Call For Comments: Pouring some “edgy” on it

From Mav: Last year, we did an episode that I called “pour some gritty on it” which was all about the recent trend of doing gritty reboots of classic media IP. The obvious example there was shows on the CW like Riverdale and Nancy Drew. Shows where the idea is that it takes place in a “more realistic” world, where more realistic is really code for darker, more violent, and probably with some sex. I actually quite enjoy many of these shows. If you go back a little further you might see that we did ANOTHER show where we talked about “pouring some sexy on it“. This was a similar but kind of sub-class idea. There were not necessarily talking about it being darker and more dangerous (though it could be). The key with those shows is mostly “and they’re hot and the fuck!” Anyway, I think HBOMax’s new show Velma is supposed to exist somewhere in this realm… probably more towards gritty than sexy. The problem is, it doesn’t really hit either of them. Instead, it falls short into a related, but actually different domain that I am now calling “pouring some edgy on it”

There’s a lot of think pieces and reviews written about what went wrong with Velma. Really a lot of them. Some from the ultra conservative complaining about it being too woke. Some from the ultra liberal complaining that it’s too mean spirited. However, the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is … SOMETHING went wrong because… well, the show kinda sucks! I mean, it’s pretty obvious that I don’t care about whatever stupid bullshit the random incel MAGA MRA alt-right weenies are spouting. It’s just who would have thought that Velma would be the great uniter!

Now, I want to be clear, I’m not looking to do an episode just talking about all the ways that Velma sucks. There are plenty of other shows for that. In fact, this isn’t just about Velma at all. It’s about the edginess for edginess’s sake that Velma represents. For those who haven’t seen it yet (and by no means is it worth seeking out so that you can watch it if you haven’t — I watch these things so you don’t have to), imagine you are a 14yo incel, misogynist, homophobic, casual racist, edge lord…  and you have this strawman show in your head that you hate because it’s “too woke”. But you’re a 14yo incel. You have no real life experience. You don’t know what woke means or feminism. You haven’t really thought through any thing about non-white people or non-straight people or non-dudes as human beings. You just no “woke” as a concept is bad. And so you hate all woke shows! But the show you’re imagining as the average woke show is just this really shitty SNL-level over the top buzz word driven parody. It doesn’t exist. Or it didn’t! It does now! Velma has the narrative sensibilities of “I write edgy inspired by Zack Snyder fanfic that sticks it to the libs” but it just IS liberal.. or rather what you as the incel think of as liberal but was a total strawman until last week!

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 18: Mindy Kaling, Velma on HBO Max speaks onstage during the Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront 2022 show at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on May 18, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery)

Velma is politically incorrect for the sake of being politically incorrect… just like a shit ton of other edge lord alt-right media… it just that this happens to be… nebulously left leaning… I guess? So all the alt-right people hate it because it’s so “woke” but everyone who was hoping for “woke” is like… “but this isn’t actually… good”. I remember in the 1990s when the Comics Code Authority was losing its power everyone made these edgy comics because they read Watchmen and they were like “ok… we can have sex and kill and swear” but that was it… there was no more thought put into it than that. Velma is sort of exactly that. Harley Quinn got popular and it feels like Mindy Kaling went to HBOMax said “ok, swearing and lesbians and murder. Got it. Done!  Oh wait… I’m also gonna race swap the cast. Even better! Now i’m really done!” and that was the end of the writer’s meeting. And it looks like they assumed that they only reason people would hate it would be racism… because yes, there was an outcry when they announced it because of the race swaps… but like… that is the least problematic thing happening, honestly…

Because half the jokes on the show amount to “racism is a thing. See!” But nothing clever is ever said about it. It’s just “white people, amirite?!?!?” and as a viewer I’m watching and going “yes… there are in fact white people, but what about them?” Because much of what the alt-right edge lords are afraid of is that they believe that all the left is doing is saying “white men are bad! Hahahaha!!!” and well, that’s sort of true here. The annoying thing is that there could have been so much more. As I write this there have been three episode and I feel like the show has promise. There’s interesting things it wants to investigate. There’s nuance that it wants to have. Only every time it gets close to doing that, it stops because it needs to make a penis joke. And I’m the guy who’s totally all for them making penis jokes AND serious commentary. Except not only is there no commentary… there’s no joke. It’s just a character that says “dudes be having small dicks, amirite?!?!!!”

And I think this is a symptom of what I consider the overall Zack Snyder approach to pop culture edginess. There’s a certain segment of pop culture fandom that claims they hate when their media gets too political, but what they actually mean is they hate when it criticizes THEM. It’s why they get so upset when they suddenly notice that Sandman or The Boys is being critical of conservatives. As I’ve said on our show before, I don’t actually care for The Boys comic but the show has been brilliant. And part of the brilliance was this last season when MAGA watching fans suddenly realized that the show was making fun of Trump (and them) and got pissed. They don’t realize that it always was. So was the book! Or at least it was trying to.

These are the people that don’t understand that Rorschach in Watchmen is negative. And the thing is, for a long time, I really thought that Zack Snyder was one of them. However, if you actually get a chance to listen to Zack Snyder speak… dude is “woke” as fuck! Like, he’s actually extremely political. He knows that Rorschach is a psychopath. He thinks ALL superheroes would be. He thinks that his body of work is critiquing hypermasculinity by depicting it at its logical extreme. It’s just that nobody gets that and he doesn’t seem to get that his fans don’t get that. And the problem with say, a Batman v. Superman is that I DO GET WHAT HE IS TRYING TO DO!!! Really I do! It was just bad. And all the people trying to copy just bare minimum aesthetic (without even a fraction of Snyder’s talent) are even worse!

And that’s where Velma is. And I think it’s where a lot of the problem is with “edginess” as a trope occurs. Just to take recent geek media, I actually love Peacemaker, The Boys, Invincible, and Harley Quinn. I think they use their edginess to say something… and even if you miss the overall message… they’re interesting. The story is engaging. With Velma, BvS, Justice League… even last year’s #1 MCU film, Doctor Strange & the Multiverse of Madness, that wasn’t there. They didn’t say much of anything interesting AND I wasn’t really entertained. It was just a lot of “look how rude everyone is being! Hey, look we’re going to murder a dude! Sick, Right? RIGHT?!?!” and I just… didn’t care. In fact, it’s happening enough that it’s becoming annoying. And that’s especially bad when it feels like an idea COULD have some promise in it. And when you’re just doing paint by numbers… you’re basically making Morbius.

So anyway, that’s what I want to talk about. Do you agree? Disagree? Is there a point edginess for edginess’s sake? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

5 Comments and 6 Webmentions for “Call For Comments: Pouring some “edgy” on it”

  1. I’m glad you mention “Peacemaker” as a show that had the potential to go all-in on the “edginess for edginess’s sake” but managed to find interesting things to do with it. I came in being extremely, extremely skeptical that there was any way to make a show with Peacemaker and Vigilante into something that wasn’t some sort of excuse for ironic outrageousness (I’ve had issues with some of Gunn’s earlier work). Instead, it ended up being a surprisingly thoughtful show,

    I feel like the difference might have just boiled down to: the characters are there! These aren’t paper-thin stereotypes, these are relatively well-rounded figures that go through believable changes as the show goes on. Because of this, it went to unexpected situations. (Another great example would be “The Venture Brothers,” which started out as a basic “Adult Swim” parody of Jonny Quest-type shows and then quickly outgrew the formula.)

  2. I think that’s a good, fascinating take. My question is whether or not this show is *actually* something a little more insidious…. Like conservatives finally letting go of the “woke” wars? Sure, you have some MAGA types who won’t get it, but I *think* there’s this very really possibility that the show can present a culturally liberal worldview (where one genuinely doesn’t worry about homosexuality, for example & where feminism is actually a fine value to hold), but the cruelty remains in all of its potentially colorblind glory. I’m not sure if it’s possible to make that read—based on the show—thus far, but it does seem to jive with Mindy Kailng’s worldview. And, considering the source material, well…. Also, where the hell is the dog?

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