Cathartic as always, sir. It's become painfully obvious to me in recent years that major studios are totally leveraging the culture war so that we don't notice things like the death of mainstream entertainment for, you know, actual adults. Who can read. And who don't give a shit about comic books.

Expand full comment

My own personal suspicions dovetail with Freddie's- at some point, the symbolic wins of diverse casting became such low-hanging fruit to the point of solipsism, and the thrill of winning skirmishes in the war of pop culture engagement and triggering the cons became the high fructose corn syrup to the vegetables of closing the black white wealth and education gaps.

At the risk of being ungenerous to people I've never met on the internet, I almost suspect that if given the choice between a world in which the racial wealth gap quietly vanished and a world in which the next 30 Marvel movies had no white male actors, a lot of people would choose the latter because a world with no racial wealth gap wouldn't get engagement and trigger republicans on twitter.

Expand full comment

I liked the Babylon Bee take on Rings of Power - "Inexperienced Showrunners Figure They'd Better Hire A Few Black Actors So They Can Cry 'Racism' If The Show Sucks"


Expand full comment

I do have to say, I do have an issue with the sort of lazy multicultural casting choices we see in a lot of modern fantasy shows...like for example Amazon's new Rings of Power show.

I have no problem with the idea of black dwarves, black elves, black hobbits, etc. It's great. But I do have a major issue with just sprinkling actors of various races down randomly with no thought as to what it means for worldbuilding.

For example, on the new LOTR show, there's a hobbit analogue (the Harfoots) who seem to have a nomadic gathering society - a tribe of 150 people or so. There are black Harfoots and white Harfoots, but oddly not really many racially ambiguous ones. This...makes no sense at all...because in a race-blind society that small everyone would blend together within a few generations even if there was some original differences. At first I thought maybe the casting choices were supposed to be ignored by the audience (like when family members have different accents), but the show explicitly told us the black mother of the white lead Harfoot is a stepmother, so we're clearly not supposed to think that.

The thing is, they could have done representation just fine by making all the Harfoots black. There's even some basis for this within Tolkien, because by the time of LOTR the Harfoots are a hobbit clan noted for darker skin than the rest. So they could have had representational casting, realistic worldbuilding, and maybe used the casting to make some sort of statement regarding indigenous peoples.

Other examples abound too. Like the humans from the Southland are shown as a mix of white/black. Why not make them all POC, since it's explicitly noted within the show they were under elven occupation for centuries, and it's a way to reference real-world colonialism visually? They could have made all of the dwarves black and added some real-world representation while making the traditional distrust between elves and dwarves have more real-world heft. By just sprinkling people of color everywhere, they completely ignore the power that casting choices can make, and it's very frustating.

Expand full comment

The article on the social justice value of Little Mermaid is just bananas. The story is about a 16 year old who marries a grown man after a few days together. She literally [trad meaning of literally] doesn’t have a voice during their courtship.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t make princess movies, but come on. It’s an entertainment product, not social progress.

Expand full comment

Blacks have professional athletes, rappers, movie stars, etc.--and the lowest wealth of any racial group in the country.

Asians have been underrepresented among the ranks of professional athletes and entertainers in this country for years--and have the highest individual and household incomes of any racial group in the United States.

"Representation" is bullshit. The idea that because X racial group wins Y Oscars or Emmys or Grammys or whatever is actually going to lift anybody out of poverty is complete idiocy.

Expand full comment

"A piece of pop culture has been announced, one with a diverse cast of characters and themes of female empowerment. Some conservative idiots lose their minds because they’re conservative idiots."

You know, for what it's worth: If you Google "Racist criticism of Rings of Power," you will get literally hundreds of articles written by major media organizations, defending Rings of Power against racist criticism. You know how many of those articles actually link to examples of racist criticism?


The people freaking out about diversity are Twitter randos. The people using the freakout as an excuse to enforce aesthetic consensus are executives and published writers. That seems significant!

Expand full comment

Soon after Black Panther came out, I had this dumb little internet moment that, in retrospect, marked a turning point for me in terms of alienation from mainstream left-liberal attitudes.

I was scrolling on Facebook and saw an acquaintance's post in which she linked to a business article skeptical of major studios' reliance on big "tentpole" movies like Black Panther. The article contained no critique of the film itself. It was purely a bottom-line analysis about how the film industry operates. My acquaintance railed about how the article was the work of white supremacy -- how white journalists were secretly furious over the commercial and cultural success of Black Panther and were pushing out columns like this one in a desperate attempt to discredit the work of a Black filmmaker and cast.

This was back in the days when I still engaged on social media, and I felt compelled to reply. I said that I personally loved the movie (true) but thought her argument made no sense. Which led to an increasingly heated back-and-forth in which she warned me to "stay in my lane," implied subtle racism was at work in my mind, etc. I was shocked and confused about how this person -- someone I liked, someone I'd found to be clever and humane in the handful of face-to-face interactions we'd had -- could be saying such absurd things in public. And I also couldn't understand at the time why our mutual friends stayed out of the replies, why no one else would agree with me in public.

I know, I'm a snowflake, but this interaction made a lasting impression on me. I realized that internet arguments like this could quickly take over my life if I let them. I didn't think most people actually *agreed* with the nonsense things my acquaintance was saying, but I did realize that very few people would come to my defense if I ended up on the wrong side of an identitarian argument. And from where I sit now, I understand why -- for most of us, it's just not worth it to get dragged into the fray. But I'm thankful for writers like Freddie deBoer who don't keep their mouth shut, even when I think they're wrong.

Expand full comment

There is one way we could fix this which no one seems brave enough to advocate for: total and complete destruction of the data centers that host social media servers. There would be a withdrawal. But eventually like any addiction slowly people's brains might come back to normal.

Expand full comment

This doesn't exactly defeat your (excellent) point, but since you hold it up as evidence: the Peggy Olson gif comes from S7, E12 "Lost Horizon," in which Peggy is moving into McCann for good—you're conflating this with the storyline where she moves to Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough for a few episodes before CGC merges with Sterling Cooper.

But also: "It's definitely something that has taken on a life of its own that I feel slightly removed from, but I'm proud of," Moss added.


Expand full comment

I have what I call the "Nazis Bad Rule of Advertising" (NBRA). Basically, the more the buzz around a work is "it's pissing off the right [comically thin-skinned] people", the less confidence I assume people have in it.

Fury Road, for instance, had a quiet certainty about it. It knew what it was: a beautifully executed action movie suffused with feminist themes. "Subtle" is the wrong word, it was literally about smashing the patriarchy, but it showed rather than told what it was doing. Yet it portrayed itself as, first and foremost, an action movie. Some people talked about how it was "pissing off the right people" , sure, but centrally the buzz, the "indirect" advertising, was "epic fucking action sequences with pole vaulting raiders and a fire guitar".

Contrast that infamous Ghostbusters remake. All the chatter was "we're doing something right because we're pissing off [the most thin-skinned motherfuckers conceivable]". Is it any good? That question was awkwardly avoided in favor of "so feminist" and so forth.

So how am I feeling about the live action Little Mermaid remake, following the NBRA? Let's go with "not optimistic".

Expand full comment

I don't know why there can't be good, well written movies and TV shows that don't have to whack me over the head with their message. I don't mind a message, I don't mind diversity, but I get really annoyed with bad writing.

Having said that, I watch the Marvel movies/shows with my 13 year old son. He doesn't seem to care about the messages. He likes seeing the superheroes doing superheroey things. We watched both the Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel shows, and though I cringed at some of the obvious pandering, he thought it was cool that they had different music, and that part of both shows took place in countries he hasn't been exposed to. We ended up talking a little bit about the partitioning of India and Pakistan, which neither of really knew anything about.

And it reminded me of when I was his age. My parents (born in the 1930s) were raised with attitudes about non-Irish Catholics that you would expect from people their age. However, I never knew that. They kept that to themselves, because they knew times had changed, and for the better. They wanted to raise us to be better about these things, rather than teach us to think like them.

The first time I ever sensed that my father had less than liberal attitudes about race was when we were watching a movie on television and a white man kissed a black woman. My father made a verbal grunt that indicated he didn't approve. But, that was it. He never said anything about it, never told me that I shouldn't approve, nothing.

So, I am going to try to do for my son what my parents did for me - not overreact, and let him enjoy the pop culture on his terms, as a 13 year old. He is already starting to recognize bad writing and acting when he sees it. He questions why She-Hulk keeps breaking the fourth wall, and realizes it's a lazy narrative device. I'll encourage him to be critical of bad craftmanship, but I am going to avoid criticizing the messages.

Expand full comment

I feel like you it pretty well put together.

The content creator makes progressive identprop instead of work to be enjoyed because doing so is less risky.

The right wing critic makes outraged noises about the identprop because doing so drives the engagement of his fans.

The left wing critics write breathless adulation of the identprop because doing so dries the engagement of their fans.

The left wing audience make outraged takes about the right wing critic's outrage because doing so drives the engagement of their followers.

You write analyses of the previous trends because doing so drives the engagement of your followers (look at me, engaging, sigh).

The problem is the attention ecosystem itself. Hatred (of the woke piece by conservatives, of the conservatives by liberals) is dependable. Criticism is risky. Thus those who cultivate hatred and contempt out compete those who want to talk about the merits of art. So it will be, so long as engagement is the currency of the land, and changing that is not on the menu.

Expand full comment

The big part you’re missing here is that diversity casting (and crew) now allows for multiple waves of marketing through accusing anyone critiquing the product as bigots/racists. Disney pioneered it and Amazon is embracing it.

Expand full comment

I also think one important factor is this: when it comes down to it, most of us would rather talk about pop culture than politics. It’s more fun, and there are easier answers to Hollywood representation than to poverty or homelessness, and it’s certain to get more clicks. I think people don’t want to think of themselves as so frivolous, though; they prefer to imbue pop culture with deep political meaning so they can still feel like an activist while tweeting about the latest Marvel.

Expand full comment

God bless you, Freddie. It's nice to be seen. If I didn't have young children, I wouldn't turn on the TV anymore. I'd certainly unsubscribe to Disney+. Jesus f-ing Christ, the utter political *schlock* masquerading as entertainment media. When the kids demand to watch this stuff, I sit there with my face half turned away, teeth on edge, just waiting for it. Turn on the propaganda hose, people, turn it on and take it full in the face.

Expand full comment