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213. Are ‘Memes’ and Viral Content Ruining Fantastical Franchises?

Many movies and shows seem designed to “go viral” and provoke free promotion based on flippant references instead of sincere story value.
Fantastical Truth on May 21, 2024 · No comments

Why do we see, or rather not go to see, so many weirdly cringe movies with plots and dialogue that seem designed to be “so bad it’s good”? How come goofy sidekicks, obvious political agendas, and other strange stories get their own corporate attention, while newer and more earnest stories get passed by the wayside? There’s one big possible reason hiding in plain sight, and it’s the mind-blowing answer that They don’t want you to know.

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Mission update

Concession stand

Actor Max McLean portrays Screwtape in a stage version of The Screwtape Letters.

1. Memes can make us feel more casual and flippant.

  • Stephen would compare memes like seasoning for culture and life.
  • A little salt, a little pepper, maybe some hot sauce (for political memes).
  • But if we tried to life on “meme culture” as a main course, we’d starve.
  • We would also be poisoned, our tastes literally coarsened, by all this.
  • That’s why we try to discipline ourselves not to get too much into these.
  • Related to this, Scripture cautions against mockers and scoffers.
  • Stephen cites Lewis’s view of the word flippancy in The Screwtape Letters.
  • In letter 11, Undersecretary Screwtape expounds on human humor.
  • He classifies humor as (a) joy, (b) fun, (c) The Joke Proper, (d) flippancy.

But flippancy is the best [devilish use of humor] of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it.

If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.

  • People and celebrities and stories get reduced to fleeting images/hijinks.
  • Some memes are flippant. Others are proper jokes about human quirks.
  • Stephen has made some funny pictures and even gone (mildly) viral.
  • In theory, this podcast or other Lorehaven content could start memes.
  • One wonders: could we help make the word fantastical more popular?

2. Memes can infect our hearts with toxic notions.

  • In storytelling and culture debates, people are basing beliefs on memes.
  • This is not new, but memes can spread lies even faster over digital apps.
  • That doesn’t just mean, say, “fake news,” bad quotes, or false theories.
  • It also means worldview assumptions that aren’t proven, just assumed.
  • “The joke is always assumed to have been made,” especially vs. enemies.
  • That’s related to dumb tropes, like “Southern accent = stupid or evil.”
  • Other meme “arguments”? “Love is love.” “-phobe.” Misquoted verses.

Open discussion

  • Memes may “explain” but only reduce complexities like mental health.
  • Some folks who think differently seem to really fixate on meme humor.
  • Stephen can’t imagine devoting hours to analyzing/making new memes.
  • This can badly replace better stories with heroes, villains, plots, worlds.

3. Memes make corporations envious for ‘virality’

  • Now we see the (possible) real reasons behind strange franchise choices.
  • Some films/shows aren’t trying to be good but end up so-bad-it’s-good.
  • Instead, they’re aiming to be so-bad-it’s-good, or at least memorable.
  • Memorable = memeable, which also saves a lot on marketing costs.
  • Stephen thinks this motive is behind weird choices like Madame Webb.
  • They’re not really trying to make a great story; they want to start memes.
  • Stephen wonders if this is behind odd corporate emphases on Gollum.
  • That’s a side character. Why the cringe video game? Why new movies?
  • Answer: because Gollum is a meme. His movie version charts really well.
  • Admittedly, Jackson, Serkis, et. al. could do great things with new films.
  • See also, admittedly, weird dialogue in that new Rings of Power teaser.
  • It’s an attempt to manufacture an originally good thing that is organic.
  • No one knows who wrote, “Jingle bells / Batman smells.” It’s just there.
  • And few people know who first attempted the first “rickroll.” It happened.
  • However, many people can intuit if a corporation is trying to “go viral.”
  • That becomes cringe and it gets shut down as inorganic very quickly.
  • But if you make a straightforward story like Lord of the Rings or Dune?
  • Then suddenly the memes are everywhere, from Strider to Stilgar.
  • Fans feel “secure” on a sincere story’s foundation to laugh about it some.
  • Just as you may feel secure, at home or a good place, to laugh at more.
  • Whereas people who aren’t so blessed struggle to laugh about things.
  • Related: the fairly common idea that “the left can’t meme.” See also G. K. Chesterton’s reminder that “Satan fell through force of gravity.”

Com station

Top question for listeners

  • Have you ever gone viral for sharing a meme? How did that feel?

JPC Writer and others enjoyed discussion about episode 212:

I appreciated all four of your candidness and the kind way in which you conveyed truths and your points of view. … I think there is some silver lining to the “woke stuff” and a bit of that silver is that women are being portrayed in a better/less sensualized, more realistic light. Similarly, I appreciate that more people of color/with disabilities, etc., are being included more in movies, TV shows, and books. While of course, that ideology has lots of negatives, I think it’s important to–as you all were saying–to look for common grace/ground. Even good can come from a bad place.

Next on Fantastical Truth

What if the spirit of antichrist came to your town? Burned-out pastor Travis Jordan is on break from ministry after the death of his wife. But then his small city of Antioch faces great signs and wonders from a new prophet who claims to be a better christ than the true Jesus Christ. Just in time for our next summer book quest, challenge your faith and seek the true Savior for the 25-year anniversary of Frank Peretti’s supernatural thriller The Visitation!

Fantastical Truth
Fantastical Truth

Lorehaven explores fantastical stories for God's glory: fantasy, sci-fi, and beyond.

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