Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Politics and social media are strange bedfellows

Last weekend, the Conservative Party of Canada concluded an almost two-year-long process and finally selected its new leader to succeed former Prime Minister and party leader Stephen Harper: Andrew Scheer. Scheer, who happens to represent my riding in the House of Commons, is a very young politician at only 38 years old, though he is quite accomplished even for his age, having served as Speaker of the House - essentially the moderator who makes sure that other Members of Parliament are well-behaved during Question Period - for several years.

Despite his experience within the party, however, Scheer is still relatively unknown beyond the Conservative base, and he was not expected to win, even as the votes were revealed during the Conservative convention; many, like me, expected him to end in second and to vie for the leadership in a few years once he had established a larger profile on the Canadian political scene. Scheer did not win until the thirteenth and final ballot over his primary competitor, Quebec libertarian Maxime Bernier, and he did so with a narrow margin - 50.95% - which was only slightly higher than that of the proportion of Quebecers who voted to stay in Canada in the 1995 referendum (50.58%) and slightly lower than the number of voters in the UK who voted to leave Britain last year (51.89%).

So, it was not necessarily a decisive win, but a win is a win, and Scheer is now the party's leader. For what it's worth, I think that choosing Scheer as leader is an intriguing decision that signals the party's continued devotion to its western base and social conservatism, and I think that he has one of the higher possibilities for a positive outcome for the future of Canada within the field of candidates, at least from my perspective outside the party.

I will be interested to see how Scheer leads the Tories through the 2019 election, which seems like it will be very difficult for them to win against Justin Trudeau (who nevertheless seems to be doing his best to be Canada's first Prime Minister to serve only one term with a majority government and no subsequent minority governments since Conservative R.B. Bennett in the Great Depression), and the subsequent 2023 election, which might be the target on which the Conservatives seem to have their sights set by electing him in the first place.

That's the joke


But regardless of Scheer's policies (which were scant during his leadership campaign) or his potential electability (which is arguably higher than any of the other Conservative leadership canadidates), there is one significant criticism that has emerged throughout Scheer's rise to power: many Canadians do not know who he is. In response to this critique, as well as to the general "whiteness" of culture of the Conservative Party (a topic that could take a long time on its own to unpack, but that I will merely mention in passing here), The Beaverton - Canada's version of The Onion - posted this article in response to Scheer's victory.

I laughed out loud, particularly at the part about how Conservatives were too cheap to pay the money to remove the watermark, and so I posted a link to the article on my Twitter, which in turn automatically posts to my Facebook page. I did not think much of posting it, other than a number of people would chuckle and move on - but then it started.

There were initially a trickle of likes and comments from some of the usual suspects, including a couple of comments to which I responded. But then, the post started to take on a life of its own. Within a couple of days, there were over fifty comments on the thread, and they varied from people debating the racial implications of the article to the merits of our current Prime Minister to whether the joke was funny at all to correcting the assumption of the article by writing out Scheer's accomplishments as a parliamentarian.

By the third day, I had friends messaging me about what was going on, which is generally the point at which it seems that most people disengage and leave it behind, which I did. It seemed to be finished anyway, but I was left with a distaste about how the whole situation has unfolded, which is partly why I felt the need to work through and express my thoughts in its wake.

It was all kind of tiresome by the end, and as has happened in previous instances in which this kind of firefight has erupted on my wall, I went from being amused by the goings-on to slightly apprehensive about what was happening to just plain exhausted by the whole distraction. But, along the way, I had a few thoughts about political discourse, social media, and cultivating the combination of those two that I felt that I needed to share in the wake of this unexpected storm on my wall, so here are those thoughts in much longer form than what Facebook could provide.

The problem of political discourse


I do not often wade into politically partisan waters online, and circumstances like this provide good reason to avoid such diversions. It seems as though there is only a downside to posting political things, with little to no benefit in doing so. In this case, the intended positive effect was to make some people laugh - and I do know that a number of people had a good laugh according to their "reaction" on Facebook - but I ended up in a situation in which I was genuinely concerned about how a few people were reacting. What started as a joke - and had no reason not to stay that way - ended as something more serious, which is a big part of the problem.

I got myself into a couple of similar situations last year during the rise of Trump, when I posted a few articles that I found interesting. Some were pro-Clinton - though a couple were critical of her - but most of the dozen or so links I posted (over the course of eight months, mind you) were critical of Trump. There were, of course, hundreds more links that I could have posted, but I chose to only link to articles that I found particularly interesting and that I thought added to the general discourse.

A number of people, however, disagreed with me, whether that was with the conclusions that those articles were reaching or the fact that they were posted at all, and a number of those posts created similar firestorms on my wall. There were some instigators who I removed from my social media because they were being belligerent and disrespectful, but I also had a lot of really great interactions with people as a result of those posts, so despite the momentary problems that arose, I still see the overall process as valuable.

I learned my lesson (or so I thought), and so I stopped posting political things, particularly about the United States. Moreover, I eventually stopped taking in a lot of those sources in the first place because I realized that my consumption of that discourse was actually negatively affecting my daily mental health. I feel a lot better now not taking in most of that negativity, and I have found a much healthier balance in terms of staying aware of what is happening (particularly south of the border) without letting it drag me down.

That is, of course, not to assert that I want to be ignorant or that I do not want to be politically engaged; it's just that I need to curate my involvement much more carefully. I have attempted to do that, particularly in the wake of Trump, but also in regard to politics north of the border, which feel almost as contentious at times as those of our southern neighbours. I generally enjoy Canadian politics, and I do enjoy dipping my toes into the waters every so often with a post or two when something interesting comes across my metaphorical desk.

But part of the problem in this case, as I see it, was that I did not think that I was being political in sharing this post. Sure, it is pointed against a particular party, but I did not see this as a "political post"; it was a piece of satire that I wanted to share. I forgot, however, that most people do not seem to have a sense of humour about politics anymore, so nothing can ever be political and funny. (The italics are intended to help indicate a slightly sarcastic, embittered tone about this whole issue, in case you missed that.)

As an aside (or maybe not), I blame Stephen Colbert for this loss of humour, as The Colbert Report and his performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner established the new norm for political comedy. The Daily Show had started down this road, but it was Colbert's brilliant assumption of the character of a right-wing blowhard that I believe has ultimately resulted in this lack of ability for most people to appreciate political humour. He was so good at his character that people on both sides believed him, and now the lines between parody and reality have been so blurred that many people do not know how to tell the difference between the two, or they do not care to even if they do. So thanks, Stephen Colbert, for ruining political comedy; but I digress...

Perhaps part of the issue is that I do not often post openly political things, so in the rare case that I do, people seem to take me more seriously. I suppose it's not a stretch to conclude, if the only "political" post a person sees on my wall is critical of the Conservatives - regardless of how satirical or tongue-in-cheek such a post may be - that I am against the Conservative Party and that I need to be corrected. Whether there is any validity to that assumption is not the question here - it's the fact that it could conceivably be made at all that is part of the problem; the other part is that people then seem to feel the need to correct me, which is a different conversation entirely.

Still, even if that assumption is reasonable, there are still more issues that need to be addressed in regard not only to my situation(s) but about the nature of political discourse in general. Most of those may not have to do with political discourse in its entirety, but about those particular interactions that occur online through social media and Facebook in particular, which is why it's time to switch gears and talk about

My philosophy and practice of social media


Hundreds - or maybe thousands? - of thinkpieces have been written about the emerging nature of dialogue on social media, so I do not want to go too "macro" on the topic right now, but I do think that situations like this do help me to understand the very strange nature of social media and Facebook in particular, so I have a few observations from my own experience. I am certain that I have discussed some of these aspects of my personal philosophy and practice of social media before, but I feel that it merits explicit explanation here, given the context and circumstances of this post.

My wall - as is those of anyone who has a social media feed - is essentially a limited "intranet" that provides a stream of content moderated by me to a group of people whose access to that content is also moderated by me. The common point in all of this is me, so it is essentially a part of the internet that is both directly and indirectly about me. All of the people on my wall know me (to very varying extents, of course), but many of them do not know one another.

I have always tried to be more careful about not only what I post, but also what I allow on my wall in terms of style and content. I curate and moderate and often remove messages that should be sent personally from my wall. I generally avoid coarse or vulgar material and language, and I usually encourage participants on my wall to do the same for the sake of others, though I tend not to worry as much if a random profanity is included in a comment buried in a thread.

Furthermore, I am careful about my presence on other's walls and feeds, and I often do not go as far on Facebook as I would in real life in regard to use of joking and language, because I recognize that everyone's online community is different and I try to respect their space as well. I also realize that, for some people, their only understanding of who I am is through what I post on other people's feeds, so I need to be careful about cultivating those impressions (particularly because there can be professional implications for me as a teacher, especially in a community as small as Regina).

I generally try to post things that are informative and interesting and not too contentious, and there is a lot that I do not post as a result. I am not overly concerned about offending people, but I am also aware that not everyone is as self-aware of themselves online, so I do not try to start a fight if I don't have to. At the same time, there are some things that I feel the need to share, and if that means that some people choose to voice their disagreement with my point of view, I will do my best to engage them respectfully and appropriately, including through personal messages if necessary. In short, I am a responsible online citizen, and I believe that I generally model positive behaviour in the way that I conduct myself online.

The problem for me is that even though I know that not everyone has as robust a sense of self-awareness and self-control in their online interactions I still functionally make the mistake of assuming that people on my feed are generally acting in my best interests according to my principles in the way that I do with their feeds, and that is just not true. Facebook is a new frontier, a wild west in which everyone is out for themselves and few seem to be thinking of much beyond themselves. (The less said about the haven that Twitter provides for trolls, the better.) So I need to remember to adjust my expectations and assume the worst; for example, when I post an innocuous satirical post about a political leader, that a storm will rage for several days.

How to solve the problem of social media


Social media, particularly in regard to politics, is a problem that many people have tried to solve, so far be it for me to suggest that I can solve the problems that arise from the intersection of these two volatile fields. I do believe, however, that there are a few options that I, along with any other responsible online citizens, can consider as we seek to civilize the wilderness that is the internet, so I want to present those here.

I want to be aware and careful about my online content without feeling restricted or censored, and I want to be able to post things without fear that the comments are going to go crazy. I know that I could just stop posting anything that could be an issue, but I'm not a fan of censoring myself. And even if I was, I do not think that would solve the problem, since all that would do is make it worse by legitimizing the trolls. Perhaps I just need to let go of the need that I feel to moderate the conversation on my wall, and just allow those conversations to happen; then again, I probably need to do that anyway, regardless of which option(s) I take in attempting to address this issue.

I could just simply remove people who disagree with me from my social networks, but I do not want to do that; I appreciate the dialogue and the discourse too much when it is done well, so I am reticent to create an echo chamber with no conflict (if that's even possible). I want to have people who do not see the world in the same way that I do as part of my social media and my life, and I want to give them the space to see the things that I am posting that might challenge their worldview in the same way that their posts often challenge me.

I will continue to carefully moderate conversations that occur on my wall. At this point, if someone is an issue - particularly if it happens repeatedly - I initiate a private personal conversation to address the issue at hand, whether that is the content or style of the posts. These interactions have, at times, led to some very positive dialogue, but they have also led to unfriending, though I do my best not to assume and project an outcome onto the conversation before it begins.

I will continue to model positive online citizenship and to establish a higher baseline for interactions on my corner of the internet. I will not abide misconduct and disrespect, and I want to make sure that anyone who enters my online space understands my intent, my principles, and my participation on social media and in politics, which is why I have written this post. So, in an attempt to resolve this situation and perhaps dissolve similar future situations before they start, here are the guidelines that I am "officially" establishing for engaging in my online space; consider them like the classroom conduct guidelines that I establish with students to ensure that everyone is clear on expectations, responsibilities and privileges.

Guidelines for my online space


1. Consider the intention of the post. Ask yourself "is this a joke?" If it is, laugh (or don't) and move on, unless you really think there is something being written in poor taste that needs to be addressed. I generally try to be careful about the kinds of humour that I post, and I carefully consider the kinds of posts that I see as I scroll through Facebook, as well as the people who are posting such things. I generally do not engage with jokes I appreciate other than with a mild reaction or perhaps an "LOL", and I usually ignore jokes I don't appreciate; it's just easier that way.

2. Assume that I am cultivating a dialogue that is well-informed, aware, and educated. I know that this is not always the case, but you can generally assume that I have carefully considered what I am posting and why I am posting it. I generally do not post fake news or incendiary posts or items from questionable sources, mostly because I do my best to investigate and curate my links ahead of time. There are times in which I am not aware of something and in which I might post a link with faulty information in which I need to be corrected, at which point it would be appropriate to comment.

Otherwise, you can assume that I know what I am doing and that I am aware of the ramifications of the links I post and that you do not need to educate me on such things. I do recognize, however, that the same cannot be said of everyone on my feed, and that many of the comments are directed toward their perceived or expressed ignorance rather than toward me; while that can be (and often is) valid, please assume that the level of discourse is intended to be higher in content and conduct on my wall than on most of the rest of the internet swamp.

3. Do not push your agenda in my space. My wall is not your place to push your agenda; quite frankly, I do not see my wall as a place to push my own agenda, which is why I tend to avoid overtly politically and religiously loaded links in the first place. I want to engender critical thought, conversation, and consideration, rather than polemics and rhetoric. I recognize that some people will interpret what I post as being driven by a particular point of view, and I understand that they may feel the need to express an alternate point of view. I think that's great, as long as it does not become obvious that your intent is to push your agenda.

4. Use your WITS. The acronym "WITS" - which represents the process of "Walk away; Ignore; Talk it out; Seek help" - is used to teach elementary students how to deal with bullies, but I think it's just as applicable here - particularly the first two steps. Just ignore it if you can and do not engage, particularly if it seems as if someone is trolling (which, unfortunately, does happen on my page from time to time, despite my best efforts otherwise).

5. Engage respectfully and appropriately. If, after all of those other points, you still feel the need to express yourself in my space, feel free to do so, as long as you are respectful and appropriate. If you choose not to do so by my standards (not your own - it is, after all, my space), then you may be asked to stop or ultimately, to leave that space, in much the same way that I would not tolerate similar conduct in my classroom or in my house.


Conclusion


The problem that I have right now - and the reason that I have had to write this post in the first place - is that I do not feel as though my own space - that is, my Facebook feed - is safe for me to post my own thoughts, and that's not okay. My lack of a sense of safety within my own social media has led me to feel the need to have to write this all out very explicitly, whether it was warranted or not.

To that end, I am slightly annoyed and resentful that I felt the need to write this post at all - a tone that I realize came through a little bit more powerfully and perhaps snarkily at some points, particularly in my Guidelines. I do have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about this entire situation, and I do not think I'm wrong in feeling that way; then again, I might just be extra sensitive and making a problem where there is not one.

So maybe I did not have to write this post in the end; maybe I am overreacting to what has happened and I needed to have one or two conversations with people who were involved in this particular altercation, rather than writing a manifesto about the situation and the nature of being political (or religious, for that matter) online. Or maybe this is just the way things are now, and I need to learn to accept it as it is, firestorms and trolls and runaway comment threads and all.

But, much like the state under President Trump, I refuse to accept that the status quo is normal; as Dr. Horrible said, "the status quo is not...quo." It is not okay that social media - not to mention the White House - is being overrun by trolls who show little respect for authority or institutions, or that common decency is no longer that common.

To be fair to the people on my feed, I don't think that many (if any) have been truly disrespectful or troll-like in their interactions, and I am extrapolating a larger problem from a small arguably not accurate sample size. But it has been present enough not only on my feed but on others' feeds that I do not feel that it is entirely out of context to express my concern in regard to my own corner of the internet.

I think that, in the end, it has been a positive thing that I have worked through this and written it out. I am choosing to be as clear as I can be at this point, and now I have an expression of philosophy and practice about politics (and religion) and social media to which I can point others as well as to which I can return in the future in case I find myself the next time I post something that sets off a similar set of reactions within my social media.

Furthermore, I can see a future in which I might become much more directed in the kinds of things that I post in contentious realms like politics and religion and in which my personal viewpoints will become more partisan and pointed, and I think that experiences like this one are invaluable for learning how to conduct myself in such circumstances. I imagine that, as both the Canadian and American elections approach in two years, the rhetoric will accelerate exponentially and that I might find myself needing to rely on the processing that I have done here to ensure that I am acting in accordance with my own wishes.

There are, of course, a number of issues that I have mentioned obliquely or even avoided entirely, such as freedom of speech, the future of the internet, the nature of political comedy, the conflation of different types of relationships as a result of social media, common decency, and the role of the government in ensuring that there is fair and equitable access to information. Some of those are topics that will require a lot more unpacking, and some are even topics that will be subject to political scrutiny and government intervention, so I'm going to leave them for another time. After all, I suppose when it comes down to it, that I could always just contact my MP about those issues...what's his name again?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

You likely already know from the trailers and promotional campaign if you are going to enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but any lingering questions you may have had about your thoughts on the movie will be answered within the first five minutes. If you hate Baby Groot, CGI, classic rock music cues, action sequences packed with jokes, or fun, then Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is probably not the movie for you. If, like me, you want to have a good time and all of those things appeal to you, then get yourself to a theatre and check it out - or at least read on to see why I enjoyed it so much.

[FYI: this post has two parts: first, the short "public" review that gives a relatively spoiler-free and brief review of my thoughts on the movie in a palatable 650-word piece; second, a collection of possibly spoiler-ish thoughts about the movie that expand on my original thoughts that starts after the first minor heading break. Consider this your spoiler warning.]

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 picks up where the first movie left off, with the ragtag bunch of heroes acting as mercenaries for hire and having their legend spread across the cosmos. It is set only three months after the original - mostly, I assume, to facilitate the featuring of Baby Groot - so the team is still relatively nascent in its operations. The action starts right away, and it does not take long before we are introduced to a number of new characters with various motivations, back stories, and skin colours, and we are off to the galactic races on another crazy adventure (or three). There are a lot of moving pieces in this movie, and so it is a little tricky to follow at first, but there are enough cues and clues to help sharp viewers make their way through it.

The movie is admittedly a bit overstuffed, especially with several extended joke sequences, and there was a point about halfway through the movie at which I did wonder whether director James Gunn would be able to tighten it up and bring it all back together. And for the most part, he did tie it all up, and it ended up that the various threads worked really well not only as a surprisingly complex narrative of conflicts, but also as a way to explore and develop the themes of family, friendship, fatherhood, and loyalty on a surprisingly deep level at points.

The climactic action sequence almost felt a bit bloated, but I found myself feeling unexpectedly charitable toward it in spite of myself - much as I felt toward the entire movie. I know that I have a lot of good will remaining from the first movie (which I rewatched with glee the night before I went to see this one), but I think that I am not being unduly generous. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it more than I enjoy most blockbusters and even most Marvel movies.

A lot of that fun comes from the characters, and that is one area in which I think Gunn has really succeeded not only in comic presence but also in emotional resonance. Drax is (wisely) more prominently featured on both accounts, and Rocket and Yondu have great storylines as well, with the latter serving (arguably) as the best character in the movie. The only character with whom I was slightly disappointed on first viewing, in fact, was Chris Pratt as Peter, but that may have been due more to the constraints of this particular story. I will say, however, that I did notice the "green screen" effect more than I did in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and that may have damaged his performance as well.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is pretty much exactly what I had hoped and expected it would be - a supersized version of the original - and that's a good thing. It's a lot of fast, frenzied fun action and comedy on a cosmic scale, but it is not without its emotional poignance and thematic development. Guardians of the Galaxy might just be the best franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now, and I remain very excited to see how these characters will be integrated with the rest of the MCU next year in Avengers: Infinity War, as well as where Gunn gets to take them in the inevitable Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.


Extended Thoughts


So that's the "public" review I wrote immediately after watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 , but I have not stopped thinking about the movie in the days since, and I have realized that I have way more to say about it than what I expressed in that short review, particularly using the movie as a launching point for thoughts on the greater MCU (as I have done with Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron in the past two Mays, respectively).

My main takeaway as I have reflected on Guardians 2 is that I think that I might have enjoyed it more than the first Guardians, which I still enjoy greatly and which is likely still the "better" movie (as much as that means when analyzing this genre). My enjoyment, in fact, has increased with further reflection in the days since I saw it. So why did I like this movie so much? I think I could boil it down to three factors: execution; tone; and vision.

To put it simply, Vol. 2 gets the job done, and it does it well. Vol. 2 did not have an equal level of degree of difficulty as its predecessor, which faced faced the challenge of establishing the cosmic wing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe viable, since all of the future plans for the franchise depended on its success, in addition to bringing these odd characters together and making them likable and forming a viable set of emotions, conflicts, relationships, themes, and plots within that set of weirdos.

Vol. 2, however, faced a number of different challenges, as most sequels do. They had most of the key characters already, but they had to do something new and fresh with them, along with introducing a few new characters and giving them space to have some emotional resonance. They had to advance the plot lines and themes that they had already begun to explore. They had to build on the action and humour and soundtrack of the first Guardians movie and do things that were even more kind of crazy and visually dynamic and compelling.

And then, on top of all of that, they had to build on this already crazy cosmic universe and distill a complex web of ideas and plots from various comics into a viable set of conflicts and antagonists, while still functioning within the limitations of the MCU and setting up for next year's Avengers: Infinity War - all of which they did with great success, as I discussed in my initial review.

On the Tone of Guardians 


Part of what I really enjoy about the Guardians franchise is that it has a unique tone, even within the MCU. It captures this combination of sardonic and sentimental that it seems appeals to all but the most hardened cynics and critics. While I do understand and acknowledge that there are certain parts of the movie that are ripe for mockery - Peter's "daddy issues" and Ego's galactic plan came up as particularly humourous in a few reviews I read - I could not help but connect with the characters and find resonance with the events in their lives even when I had a good idea of what was going to happen and even how it would unfold.

Perhaps the best way to analyze what I love about the tone of Guardians is to compare it to a somewhat similar recent release: Suicide Squad. On the surface, there is not much that separates a movie like Guardians (and to some extent the MCU) from a movie like Suicide Squad (and to some extent the DCEU); both movies (and franchises) feature oddball superheroes, lots of action, quippy sarcastic one-liners, and classic rock cues, but I would argue that they are separated by tone.

If I had to summarize the difference simply, it's that Guardians is tongue-in-cheek, whereas with Suicide Squad, the tongue is sticking out as an act of defiance (perhaps accompanied by another rude gesture or two). I know it's not quite that simple, so I'm going to further unpack the difference between the two movies to try to explain what I mean about the difference in tone.

Guardians is building a universe in a visionary way, whereas Suicide Squad feels like more of a defiant reaction to other existing ideas. Guardians has a self-assuredness that belies its confidence in its own vision, whereas Suicide Squad has a (I would argue misplaced) self-assuredness that comes from trying to be better than its competitors. Guardians has sublety, connotation, and nuance (although there are still some groan-inducing moments of stupefying overreach); Suicide Squad has bluntness, denotation, and even some naivete in how it presents itself (though there were a couple of inspired moments along the way). Guardians feels like a mature person fondly looking back on their wilder years, whereas Suicide Squad feels like an incompletely self-aware adolescent trying to establish her identity by brazenly adopting whatever latest trend will cause the most uproar from the authorities.

Take the musical cues as an example of these differences. Whereas the musical cues in Suicide Squad felt somewhat forced and predictable (eg. "Fortunate Son" and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"), the cues in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 felt as though they demonstrated a subtlety that connected the connotations of the song to the circumstances ("My Sweet Lord" in particular). I mostly found myself rolling my eyes at Suicide Squad much like a "classic rock" station blaring its wares, where I found myself grooving along to the tracks in both Guardians like a "70s AM Gold" station that brings out songs that I have not heard in years.

I will admit, though, that Suicide Squad did have its moments; I particularly appreciated the use of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Seven Nation Army", and I can also admit that some of the musical cues in the first Guardians movie did take the "lazy" way out. Overall, though, I cannot deny that the good tonal moments - whether in music or in overall presentation - in Suicide Squad felt more like the exception, whereas the weaker moments in Guardians feel like the minority in that franchise, and there are more than enough inspired moments in Guardians - such as using Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" to introduce Knowhere, to help viewers get past those slightly forced instances.

Perhaps I am creating an artificial argument here, and there really is not that much that separates the two movies - or perhaps I should not even compare them at all, since they are two different properties. But I know that I am much more inclined to be charitable to Guardians than to Suicide Squad, and I think that's because the respective tones of the movies make the former much more endearing than the latter. And I'm willing to admit that I have completely misunderstood and mischaracterized Suicide Squad, but I'm inclined to agree with many of the critics who saw it similarly, particularly in comparison with more developed fare like Guardians.

On the vision of Guardians and the MCU


Guardians, from its inception, has been brimming with vision. It was intended to revitalize the cosmic end of the MCU and to make it work within the larger framework, and it has done so. But I love the fact that Marvel is launching itself fully into the weirdness of its universe and just how crazy the MCU is now becoming. If you had told me a decade ago - perhaps even five years ago, when The Avengers came out - that a major summer blockbuster would feature Ego the Living Planet as a major character, I would likely not have believed you, but that's where we are.

MCU tried to launch the cosmic side of its universe with Thor, but it did not really work in the first two installments of that franchise; that said, Thor: Ragnarok looks like it will be a great addition to the cosmic Marvel universe, and it seems as though its impending success (at least from how much I have enjoyed the trailer) is due to making the tone of Ragnarok closer to the tone of Guardians.

I don't know how exactly to describe the vision of the franchise except to say that it seems like Gunn and company believed that they could have fun and exhilirating and still present stories that are meaningful and resonant; the two "sides", as it were, are not in conflict with one another. A lot of writing has been done about what Gunn brings to the franchise and the MCU with his B-movie background, but that tongue-in-cheek approach is exactly what was needed for a movie like this to succeed.

However you would define it, the fact is that Guardians has vision and personality and substance, and Gunn was able to ensure (mostly) that it did not become another bland corporatized entity; his success has allowed others to succeed. It is hard to imagine that without Gunn that Taika Waititi would be directing Thor: Ragnarok, or that Ryan Coogler would be making Black Panther; then again, Gunn largely owes his entitlement to the success of Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon in the first phase of the MCU.

Of course, even Whedon eventually found himself on the other side of the creative braintrust after Age of Ultron, but I would still posit that the MCU has left more space for singular and unique filmmakers and vision than has the dreary Snyderverse of the DCEU. (As an aside, I know that Wonder Woman and Justice League are trying to reverse that trend, but considering the product so far, I will believe it when I see it.)

In the meantime, Marvel still provides some avenues for inventive and visionary filmmaking despite the mega-corporatization of its properties, and Guardians is perhaps the best proof of that fact. And with Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel, and the as-yet-untitled next Avengers movie set to expand on that vision in the next couple of years, I think the template is well-enough established that I trust that the powers that be at Disney and Marvel know to allow that vision to continue.

Conclusion


Part of what I love about this particular movie - and the Guardians franchise and the MCU in general - is that it has even further legitimized the inherent nerdiness of the entire superhero movie enterprise, which is already quite nerdy. The DCEU is kind of like the jock who gets into comic book movies because they're popular; maybe he secretly wants to be a comic nerd, too, but he can't afford that kind of hit to his credibility. The MCU, in contrast, is the nerd who really digs into the extended world offered by the comics and who unashamedly knows all of the convoluted back stories and watches the shows she loves and is proud of it. (The X-Men Universe, in contrast, is perhaps the unique weirdo who experiments with different niche identities, but I don't want to belabor the metaphor.)

Even though I'm not a huge fan of the often overly confusing nature of reading the comics, I loved knowing the characters and collecting the Marvel cards when I was a kid, and I find that each installment of the MCU allows me to access that joy I experienced when I was ten years old. I also find that the way that the MCU is streamlining many of the characters is making them even more accessible than they were at that point, and I am glad to see that a whole new generation of nerds are growing up with an outlet that is even more socially acceptable.

In the end, the Guardians franchise is easily the most fun series of movies in the MCU and possibly in cinema right now. It is exhilarating, exciting, and it seems completely unaware of that heaviness that has plagued most franchises in the past decade since the success of Batman Begins and Casino Royale made everyone think that every big movie needed to be dark and dreary and monumental. Guardians of the Galaxy is happy to be what it is, and I can only hope that the rest of the MCU and blockbusters have learned from its example.

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