In Canada, the only prominent national venue left for indie films would seem to be Superchannel though it too is beginning to drift in the comic con direction with shows like the over the top Ash. Regular broadcast, cable, and streaming services have moved more and more towards the comic con films already dominating our movie theatres: Gotham, The Arrow, The Flash, Agents of Shield, Jessica Jones, DC Legends of Tomorrow , Supergirl, Daredevil, Agent Carter, etc. And these films and TV shows seem to appeal to an audience much bigger than the 18-24 year old demographic and teen market. Men in their 70s know who Magneto is.
I suspect they appeal to all those whose values have been shaped by neoliberalism and its naturalization in our culture over the last forty years or so, though there is an unconscious fear in this embrace of comic con culture, I think: the fear that this wholehearted embrace of comic con pop culture might not be fully justified, the nagging feeling that something isn’t just right in such a full endorsement and that high or at least an alternative culture does in fact still exist recessed though it is, to be sure, but nevertheless still providing a different choice - in short, a troubling lack of confidence in even one’s “taste” in movies.* This lack of confidence is abundantly evident in the recent fierce and absolute, sometimes outright neurotic defense of such comic-con fare as The Force Awakens on social media platforms or even in the wish to see politically correct feminist value in the now well established trend for "strong" women leads in both film and tv comic-con projects. An illusion of the ideology of individualism, this is a taste of course totally constructed by corporate marketing strategies with budgets bigger than production costs in most cases. Resistance is futile, or, if you do have the social courage to resist, “you spend a lot of time in the corner,” as Joel Rubinoff laments, “keeping to yourself.”
Hollywood of course relies on the sequel both to avoid financial risk and exploit already established markets more expeditiously. There is thus little doubt that we will be suffering from comic con and animated sequelitis for many years to come, but these established, known fictional worlds also generate a deep degree of psychological comfort for the comic con audience in more than one way.
Nora Loreto wrote recently in the CCPA Monitor, “Neoliberalism has… created an environment where young people believe that success and failure hinge solely on an individual’s capacities” - the illusion of individual power and choice inevitably resulting, however, not in freedom but in frustration and defeatism, she argues, because of socio-economic realities.
These movies, as I’ve implied in another post, are pure escapist fantasy - marketed of course as “just entertainment” - dreams of individual choice and power, if you will, delusional fantasies in one sense but therapeutic in another and driven by desire if not need. And perhaps, ironically, given the socio-economic reality for their primary viewers - the prospect of secular stagnation and precarious work forever - useful if not necessary to survive psychologically. In this they repeat the primary psychological role of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s, which offered useful escapism galore against the socio-economic reality of the Depression and the horrors of WWII.
One could argue, however, that in perpetuating the illusion of individual power and choice so massively these films in fact generate a deleterious effect by reinforcing the very values of neoliberalism from which escape is desired. Escapism in this instance cuts both ways: that is, these films are both an escape from neoliberal socio-economic reality and in fact, paradoxically, an endorsement of neoliberal socio-economic values.