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Monthly Archives: May 2015
Many years ago, I made fun of a friend of mine when she recounted the panic she’d felt when she mistakenly thought that her wedding ring was lost. I admit now that it was terribly insensitive, and the only defense I can offer is that it was a product of the naive arrogance of youth, the supreme belief that you’ve figured out the inherent truths of the universe that most folks are too indoctrinated to see or otherwise don’t have the heart to confront. And so, cruelly, I laughed at her.
I laughed not simply to be mean, but because I was, and still am, an essentialist.* I’ve struggled to define that term, but at base I think it means being the kind of person who is concerned with what’s at the heart of a an experience or a goal or an idea. It comes down to the root word — essence. What is the essential point underlying what I’m doing or what I believe? Why is it important? What about it really matters? These are the questions at the core of the way an essentialist looks at the world.
And so I laughed because there is nothing essential about a wedding ring. I may be paraphrasing the exact words I used, but my haughty mockery of my friend’s legitimate anxieties over her misplaced ring took roughly the form of “Gee, I sure hope I didn’t lose my eternal commitment to my husband.”
I was just a kid when I began watching The Simpsons religiously. That meant that, at the time, a good portion of the show went completely over my head: homages to classic movies, references to snuggling, jokes about Richard Nixon. It also made revisiting the show as an adult a wonderfully enriching experience. While the exquisite construction and sheer hilarity of the series enraptured me as a kid, I discovered deeper layers of storytelling, humor, and commentary in the show as an adult that I could never have fathomed in all my young fanaticism. But that naivete also meant that I completely missed how unremittingly dark the series could be in an episode like “Homer’s Enemy”.
Now The Simpsons is no stranger to dark comedy. It’s often employed in the tragicomic stylings of characters like Moe Szyslak or Hans Moleman, who suffer repeatedly for our amusement and turn up again no worse for wear. But there are few moments in the show’s canon that can match the pure black comedy of Frank Grimes’s descent into madness, or the conclusion of his debut episode, where the denizens of Springfield are laughing at Homer’s antics, while Grimes is lowered into his grave after an untimely death.
I had the faintest glimmer of hope at the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the midst of our intrepid heroes’ battle with the titular AI run amok, when the chances for a civilian evacuation seemed bleak, Nick Fury came blazing to the rescue with a helicarrier, and reassured Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that he had “pulled her out of mothballs with a couple of old friends”.
Here it was, the moment when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would have the slightest impact on the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, the TV show’s characters would be relegated to a quick cameo or even the background, but the devoted fans who had slogged through the show’s rougher patches would be rewarded with a brief glimpse of Fitz or Simmons or Mack or somebody from the ragtag remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D., there to help save the day. It only made sense. After all, if recent episodes of the show were any indication, Fury and Maria Hill had been working with Coulson’s team off-screen for some time, and there were more than a few capable agents suited to the task.
But no. Instead, the brief-if-pleasant bit of continuity came in the form of an appearance by the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent from Captain America: The Winter Soldier who had refused to launch Hydra’s helicarriers despite being held at gunpoint. It was a nice callback, but one that still left me feeling cold to a film that seemed to only make the broadest of gestures toward the rest of the MCU.