They say that art is designed to provoke strong reactions, and that even if a film, TV series or band seem to exist solely to irritate you and just you, then it’s done its job. There is certainly an element of fun to be gleamed from the sheer catharsis of experiencing something that drove you bonkers and getting it out of your system. Believe me, I’ve dedicated thousands of words to the cause of exploring the stuff that baffles me. I’m sure there are some who will look at the title of this piece and wonder what’s the point in dedicating so much time to stuff you don’t like, which is perfectly valid reasoning. For me, I frequently find that I understand more about both myself and the entertainment industry through the mistakes it makes than the victories it claims. Bad stuff is bad for a reason, and when it personally aggrieves us, there’s a reason for it. When something is bad or questionable or outright offensive yet warms the hearts of millions, that highlights the strange contrasts of our society, something that’s often made all the more obvious with the passive of time. Think of how much Paul Haggis’s Crash was heartily embraced by audiences and critics in 2005, and how quickly it took us all to re-evaluate it and correctly label it as trash. Those particular moments in pop culture history say a lot about why we cling to certain ideas and stories in the way we do, and for better or worse, that gets a reaction out of us.
It can be hard to pin what counts as anger and what is pure infuriation. For me, the latter differentiates itself from the former because it raises more questions that you spend too much of your time trying to answer. Anger is purer: Infuriation demands more of your energy and is much harder to expel from your system.
And so, I share with you three pieces of pop culture that just get my gander up in major ways, some more serious than others. Make sure to share your own in the comments and play nice with your irritation.
The Mummy (2017)
For me, my infuriation here is less rooted in morals like the upcoming examples and more in the bafflement at the sheer cynicism on display. It would be a falsehood to claim that all art is made for the sake of art, and that monetary compensation plays no part, but at least some creators and producers try to cloak that desire for profit in something worth giving your hard earned cash to. Everything about the Tom Cruise reboot of The Mummy reeks of the stony-faced desperation to make money. Here is a property revived and tinkered with solely to appeal to an audience that does not exist but the studio wishes it would because they know the box office would be in their favour. None of the decisions made for the film seem in the best interests of its story, characters or world-building: It’s all about making a franchise and appeasing its star’s ego, and the worst part is that it doesn’t even have the decency to be fun about it. At least good trash offers some sick thrill of schadenfreude. This was just sad as well as aggravating. I continue to be immensely irritated that I spend as much time thinking about how much this movie pissed me off as I do. I’ll probably be on my death bed with this crap on my mind.
I’ve always hated this film. They used to show us it in religious studies for some reason I’ve never quite understood, and even back then I loathed the teeth-shaking saccharine manipulation of it all. I couldn’t get over this nonsense, so baffling and poorly paced and full of primary school panto acting, being the work of Robert Zemeckis, and my hatred for the film was only intensified once I found out how many Oscars it won. I like sentimentality when it’s done right, but this is some pseudo-Reaganist moralising that positions ignorance, willing or otherwise, as the preferable option to trying to give a shit in a cruel world. The guileless all-American good boy does everything he’s told and lives a wonderful life; the woman who opposes the Vietnam war and tries to do good in the world dies of AIDS. That movie offers nothing good to the world.
Life is Beautiful
You know what, fuck this movie? Fuck any story that tries to make cutesy shenanigans out of the Holocaust, but fuck this one in particular for the way it came to be so wholeheartedly embraced by the world at large (well, the non-Jewish Western world, at least). Remember, this won Oscars! People decided to give this actual awards to denote it as being the best of the year in various categories! Mel Brooks famously dislikes this film - and rightly so - using it as his prime example of how comedy should have limits: Yes, a Jewish guy making a big song and dance number with Nazis is one thing; what Roberto Benigni did with Life is Beautiful is not. The really insidious thing about this film is how it spins that plot as something hopeful. You know what would actually happen to a kid whose dad managed to completely shield him from the horrors of the Second World War for Jewish people? He’d become a Holocaust denier, or at the very least a deeply screwed up individual. But hey, where’s the cutesiness in that?!