Why Is “Tenet” Such A Disappointment?

This post may contain spoilers for Tenet, although I’m still not sure I understand Tenet‘s plot well enough to spoil it. Either way, you’ve been warned.

The general consensus of many of the movie-goers who have already managed to see Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s newest film and the first new film to come to cinemas in the UK since they have reopened, is that this is his return after the slight departure of Dunkirk in 2017 to a type of film more like 2010’s Inception — an exposition heavy action film with a mind-bending sci-fi concept and convoluted plot, filled with cool visuals and set pieces. And while on the surface that may seem like a fair comparison, and on paper the concepts for both films are similar, the execution of each is drastically different; one film is far more successful than the other.

As you may have gathered from Tenet‘s somewhat mixed reviews or from my Letterboxd account, I vastly prefer Inception to Tenet. Inception just works in ways that Tenet doesn’t, and since that’s been puzzling me since I first watched Tenet a couple of weeks ago I decided to work on this piece after rewatching both films in order to investigate what has happened. How did one of the most anticipated blockbusters of 2020, the film that was hailed as saving cinemas after lockdown, become such a disappointment? And what can Inception teach us about how Tenet failed and what it could have been?

I think the reason that this Tenet/Inception comparison is so stuck in my mind is because Inception, which is, in my opinion, Nolan at his best, represents the missed potential Tenet had to be something just as good as or even better than its predecessor. The best way I can describe Tenet, paraphrased from other Letterboxd users, is that it takes everything that is commonly criticised about Nolan’s filmography and doubles down on it, while simultaneously omitting what makes his other films work.

One of the many things that gets bought up when discussing Nolan’s films is his frequent use of expository dialogue. To explain the complex concepts Nolan bases his films around exposition is, of course, necessary, so I’m not saying that the presence of exposition is inherently a mistake. What I am going to discuss is the volume of exposition, how relevant it is to understanding the film, and how it is staged and shot.

Inception‘s exposition, in my opinion, works because it explains what is necessary without overdoing it, so that enough is explained that we understand the film but not so much that it takes up the majority of the film’s dialogue; it is justified by the narrative, as concepts are clarified via an audience surrogate (Ariadne, but also Saito to a lesser extent) and characters are not explaining things to characters who would already know those things in the narrative; and it’s told to us in interesting ways. For example, imagine how boring Ariadne and Cobb’s first dream-sharing scene would have been if, instead of Ariadne playing with the dream’s mechanics and bending over Paris, they’d just stayed seated in the cafe and talked until their five real-world minutes had passed.

However Nolan has apparently learned nothing from this and Tenet‘s exposition is most of the dialogue, which takes screen time away from dialogue establishing the characters and their relationships as they spend most of the run time of the film explaining what’s about to happen. On the second viewing I realised that these scenes seemed rather pointless — instead of telling us how you’re going to crash a plane into the airport terminal and then use the chaos to steal the drawing only to then show it happening in the next scene, why not just cut out the middle man? This happens at multiple points throughout the film, and it struck me as somewhat unnecessary.

Furthermore, the exposition is delivered often by the Protagonist (yes, that’s actually the name of John David Washington’s character — I cringed every time it was seriously used in the film’s dialogue. Just give him a name!), the most logical choice for the audience surrogate, to characters who would already know what he was trying to explain within the logic of the narrative, which is one of my pet peeves to nitpick in media. Also unlike Inception, this exposition is usually delivered by two or more characters walking and talking, and on rewatch when I wasn’t completely caught up the spectacle and trying to understand what was going on in the moment it was very boring to sit through. It’s odd that, since I presume Nolan made this movie to be seen twice, he didn’t factor in how dull these scenes are second time round. Inception‘s more exposition heavy scenes are far more engaging on rewatches, even on my fifth watch, and I imagine that if I watched Tenet a third time these scenes would get even more tedious.

However, despite all of this Tenet‘s plot and sci-fi gimmick is still near-incomprehensible on a first watch. In contrast to Inception‘s plot, which was complex in order to make you think but still understandable on a first watch, Tenet appears to just be convoluted for the sake of being convoluted (especially since once you strip away everything to do with time Tenet is just a fairly generic 60s-style spy flick, complete with the cartoonish Russian bad guy and the damsel in distress). The god-awful sound mixing also contributed to my lack of understanding first time round as I couldn’t hear a lot of the important dialogue over the score or background noise in certain scenes (the fact that my ADHD means I usually need subtitles to be able to follow along with films even with normal sound mixing meant I was doubly lost).

Nolan even tells us through the Protagonist that we should “[not] try to understand it, just feel it.” You’ve all probably seen this quote shared around a lot in reviews and I think that’s apt, since this quote sums up a lot of where I felt Tenet went wrong. The film is so dedicated to its image of logic and scientific complexity that it neglects anything in the realms of character or emotion; it renders my attempts to “just feel it” as opposed to spending all my time and energy understanding it fruitless and near impossible.

If your major criticism of Nolan’s films is that they tend to favour plot over character then this film is probably one you are going to dislike immensely. The characters are all blank slates to either spout off or receive exposition, and they barely have any traits other than surface-level character tropes. The Protagonist in particular suffers from this: John David Washington is trying his best with what he has but I just wish he had a better script to work with, as it seems like in Tenet‘s script forces him to just read lines rather than play a character.

Inception, by a sharp contrast, works so much better because it has a clear emotional core underneath all of the action, via the character of Cobb. It was mentioned in the behind the scenes material for the 10th anniversary rerelease of Inception that Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Cobb, worked with Nolan to add a lot of this emotion to Cobb’s story and pushed hard for it (I don’t have a source for this but it has been rumoured that this wasn’t in the original script). In retrospect, this should have been a warning sign. Inception also had much higher personal stakes for Cobb; you know that the reason he is the main character of this story is because he needs to pull off this job for Saito in order to get back to his family. Tenet‘s Protagonist has almost no personal stakes in the story — his relationship with Kat is too limp and not well-developed enough to count — or anything to really explain why it is him, specifically, who’s the main character (well, other than it’s in his name and he was apparently designated from birth for this).

Another common criticism of Nolan’s writing is his seeming inability to write female characters, as most of his female characters are either distinctly underdeveloped or dead. The character of Kat is clearly intended as a response to these critics (since I’m a pretty cynical pessimist I believe that Kat is more of a “Fuck you guys, I can write a woman who isn’t dead” on Nolan’s part, as opposed to “I’ve heard your criticisms and I’m trying to do better”, but feel free to disagree), but in my opinion she might actually be Nolan’s worst written woman yet.

Kat is deprived of her agency for the majority of the film, and is a quintessential damsel in distress or 60s Bond girl. She only really exists — other than, of course, as Nolan’s attempt to write a type of character that seems to be way out of his comfort zone — to make the antagonist, Andrei Sator (and we’ll fucking get to him), look more evil, as he’s a domestic abuser as well as a cause of the apocalypse; to make the Protagonist seem like a better person in comparison and to half-heartedly give him more personal stakes; and to be literally carted around on a stretcher. She spends the whole of the movie being rescued by men, and her sole moment of agency at the end, killing Sator, is not enough to make up for two and a half hours of her character being a completely passive cliche to be shot by evil men and subsequently saved by good men.

Her character also highlights just one facet of how Nolan’s writing ability has gone backwards rather than forwards. You know how basically any intro-level creative writing or screenwriting class, or any advice on creating characters, will tell you to give them a motivation — what do they want? Well, Nolan has seemingly stuck on that advice to comical levels, as Kat’s main personality trait/character-defining aspect of herself is that she loves her son. This is responsible for some hilarious lines: when one character tells Kat that the world is going to end and everyone is going to die, she replies with “Including my son?”. Elizabeth Debicki says this with a straight face, which is admirable as in the cinema I could barely keep myself from laughing.

Speaking of laughter, it’s clear that Nolan is attempting to add comedic one-liners to the script, but none of them land. Remember that IndieWire review that called Tenet a “humourless disappointment” that we all had a laugh making fun of, because it isn’t supposed to be a comedy? Well, it turns out they were right. Rather than including good one-liners, or just being what it is and not bothering with them at all, Tenet tries to be funny in places but, like most of the film, the jokes just fall flat. (I’m now wondering if I found Inception funny because of the script itself or if Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy’s chemistry made it better. The amount I would give to get my hands on a first draft of that script…)

However, I did laugh a lot during Tenet, but only at unintentionally hilarious lines. By that I mean every line said by Andrei Sator, Kenneth Branagh’s character and the supposed villain. I’m not sure whether it was his questionable accent, the inherent cliche present in his entire character (the ‘evil Russian’ trope has been around since the Cold War when Russian villains were used as shorthand for communism being bad, but even though the USSR was dissolved in 1991 this cliche is still sticking around) or his laughably stupid dialogue — the line “If I can’t have you, no one can” is supposed to be intimidating, and is also SPOILER Sator’s sole motivation for helping to bring about the end of the world — but either way I couldn’t take his character at all seriously as the film’s antagonist.

The third-act battle sequence was where the film’s convoluted plot officially lost me. It wasn’t a very interesting sequence; it was very much Marvel movie-esque, if Marvel movies had time inversion. On the first watch, it was at that point that I officially lost my grip on the plot of the film, and spent the rest of it puzzling over what was happening, why it was happening, or who was even fighting who. I did understand it better on the second watch, but I shouldn’t have to watch a movie twice for it to be comprehensible. To gain a deeper understanding of a film I love? Yes — Inception has improved more on more on every rewatch. To understand the basic plot? Absolutely not.

My last major criticism of Tenet is its pacing, as it was far too fast. I was surprised when it ended on the first watch as it didn’t feel like it had been two and a half hours. Apparently the film was originally supposed to be 195 minutes, and I think it would have helped the film a lot more if it had stayed its original length, and even longer, and split into two parts like Kill Bill. That way the film could have slowed down somewhat from its breakneck pace and could have made time for some more emotional moments to establish characters and their relationships.

However, Tenet wasn’t all bad. Here’s the part of this review where I’ll mention the things I did like about Tenet. Firstly, even though he didn’t exactly do great in regards to representation of women, I appreciate that Nolan is improving his casting in regards to race, at least somewhat. It’s not perfect, but having a Black actor (John David Washington) clearly playing the lead in a $200 million blockbuster like this is definitely a step in the right direction, especially in comparison to the sidelining of Finn (John Boyega) in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, from what was clearly supposed to be the protagonist to a sadly reduced role.

Furthermore, most of the actors (with the exception of Kenneth Branagh, because I have no idea what the fuck he was doing) were really trying their best with the material they had to work with — they’re talented, not to mention nice to look at (Elizabeth Debicki if you’re reading this I’m free on Thursday). The action, set pieces and spectacle of it all were definitely the best parts of the film, along with the cinematography (it had a scene with neon lights, enough said). The time inversion concept was also fairly intriguing.

Furthermore, John David Washington and Robert Pattinson had good chemistry onscreen and their scenes were fun because of this. In fact, their characters’ relationship had a lot of potential to be the emotional core of the story, which would have made the movie a lot more interesting. This could also have worked with the Protagonist and Kat, but the Protagonist and Neil were referenced to have SPOILER a lot of history/future in their relationship, as well as Washington and Pattinson’s aforementioned chemistry. However, if this was to happen all of the characters — the Protagonist, Kat, Neil — would have had to have been majorly overhauled so they would become actual characters that the audience could care about.

In conclusion, Tenet is an ambitious concept with a lot of potential but was ruined by bad execution. The film feels like Nolan doubled down on common criticism of his films — such as heavy exposition, favouring plot over character, being deliberately obtuse, terrible sound mixing and mediocre to awful female characters — while also leaving out what makes his other films, such as Inception, work so well: emotionality at the core of the story underneath all the spectacle. A lot of the problems with the film could also be explained by no one having told Nolan “No” in a while. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, the film, simply put, is a giant disappointment. Has it “saved cinema”? It is worth risking coronavirus for? Not a chance.

I Hope 2020 Is The Year That Kills Celebrity Culture

My school has really been trying to connect with us during remote learning; one way they’ve been doing it is by asking more and more elaborate questions to register us every morning and over Google Meets three mornings a week to “catch up” (which is doing absolute wonders for my Zoom fatigue, considering we also have to go to Meets in lesson time). Two particular examples of questions asked are: “If you had to be stranded on a desert island, which two celebrities would you want to be stranded with?” and “Which famous person would you want to come to your house for dinner?”

It took me a good while to think of an answer for these questions, and I would have dodged them if they weren’t mandatory. This hardship wasn’t simply due to my anxiety around inadvertently coming out or sharing my taste in music with my peers who I’m not comfortable around, as you may have thought — it was also because I physically do not have an answer. Being stranded on a desert island with a celebrity is contingent on being a fan of one, and this is something that isn’t really applicable to me, at least not any more.

Now, I’m not trying to seem high and mighty or morally superior for not subscribing to the capitalist institution of celebrity, I’m just stating a fact. I no longer have the desire to engage with celebrities on social media, and the events of 2020 — the pandemic and the discussions of police brutality and protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd in particular — have simply exacerbated the waning of this desire, which had existed prior to this year.

I’m also not talking about simply liking celebrities, since I do and/or did like certain famous people — although my respect for most of them has reduced due to their lacklustre monetary support and use of their platforms recently. I also am more inclined to like just celebrities’ work, like their music or art, rather than them as people, but separating art from the artist is a thorny debate I’m not getting into here because it’s not related to the topic. In this piece I will mostly be referring to aspects of stan culture like unhealthy devotion to celebrities, parasocial relationships with celebrities who don’t give a shit about you personally, and placing so-called “unproblematic” celebrities onto pedestals when everyone fucks up and makes mistakes but these people just haven’t done so publicly yet, rather than simply liking someone’s work. The end of celebrity culture wouldn’t mean the end of this art, either; people can still make art, but without being elevated so highly above others like you and me who aren’t “celebrities”.

Even though this goal seems lofty, I still have hope: hope that eventually enough people will, due to many celebrities’ misuse of their wealth and platforms surrounding the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, become disillusioned with the concept of celebrity; hope that we’ll stop putting celebrities onto pedestals to claim that they’re “unproblematic” and start treating them like the normal, ordinary people that they are; hope that people will let the concept fade into obscurity and stop dying on hills on Twitter for other people who don’t know they exist. And this year, for all its many, many faults, has at least renewed that hope for me.

“Open your purse!”

On December 28th, 2019, @adamrayokay on TikTok posted a video that would soon go viral of his character Rosa asking if you had a dollar so she could get a slushie. The line “open your purse” was a particular standout, and the video was posted at just the right time for that phrase to become a widely-used rebuttal to the useless platitudes celebrities would soon start to share on social media in lieu of any actual help.

This was first seen in many famous people’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic, which ranged from mildly annoying to incredibly tone deaf and harmful. Some examples of this include Gal Gadot’s “Imagine” cover, which was promptly derided by everyone on Twitter in the most united the site has been since its launch; Priyanka Chopra’s video of her clap for key workers, as if they can live off applause; Vanessa Hudgens’s words about “respecting” the virus and how many people’s deaths are “terrible, but like… inevitable?”; Evangeline Lilly’s dismissing of social distancing because she wants to retain her “freedom”; Pharrell Williams posting a GoFundMe link and asking his followers to donate when his net worth is $200 million; Arielle Charnas showing off her pandemic privilege without any thought of the consequences — and these are just the ones that I could remember off the top of my head.

Other than some overtly harmful messages posted by celebrities, you could argue that most of the celebrity content posted during the the beginning of the lockdown was annoying but harmless. I would disagree, though, as this content exemplifies how out of touch many celebrities have become with normal people because of their privilege and wealth, as well as how useless performative activism really is.

Key workers cannot live off applause. Clapping will not pay for their rent or groceries, it isn’t an adequate substitute for PPE and it will not provide the mental health support many doctors and nurses will need when this is all over. Yes, it is a lovely gesture, I won’t deny that, and if you feel like there’s nothing you can do it can be a way to feel for yourself that you’re appreciating the contributions of key workers to fighting the pandemic. However, if you are a celebrity with a net worth of multiple millions of dollars, you have more than enough means to redistribute some of your often obscenely high (in the case of billionaires like Jeff Bezos) amounts of wealth to help people who need it far more than you do.

A celebrity posting a video of themselves clapping, or a video of themselves singing, or a statement talking about the power of the human spirit and how we’ll get through these difficult times together or whatever other bullshit they can think of is just performative and isn’t actually helpful. When these people have the means to donate it is their moral obligation to do so. Monetary funds are in most cases going to be the most useful contributions you can make, and celebrities have plenty to spare.

These sentiments — that famous people on social media need to just shut up and, as Rosa put it so well, open their purses — have been echoed by others all over social media during the pandemic response. Previously such sentiments were shared in the global responses to the Australian wildfires, another event that took place in 2020 even though it feels like years ago, but the pandemic was when bored, self-isolated celebrities started taking to social media more and more. Go into the retweets with comments of any celebrity’s performative tweets and you’ll see many people telling them to open their purses and help people in a meaningful way (you could also argue that many of these celebrities would have donated privately, but in most of these cases the celebrities in question post most of their lives on their social media accounts so I doubt this would be any different; furthermore, the act of publicly donating a large sum would give them good press, so I’m sure their publicists would encourage it).

Another recent example is many famous people’s lack of mobilisation of their large platforms and swathes of followers to draw attention to issues surrounding the murder of George Floyd and of the Black Lives Matter movement. Although my peers on Twitter and Instagram have been vocal about what you can do to help, especially constructive things like signing petitions, donating and going to protests, many celebrities with far more influence than us have been silent. Not to overly single out Priyanka Chopra but on May 30th, in the middle of the protests, she posted a selfie to her Twitter account where she has 26 million followers, and has otherwise been silent about Black Lives Matter, the protests, or anything to do with this issue even though she is a UN Ambassador.

As well as radio silence, many celebrities’ responses have been lacklustre — like Chris Evans changing his profile picture to hide the fact that he’s supported the police in the past, or the sheer numbers of celebrities with multi-million dollar net worths matching donations of 50 dollars, or the uselessness of posting a black square in the Black Lives Matter hashtag as it obscures the actually important information in the tag (something which hordes of celebrities participated in yesterday instead of doing something useful that isn’t solely performative, including some who’s work I enjoy) — or downright harmful, like Marina Diamandis tweeting “You have to be mentally ill to be a cop” despite this comparing being mentally ill to being a bad person which isn’t inherently true, and the fact that mentally ill people, especially Black mentally ill people, are commonly victims of police brutality themselves, as well as Ellen’s latest fuck up which she later deleted. Some celebrities such as John Boyega, Lil Nas X, Kehlani and Halsey have used their platforms better than the examples I’ve mentioned but the overwhelming majority have not done enough.

Celebrities’ responses to the pandemic have also shown tone deafness and how out of touch many of them have become. Their posts about being bored while self-isolating in their million dollar mansions while US unemployment rate is at its highest since the Great Depression makes their inability to read the room painfully obvious and puts their obliviousness on full display; their rhetoric about how we’re “all in the same boat” and “this pandemic is the great equaliser” are fundamentally wrong because their wealth will make weathering this pandemic far easier for them than for key workers and unemployed and working class people. This has, in fact, already been shown by how many celebrities were able to get tested for coronavirus, some of whom were asymptomatic when they were tested, while many ordinary citizens weren’t able to do the same.

Once, these types of posts may have been seen as funny, maybe even endearing, and ultimately wholly harmless. Now, though, people aren’t just taking this shit. Despite the vast army of bootlickers on Twitter who seem desperate to defend rich people despite most of them being closer to being homeless after one bad month than a millionaire after one good one, enough people are realising the uselessness of most celebrity responses when push comes to shove and won’t put up with them any longer. And I think that realisation is going to stay with people, including myself, even after the pandemic ends. People will remember the ways celebrities acted, whether it was harmful or tone deaf or both, and will think twice about supporting the perpetrators.

Speaking of discontinuing support for a celebrity, that brings me nicely onto my next topic, a phrase you’re probably sick of hearing; I apologise from bringing it up here, but just hear me out. It’s time to discuss cancel culture.

“Cancel culture is toxic!”

Cancel culture is a term that is used frequently on Twitter and other social media sites, as well as finding its way into mainstream news; a Google search of “cancel culture” brings up articles from Vox, Time and the New York Times on the first page, and “online shaming” even has its own Wikipedia page. It’s become a ubiquitous element of online discourse, with an “*Insert celebrity* is over party” hashtag trending every other week (Doja Cat and Lana Del Rey being recent examples) and tweeting something like “Cancel culture is so toxic!” being a quick way to get a tweet to go viral.

What actually is cancel culture, though? According to Merriam-Webster:

“To cancel someone (usually a celebrity or other well-known figure) means to stop giving support to that person. The act of canceling could entail boycotting an actor’s movies or no longer reading or promoting a writer’s works. The reason for cancellation can vary, but it usually is due to the person in question having expressed an objectionable opinion, or having conducted themselves in a way that is unacceptable, so that continuing to patronize that person’s work leaves a bitter taste.”

But what does that have to do with the demise of celebrity? Are we going to ‘cancel’ everyone until there are no celebrities left? Well, that’s one way to go about it, but this has more relevance to the topic of this piece than you might think. I’d argue instead that the recent prevalence of cancel culture online is a manifestation of people’s disillusionment with celebrity culture.

I’m going to start this piece by saying that I don’t believe cancel culture really exists. That Time article I linked above goes into more detail on this, as does this excellent piece by Haaniyah Angus, but my reasoning is that no celebrity has ever completely lost their career due to being “cancelled” by Twitter and the rest of the Internet. For example, people will still be streaming Doja and Lana’s music in six months, as although they may have lost some major public support, they will still have fans who continue to support their work — in fact, in Doja’s case, she had already been “cancelled” in 2018 when old tweets where she used the F slur resurfaced, but she continued to gain fans even after this.

If Doja had truly been “cancelled”, she would have lost all her relevancy, but this didn’t happen. Celebrities will always have die-hard fans who will support them even after they are “cancelled” by continuing to stream their music and watch their movies. This isn’t necessarily wrong, depending on the severity of what the person you like has done and whether or not they have apologised (and how good said apology actually was), as it’s healthy and constructive to be able to criticise the celebrities you are a fan of and not condone everything they do, but I digress (I’ll expand on this more later). The bottom line is that cancel culture doesn’t end careers like everyone hand-wrings about, but is something celebrities can weather and come out on the other side of just fine.

Where am I going with this? As I mentioned, cancel culture is, I believe, a manifestation of people’s disillusionment with celebrity culture, specifically one facet of it: the fact that celebrity worship relies on putting people onto pedestals above other average human beings and holding them up as people who can do no wrong.

This is shown by the emphasis on labelling certain celebrities as “unproblematic” to assure others that you don’t support someone who’s fucked up publicly enough to be “cancelled” in the eyes of other hyper-aware, terminally online types (again, this includes myself). The terms “problematic”, used to describe a celebrity who has either been “cancelled” or has been exposed for some grievance or another like having off-colour tweets from 2012 exposed, and “unproblematic”, used to describe someone who hasn’t been “cancelled” or publicly called out yet, have become commonplace in the Internet’s lexicon, along with “cancel culture”, without people realising how harmful this black and white thinking is.

A key word here is “publicly”. So called “unproblematic” people only stay that way because they have yet to be publicly called out for their misdeeds, but it is incredibly naive and unsustainable to assume that they’ve never done any wrong in their lives. By priding yourself on only being a fan of “unproblematic” celebrities you’re setting yourself up for eventual failure when these celebrities are either exposed for past wrongdoing or do something wrong publicly in the future.

Sometimes we forget, but celebrities are ultimately just people, like you or me, and people fuck up. People make mistakes, people make off-colour remarks and don’t apologise properly for them. I’m sure we’ve all done things we aren’t proud of; I’ll be the first to admit that, but I’ve done what I can to make amends and unlearn my previous toxic behaviours and opinions. No one’s perfect, that’s just a fact of life, and your favourite celebrity definitely isn’t.

By holding these celebrities to such high standards and putting them onto pedestals, the people online in fan communities who spend so much time bemoaning the toxicity of “cancel culture” are effectively creating it themselves. If people were normal about celebrities and didn’t make them out to be perfect angels just because they haven’t been exposed yet, when that exposure, those fuck ups, eventually come to light we could have much more constructive discussions about them. And yet we’re still here, stuck in this endless feedback loop, because people don’t ever learn from all these cancellations (you’d think we were discussing a shitty Tube line and not a cultural phenomenon, but here we are).

The continuous perpetuation of cancel culture, despite the thousands of thinkpieces decrying it as “gone too far” and “the Internet mob out of control”, is also a response to idolising celebrities and holding them up as paragons of humanity, something which people are getting sick of. Celebrity worship as a concept relies on this idolising, and since tearing down this whole concept seems daunting and almost impossible (especially with the attention economy favoured by celebrities’ intrinsic links with the ever-present system of capitalism), attempting to scale it back from within can seem preferable and an easier option. Trying to take down and deplatform celebrities because of their wrongdoing in an attempt to reduce the scale of the entire concept seems somewhat similar to the kind of fix-the-system-from-within ideas liberals have about voting, and although they can both remedy certain problems in the short term, fundamentally they are the equivalent of sticking a plaster on a bullet wound.

This unhealthy practise of putting celebrities on pedestals and starting wars on the Internet in defence of them is primarily carried out by people on stan Twitter, which is a not-so-sneaky segue into my next point.

“I’m new to stan Twitter…”

Any Gen Xs or Boomers who have somehow found their way here (hi, Dad) will probably have no idea what I’m talking about here, but I’m sure my fellow Gen Zers and younger Millennials will understand this concept. If you don’t, here’s a quick primer — the term “stan” denotes an obsessive fan, usually of a celebrity, a term which derived from Eminem’s music video for his song Stan. These fans often congregate on Twitter in a virtual space called stan Twitter, surprise surprise.

The problem with this sort of overzealous behaviour, explained very well in this piece, is that it prevents us from having mature discussions about celebrities; the stan Twitter culture of treating any vague criticism of your favourite celebrity and the object of your affection, even if the critic is a fan themself, as a personal attack reinforces and exacerbates this idolisation of celebrities that I’ve already mentioned is unhealthy. It’s important to pay attention to mistakes made by the people you stan rather than sweeping them under the rug just as much as it is to recognise flaws in the media you consume and to consume media critically. A quote from Haaniyah’s piece I linked earlier in the paragraph sums this up well:

“Though stan Twitter might have you thinking otherwise, critical consumption doesn’t negate enjoyment. I and many others are perfectly able to spot the problematic aspects of music, writing and film whilst still having fun with it. Critical thinking only makes our experience richer, and definitely doesn’t mean that we hate an artist for making mistakes.

This links back to what I mentioned previously regarding putting celebrities onto pedestals and regarding them as people who are somehow above us, which simply isn’t true: if you strip away the money and the fame, they’d just be an average person like you or me, because they all were once. Stan Twitter’s common behaviour of refusing to engage with critical conversation about celebrities they stan contributes to all the unhealthy aspects of celebrity culture and helps to normalise these aspects and keep them in the mainstream.

This may sound hypocritical given my history with fandom, but I’m not advocating all of stan Twitter to delete their accounts and stop posting. If a parasocial relationship with a celebrity you’ve never met is your way of coping with the soul-crushing reality of global capitalism then so be it, but what I am asking stans to do is just to think a little more critically. The fact that you can like a celebrity and/or piece of media and not condone every aspect of the media or the celebrity’s behaviour, especially the harmful, wrong or offensive aspects, is new knowledge to a lot of you, but taking it to heart can do you a world of good.

I’m also asking celebrity stan accounts to at least consider this fact: your fave doesn’t care about you — in all likelihood, they don’t even know you exist. Despite posts they might make about loving their fans, in real life they wouldn’t give you a second glance. This isn’t a criticism of you, it’s more just a statement of fact; another fact is that you deserve more than giving your labour away for free and fighting battles on behalf of these people who will never be as devoted to you as you are to them.

To conclude, although celebrity culture seems to be at a peak with the rise of stan Twitter, I still have hope that one beneficial outcome of all the chaos of 2020 is more and more celebrities, and eventually the concept in general, fade into irrelevancy. Many famous people have proven that they cannot respond to events like the coronavirus pandemic and the murder of George Floyd as effectively as ordinary people on social media (my peers, many of whom are teenagers, on Twitter and Instagram have made far better use of their platforms, even when they don’t have as large a following as celebrities do), and their lukewarm responses have been characterised by a lack of monetary support, which celebrities are in the some of the best positions to provide, and performative gestures in lieu of real help.

The very core of celebrity culture revolves around idolisation of certain people over others, of raising people onto pedestals and proclaiming that they are without flaws despite the unhealthiness of this behaviour. However, I can feel more and more people feeling the need to cease the normalisation of this due to the criteria above, their realisation that these famous people don’t really care about us, and many people’s growing rejection of capitalism, which the concept of celebrity is inseparably entwined with. Many are growing dissatisfied with celebrity, and I have a good feeling that 2020 will finally be the year that the concept starts to go out of style for good.

Review — Aurora Rising

Rating — 2.5 stars (sorry for the inclusion of so many negative reviews on this blog, but I find it easier to write longer, more constructive negative reviews than positive ones. If you want to read more of my positive reviews, you can shoot me a friend requests on my Goodreads.)

Warning — this review contains slight spoilers

I’ve been struggling with what to rate this book — mainly because, to be honest, this isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read (far from it), but it’s far from the best. As a successor to the Illuminae Files it was certainly disappointing, but a lot of the book was actually pretty solid. I liked the found family elements, and the representation (it featured disabled rep as well as limited LGBT rep, but more on that later). The plot was… fine. I found the heist elements fun, and I was already interested in the space opera style of the overarching plot considering that I already love sci-fi, but other than that it didn’t elicit any sort of strong reaction from me, other than making me think that this book was mildly looking up. And I suppose the worldbuilding was interesting enough too — but that may just be my vested interest in sci-fi talking.

The problem with this book, then, is the people who have to interact with the plot and the universe created. The problem is the characters and their relationships, and most of all that stuff infuriated me and pushed my rating down from what could have been 3.5 stars, or maybe even 4 stars if I was feeling generous. 

I’ll start with the characters, and by saying that I think the authors really shot themselves in the foot here by including seven different POVs. One or two I can understand, of course, even 3 or 4 to some extent, but any more than that is just too many POVs for a reader to handle. It limits the writer’s ability to develop a unique voice for each character to help their readers identify and form opinions on their characters. 

The problem, therefore, with including seven POVs means that most of them just blended together, and since their voices were all the same it was difficult for me to pick apart their unique personality traits, if they even had any — I think there were about three different personality traits spread between the seven characters. Finian was my favourite of these characters (mostly because I related to his whole thing of being the funny one who hides their vulnerabilities with sarcastic quips) and I think he should go to the doctor to get his shoulders checked, as they must be strained from carrying the weight of this entire cast.

However, the rest of the cast was either completely flat or defined by a hint of a personality trait; it made it very hard for me to care about them. Cat was just what would happen if you mixed Scarlett and Finian’s personalities, Scarlett was also a stereotypical femme fatale, Aurora was an Eleven knockoff who’s only personality trait was being confused, Zila was an Entrapta knockoff, Tyler was just blandly heroic, and I don’t even know where to start with Kal. Most of their voices all blended into one after a while.

Furthermore, all the relationships between the characters were underdeveloped and bland. You know what the writing of the romantic subplots reminded me of? When you’re writing a fanfic based on something with an ensemble cast, and you have your main pairing which you’re putting at least an iota of effort into, but then you have to pair off the rest of the cast into side pairings with characters they’ve spoken to twice in canon. In this book the main relationship was maybe Cat and Tyler, but all three pairings were written like side pairings. In fact, one of the relationships only happened because of some kind of mating bond, which I suspect was added in to avoid having to write any sort of chemistry between those two characters. 

There is also the issue of rep, in that Finian is heavily implied to be bi or pan (this is never stated outright, though). You’d think, considering the two M/F relationships already present in the story, that he would end up with a male character, but nope! If you were hoping for proper LGBT representation instead of just crumbs, this is not the book for you. Of course I understand that bi/pan people can be in M/F relationships, but considering the ensemble cast of seven and the two other M/F pairings, there were plenty of opportunities to make more than one LGBT character and to pair Finian with a man. Instead, we got another rushed M/F relationship that came out of nowhere and had barely any believable build up or chemistry. In fact, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Finian and Scarlett only had one one-on-one conversation together before it turned romantic. That’s just lazy, bad writing.

There were other, smaller things that bothered me too — the girl-on-girl hate, which should really have no place in a book published in 2019, as well as the fake swear words. Aurora’s constant use of “son of a biscuit” and “mothercustard” drove me up the fucking wall. I get that you can’t include swear words in YA on the same level as you can in adult books, but editing Aurora’s speech around that instead of making up these infuriating swear words for her to use would have been so much easier! Aurora’s powers were also used as a deus ex machina at some points, as it seems awfully convenient that her powers would kick in whenever the group was in trouble and that she somehow got control over her powers right before the climax.

In conclusion, this book had a lot of potential but that potential was squandered by terrible romantic relationships and bland characters. I wanted to like it, but sadly 2.5 stars was as high as I could go.

Why Can’t I Believe In The Future?

Trigger warning — this piece contains slight mentions of death and suicide. Please proceed with caution & stay safe.

(Sorry for publishing another pandemic-themed piece, but this has been in my drafts for a while and I thought it was still good enough to publish. I’ll try and return to my usual content soon, but as you all know I’ve been lacking inspiration.)

Earlier, I was reading Lilly Dancyger’s essay My Book Comes Out Next Year. Do I Even Still Believe in Next Year?, which I found almost uncomfortably relatable. It hit me hard as this period of turmoil has exacerbated an underlying problem that I’ve been trying to deal with for a long time now.

That problem is that I can’t visualise any sort of future for myself, and haven’t been able to for most of my life, and the coronavirus has just made it worse. I’ve never been able to picture myself as an adult with a job and a family, or a university student, or anyone other than a frantic secondary school student up all night worrying about an envelope containing some numbers or letters, the end result of a cumulative 14 years of schooling, that will determine my future — a future I’ve always subconsciously believed I’d never have.

I’ve spent most of my life, and expended far too much energy, worrying and stressing about the future, an abstract concept full of things that will happen, things that could happen, and things that are unlikely to happen but still have an element of possibility for my anxiety to latch onto and feed off to grow itself like a parasite.

It’s a large cause of my insomnia, and a reason why I’m often still lying awake two hours after I decide to go to bed. That, as well as things in the past that I can’t change and major issues that are going on right now, is just one component of what I stress about, but usually, for me, it’s the most damaging and reoccurring of my worries.

You’d think, then, with all my stress about the future, that I’m the type to be prepared for all eventualities and who has their life completely mapped out, but I’ll stop you right there and tell you it isn’t the case. Even though my nightly bouts of insomnia mean plenty of time to make plans for whatever short term problems are bothering me, anything further ahead than my A-Levels is completely shrouded in mystery.

This could be for many reasons — I’m too indecisive to make important choices like my university degree yet, or I’m sticking my head in the sand, completely in denial about ever having to enter into adulthood. Although, I think it’s something else, that I’m not just in denial about the future, but that I physically cannot imagine myself beyond school.

Of course, leaving the confines of a set routine that has dominated my life for as long as I can remember is a daunting prospect, so it can be difficult to plan for and to accept. But it always seems like everyone else I know has some sort of plan for what they’re going to do with their lives, or at least a recognition that life will go on after we take our A-Levels, a recognition I seem not to possess.

It’s not that I want to die young (well, not any more, at least), but I feel more that I’m supposed to, that I have to, that I will. As I get older and this future gets closer and closer as time marches on, I’ve stubbornly stuck to this belief and my brain has followed suit, refusing to let go of this idea that’s taken root in my mind. It feels like an inevitability. Despite that, I’m going to have to start making some big decisions soon about this future that I was convinced I’d never have, because it seems more and more likely that I will have to live it.

These decisions fill me with a potent dose of terror, because they’re so important and not ones I can just flip a coin over or leave to chance to decide. I haven’t ended up formulating any desires for my future other than pipe dreams, like leading a revolution or winning an Oscar, so I now have to make some hard choices about careers.

I’m sure you all already know about my career angst from my previous essays. To summarise — I have no desire to get a job but since I live under capitalism I have to be productive at all hours in order to have value in society, so I’m a shit out of luck. My preferred career, if I’m able to get in job in that field, is any sort of writing job, whether it’s as a journalist, a critic, an author or a screenwriter. Even though I was happy enough with one of those jobs, many people’s expectation is that I would pursue that as a hobby on the side of a different, “real” career that would be my primary source of income.

I was battling with whether to stick on my preferred route or to go with that advice, until the coronavirus happened and managed to push everything else I’ve been stressing about out of the window, ushering in a host of new problems in its wake. Now, with the advent of the pandemic, all those old stresses and future plans have been replaced inside my head with a mix of far-off anxiety about getting behind on my schooling and a haze of nihilism.

That inability to imagine the future that I’ve been struggling with for a while now has been getting worse and worse due to the pandemic, as my normal life has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. Even now, the UK still doesn’t have an end date for our lockdown, so our return to normalcy is still just as shrouded in mystery as it was back in late March when all this kicked off.

I’m not going to go out into the street and protest for the lockdown to end just so I can get a haircut and sacrifice others to the economy for it, don’t worry. In fact, I can see a personal silver lining in all this, which is that it has granted me a break from the anxieties which usually plague me whenever I try to sleep. I’m very lucky in that neither myself nor any of my loved ones is at a major risk of dying from the virus or of losing their economic stability, so I recognise that the pandemic and the lockdown has been far easier on me than it has been for many other people, and I don’t want to seem tone-deaf by pointing this out. However, this has been one change to my life under lockdown that I am reluctant to give up.

In some ways the virus has put things into perspective for me. It’s pointless worrying about exams that won’t matter in a year, let alone ten, when we could all die of a deadly virus. But in other ways that newfound perspective has descended into nihilism, a thought process that had already been bubbling up inside me before this had started happening. Our existence is on such a small scale compared to the rest of the universe, so nothing I do will make a difference in the grand scheme of things; climate change is going to end my life prematurely so what’s the point in planning for a future I may never have?

This has now morphed into me all but giving up on schoolwork, on my exams, on all the academic certainties in my life from before lockdown. My online classes have become this strange, other-worldly limbo, in which I appear to have regained my realisation from previous school years that none of the work I’m doing matters in the long term. This hasn’t helped me academically, but it has been refreshing for my mental health; I wasn’t aware just how much pressure my school and myself were piling onto me.

I think the fact that this lockdown has been a sort of limbo period is the reason why my inability to perceive a future for myself has been getting worse recently. The uncertainty of recent weeks that will probably hang over us all for the next year has made any sort of visualisation of the future nearly impossible, and reserved only for scientists and experts who can at least make their predictions informed.

It seems, in the darkest corners of my mind, like I don’t even have a future at all anymore, and that is a truly scary thought.

Review — Renegades

Sorry for going AWOL for a month, I’ve had no inspiration to write anything. Here’s a recent review from my Goodreads to tide you all over until I get any more ideas. Warning — it contains slight spoilers.

Rating — 2 stars

Another day of disliking a book everyone else seems to love, which is just getting depressing. It’s a shame, since I really wanted to like it — I love the superhero genre, as I’ve mentioned previously, and I was looking forward to what could have been a fresh and nuanced take on a genre that’s so often dominated by the same tired tropes. However, this book turned out to be just a flat disappointment that did nothing but play into those overdone tropes and drag itself through 550 pages.

Because I’m in a slightly good mood, and feel like I’m being too harsh already, I’ll start with the aspects of the book I did like. The representation on display was fantastic and diverse, and this was probably the best part of the book in my opinion. There was LGBT rep shown by Adrian’s dads (although having the apparent dictators be the only LGBT characters isn’t great, is it), characters of colour including Nova, who was Italian-Filipina, and also a disabled character, which sadly is very rare in the superhero genre so props to the author for including it. I also really liked the found family dynamics shown by the Anarchists, who in general were really fun to read about and more interesting than the hero characters.

Now I guess it’s time for me to talk about everything else that went wrong. I suppose I’ll start with what’s probably my least favourite element of YA as a genre at the moment — the romance.

I can pinpoint exactly the reason why it was so terrible (other than the fact that both Nova and Adrian had the personalities of a single piece of bread, but we’ll get to that), which is that it’s about as unsubtle as a brick wall. I can see what the author was trying to do — which was to write a slow burn romance — but the execution of this was almost physically painful. I’ve read a lot of fanfiction in my time, so I know what a good slow burn romance is supposed to look like, and this was not it.

The problem is that the romance pretty much starts at around 30%, when Adrian picks Nova at the trials, and then the rest of the book is just the author saying again and again “Look, they like each other. Look. Look. Look.” This was incredibly tedious and infuriating, as instead of the trust, friendship and eventual romance between Nova and Adrian being slowly but steadily built up, we’re simply told over and over again for 400 fucking pages that they have crushes on each other.

That’s not even touching on the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to care about Nova or Adrian or their relationship because of how bland and stale they were. They felt like rushed cardboard cut-outs of the tropes their characters were taken from: the morally conflicted villain and the goody two shoes hero. The only characters I actually found interesting were the aforementioned Anarchists, who were at least fun.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the plot — or, rather, lack thereof — and the pacing, which both confused me to no end as I wondered why no one had bothered to correct whatever the hell was going on with it. It was so strange because I could tell that things happened, and I’m sure they happened for a reason, but if you asked me to summarise the overarching plot of the book I wouldn’t be able to do so. The scenes that did happen felt like separate vignettes, completely divorced from each other and serving no real purpose, especially not to add to the main plot of the book because there was no such thing. I only started feeling vaguely invested in the plot about 15 pages from the end when all these twists and reveals started happening in rapid succession, presumably to keep people interested enough to pick up the second book.

There were also some other nitpicky-type problems I picked up on that I felt were worth mentioning but couldn’t flesh out enough into an entire point. First, everyone seemed to be cliched and cheesy, from the overdone tropes to the dialogue. A particularly egregious offender on that front was the discussions and handling of morality, which was mainly just the hammering home of the centrist, bland take that “both sides have flaws and good points!” despite the fact that the book tries to sell itself as having complex morality. This view is so tired and has been explored and parroted numerous times by so many other works in the superhero genre. It’s so disappointing to me that the book follows this bland-morality route, because this genre is rife with opportunity to actually explore complex moral issues but no one seems to want to do that.

The author also brings in many real world political elements that she doesn’t seem to fully understand; for example, Adrian refers to the “people in power” during the Age of Anarchy, despite the fact that no one was in power during that time as that’s the entire point of anarchism. There is also no explanation of how this Age of Anarchy was sustained for 20 years, despite the sort of chaos and the power vacuum that a long period of anarchism would create being ideal catalysts for the rise of fascism and/or dictatorship. It seems highly unlikely that in all that time no one would try to take power on the promise of eradicating all prodigies, criminals or not, especially since there seem to be enough people who hate prodigies to support such a leader.

Furthermore, the Council appeared to be foreshadowed to be themselves dictators, due to the many references to them putting building a fancy hall or repairing an amusement park over setting up a recycling system for Gatlon City, or to them not letting people vote and trying to formulate a way to take prodigies’ powers. However, none of these hints are given any sort of satisfying payoff, although hopefully they’re addressed in the rest of the trilogy (I don’t care enough to read it for myself and check).

On powers, I have two points to make. First off, the assignment of powers makes no sense at all. Some people are born with their powers, although apparently genetics has no influence on this and they just… manifest; other people’s powers were somehow triggered by traumatic experiences, which also doesn’t make sense. I mean, at the very least stick to one system.

Second, there are issues surrounding secret identities, specifically Adrian’s as the Sentinel (this isn’t a spoiler, we’re told this at the beginning). All that did for me was raise questions that didn’t get any answers, because the entire thing didn’t make any sense. Why did Adrian need a secret identity when he was already a Renegade? Why didn’t he just tell his dads that he could give himself new powers through tattoos? How could no one tell that Adrian was the Sentinel when every time Adrian disappeared the Sentinel appeared? The only thing that subplot actually did for the book as a whole was to give me a headache.

In conclusion, this book really wasn’t for me. It took me a week to read, most likely because it was too boring for me to focus on for more than a few pages at a time, and I’d also started reading a really great fanfiction while I was in the middle of this, so whenever I decided to get off Twitter and read something the choice between that and this boring mess was a no-brainer. Even the twists at the end that were meant to draw the reader’s attention back to the non-existent plot didn’t work on me — when I got to the last page, instead of anticipation or any sort of desire to read on, all I felt was relief. And I think that sums up my experience with this book nicely.

Review — A Darker Shade of Magic

Review taken from my Goodreads.

Rating — 2 stars

Surprise surprise, I didn’t like this! I mean, considering my terrible track record recently with YA and historical fiction, this book was just a recipe for disaster.

Sometimes I really hate disliking things that other people like. I mean, this just keeps happening to me — it happened with capitalism, Boris Johnson (apparently), the show Friends, Katniss and Peeta’s relationship in The Hunger Games, onions, and now this book. It’s disappointing because, contrary to what you’re probably all thinking of me, I don’t actually want to dislike things, especially pieces of media. I read books and watch films and TV to relax and to have a good time, so it’s always nicer to relax with something I enjoy that force myself through something I hate. However, I’ve been on Goodreads for a long while now — I made my old account when I was 12 — and it’s definitely changed what I want from a book, as well as making me far more critical of books.

By contrast, I’ve been reviewing films on Letterboxd for about nine months as of now and so most films I watch I’ll rate between 3.5 and 5 stars, mostly because I find it hard to think anything other than “I had fun watching a movie” after I watch a movie. Maybe it’s also because I’ve seen fewer films so my expectations are lower, or that films are over quicker so even bad films are slightly less torturous to sit through (a terrible book has wasted hours of my time and money, I want to rip it a new asshole as payback). Either way, I’m always far more critical of books than I am of movies.

However, despite all this, there’s one way to bypass that for me. If a book is well-written and has excellent characters or great worldbuilding, that’s all good — but what I really want from a book is an exciting plot that preferably hooks me in from the beginning. It doesn’t have to be an overly fast-paced thriller as I don’t mind books that are a little slower, but there needs to be some semblance of a plot there to hold my interest. Life’s just too short for me to have to hunker down and force myself through books like they’re homework assignments.

Therefore, for me, a book with mediocre characters, writing and/or worldbuilding but a gripping plot will most likely get a much higher rating from me than a book with excellent characters, writing and/or worldbuilding that bored me to death. It’s why I was reluctant to rate The Testaments as low as others who read it — although I didn’t like most elements of it, the plot really drew me in and I finished in about 3 days (an achievement for me, at least, since I usually take about a week to finish a 300-400 page book). It’s also why I’ve put The Goldfinch on hold, as even though Donna Tartt’s prose is beautiful and I, for once, like the characters, Boris especially, I’m currently halfway through the 800 page book and there’s still no plot to speak of.

That was one of the major problems with A Darker Shade of Magic — there wasn’t even a glimmer of plot up until about 45%, which is far too late to get me on board. I know this is a trilogy, but come on! Trilogies need three separate plotlines so each book feels fresh and interesting. Sure, you can have one overarching plot to stop the bad guy or whatever, but each book needs something individual to happen or the trilogy will start to drag incredibly quickly.

When the plot was finally introduced, I had to put the book down for a second to marvel at the sheer unoriginality of what was going to take place in the latter half of the book. Really, another McGuffin-based plot? It didn’t work in The Rise of Skywalker and it didn’t work here either. I could tell the entire trajectory of the rest of the book from one conversation that Kell had with Lila when the plot was introduced — they go to Red London and get into some trouble, go to White London and get into some trouble, then there’s some sort of twist that sets up the next book in the series. The twist may not have exactly happened, but I was pretty on the nose. There’s nothing wrong with being able to tell where the story is going, per se — that’s how we get this anti-spoiler-at-all-costs culture being perpetuated by people like the Russo brothers, as if a shocking ending is what defines your enjoyment of a piece of media most of all — but this plot was so predictable it hurt.

Another element of the plot that made me squirm was the painfully obvious romance between Lila and Kell that was being hinted at constantly. As soon as Lila’s character was introduced, I said “Oh, here we go” out loud, because their romance would be so flat and boring that it would cause me physical pain. I’m going to start demanding reparations for all these insipid, dull straight romances in YA books because this has gone on long enough.

The reason I hated the romance so much, though, was because Lila and Kell had a maximum of 1.5 personality traits combined, which leads me nicely onto the characters, who were all flat and one-dimensional. The author seems to think that the best way to write characters is to give them one defining personality trait and leave it at that. Lila’s trait was being spunky, Rhy’s was being bisexual, Holland’s was being menacing, and I couldn’t work out of the life of me work out what Kell’s was supposed to be, and he’s the main fucking character! The one that hurt the most, though, was Rhy’s, because he’s apparently supposed to be like Jack Harkness, which is blatantly not true because Jack has more to him than just flirting with everyone (probably because Russell T. Davies is a good writer).

They were all pretty cliched, too. Lila was the girl in every historical fiction book who acts and dresses in a stereotypically male way to show how different and tough she is, who has a hard set jaw and a mysterious past she doesn’t talk about; Rhy was the bi guy who’ll flirt with and/or fuck anything that breathes (totally not a harmful stereotype there); Kell had a vaguely tragic past but, to be honest, was too bland to be any sort of cliche.

But, if I hated this book this much (which I clearly did), then why am I giving it two stars instead of one? It turns out that there are actually some parts of the book I liked. It had well-written prose, and I found the concept of the parallel Londons and the worldbuilding surrounding that interesting as it is a unique concept.

However, the magic system was pretty lacklustre. Another elemental magic system that involves manipulating the four elements, as well as blood if you’re really powerful and edgy — where have I seen that before, where it was done much better? The Antari were also pretty overpowered and there was also nothing particularly unique about them. Another magical type person with far stronger power than any of their magical contemporaries, who’s also the last of their kind? Those were the bad OCs I came up with to put into my Wattpad books when I was 11. Please, spare me.

In conclusion, I should really pay more attention to plot summaries instead of just picking up books because their premises sound really interesting. I’ll also be taking an extended break from YA historical fiction (and probably historical fiction in general) because at this point I’d rather have my only reading material for the coronavirus lockdown be a mixture of Ayn Rand and Frerard fanfiction written in 2005 than pick up any other book in that genre for a long time. I also, again, won’t be picking up the rest of the series — I only read sequels to books I rated at least 3.5 stars, because I’m not made of money, time, energy or patience.

Review — And I Darken

Review taken from my Goodreads.

Rating — 1 star

Have y’all ever had a book craving?

Like, you’re in the mood to read one specific genre, and trying to force yourself to read a book outside this genre means your enjoyment will automatically decrease?

Before I started And I Darken, I wanted to read a nice, juicy YA high fantasy that I could sink my teeth into, a completely different world that would help me escape Bernie Sanders’ losses in the US election and the ongoing coronavirus scares.

There was nothing on my shelf or my TBR of books I owned that really fit that description, so I picked And I Darken as I thought it was fantasy. I think I chose it because of some bad marketing, since Goodreads classed it as fantasy even though… it isn’t, really. Other than some historical inaccuracies, there wasn’t exactly magic. It could have been true.

So, my opinions on this book could’ve been based on those false expectations, but it wasn’t completely that. There was a lot wrong with the book on its own, if you divorce my expectations from the content. Let’s get into it, then.

First of all, it was mind-numbingly boring.

By the end, I just had to hunker down and force myself through the book like it was a homework assignment so I wouldn’t get behind on my reading challenge. It made revising Newton’s laws for my Physics test seem like an excellent way to spend an evening, and made reading dry news articles about the stock markets seem like the most intellectually stimulating thing I could be doing with my time.

I’m not even sure why it was so boring — I mean, I love history. Wait, wait, scratch that, I love the interesting parts of history. The weeks of lessons we did on the Provisional Government in Russia in 1917 for my history GCSE class turned my brain to soup, although they were still more fun and interesting than this book. I mean, I don’t have any particular bias against the Ottoman Empire since I haven’t studied it in much detail, and I thought Vlad the Impaler would definitely be interesting, since he inspired Dracula with all that killing.

But no, this book managed to make Dracula boring by turning his life into a 475 page slog about tutors, vague court drama, and childhood trauma.

The first 200 or so pages was just endless descriptions of Lada and Radu as thirteen year olds just going to lessons and having minor petty drama while complaining about all of it. Where was the intrigue and complex power struggles I was promised? If I wanted to read all that boring shit, plus the childhood trauma, I could just reread my old journals from when I was younger for free and not waste seven quid.

After that, when they got older, it got a little more interesting when more stuff happened like war and assassination attempts, but then other factors came into play that just kept it down as a slog I had to push myself through.

Mostly, it was the characters. I hated pretty much all of them and I could barely connect with any of them, so I couldn’t bring myself to care about their boring childhoods or times spent sitting at court doing nothing or pointless romantic relationships (and we’ll fucking get to that).

The only exception was Radu, who I vaguely tolerated because I could empathise with him as a bullying victim, and later someone going through a gay identity crisis, especially since his environment was very hostile towards LGBT people. He had a lot of internalised homophobia, I could tell, so I could see my younger self in him, as I was also scared to admit to myself that I was gay. I’d always respected the LGBT community from a distance but thought it would never be me, so it was a shock when I realised it was.

Radu reminded me slightly of Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is very high praise as I saw myself in and liked Shinji for the same reasons I did with Radu. The major similarity is them both going through a gay identity crisis against the backdrop of some boring power struggles/cool mecha battles. Although that would make Mehmed Kaworu, and comparing Kaworu with Mehmed, and by extension the holy bible that is Neon Genesis Evangelion with the hot mess that is this book, is like comparing a gold bar with a trash can.

I guess we’ll have to address the elephant in the room, then — Lada and Mehmed.

They both sucked, and Radu deserved better than Mehmed, so maybe they deserved each other. But wow did their insipid, banal romance drive me up the fucking wall.

(Am I using big words in an attempt to be taken seriously when I’m yelling about a YA book? It’s more likely than you’d think!)

My major problem is that it’s completely and deliberately ahistorical. Fun fact, but in real life Mehmed and Radu were most likely lovers, according to Wikipedia, or at the very least Mehmed returned Radu’s feelings. I understand changing history to some degree, as I didn’t care about changing Vlad the Impaler’s gender, but deliberately removing satisfying LGBT representation and the chance at giving a canonically gay character a happy ending for a fucking straight enemies to lovers romance? That is a legitimate problem.

I thought we had moved past this way of doing LGBT rep, that the LGBT characters could only have tragic endings. I’m sorry, I didn’t realise the Hayes Code was still being enforced! It’s actually really harmful to reinforce these outdated, backward views.

And besides, why would you give up the chance to write meaningful LGBT rep for what, a straight enemies to lovers romance? Fucking really?

There are so many of those in fiction it’s not even funny. What’s even worse is that they’re somehow all terrible, except Han and Leia, Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and maybe Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing (that my class is reading in English) because they’re actually kinda sweet, and Shakespeare is a genius and all. So if only Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and the writers of one of the highest rated movies of all time on Letterboxd, your average YA writer shouldn’t even try.

I mean, look at the trainwreck that was “Reylo”, whatever the hell Kylo Ren and Rey had going on between them that was apparently some attempt at a romance. The enemies to lovers trope only works with LGBT relationships, I’ve decided, and I’m not just biased because I’m gay myself. I’m going to start demanding compensation for sitting through all these boring straight relationships, because I’ve had it up to here. And Mehmed and Lada were no different — their relationship was just as dull and unoriginal as all the others.

I’m not going to keep flogging this dead horse because I have better things to do, but, bottom line, this book was a mess. A boring, overdone, straightwashed mess with terrible characters that wasn’t even as well written as everyone said. I won’t be continuing with the series, regardless if it gets better, because this one book has already wasted enough of my time and money. Sayonara.

What “Children of Men” Got Right

“And now one for all the nostalgics out there. A blast from the past… that beautiful time when people refused to accept that the future was just around the corner.”

My family is doing movie nights every Saturday for the duration of our social distancing. Tonight is my turn to pick so I’m choosing Inception (because apparently neither of my parents have seen it), but last week’s was my dad’s, who chose Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

In case you haven’t seen the film, here’s some background — it’s set in 2027, in a dystopian version of the world where infertility has become so widespread that the youngest person on Earth is 18 years old. The rest of the world has descended into chaos, and Britain, where the film is set, has some kind of society but at the expense of rounding up immigrants, keeping them in cages, and sending them to fenced-off refugee camps to fend for themselves as there’s nowhere to deport them to. The plot of the film involves an activist helping a woman who’s the first to become pregnant in 18 years to get to safety.

I really enjoyed the movie — it was darkly bleak at some points and refreshingly hopeful in others, which combined into an all-encompassing portrait of what our future could end up being like. But what struck me the most is how relevant it was to everything going on right now, so much so that I wonder how Cuarón could have predicted so much from 2006.

There’s no doubt that we’re in a crisis that could turn into something of dystopian proportions if we let it — and I’m not just talking about the coronavirus. The film also in some ways predicted the mass rounding up and deportation of immigrants in the US by ICE, as well as Britain’s hostility towards immigrants that caused Leave to win the EU referendum. Disregarding the coronavirus, the film still managed to predict our current political climate nearly 15 years on from its original release.

Impressive as that is, that isn’t exactly what I’m here to talk about, since there isn’t much to analyse other than what I’ve just talked about. Instead, I’m going to ramble for a little while on the quote above, and how it just adds more proof to what I’ve been believing for a long time now — that we are on the precipice of great change that will reshape society forever.

It sounds like a bold claim, I know. Before my radical education, which I touched on briefly in my last essay, I had always thought that all was right with the world, and that our system of governance would continue largely uninterrupted by any large-scale societal change for my whole life.

I’d also always figured that I’d have a conventional life by society’s standards — get whichever job was the current career I aspired to, get married to a man (as this was before I’d started to question my sexuality) and have his children, even though both ideas filled me with a strange kind of dread, eventually retire — because it was the only life I knew. My parents had lived it, along with my friends’ parents, my teachers, seemingly every other adult I was exposed to, as well as celebrities and fictional characters. What I thought were my aspirations were actually the ones that had been spoon-fed to me by the heteropatriarchy and capitalism — the concept of a “dream job”, monetary success, a nuclear family and, ultimately, a long but boring life.

That all changed in 2018, when I was awakened not once, but twice — to my sexuality and my new political views, both of which highlighted for me the intense flaws in our current capitalist, heteropatriarchal governing system and the changes that need to be made.

I first started getting political when I first properly got onto social media in 2016 after the Brexit referendum and Trump’s election. However, I wasn’t exactly radical at that point, and I was more what you’d call a liberal, or a social justice warrior: I preferred support of minority rights in a politician to any expression of ideology, thought Hilary Clinton was a great candidate for the American presidency, saw Obama as a god amongst men, thought David Cameron had been a good Prime Minister because he opposed Brexit and based my ideas of feminism on pussy hats, Wonder Woman and “girl boss” mantras.

Then 2018 came, seizing everything I thought I believed in its bare hands and tearing it to shreds, replacing it with something new — that I was a lesbian, and a communist.

Discovering my sexuality and realising I was a lesbian was the pinnacle of an ongoing process, as I’d been questioning for a year prior to that point. It was most likely one of the reasons that I’d subconsciously buried myself within LGBT spaces online as an “ally”, as if I’d known all along but was too scared to admit it to myself.

My other awakening was discovering a new political ideology, communism. It was completely by chance — a communist meme account had somehow found itself on my explore page on Instagram, and the meme I’d seen intrigued me enough to keep searching and searching through the account’s posts until I’d become convinced. There had been something missing in my life prior to this discovery, a void filled by communism, the answer to the meaning I had been searching for. I had already been disillusioned by capitalism, as I had no desire to get a job or have a nuclear family. I wanted out, and a communist revolution seemed like the perfect opportunity.

That was the year I read my first piece of theory, which was the classic itself, The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. While reading the text, I was struck by how much of Marx’s writing was still relevant to our current political climate and how his ideas could be so universal, even though the Manifesto was originally published 150 years ago.

Communism had also helped to give me some form of purpose in life — striving towards revolution, which enabled a new pipe dream of mine that I would be the one to lead this new revolution and give the rousing speech that would bring it into being. Back then, I was content with this, safe in the knowledge that one day, the history of class struggle would be worth it.

Then the coronavirus came, and now all this seems to be accelerating, speeding ahead at a rate I can’t fully comprehend.

The pandemic has been startling in so many ways, but one of the most meaningful for me, one that could cause lasting social change, is the exposé of some major problems and gaps within the capitalist system we currently live under. This is due in part to the temporary suspension of many commonplace elements of our society, like evictions and student loan payments, as well as housing homeless people.

Other effects of the coronavirus include the general public’s disillusionment with the concept of celebrity due to the annoying and often tone deaf content being put out by them during their periods of social distancing and self isolation, like Gal Gadot’s cringe-worthy “Imagine” cover that has been torn apart by pretty much everyone on the internet recently. There has also been a growing frustration with billionaires for their hoarding of wealth that could be used better to help the people and their lacklustre or completely absent responses — celebrities asking their fans to donate money when they appear not to have spent a single cent are particularly guilty of this.

Growing resentment towards the pre-coronavirus ways of doing things has the potential to inspire great social change when this is finally resolved. The addition of a crisis on the magnitude of this one to an already fragile society with a growing number who are dissatisfied with the status quo means the pandemic acts as a catalyst to the social change that was always inevitable.

So far, the coronavirus has already proven that certain so-called axioms from our previous society — that people now considered key workers like food delivery drivers and janitors weren’t essential enough for pay rises, that a single-payer healthcare system was unnecessary, that the NHS didn’t need any extra funding — are completely false, at least in the eyes of the general public who previously believed them.

Even though it may just be wishful thinking, I truly believe that some form of social upheaval must be around the corner somewhere. For example, if governments don’t learn from the mistakes of this pandemic by changing at least some things about how society is run, we will be in the exact same situation the next time another deadly and infectious disease like COVID-19 appears. As we’ve seen from the response to the pandemic, some of these changes, like housing homeless people, halting evictions or freezing student loans, are ready to go whenever but governments just need to want to put these changes in place. Others, like the eventual demise of celebrity, will be bought about by the general public instead.

But, either way, something has to happen. Right?

That brings us back to the Children of Men quote I mentioned at the beginning. For us, the future is just around the corner, and we have the power right now to mould it into something positive and beneficial for all of us. We don’t have to stick our heads into the sand and pretend that change isn’t coming; instead, we can take this opportunity to do something meaningful.

I spoke at length about living through something in my last piece, but I feel like it’s relevant for this topic as well. For all of us, and especially younger people like my generation who will particularly feel the long-lasting effects, this is what one of the major events that will define our lives in history, if there’s anyone still around to record history in the far future. Not only will there be the coronavirus to talk about in discussions of early-21st-century history, but there will also be climate change and our shifting political climate.

One of my biggest fears to do with the virus, other than one of my loved ones catching it, is that at the end of all this no one, at least no one in power, will learn anything; that rent payments and evictions will resume, homeless people will be forced back onto the streets, key workers will still be payed the same, billionaires will continue to hoard their wealth, and celebrities will return to thinking that posting a GoFundMe link to their followers without donating any of their own vast swathes of wealth or recording a video of themselves singing is activism. That, for me, would just exacerbate the tragedy of the deaths from the virus as it would make them seem in vain.

It is essential that we learn from this — the future is nearly upon us, and if we try to blunder through the next crisis with the same flawed system history will not look upon us, especially our leaders, at all kindly. (But maybe that’s for the best.)

A Very Messy Personal Essay About Coronavirus And My Coming Of Age

I was in my local supermarket yesterday, walking past people pushing trolleys filled with panic-bought food and empty shelves once filled with pasta, and I suddenly remembered my favourite scene in Lady Bird.

I watched the film for the first time about a month ago. It’s set in 2002, not a particularly famous year, and the most memorable scene for me is the line where Lady Bird says she wants to live through something. Deep down, I think that’s always been one of my strongest desires, even though I know it’s selfish — to live through something that would be studied in history textbooks for years to come, something that would make my life a little less monotonous and dull.

Standing in an aisle of that supermarket, the end of Sleeping Lessons by The Shins playing through my headphones like I was in a scene of my own coming of age movie, it hit me. I had gotten my wish; coronavirus was what I was going to live through.

On December 31st, 2019, the first reports of the new coronavirus that would come to be known as COVID-19 began in Wuhan, China. The virus spread worldwide and now, three and a half months later, it’s been classified as a pandemic.

Every morning for the last week or so I’ve been checking the news, and every major story is an update on the virus. At least one coronavirus-related topic or hashtag is trending every time I check Twitter, usually some variation of coronavirus spelled wrong. Most of my Twitter timeline is now the virus, or the Democratic primaries in the US. We’re being bombarded with news.

It’s pretty clear that, for most countries, the virus is going to get worse before it gets better. It’s not a matter of if, anymore, but when everything is going to get bad. Especially for where I live, the UK, where the measures put in place by Boris Johnson on Thursday are restrained if you’re an optimist or totally useless if you’re a pessimist (like me, in this situation). No schools or large events are being closed, and the advice that is being given — wash your hands, don’t go on cruises if you’re over seventy, self-isolate if you have symptoms — is just common sense at this point.

Boris has pretty much just accepted that people are going to die. We’re 7-10 days behind Italy here, so we have just a week to put preventative measures in place, but we won’t. One of our scientific advisors has said that “at least 60% of the population needs to contract COVID-19 in order to develop ‘herd immunity'”. 60% of the UK’s population is around 40 million people, so if the virus has a 2% mortality rate, 800,000 people will die. And the government is actively encouraging it.

Nothing is going to be done, and I just have to sit here with the knowledge that there’s nothing I can do to prevent this loss of life. It’s sobering, to say the least.

For me, though, the worst thing about all this is the waiting. We still have time — just, just enough time — to put measures in place, since the virus hasn’t fully set in yet. We’re still not in a situation like Italy or China, even though we’re close. It reminds me of climate change, of how we have just enough time to do something about that, but no one who can make difference, like the world leaders, is really doing anything.

Last week, the virus still seemed so far away, like it was never going to affect me personally outside of distant news reports from far-flung countries. I still thought it would all just blow over before it got too serious. But now, it feels so much more real, so close to home, because it is. Everyone has realised by now that this crisis is going to affect all of us, a realisation I hadn’t prepared to have to accept.

At some point, very soon, it’s all going to get worse. Case numbers will spike. Schools will close. The NHS will become too ill-equipped to handle the number of cases. The country will go on lockdown. But we just don’t know when.

When we look back on all this, assuming there are enough of us alive to look back, we’ll be able to pinpoint the exact moment when it really started getting bad. Right now, we don’t have that luxury, so we have no idea how much worse it’s going to get from here.

This BuzzFeed News article, which inspired me to write… whatever this is, really hits the nail on the head by summing up how much all this dread and anticipation of what’s to come is putting everyone on edge —

“The great collective feeling of the day is one of impending doom. And all anyone anywhere wants to know is how bad it’s going to get.”

I’m supposed to just get on with my life, going to school and revising for tests, while I and the rest of the world wait with baited breath for what’s going to happen next, even though that’s near impossible. We were already practising remote learning measures in my Chemistry class today; one of the only words on people’s lips for the past week has been coronavirus.

This is our last stand before shit hits the fan. So what should I even be doing, other than washing my hands, stockpiling toilet paper, or still pretending everything’s going to be fine?

I’d always thought I wanted to live through something, mostly because I also knew, deep down, that it wouldn’t happen. Even when I was younger, my life had been proven time and time again to be boring, disappointing, and only really exciting on a personal level with events that would only affect me and the people directly around me. I thought I’d just been born at a point when everything was just alright in the world.

When I began to get online, though, I found out that the world was not alright. My first introduction to politics and social justice came with the rude wake-up calls of the Brexit referendum and the 2016 election, which I thought at the time were two events in a one-off terrible year.

However, when I was introduced to climate change and communist theory, I began to realise that what I was living through — the climate crisis and the demise of late-stage capitalism — would be more of a slow process than what I’d originally thought living through something would be like.

I was born into a cursed generation, the first who’s entire lives would be shaped and dictated by the climate crisis. I’ve grown up knowing that things would start getting worse when I was 30 or 40, that my future would be severely impaired by climate change, that when I was an adult and could do something real it would already be too late. I’ve also been witnessing late-stage capitalism’s effect on the population and how bad things are getting on the economic front, which hasn’t helped the climate, as politicians and big business continue to prioritise profit over people’s lives.

From then on, I realised that the things happening around me in the news would be key events for future historians to study. But they were all very long-term issues that would likely stretch over my entire life, and, as of now, the consequences for me haven’t been very extreme.

By contrast, the coronavirus outbreak has exploded into the news, filling up all our minds in a few months. It will definitely have major short-term consequences that will be affecting all of us soon enough, whether directly or indirectly.

My coming of age will be more fractured than Lady Bird’s, regardless of whether the coronavirus disappears tomorrow or hangs over us like a dark shadow for months, but at least I got our wish. Now it’s really happening, though, I don’t know if I really meant it or if it was just a pipe dream, something I’d just say, with no real intention behind the words.

I guess I really should be more careful what I wish for.

The Rise Of Skywalker — What The Hell Happened?

Warning — this review contains spoilers, as well as mentions of r*pe and abusive relationships.

The best way I can justify my rating (2 and 1/2 stars on my Letterboxd, currently) is by quoting Jacob Knight’s review.

“The good news is really only for folks who strongly disliked The Last Jedi.”

You see, I liked The Last Jedi. It’s currently 4th in my Star Wars ranking, and I think it was given far too bad a reputation for how good a movie it was. (Rian Johnson, I’m so sorry I ever doubted you.) That means this was a film I was probably never going to like.

The film is obvious pandering to the very vocal crowd that wanted The Last Jedi to be written out of the Star Wars canon. While The Last Jedi wasn’t perfect (Finn’s arc was definitely handled badly), it was so much better than whatever the hell is happening here, that seems like it was written by Reddit theories. The Rise of Skywalker retconned a lot of the good things about The Last Jedi, which is just disappointing, and proves that JJ Abrams was just making a sequel to his own movie, The Force Awakens.

One of the worst treated by all this retconning was Rose. Kelly Marie Tran is hideously underused because of some idiotic online racists and misogynists. I can’t understand their outrage at Rose being driven by anything other than racism and misogyny, because she was never a terrible character — in fact, quite the opposite.

Rey is also a Palpatine now, because fuck what Rian Johnson was going for by making Rey’s parents just ordinary people with no connections to ancient Sith bloodlines. Just typing “Rey Palpatine” seems like a far-fetched fan theory and not literal canon. It seems like a cheap attempt at including another Big Bad other than another Death Star. As The Force Awakens was a rehash of A New Hope, this movie is a rehash of Return of the Jedi.

Speaking of Finn, although his arc wasn’t handled well in The Last Jedi, nothing has improved here. His entire character is just caring for and pining after Rey while yelling her name in intense fight scenes. Why Finn, such an interesting character with great potential as a Force sensitive ex-Stormtrooper, has been sidelined by all these films, I have no idea. Poe, too, has nothing to do other than be an ex-drug dealer (wow, what a great profession to give your Latino character!) and attempt to flirt with an ex.

And don’t get me started on Kylo Ren.

As anyone who knows me will know well, I hate Kylo Ren and I hate Reylo. Kylo was always just a whiny, emo (but not even in a good way, like My Chemical Romance) Zuko knockoff. There are so many more complex villains I prefer immensely — like Catra from She-Ra and the Princesses of Power or Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender himself.

In comparison, Kylo was a cardboard cut out of a fascist (why does everyone always forget he’s literally a fascist?) who killed his father, Han Solo, which to me is an unforgivable crime. And that’s not even touching on what he did to Rey.

I guess you can’t talk about Kylo and Reylo in isolation, so I’ll have to mention them together. I never understood Reylo shippers, considering that for two years the only content of them together is Kylo throwing Rey into a tree and using the Force to mentally and physically torture her in a way that reminds me very much of a rape scene.

Then, The Last Jedi helped to cement, in my view, that Kylo wouldn’t be redeemed — yes, he kills Snoke and not Rey, but only to try and gain more power for himself and to become Supreme Leader. If JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson had actually communicated and decided on whether or not Kylo would get a redemption arc, there would have been many more hints of it in The Last Jedi.

Then we get the mess of The Rise of Skywalker. The film opens with Kylo slaughtering a tribe of aliens. For the first half of the movie he acts like the emo space fascist from the previous two movies, then suddenly has a change of heart and runs off to help Rey. Good, well-written redemption arcs need more development than just the redeemed character doing one good thing at the end to help the heroes. I’m not surprised one of the writers of this movie wrote Batman VS Superman and Justice League.

At the climax of the movie the two of them fight Palpatine, although it’s pretty much all Rey, there’s something to do with the strength of their bond, Kylo Force heals Rey (because that’s a thing now apparently), they kiss, and he dies.

What the fuck?

Let’s start with the obvious — this is a terrible way to write a redemption arc and an incredibly unhealthy relationship. Kylo doesn’t even apologise to Rey for trying to kill her and her friends multiple times or mind raping her. He helps her out in one fight and not only is all forgiven but they’re making out? How is this healthy?

“Reylo” as a romantic relationship is physically (all the times he tried to kill her, you can’t deny that happened) and emotionally (“You’re nothing”) abusive. It’s toxic and unhealthy. Rey is visibly scared of Kylo, and yet when they kiss, it’s fine, apparently.

This is more than just a ship war, or my personal opinion on a ship, though — it’s hurtful to abuse survivors, as this piece illustrates excellently. The fact that this movie made an abusive ship actually happen makes it more than just fandom discourse which is harmful. It makes the film push the narrative that girls can fix their abusive partners (and Nazis) purely with love and that abuse is something romantic.

It makes Rey’s character centre around redeeming a fascist, and Kylo’s badly written redemption arc means he faces barely any consequences for being a fascist. This is a great message for 2019 with the alt-right on the rise!

The whole Rey Palpatine thing also makes Rey Kylo’s aunt (Palpatine is also Anakin’s father) so if any Reylos want to argue that that doesn’t constitute abuse, you can’t exactly argue that incest is okay.

Another thing about this movie is that it manages to alienate most of the fanbase, at least the part of the fandom which cares about shipping. Half of us were angry the minute Reylo happened for reasons I detailed above, and the other half who actually wanted Reylo to happen are now upset because Kylo was killed off. Star Wars now joins Game of Thrones and Voltron by pissing off (pretty much) all of its fanbase with its conclusion and imploding this spectacularly.

Moving on from Reylo, which I could rant about for years, we come to the issue of LGBT representation and Finnpoe.

As you may have heard, history has been made with the first LGBT rep in Star Wars — a few second WLW kiss, featuring background characters who’s names we don’t know. It reminds me of the LGBT “rep” in Avengers: Endgame earlier this year, which was supposed to be “revolutionary”.

Sorry if you didn’t get the memo, JJ Abrams, but the Hays Code is no longer a thing, and the bar is no longer this low. LGBT people are demanding better treatment, and we deserve it, too.

But, if you really had no choice but to go with the two second kiss instead of meaningful representation (I mean, what else would have happened? Disney is a megacorporation that puts profits and pandering to bigots over meaningful rep, after all) why not do it with two characters who’s names we knew? Who played important roles in the trilogy as a whole? Who actually had romantic chemistry? (a low bar, but Reylo had about as much chemistry as my timetable on a Monday, so I need it.) Why not deliver on the queerbait they’d been teasing us with for years?

What I’m saying is that Finnpoe deserved to be canon and endgame. They had the potential to be meaningful LGBT rep in Star Wars and to be an excellent relationship — if they could actually get off the ground, which Disney seems to be too cowardly to do. It seems so depressing than we’re nearly in a new decade and we still have to fight for good representation like this. Why can’t directors actually try, for once, instead of just trying to get praise for doing the bare minimum?

In conclusion, The Rise of Skywalker is a movie that’s mediocre at best and downright horrible at worst by glorifying abusive relationships, retconning everything good about The Last Jedi, pandering to racists, and taking credit for bare-minimum LGBT representation after queerbaiting us for years with Finnpoe. It’s a movie that tries to pander to everyone but ends up pleasing no one, and it made me realise that we as a community were far too harsh on The Last Jedi. If you haven’t seen it and you’re still here, please go see Knives Out instead.