that they have become invested in.

Although Infinity War is being advertised as a conclusion of sorts, the MCU will not be ending any time soon. Instead it seems that it's about to evolve into something different than what came before it. What that means exactly is still a mystery. But one thing is for sure, whatever form the MCU takes next, fans will be lining up to see it. 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Music Streaming Killing the Album Experience?

streaming.JPG

Felix Quinonez Jr.

There is no doubt that streaming has become an important tool in listening to music. And by legally giving listeners access to millions of songs at the click of a button it has reshaped the industry. But does the instrument we use to listen impact how we listen to music?

It might have taken a while to be embraced, but these days, streaming has become one of the most popular ways to listen to music. Streaming has become so prominent that the RIAA finally decided they could no longer ignore it. Streaming is now counted towards album sales.

And when the streaming data is included, it changes the whole picture. If one compares the pure album sales chart with the sales plus streaming chart, it’s not uncommon to see the rankings rearranged. Artists who are popular with streaming usually end up at the top of the charts.

Technology has always had a big impact on the music industry. There was a time when cassettes were going to bring the whole house down. The belief was that people would just record songs off the radio and never pay for music again.

But a more recent and relevant example is the Internet. It wasn’t that long ago that Napster and its like were unleashed on the world. And the impact is impossible to overstate. Suddenly people could just download the songs they wanted instead of buying a whole album or buying anything at all. Album sales plummeted, high-speed Internet services thrived and the industry acted predictably. They became doomsayers that, again, stated that the death of the music business was imminent.

 Napster Logo

Napster Logo

And instead of trying to adapt to the changing times or embrace the new technology, Record Labels tried to dig their heels into the ground and hold on to the old ways that had made so many people so rich. But the cat was out of the bag and no amount of lawsuits would put it back inside.

For years record sales steadily plummeted. And it seemed like there was no way to correct the ship. But in hindsight, the answer seems, if not obvious, at least logical. The way to combat piracy wasn’t to threaten fans with lawsuits but to offer an alternative that was even easier than downloading.

While it’s true that services like Napster did allow listeners to download whatever they wanted. There were always drawbacks too. Download speeds weren’t always reliable. The songs themselves were often low quality. Sometimes they were mislabeled so you thought you were downloading a certain song only to get something completely different. There was also always the threat of getting viruses. And the files themselves would eat up a lot of space on your hard drive.

But the fact is that we as listeners and shoppers like things to be easy. It took a while but eventually, people in the industry realized this. And they used this information to find a way to give fans a new way to listen to music.

Streaming services give us access to millions of songs and allow us to listen to those songs pretty much everywhere we want to. But even so, one the biggest asset of streaming is the fact that it just makes things easier for the listener. You pay $10 a month and can listen to whatever you want. You can find new artists without spending any extra money on something you’re not sure you will enjoy. If your favorite band puts something new out, you can just save it to your library and be done with it. And of course you can be comfortable knowing that the quality of the songs will be top notch without worrying about viruses. And if you still want your music to be free you can listen to ads.

And it’s that ease that has led to millions of people signing up for streaming services like Spotify. But does that ease come at a price? Are we sacrificing an integral part of the listening experience? Listening to new music can often be challenging and it can upend our expectations. But that challenge is part of what makes it so special. Great art makes us think and see things, and ourselves, in different ways. And that’s part of what makes discovering a new album so enjoyable.

Listening to a new album is like taking a journey. It can seem daunting at first. There are times when we feel lost or even frustrated. Sometimes we just want to give up but eventually we reach our destination. And sometimes an album that seemed off putting at first can become a personal favorite.

Great albums and artists challenge our expectations. A great album can make us see an artist in a new way. It can change what we expect from an artist or even a genre. It can even change us as listeners and change what we look for in music. It can introduce us to new artists/genres/styles. But often times we have to get past the initial shock, confusion, or even disappointment and choose to go on the journey with the band.

Because like anything else an album does not exist in a vacuum. It is received, viewed and ultimately experienced through the context of many external circumstances. The artists’ body of work shapes our expectations and also serve as a sort of measuring stick by which we judge their new work.

Lead singles also shape our expectations. In an ideal world a lead single would not only be a great way to introduce the album but it would also encapsulate what the album was about and its sound. Unfortunately that is not always the case. The fact is that lead singles are meant to sell albums.

Sometimes that means a catchy lead single was put out not because it represents the album but because it can help move units. And because of this, the lead single is often misleading in terms of what the rest of the album sounds like. This can give us false expectations of what we will get when buying an album. That’s why to really listen to an album and to appreciate it, you have to take time and give it a chance. You have to let it grow on you.

Getting something different than what we were expecting or hoping to hear can be initially disappointing. But a lot of times after getting over the initial disappointment we realize that the album is perhaps something even better than we were hoping for. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was initially put off by an album that eventually went on to grow on me and become one of my favorites.

And aside from that, sometimes we need to give songs multiple listens before we can really make up our minds about it. Sometimes it’s because the artists take a new direction in sound or style. But the fact is that not every album or song hooks you instantly but that doesn’t mean they are not worth listening to and sometimes they are worth giving a chance.

But the immediacy in which streaming services offer music leads people away from putting in the effort needed to really listen to an album. Streaming promotes a sort of instant gratification to listening to music. And because of that, we become less attentive as listeners but also more impatient.

And because it’s so easy to pick from millions of songs we can always listen to something we already know and love. And this makes the prospect of listening to something that doesn’t immediately grab us seem less enticing. We are less inclined to put in the work required to listening to a new album.

Plus when we have so many options so readily available it makes us more distracted. And it makes it harder for things to hold our attention. A song could remind us of another one. And we suddenly we think about that song for a second. But because the songs are so easy to get when streaming, that second is enough time to get us to switch to the song we know and love as opposed to investing time into an album that’s still unfamiliar to us.

Because it’s so easy to listen to whatever song we think about, we don’t stay on one for as long as we might if we were listening to a cd of vinyl. If you’re listening to an album on vinyl it takes relatively more effort to change or skip a song. And because of that we listen to an album all the way through more often.

There’s no denying that streaming has plenty of benefits. Having instant access to millions of songs and being able to take it with you anywhere is nothing short of miraculous. But it’s that same ease that might lead us to give up on an album before it has the chance to become one of our favorites.

On Nostalgia

header 2.JPG

Felix Quinonez Jr.

What is it about Nostalgia that is so intoxicating? Why are we so obsessed with revisiting our past?  

Judging by the movie posters plastered on billboards, the TV shows on the lineup, and even the bands touring, it’d be hard to know what year it was. It seems like everything old is new again...as always.

Movies like Blade Runner and Star Wars are products of our past, and yet they’re also slated to return to cinemas this year. The remake of It recently hit theaters and quickly became an unqualified success, grossing over $300 million domestically in just under a month.

 The Last Jedi Poster

The Last Jedi Poster

And nostalgia is also taking over the small screen with TV shows like Will and Grace, Twin Peaks, X-Files, Full House, Gilmore Girls, and MacGyver, all returning, in one form or another. Twin Peaks was one of the most popular TV shows and a cultural landmark almost 30 years ago. But even before going off the air it had lost its luster. After the central mystery of Laura Palmer was resolved, viewers lost interest and changed the channel. And without its once fervently devoted fan base the show was unceremoniously cancelled.

But now enough time has passed that people are reassessing the show. As usual, we choose how to remember things, often rewriting the past in the process. And because of this, the show's drop in quality is overlooked by fans hoping to revisit an old favorite.

The rose colored glasses used to evaluate the past has convinced people to only remember the first season, and that's what was zeroed in on when people decided the show needed to return. But we also didn’t just forget about how terrible Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was. As think pieces populating the internet show, it's become fashionable to retroactively label the flop as a misunderstood or overlooked gem. 

At the same time, the Will and Grace revival was renewed for a second season before it even aired. But it isn’t just our TV shows and movies that are stuck in the past. So much of our popular culture is an amalgam of childhood signifiers. Even once popular drinks are being brought back to satisfy the nostalgia bug that bit everyone.

It’s like everyone’s childhood is being brought back simultaneously to satisfy our collective need to relive the "good old days." It seems the past continues to haunt us, not because it refuses to leave but because we can’t let it go.

 Still from the Twin Peaks opening 

Still from the Twin Peaks opening 

The reason why we hold onto nostalgia is because it's addictive, and it triggers both negative and positive emotions. It’s a longing for something from our past to return. There's nothing inherently wrong about wanting to remember sweet and innocent experiences. But nostalgia is a bittersweet because it also produces feelings of loss and sadness because those moments are gone.

The older we get, the more we start to see doors closing. One day our lives stop being defined by all the things we will do and what we will become. Instead they're defined by our acceptance of the many things we will never get to experience. We start to realize that we won’t ever be rock stars or movie stars. The older we get, the more the past starts to look brighter. And the more we start looking to it for comfort.

And according to Psychology Today, “When people get nostalgic, they are living in the past. In those moments, the past seems rosy, and often more positive than the present.” Not surprisingly, many times nostalgia comes at moments when we are feeling low or even just bored. When we’re unhappy about the current states of our lives, we yearn for the innocence of youth and to return to it.

That’s why we find ourselves constantly looking back. We long to relive the past that we’ve romanticized. We want to return to the time when our lives were full of promise, and it seemed like we could do anything. But most importantly, we want to feel the way we did.

Maybe living in such commercial society has trained us to associate those feelings with the products and entertainment we used to consume. We imbue importance on the toys and video games of our past. We look to them with the hope that they can transport us back to more innocent moments in our lives.

We think that if we bring back the clothes, movies and TV shows of our childhood, we can go back to that time. But we ignore the fact that those things were only a part of why that time of our lives was so special.

Hordes of people line up and log on, hoping against hope to be the so-called “lucky” ones who get their hands on whatever piece of limited edition nostalgia is being marketed this season. But ultimately they find out that the magic of youth can’t be recreated by buying a Super Nintendo classic edition.

In the memories we have of the Super Nintendo, or whatever system you chose, the video games themselves were only a fraction of what made those experiences so special. The real reason why we cherished those times was because we were young, carefree, and shared those experiences with the people we loved. It was our friends and siblings who helped make those the “good old days”. We stayed up all night with them, and that minor act of youthful rebellion was a big part of the fun. It seemed like there was no world outside of the walls of our houses. But as the world got bigger, the smaller our places in it became.

Now when you buy the game now and you plug it in, that's all you get. You’re not suddenly going to be a kid again. Your job and problems won’t disappear. Your friends won’t sleep over and play the new video game with you until late at night or early into the morning. They all have their own lives to lead.

And stripped of all those other external factors, it’s just a video game. It entertains us for a while but it’s ultimately a hollow shell of the experience we had as children. Eventually it winds up on the shelf, collecting dust, leaving us feeling empty and searching for the next relic of our past that we hope will make us feel young again.

Although it’s nice to see old TV shows return, that’s not really what we’re trying to recover. We want to bring back the way we felt when we watched those shows. We want to relive those moments. But we can’t recreate the magic that comes from youth.

Part of the reason we loved a lot of the shows we watched as kids was precisely because we were kids. Just because an old TV show returns doesn’t mean we can become the viewers we once were. We can’t view it through the same eyes. And what we see is no longer filtered through the same outlook we had as children.

And sometimes it’s the actors themselves that played a big role in our enjoyment of the shows. Some of those actors became our first crushes. And watching the shows through the eyes of a kid with a crush can shape the level to which we enjoyed them.

 Larisa Oleynik as Alex Mack

Larisa Oleynik as Alex Mack

But when shows come back we often times don’t see the actors the same way. Maybe it’s because we’ve learned things about them that changed our opinion of them, or maybe just the simple fact that they and we got older. 

As much as we love those old shows, sometimes they are relics of a bygone era and are better left in the past. All the constant revivals and reboots also stifle creativity. It makes it harder for original property to get made because everyone is more interested in making movies or shows that come with a “built in” audience.

Just as it appears that 80s nostalgia is finally starting to subside, people are now longing to return to the 90s. The window for nostalgia is getting even smaller.We barely get the chance to miss things before they come back.