I On the Arts' Worst Pop Culture Moments of 2015

With another year coming to a close, it’s time to look back on 2015 and judge. Since I did not see every movie, watch every show, listen to every song, or read every book that came out during this year, my list of the five worst and five best pop culture moments will be idiosyncratic and incomplete. Enjoy!

5. The announcement of plans for Hunger Games prequels (and the ceaseless continuation/expansion of the worlds of young adult/children’s literature)

The Hunger Games were a thought-provoking, gripping yet uneven trilogy of books. In the new grand tradition of young adult book-to-movie adaptations, three books became four movies of varying quality (sorry, Gary Ross: the first one is still the worst). Now that the original source material by Suzanne Collins has been used up, the Hollywood money machine crunches on, with Lionsgate announcing in early December that they are developing Hunger Games prequel films that will prominently feature stadium-style arenas as opposed to the more landscape-esque battlegrounds in the first two Hunger Games films. Key quote from Lionsgate Entertainment Vice Chairman Michael Burns: “The one thing that kids say they missed (from the existing Hunger Games films) was there was no arenas,” he said. “If we went backwards there obviously would be arenas.”

Good thinking, Mr. Burns. Have you also considered hiring these children to write, cast, and direct said new films, since you’ve obviously decided to substitute their judgment and desires for any remaining shred of pride this franchise has (Katniss/Peeta action figures and Capitol-inspired CoverGirl makeup line notwithstanding)? As the film series rose and dipped in quality, the one constant was Jennifer Lawrence, who turned in consistently excellent, thoughtful performances as Katniss. But Lawrence has said she will not be participating in any prequels. What kind of success or prestige do you think you’re going to have without her?

This Hunger Games announcement is similar to the decision to continue the Harry Potter series. Come on, J.K. Rowling—the part people hated was the epilogue. Why did you sign off on the upcoming play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which promises even more sappy, hokey Potter babies stories? Furthermore, the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them seems like another attempt to wring money out of this book/film franchise that still has to be doing fairly well even after the series has been over for several years. (The monochromatic casting of Fantastic Beasts is a whole other issue that demonstrates the limited imagination of the executives involved in this decision.) Pottermore was one thing, the Universal theme parks were another, and being so kind to answer questions via Twitter is nothing other than totally lovely of you. But I can’t be the only one asking you to let the series be a wonderful series of seven books and corresponding eight films. Let Harry Potter breathe (at least until they remake the movies in thirty years).

4. “Marvin Gaye ft. Meghan Trainor” by Charlie Puth

Perhaps including this harmless, extremely catchy song on my list of the worst pop culture moments of 2015 is a little harsh. After all, hearing one bar of it gets the song stuck in my head for several hours.

Yet when you call a song “Marvin Gaye,” there is an expectation that the song will be, if not sexy and sophisticated, then certainly not an over-polished piece of shiny piano pop. Including Meghan Trainor (who, admittedly, sounds good on this song) further sanitizes a self-consciously faux-naughty song that appropriates the idea of Marvin Gaye, whose music is actually sexy, in order to sell a work that is merely performing rather than embodying the idea of sexual attraction. It honestly sounds like a song you would put in the background while you’re shopping at Limited Too (with the reference to Kama Sutra edited out, natch) and sounds a bit like the Kidz Bop version of itself.

Additionally—and this is the main reason for my dislike—this song sounds like the white version of “Cadillac Car” from the musical Dreamgirls. You know, when the white radio stations steal Jimmy Early and the Dreamettes’ jingle about—you guessed it—Cadillac cars, and re-record it with white singers to appeal to their white audience. That’s how lacking of ingenuity and genuine emotion “Marvin Gaye” is—and, given the name of the song and the reference to “get[ting] it on” it should at least have more soul than it does.

3.     Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron

Oh boy. Oh boy oh boy oh boy. Where to begin with this disappointing follow-up to not only the first Avengers movie, which was a dynamic action-packed film with some great moments of levity and one-liners, but to the phenomenal Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is arguably the best film in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe? Do I begin with the plot of the film, which features Tony and Bruce acting out of character (especially Bruce) and generally carrying the Idiot Ball in order to create super-evil-technology-robot-internet villain Ultron? Do I begin with the film’s tangents of Clint’s secret family and Thor’s confusing, woefully under-thought Vision Quest? How about I first draw attention to the most egregious misstep of Avengers: Age of Ultron: the poorly-conceived quasi-romance between Natasha and Bruce that not only takes up too much screentime, but serves to demolish what little characterization Natasha has received from the various Marvel Cinematic Universe films in which she has played a secondary role this whole time? Yes, I think I’ll do that.

Not only did it come out of nowhere, but Natasha’s secret undying love for Bruce Banner makes little actual sense within the universe established by the first Avengers movie. How does Natasha go from fearing the Hulk more than anything, because the Hulk cannot be manipulated, to not only being used to give him his calm-down “lullaby” in an attempt at a Beauty-and-the-Beast allegory, to pledging her love for him, trying to convince him to run away with her, and call herself a monster not because as a child she was forced to kill her classmates as part of her Black Widow training, but rather because of the operation that sterilized her, meaning that she cannot give him children? The answer, folks, is bad writing and sloppy character work on the part of Joss Whedon, who is supposed to be the feminist-friendly sci-fi man. Yo, Joss, you’re not as feminist as you think you are if you reduce your one main female character to a love interest, destroying her integrity in the process. Also: Natasha can, canonically, pick up Thor’s hammer; Joss also denies us the satisfaction of seeing Natasha show up Tony and Bruce.

There is plenty more to complain about. The subplot revealing Clint’s secret family squirrelled away on a farm in the middle of nowhere is a lazy attempt at developing a character that, frankly, never gets all that much to do, considering he was possessed by Loki for most of the first Avengers movie. Or Thor’s Vision Quest subplot, which takes him out of a good chunk of the movie with no reward (unless seeing Chris Hemsworth wet and shirtless counts). But since I only saw Age of Ultron once, I could not tell you its significance or why it was included, except perhaps as a connection to a future Marvel Cinematic Universe film. Or the fact that Bruce Banner is supposed to be the cautious one in the Avengers, and yet Tony has no problem convincing him that creating Ultron was ever a not-terrible idea, no matter how compelling the science.

TL;DR: Avengers: Age of Ultron should probably be watched, if at all, while doing something else. Like playing a game on your phone. It gets us generally from The Winter Soldier to Captain America: Civil War, which comes out next year, but other than that, it’s just not that good a movie.

2.     The Rise and Insistent Continuation of the “Coddled Millennial” Thinkpiece

This is the part where I state my bias. I am, in fact, a millennial, a senior in college, and extremely left-leaning, so my objection to this sort of essay, written by Baby Boomers with a chip on their shoulders, is to be expected. Yet what the writers at the Atlantic and Wall Street Journal and all those other respectable publications choose not to consider as they cry out against our overly-PC natures and our supposed hatred of free speech is what is actually happening at colleges nowadays, and how rather than pushing issues of race, gender, and sexuality to the margins, people with the privilege to do so have actually begun to stand in solidarity with the oppressed students on college campuses.

While of course being able to attend college in and of itself is an incredible privilege, it doesn’t mean that minority students at Yale, for example, are automatically transported to a land of magic and butterflies where they should never, ever complain about being treated poorly by their peers on account of their identities.

News flash: racism is real, cultural appropriation is real, anti-Semitism is real, sexism is real, homophobia and transphobia are real (despite Microsoft Word trying to tell me the latter is not a real word) and they exist on college campuses throughout the United States. Condemning hate speech is not actually banning or stifling free speech. Students banding together to ask or to demand to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their identities should not be something to be frowned upon. Students not wanting their colleges to invite (and pay) speakers who aim to disparage an entire oppressed demographic is perfectly reasonable, and the same goes with comedians who love to complain that my generation is too PC. Jerry Seinfeld, sorry to break it to you, but making fun of gay people isn’t considered funny anymore.

It’s not because college students no longer have a sense of humor, but rather, college students have finally begun to be less myopic and to think about people different from themselves. Besides, there are comics popular with college students who manage to punch up, which is one of the hallmarks of good comedy. Look up Hari Kondabolu and you’ll see what I mean.

At this point, jumping on the bandwagon and wringing your hands about the state of the nation’s youth in this regard is intellectually lazy and demonstrates a lack of ability to empathize with others that, fortunately, is slowly being learned and practiced by my fellow college students. I look forward to seeing the end of this perpetual train of thinkpieces, and an end to the idea that because students finally have enough capital and support to fight for equality and safety on their college campuses they are whiny and coddled.

Also, a note to TIME Magazine: the selfie will not be the end of us all, despite what you like to put on your covers. Thank you.

1. Donald Trump


Please don’t vote for Donald Trump.

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