Black Panther and Our Attraction to Personal Stories

Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock somewhere deep in the ocean, you know that this week marks the premier of one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Not just a Marvel movie; and not just a superhero movie either. For a lot of people, Black Panther will be the one time they’re definitely going to be heading to the movies in 2018 with their friends, family, or even that significant other that wants to learn  doesn’t appreciate this amazing genre of media.

The number of think pieces, editorials, blog posts, YouTube soliloquies, and even music dedicated to highlighting how people feel about this movie is at an all time high; and there’s nothing wrong with that at all! But this post isn’t any of that. I love how so many people, who previously didn’t have Marvel on their radar, are now asking me questions about comic books and the stories that they can dip their toes into. Bravo to marketing and word of mouth. Instead, I’m more interested in the social dynamics of people’s fervor towards things they personally feel invested in.

Long live the King indeed!

What is it about a person seeing themselves in media that makes them so passionate and emotional to share and revel in its success? Why do we tie ourselves up with ensuring that a particular person or project succeeds? I’m included in this as well, so please don’t think that I’m judging.

In 2018, we find ourselves on a planet that is filling up with more people (7 billion+ at last count). The world is becoming a bigger and bigger place by the day. But the advent and domestication of the internet has made things seem more localized than ever. Just yesterday, I read the thoughts of someone from Thailand on my Twitter timeline. Technology is amazing. It’s also desensitizing because of the amount of information that passes our eyes at speeds so fast we don’t even have time to process it.

We literally are inundated with information almost every minute out of the day. That’s a lot of things to process.

For most of us, we wake up in the morning to go to our job (or at night if you work a late shift), work all day, get off to go home to our families and unwind a bit, and then do it all again tomorrow. We live for the weekends to catch up with friends, maybe engage in hobbies, and just take a break from the monotony of our jobs, until Sunday evening knowing we’re about to jump back in the rat race again. We’re creatures of habit and routine and we will easily continue this loop for decades without thinking about it. It’s just the way our culture is subconsciously programmed.

So when something colorful stands out amongst the grey and drab scenery of our day-to-day, we attach ourselves to it. At the very least, we pay way more attention to it. Stories with accounts of triumph over tragedy are mixed with interpersonal elements from our own lives that have taken winding paths on this journey called life; and if that comic, movie, tv show, or novel sprinkles in a super villain, monster, or a spaceship? All the better. You have to put the medicine in the candy people. It’s these stories that can leave us with important cultural touch tones and lasting impressions on our psyche:

  • One of my favorite graphic novels of all time, Daytrippers, struck a chord with me, due to the magnifying glass it held on the idea of our threatening mortality and how it affects the loved ones around us. Perpetual confrontation with worsening scenarios displayed an intricate timeline of events for Bras’ de Olivia Domingos. He was never really as much of a shadow in his father’s footsteps as he thought. He was actually a meaningful presence to his own family and friends.
  • Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore was very much a soap opera in comic form, introducing two main female protagonists and their normal friendship with a revolving cast of colorful, yet realistic personas. Fighting threat of Katchoo’s criminal past coming back to light was actually the backdrop of the story. The draw was the tasteful depiction of a platonic relationship growing into something more personal. The characters just happened to be females; and the way it was handled with such mundane familiarity made it that much more compelling. Unlike the Hollywood method of trying to make things ‘sexy’ and ‘fetishized’ with homosexual relationships.
  • Who Fears Death? by Nnedi Okorafor puts in the driver seat, a fully realized and vulnerable black woman of color forced to adopt a tragic level of responsibility at a young age. Pulling from aspects of mysticism, fantasy, cultural experiences from the Nigerian American author, and horrible real life tragedy occurring in Darfur, you are pulled into the harsh and beautiful world of post-apocalyptic Sudan. My full experiences reading this compelling novel are HERE, so I won’t rehash all of it on this post.
  • Although the Silver Surfer and Iron Man stand at the top of my totem pole of superheroes, Black Panther is in my top five. A surface level comparison to Batman in relation to prepared-ness, dedication to the mission, and a vast array of resources doesn’t do the character justice. He is ruler by birthright, bred since childhood to be the best of his people. People who are already amazing in their own right. Standing at the pinnacle of civilization, be it European (through the context of real-world history), alien, or super villain, they’ve never been outright conquered and lost their culture; and in a world still very much obsessed with outdated ideas on race and identity, it’s important to push successful black images, even if the character is fictional.

I can go on and on with stories that have personally touched me in some capacity, but I think the point has been made. Does the media we consume usually jumpstart a vast cultural impact for decades to come? Typically not, but the pinnacle of artistic expression comes from a person’s very real experiences and depiction of their reality; and outside of entertainment (which this movie still is at the end of the day), it can be worth simply putting new ideas into a person’s head to consider as they leave the theater. Chemical reactions elicit explosive results with the most basic ingredients. The same could be said of someone’s trajectory in the future with just exposure to the right ideas now.

Besides, if a movie ticket purchased for kids can elicit this type of reaction, why not revel in its continued success?

Until next time.

Author: Mr. Nifty

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