Pop Culture Comedown

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In terms of American pop culture, April 2019 has been a momentous month; the final season of the HBO television show Game of Thrones (GoT) debuted while the 22nd MCU movie, Avengers: Endgame (AE), was released this past week. Both GoT Season 8 and AE represent the culmination of sprawling narratives with throngs of characters and interwoven storylines that have taken the better part of the decade to develop. Now, these two epics are ending. 

At the beginning of April, I joked with some friends that I just wanted to live through the next two months to see how the stories in GoT and AE resolve. Who in Westeros would live after the battle with the Night King and his army of undead? Would anyone be left to ascend the Iron Throne? Likewise, how would the Avengers undo the snap of the Infinity Gauntlet, and who in the MCU would survive the final showdown with Thanos? In order to see these cliffhangers properly settle themselves, I just needed to stay alive.

As many of you know, I live in Doha, Qatar, and staying up-to-date with the GoT Season 8 has been a bit of a challenge. First, I tried every legal means of watching GoT. I tried subscribing to HBO GO and HBO Now. Nope. You cannot access these services outside of the US. I tried to see if I could add HBO to an Amazon Prime membership. Nope. I would only have access to GoT seasons 1-7. Hence, I have had to resort to dubious means of watching the latest season. A friend of mine, who is more knowledgeable in the art of the torrent, has downloaded the episodes for me. (As of writing this post, I have only watched two episodes of Season 8.)

While this GoT workaround has allowed me to stay caught up with this season’s story output, the only problem is that each episode is shown at 9pm Eastern time in the US. That’s 4am in Doha! In addition, I have to wait until after work so that my connect can find and deliver the latest episode file for me to watch. That means I have to spend an entire day nimbly racing through the bramble patch of spoilers on social media in order to watch the episode with a spotless mind. The first world doesn’t know the things that I have done for my love of GoT!

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However, when it comes to big Hollywood blockbusters, I have a leg-up on US-based fans. You see, Hollywood likes to inflate its first weekend ticket sales with its international ticket sales. So, with a movie like AE, it was released in China, Australia, and other parts of Asia and Europe on April 24 and was released in the United Kingdom on April 25 before being released in the US on April 26. Because the weekend in the Gulf is Thursday through Saturday, I was able to secure tickets for AE on Wednesday, April 24. It was glorious knowing that I was enjoying the latest installment of the Avengers a whole two days before my friends and family back home in the US. There was only one problem.

After watching AE, I wanted to discuss the movie with other people. I saw the movie at 8:30pm. The movie is 3 hours and 2 minutes. I got home at 12am and hopped on Youtube hoping to watch some videos to serve as a proxy discussion of the movie. Nope. Because the movie would not be released in the US for another two day, there was very little video reaction to the events in AE. And, the people who did see an early preview of the movie — like me — were guarded about their responses to prevent spoilers, as a courtesy to others. 

Fine. I would wait for two days so that the rest of the world could watch AE, and I could finally have a proper discussion of the movie!

Curiously, in the days that followed my viewing of AE, I noticed a despondency growing in me. Yes, there were some emotional character arcs for members of the Avengers, but I was not sad about these turns of the events. What then was the cause of this hollow feeling?

It had been a while since I finished an engaging narrative in which I connected deeply with the characters and had to say goodbye to them — for example, the Harry Potter series, the television series Breaking Bad, or quite possibly the Before trilogy. After watching all 22 MCU movies for the past decade, I had witnessed the send-off of some of its founding team of characters. Moreover, this was the last season of GoT, and this show is notorious for killing off beloved characters! I would probably be in my feels well after the final episode of GoT.

However, after spending more time trying to identify the wellspring of my sadness, I realized that I have watched everything that I have ever wanted adapted into a television show or movie franchise. Lord of the Rings? Yep. Marvel comic book characters? Yep. GoT? Yep. I have reached (or am about to reach) the end of my pop culture wish list. What else is there for me to look forward to? The next installment of Star Wars saga? My faith in that franchise was dashed on the wreckage of the last movie.

Maybe it is my middle age, or maybe it is my fatigue with massive movie franchises and television shows — I am not looking for my next pop culture opiate. I don’t want to lose another decade inhabiting an imaginary world. I have pressing matters in the real world that need my attention: I need to invest in property, save up for retirement, and build up some inheritance to pass on to my sons. And while the MCU movies and television shows like GoT have been a nice form of escapism for the last two years of the Trump presidency, there are critical issues like environmental destruction, predacious capitalism, and intellectual degeneration that need my engagement before they spiral further out of control for my children and my children’s children.

To make another pop culture reference, maybe it is time that I choose the red pill and wake up to this world’s harsh realities instead of seeking refuge in another world of illusions. 

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(Note: I wrote in a previous post about my pop culture diet during my first year in Doha. Read, if interested.)

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