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If Creators Turn a Story Into Just More ‘Worldview’ Work, I’m (Likely) Out

Nothing personal, but if movies embrace Sexualityism agendas over story, I’m free to embrace rest over yet another culture-engagement job.
| Apr 2, 2019 | 1 comment |

Last night I saw a fandom-news headline that happily proclaimed:

Avengers: Endgame Director Confirms A Queer Superhero Is Coming To The MCU1

I’ve seen a few of these headlines already. So, despite the fact that yesterday was April 1, I believed it. Then I resisted the urge to repeat the cliched and not entirely accurate slogan “go woke, go broke.” (I prefer, “Go woke, story broke.”)

Instead I shared the article and, admittedly, I griped:

“Endgame” indeed.

If they go through with this folderol, I will just as quickly exit the franchise fandom, at this clean breaking point, and then become the DC>Marvel partisan many already claimed I was.

Not the most mature response. And of course I got challenged, by friends, and probably rightfully so. There would have been a better way to phrase that, and certainly one that didn’t leave myself open to several charges. Such as:

  1. Does “this folderol” mean, “Oh, the slightest hint of a ‘queer person,’ and you get grossed out and run away”?
  2. Would you really “exit the franchise”? All of it, really? Never see another Marvel film again?
  3. Joke’s on you, crusader; the DC franchise will also just follow this trend in another few years.

Comments section ensued. Thank God I have great friends. Even when they verge on “frenemy” territory.

But to make a long comments section short:

1. By “this folderol,” I don’t mean, “Ew, a wild queer character appears. Brave sir Christian boldly ran away, away, away! (It’s not very effective.)”

Rather, I’m referring to the habit of movie-makers announcing this incredible epic future casting/character event. To be fair, perhaps they don’t lead with this. But fandom/media writers lead them in this direction. Either way, they use the same breathless tones, as if the filmmakers’ special effects artists, while applying mocap headsets and suits to their performers, stumbled across the discovery of cold fusion.

And no, I don’t panic and flee at the sight of a “queer person,” or a “queer character.” That would be a plain false accusation.

Some examples from superhero or fantasy franchises I enjoy:

  • The Flash has mentioned the “gay” lifestyles of some characters. I’m still watching. (Though I’ve slowed my pace. Ha, ha.)
  • So has Arrow. Though it’s offered some more explicit content (kisses and such). I’m no longer watching. But not for that reason.
  • Switching genres, I’ve actually really grown to appreciate some of Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling’s interpretation of Albus Dumbledore’s history of same-sex attraction. After all, this concept serves a dual purpose.2 If you’re same-sex attracted/”gay”/”queer”/or etc., you can see him as a representation of your lifestyle choices. If you’re not, or find objections with this behavior, Dumbledore just as easily becomes a magnificent portrayal of a hero who has this struggle, and yet puts it aside and even lives celibate.3 After all, Dumbledore is a flawed yet true hero. He fights for the greater good of destroying a twisted, manipulative enemy—in fact, the very man, the dark wizard, Grindelwald, who held his attraction for so long. This personal history, plus the fact that film-Gridelwald is constantly shown using his masculine charisma to influence others—men and women alike—makes this an even more fascinating story.

2. By “exit the franchise,” I mean I wouldn’t watch every film “religiously.” (Or I’d temper the overstatement.)

Honestly, I still aim to see some Marvel movies. If they make more stories about Black Panther, or Black Widow, and of course my new–old favorite, Spider-Man, or folks like Dr. Strange, then sure, I’d like to follow their adventures.

But I won’t stay “in the franchise,” as I have been. I won’t feel something like a “need” to see every single movie.

As an aside, I’m not a lifelong Marvel comics fanboy. I got on board with the original Spider-Man trilogy (2002–2007), and then the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man (2008). It’s the movies, not the comics, that won my allegiance.

Literally, it’s culminated in a moment when I paused writing this, several times, in another effort to get the Cinemark app to actually load for a change so I could score Avengers: Endgame tickets for Thursday night, April 25. I may not have grown up reading Namor the Sub-Mariner comics. And I’ve never camped out on a sidewalk weeks in advance for Hall H. But I do at least share this level of dedication.

(Ticket quest update: I finally won. But for the small-screen only. My town’s huge “XD” screen had sold out within half an hour of the ticket announcement this morning.)

3. Sure, plenty of other movies (including the DC franchise) will follow this trend.

Yes, and in some previous cases, I’ve either pulled back from those shows, or exited them entirely (as with the show Supergirl).

I’m already less devoted to the upcoming DC films than some people think. For example, I’m curious about this upcoming live-action Joker, but I’m barely interested in all the villain stories they’re putting together at DC. Like with the X-verse, I’ll take some DC movies, and leave others.

If I feel stories are getting hijacked by religious causes, I’ll take each instance in isolation, and choose what to do with my time.

But this leads to another surprising twist in my quickfire reaction to this news.

I’m tired of restful stories getting twisted into Just More Work.

Thinking about these comments section challenges, I realized something new.

I realized that my feelings about “a queer hero in the MCU” rhymed almost exactly with my feelings about (as a whole) evangelical movies.

And in retrospect, I just felt worn out.

I felt as if yet another evangelical movie-maker had come along and said, “Now see here, we’ve made this very important movie and it’s in theaters now, so you’d better come out and support it, okay?”

I don’t mind supporting good causes. But let’s be clear: that’s work. It’s necessary and practical but it’s work.

To say nothing of the fact that it takes even more work, in the facial-muscle-wince department, to get through some evangelical movies.

And to be frank, I’m tired.

I’m tired of seeing some forms of needed recreation burst into ash.

When either evangelical or general-audience marketers push movies at me like this, I don’t feel that they’re asking me to enjoy a new and restful form of recreation. Instead, I feel like I’m being asked to Work. Again. It’s like you’ve finally escaped to vacation after six months of sixty-hour weeks at the construction site, and then someone runs up to you at the beach with a hardhat and vest and says, “You! Over there—we’re digging a new pier, and you must pour the concrete.”

I already spend a lot of time reading and writing about fantasy stories for career purposes. Because of this, I’m already slightly at risk of having the joy sucked out of these favorite stories, because it has become Work.

“Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.”

— J. R. R. Tolkien

So I tend to enjoy television and games and movies for the escape of it. By this I don’t mean “escapist” escape. I mean healthful, recreative, restful escape. The kind of escape J. R. R. Tolkien described as managing to break out of the temporal “reality”-prison for a change.

In this case, with Marvel and DC films, toxic fandoms are already threatening people’s enjoyment. I can ignore that fairly easily.

But what if a story’s creators effectively say, “Let’s make it more enjoyable only for other people. But not for you. Because with this marketing emphasis, we’re going to imply that you’re backward. You’re a bad person. You’re presumed immoral if you do not get on board this thing”?

When they do this, I can’t rest even when I really need to rest. Instead, I’m being pressed into dutiful service. Again.

Mind you, I really ought to be willing to engage at that level. All the time. Yes, I really should be always-on, 24/7, as a faithful Christian witness and worldview-explorer and popular-culture-engager-in-constant-training.

The spirit is willing. But the flesh is weak.

I can’t be always-on.

I can’t see every movie, climb every secular mountain, ford every Sexualityist stream.

In an overbudgeted life already, if I find that creators of a formerly restful story have chosen to twist it into Just More Work, then I may be forced to make a decision. I may be forced to decide: I’m out. I’m going to leave this formerly quiet beach and find a new one, where I can spend whatever recreational time I’m granted by grace. Then I’ll return to the workload, including all the cultural engagement I’m called to do.

It’s not about refusal to work at all, to confront false beliefs, or to understand my own mission field.

Instead, it’s about obedience to God’s command: to work six days, rest a seventh, and desperately find any other appropriate in-between Sabbath rest-times that we can. That is, until Jesus Christ returns to bring to Earth his ultimate and forever Sabbath-rest.

  1. See Jamie Gerber, “Avengers: Endgame Director Confirms a Queer Superhero Is Coming To The MCU,” April 1, 2019, ScreenRant.com.
  2. My original typo here read, “duel purpose,” which is a happy coincidence when discussing Dumbledore and Grindelwald.
  3. I’m being very optimistic here, and presuming no further retcons from Rowling at this point. Yes, this may be a pretty comical presumption.
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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[…] If Creators Turn a Story Into Just More ‘Worldview’ Work, I’m (Likely) Out | E. Stephen Burnett, Apr 2 […]