By Eden Haddad
Cover picture taken from nofilmschool
I am by no means the first to say that we are living in an era of nostalgia. From reboots to sequels and prequels, to spin-offs in every form of media possible, the last couple of years has proven that what is dead, will never be allowed to rest. One of the fastest growing realms of entertainment, garnering billions of dollars and millions of views across the world, are films belonging to the superhero genre. The two main popular ones are DC Comics and Marvel Comics and recently, a nigh obsession has taken the minds of all those who willfully consume content – and to an extent those that don’t – from these companies, especially the latter. What is also being witnessed alongside this growth, however, is the rising social media campaign focusing on awareness and accountability. Mental health, sex, gender, sexuality, race… all different forms of representation that have steadily grown in importance amongst society and thus, forcing a need to witness it in media in order to validate both the viewers and the current lived reality.
From this phenomenon, another word was further popularized: pandering. Pandering is defined as “gratify or indulge (an immoral or distasteful desire, need, or habit or a person with such a desire, etc.)” Due to the current demand to witness these changes in the media people consume, companies have been virtually forced to adhere to these requests yet, rather than truly listening and allowing all those that have gone too long without a seat at the table to sit and speak their truth, they have decided to pander. No real thought process or consideration is put behind the actions. A streaming show may create a television show with an Asian woman as the main lead and sprout prose about diversity. However, the writers that compose her character, and her storylines, are overwhelmingly white men. This lack of insight and proper research is abandoned due to the hopes of capitalizing on the concept alone from a demographic of Asian women who wish to see themselves represented and come in with hope. The result is a bland character chock full of stereotypes and typical storylines that only serve to fall to pieces at the slightest nudge. Especially when it is later revealed that the lead actress was paid minimally compared to other projects of the same nature except with a male lead. Not truly “empowering at all”.
This is witnessed immensely in superhero movies. Lately, many Marvel projects have been on either women and people of color. Bonus points for the inclusion of mental health. While some projects have happened artfully thanks to the contribution of each community’s voice through the process of being involved in writing and the crew yet, many larger projects remain where minimal thought is given. One such example is the recent edition of Sabra to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sabra is an Israeli superhero with close ties to the government and who, in the comics, attempts to pin the death of Palestinian natives on the Hulk given that she does not find them “human”. This addition was announced for the 4thCaptain America movie, the first to star Sam Wilson as the new Captain. Sam Wilson is a black man and the issue of race, specifically in America given its history of apartheid and racism, is tackled in the TV show “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” The absolute hypocrisy in adding a character that is blatantly racist in a movie meant to disprove such notions, with a main character who also suffers from discrimination on the same foundation, is blatant. The lack of research is clear as well, especially given the significance of the name Sabra in the massacres that took place in Lebanon.
Social media has stood as the guard of this new development in humanity and the cracks are clear. Accountability only happens once an error is exposed, not perpetrated. The apologies might as well be copy pasted given the similarity and how it is very clearly only used to appease the internet and maintain their fame and income. Given the bombardment of information from all spaces, at all times, awareness of global and systematic issues has gone from being only slightly known in separate societies respectively, to being a demand of every single person with access to the internet. This overload has forced apathy to become the norm, in an effort to cope, and one of the many ways this is witnessed is by acts of pandering.
Ultimately, it is these factors that display the true direction of society across the globe, with social media serving to only perpetuate this behavior. Despite the heightened level of awareness, face value is the only cost being paid. It has become a near-complete abandonment of the initial purpose of writing which is to find meaning in life rather than to focus on profit. As Stan Lee once said, “A story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul.”