Thursday, July 11, 2019

Disney's performative wokeness

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When "Captain Marvel" hit the cinemas, a debate - no, a fight, really - went into overdrive. The point of contention, it goes thusly: How badly does Disney pander to progressives and liberals in its movies? If you're a right-winger, the answer was clear. Disney is pushing an agenda, trying to brainwash its audiences, and it will not stand. If you're a progressive or liberal, a lot of it is just overblown, as Disney is - finally!  - attempting to represent society as it is.


The fight really got heated with Star Wars Episode VIII, in which many right-wingers felt they were being triggered deliberately by certain plot and character beats. Rightly so, I might add, as Disney wasn't excactly subtle about it. It reached its high-water mark when Captain Marvel came out. It was the first time a Marvel superhero movie was sporting a female main character, and it wasn't like Marvel or Disney were subtle about it.

But that wasn't really the main point; the point was: Would the right be able to push back? There was a lot of public uproar and debate over whether or not the boycotts by the #Gamergate crowd would generate enough buzz to sink the movie's box office, as, in a hilarious mix-up of cause and effect, they persuaded themselves their protests against the stupifyingly succesful episode VIII had done for the ill-begotten "Solo".

Given that "Captain Marvel" was the first time that Disney openly took sides in this conflict and decided it was in their best economic interest to pander hard to a liberal audience and completely ignore the right-wingers, looking at the outcome is of significance. The Mouse isn't exactly known for selflessly sponsoring a lot of social movements, so if they risked billions of dollars in such a clear turn, they had to be pretty sure about it.

It turns out they were right. As with their burning of Nike shoes to protest Kaepernick's engagement (Nike's own performative wokeness on display), the only thing the angry crowd on the right achieved is to make the things they hate even more popular, as a small but non-negligible section of the left was energized as well and decided to stake the economic success of Captain Marvel out as an ideological battleground.

That, I guess, is exactly what Disney had hoped for. Watching Captain Marvel became an act of #Resistance. Isn't it great to buy a movie ticket AND do something worthwhile for your own cause and conscience? Of course you don't, but that doesn't matter to the bottom line. Disney bet that progressivism was attracting a much larger audience than conservatism in the field they're currently operating, and they were obviously right. That sentence has a nice double-meaning, by the way.

I can't enjoy this victory, however. On the one hand, I find it obscene that Disney managed to persuade people that watching the biggest franchise on the planet with your friends and a bowl of popcorn is somehow comparable to organize for social change or engage on other, more uncomfortable and demanding levels. It's like "Evangelicals" getting their good conscience by attending mass every Sunday and calling it a day.

On the other hand, Disney's also engaging in the most shallow way possible. The people Captain Marvel meets that throw sexism at her are so comically bad it allows practically everyone to the enlightened white guy thing from all those race movies and letting out a "phew, at least I'm not that bad" and feel vindicated.

And as a side-note, incorporating pro-military propaganda in its movies also isn't exactly earning you any points.

That's not to say I'm not glad Disney chose this path; I take Captain Marvel over my Walking Dead or American Sniper any day. But one shouldn't be fooled into thinking they were an ally. They decided - quite rightly - that we're the majority and the much bigger share of the target audience, and so they cater to us and not them. If it were the other way around, the Mouse wouldn't blink.

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