It can easily be said that 2016 is the worst cultural experience of 2016. On social media, in the aftermath of an election that’s altering the very nature the of way American art and culture are perceived and consumed, and in the aftermath of so many deaths of beloved celebrities, people continue to understandably send bewildered, angry, mournful statements (“Stop it, 2016!”) towards something as randomized and imperceptive as a chunk of Gregorian time. In this post, however, our writers have focused not just on these more largely saddening things (as you can find most of them all over our website), but also on cultural experiences that were bad in the more traditional sense: as in, just qualitatively shitty. Bet you wouldn’t guess Suicide Squad is the first thing on our list.
I spent plenty of time this year deriding the crashing, thudding, headache-inducing blockbuster nightmare that was Suicide Squad – yet another piece of Branded Superhero Product disguised as a motion picture, shouting to the cheap seats with every stereotypical characterization and on-the-nose needle drop. But the movie itself wasn’t what was so bad; bad movies happen all the time. What was particularly depressing was its reception. As of this writing, it’s the eighth-highest grossing movie of the year (right behind the similarly dire Batman v Superman); my Twitter TL was full of people dragging themselves to see it opening week, not because they wanted to, but because there was some obligation to – to be a part of The Discourse, to join in the jeering, to take their contrarian Hot Take stance. And in this business, those dollar signs matter more than a Rotten Tomatoes average (though when the same studio put out another Will Smith movie a couple of weeks back that met with similarly savage reviews, industry fluffer Deadline blamed its box office underperformance on, look at that, the critics), so of course Suicide Squad director David Ayer will helm a spin-off movie. And so it goes. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor
Did you know that the person who was cinematographer on the wonderful Coen brothers’ film Miller’s Crossing directed a movie starring Kevin Spacey, whose character’s soul gets transferred into that of a housecat named Mister Fuzzypants? Did you know this movie also stars Jennifer Garner and Christopher Walken as some kind of weirdo cat whisperer — and that it took five screenwriters to come up with this mess? — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor
Voyager (Outlander book three)
To be honest, I didn’t have many cultural “experiences” this year at all, and even fewer that were bad. Even seeing somewhat standard fare at the movie theater was exciting as hell for a new mom. But my biggest disappointment was the book I chose to read during labor and postpartum; after the wonderful first season of Outlander on Starz, I decided to jump back into Diana Gabaldon’s series of books, despite my disappointment with book 2. This proved to be a mistake because away from the highlands and Paris, there’s a lot more room to be racist. Halfway through, the characters end up on various ships headed towards the Caribbean and we’re dealing with pirates, various voodoo-type stereotypes, a troubling treatment of slavery and one of the most appalling Chinese stereotypes imaginable. I tried to read War and Peace (which I abandoned) just to take the taste of this one out of my mouth. — Sarah Seltzer, Deputy Editor
Watching the DNC
The RNC was so hyperbolically disturbing — and the depth of that disturbing-ness will soon run our country — that I’m going to skip writing about the obvious. But watching the Democratic National Convention was also uncomfortable for a few reasons — especially on a more personal level, as someone who wants the party to succeed. Elements of it — namely, Michelle Obama’s speech — were towering in their poignancy. But the longer the convention went on, its attempt to sculpt a pop cultural level of heroism around its politicians as, in the background, obstinate Bernie-or-busters chanted about inter-party corruption, was hard to watch. (I both appreciated their attempt to dissent against the systemic problems in the party, but also feared the consequences if they didn’t shut up; this conflictedness perhaps made it most uncomfortable to watch.) The whole thing tried so hard to sell a form of unity — and even Clinton’s neoliberal inclusivity was far, far better than Donald Trump’s vision of America — but it couldn’t overcome an air of dissonance. — Moze Halperin, Senior Editor