Why I Had a Creator Breakdown While Trying to Review All the Marvel Movies
Back in the icy February of this year (2019), I had an idea that seemed brilliant. I figured that the reason my blog wasn't getting the views I wanted was because I needed to talk about the more popular shows, movies, games, etc.
What I called "Project Popularity" was born, an attempt to review everything within my "geek culture" niche that I deemed sufficiently popular, commanding big numbers of fans. I planned out an editorial calendar for well over a year, with each month being given to a different popular franchise.
The first month, that February, went well enough. It was dedicated to Pokemon. Specifically, what people were talking about most at the time was Pokemon GO! and the Nintendo Switch game with a similar Pokemon catching mechanic, a reboot of Pokemon Yellow called Pokemon Let's Go: Pikachu, and its sister Pokemon Let's Go: Eevee. I jumped back into Pokemon GO! though I had stopped playing and/or caring about it for ages. I watched a bunch of the more recent episodes of the anime, called Best Wishes! in Japan or Black and White in the U.S., and compared them to my cherished childhood memories. It rekindled a passion for the franchise in me that had been waning. Obviously, approaching the dreaded age of 30, I'm no longer that keen on a show that is about, and for, 10 year old kids. But, age was not a factor, I found myself encountering characters I liked and relatable themes for people of all ages.
Then March came. Ice turned to slush, then back into ice, then into slush, and so on. If you live in Illinois, nature hates you. And with it my next phase of Project Popularity: Marvel. I wanted to re-watch old MCU movies. I wanted to watch MCU movies I had not seen when they came out. I wanted to talk about the TV series (I still haven't seen any of them). I wanted to know why kids liked Daredevil or if Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was as good as everyone said. I also wanted to reflect on the ones I had seen, which was most of the main sequence of MCU films, re-watching them and asking myself, 'do they hold up'? It seemed like it would be just as fun as Pokemonth had been. That it would reconnect me to my initial appreciation of the franchise, reigniting my passion and interest in it. But it ended up having the opposite effect.
How I Went From Loving to Hating Marvel Movies
It soon became clear that my "entire Marvel everything" project would definitely take more than a month. Or I would have to scrap some aspects of it, like not seeing TV series and just focusing on the MCU movies. I also planned to watch a lot of X-Men movies, but also only got through a few of them. My plan was to watch every Marvel movie (produced by Marvel, and/or from a Marvel comic, if it counts as part of the "official" MCU or not, I didn't care) from 2008, which is when the first Iron Man really kicked off the idea of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Anyway, at first it went pretty well. Whether I loved or hated the movie, I found myself having a good time. Ghost Rider's sequel was awful, but in a hilarious way. Iron Man was good. Captain America was good. Thor was okay. But it soon became more stressful. I was trying to watch and review 3 movies in a day. Which should be theoretically possible, but I found it to be a challenge beyond the power of positive thinking. At least for me.
Movies are meant to be enjoyed as leisure, as recreation. Pushing oneself to watch a lot of them in a short time frame is antithetical to their purpose. The blockbuster superhero action film is supposed to be relaxing. But I became more and more stressed as I watched them. I was worried about timing, about getting them "done" in time for End Game. I worried about what people would think. If you know a lot more people are interested in a certain topic, you know a lot more people are going to be reading your work on that topic. That can lead to panic, and panic can be paralyzing.
At some point, and maybe it was just because I did not want to goddamn re-watch Ant-Man, that paralysis happened. I stopped watching them. According to my editorial calendar pages in Scrivener, I still had to do 16 films:
- Ant-Man - Had seen through Redbox, and not liked.
- Age of Ultron - Saw in the theater and liked.
- Deadpool- Saw in the theater, loved, own on DVD.
- Fantastic Four (Fan4stic) - Had not seen, heard only bad things.
- Captain America: Civil War - Had not seen, heard mostly good things.
- X-Men: Apocalypse - Had not seen.
- Doctor Strange - Had seen on Netflix, and disliked.
- Logan - Had not seen, heard only good things.
- Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 - Had not seen, having only seen the first one, wanted to see.
- Spiderman: Homecoming - Saw in theaters, thought it was just okay.
- Thor: Ragnarok - Saw in theaters, thought it was sort of bad.
- Black Panther - Saw in theaters, liked but noted flaws.
- Avengers: Infinity War - Saw in theaters and liked.
- Deadpool 2 - Saw in theaters and liked, but not as much as the first one.
- Antman & The Wasp - Did not want to see because I really hated Ant Man.
- Venom - Did not want to see because I heard it was bad.
So I had a daunting number of movies yet to cover, many of them bad or that I had heard were bad. One or two that I liked, sure, but I figured they probably wouldn't be as good in hindsight when I saw them again. So that's where I was when I stopped. Middle of March, about halfway through my list, I just kind of stopped reviewing and writing about them. I had Marvel movie fatigue.
I think the problem is, even if you really enjoy something in entertainment, watching a lot makes you familiar with underlying patterns. I felt after a while that I wasn't watching new movies or having different experiences - I was watching the standard Marvel movie with different faces. It's not a bad movie, but seeing it over and over gets a little repetitive and dull over time. In contrast, I was playing Doki Doki Literature Club and watching Made in Abyss, which feature unbridled creativity, really contrasting with the predictability of the average Marvel film.
Marvel movies are fun. They have characters you want to root for or that you can look up to. They're pretty. They can even be inspiring in the right light. But they do follow a formula, they do repeat tropes and cliches, and they do feel uncreative at times. Especially irritating is the not so much Easter Eggs, because they're not really hidden - neon signs or billboards is a more accurate way to describe them - each movie has ads for previous, following, or concurrent Marvel films. I liked that End Game didn't have this, no post-credit scene. But it was mired in references to previous Marvel films, almost feeling like a clip show. There's a point where self-referential humor or drama stops being either funny or interesting respectively, and just becomes annoying.
So Marvel isn't bad, but I realized that I had to do something else with my blog.
What I Want to Do Instead
What else? Well, I said above that I feel like I don't need to talk about what everyone else is already talking about. I don't need to waste my time. If you want opinions and analysis, jokes, or hot takes on any sufficiently popular piece of media, they're not exactly hard to find. Many of my favorite YouTube channels in the "cinema sphere" were heavily invested in satire of, or analysis of, the Marvel movies. Makes sense. We all want that ad revenue. But I don't feel like I have anything new to contribute to the discourse, anything meaningful to add.
I realized instead I should only write about something I'm very passionate about. When I realized patterns and cliches in all these superhero movies, I got bored with them. I should only write about things I have genuine enthusiasm for. Popularity in and of itself is not bad, but writing for it at the expense of authenticity is bad.
I got tired of what I call "imperial fiction". No, that's not fan fictions about Storm Troopers. I mean that fiction is something that shouldn't be, but is, dictated to me from a far away place, written and made by people who have never set foot in my community, who don't know anything about what it's like to be me. Hollywood is the capital of an empire as surely as Washington, D.C. is, and I don't like too much influence or power being pushed on me from either. To counter this, I wish to take more of an active interest in local, independent, or small niche forms of fiction production. I want to write as an Illinoisan and that means I want to focus my attention on Illinois cultural happenings. One of my favorite things was when I got Chicago-based manga Fallen to review. It's a quirky tale of girl power and team work, and I enjoyed it. And the best part? No one is talking about it but me. And if I promote her work, I feel like I'm doing a good deed. Not just promoting that which is mainstream and well-known already, which doesn't need my help to get people talking about it.
One of the good things about Hubpages is you're not being overseen by an editor. You're not writing for a magazine that requires you to stick to a certain area of focus. You can shift and talk about what you are most passionate about.
What I Want to Do Going Forward:
I said I want to do more local, indie, and small niche fiction reviews. The bloated beast known as Hollywood does not need me. Like Gendo Ikari, Hollywood only uses people, but is not capable of loving them. So like Rei in End of Evangelion turning her back on Gendo, I don't feel shame in turning my back on Hollywood. At least for now.
What I do like:
- Midwestern travel and tourism information. There are a lot of places near me I like to go, and I want to share special places and events in the Midwest. I want people to see that we do have culture here. We have a beautiful history, and beautiful land. And we also know how to have a good time.
- Mature and horror fiction. By turning my back on Hollywood, I largely mean big blockbusters. But there's still a place in my heart, and viscera, for horror movies. I want to talk about cult classics, hash out which version of Dracula is best, and so on. I also want to keep my entertainment review editorial calendar on the mature, psychological thriller, and horror genres. Those are my favorite types of movies, books, anime, games, etc.
- Art and craft how-tos. I like doing these because I've benefited from many of them myself, both in books and online. I do a variety of crafts and arts, primarily acrylic painting. I've also done origami, watercolor, drawing, collage, crochet, circle loom knitting, sumi ink painting, etc. I'm no expert, but I do enjoy them as a hobbyist, and I have taken a few college art classes. I want to share my knowledge and experience with others by doing tutorials here and possibly for YouTube.
- Reviewing and promoting small content creators. For me, as I've said, this is more meaningful than discussing something that's already successful.
- History and mythology. My near-degree (dropped out as a fifth year senior) was in Art History. I not only know a lot about it, but I have a lot of passion for it!
- Classic literature. I'm trying to read more of it as a kind of bucket list thing, and also as a "reading at night is probably better for my eyes than staring at a smart phone screen" thing. My mom is an English teacher, and we've had some pretty cool discussions about Shakespeare and other "literary canon" authors. Those discussions can be fodder for blog entries, I'm hoping.
- Pets, nature, and animals. My main "day job" aside from blogging is pet sitting. I've recently (a few months ago) also became vegan. My love of animals runs deep, even if they're not always easy to take care of. I want to write more about important issues relating to animal care and animal rights. I also want to write about local Midwestern wildlife.
So this is not a resignation letter, but it is a statement of intent to change. Focus on the content I want to focus on, and no longer try to push myself to write about what everyone is talking about. It's lonely in smaller niches, but a little friendlier and easier to be heard. I also don't want to talk about every anime. Anime has become over-saturated. They produce many shows per season, and if I'm being honest, they're no longer written for people my age. I feel like anime stayed a teenager as I'm getting older. It's fair enough because teenagers spend a lot of money on entertainment. But I want maturity and psychological depth in my stories, and you just can't find that in a typical anime now, because they're producing so much content every season, and mostly marketing it to high schoolers (and those who are mentally stuck at that age). Not giving up on anime, any more than I am giving up on movies altogether, but I do plan on being more selective about what I choose to watch and review.
There's this old Aesop fable about a donkey walking with an old man and a young man. Whether the old man rides the donkey, or the young man rides, or they walk along side the donkey, people criticize them. They tie up the donkey's legs and carry him between them. This causes all of them to fall into a river, and they're all laughed at. The message is, you can't please everyone.
I can't be in every niche. Finding your voice as a blogger is as much about saying, and finding out, what you won't do as it is about figuring out what you will do. But I feel that the above ideas give me plenty of topics to pursue that will hopefully bring me greater joy in the future.
© 2019 Rachael Lefler