By Meghalee Mitra
When the screen panned to Black Widow’s body lying motionless and pale at the bottom of a cliff, I lost my appetite for the tub of popcorn in my hands, even though I had paid 320 bucks for it. In a way, that moment defined what every Marvel fan was going through. The Avengers were the only family that Black Widow had, and she would pay the ultimate price to protect them. I rarely pray, but I did, ardently, on all the days and nights after I had purchased first-day tickets for Avengers: Endgame. I prayed for the Russo brothers to spare the ones I loved, which was quite impossible, because I loved them all so dearly, and I knew that they had to go.
My outburst reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, in which every house has a room where the walls are replaced by giant screens. It is an economy of forced mindlessness. One stares into the abyss of entertainment all day, and the popular term for the reel-life characters is “Family”. While the author does not dig deeper into the appellation, the reader can easily decipher the underlying hint. The animations on the screen are closer to the viewer than their family of flesh and blood. We do not have to wait for a post-apocalyptic world in order to reserve our undivided attention for fictitious characters. That time has already arrived.
Today, we wait more eagerly for the Game of Thrones episode than we wait for our monthly pay cheque and our emotional investment in the characters on screen – be it Iron Man or Tyrion Lannister – is more than most millennials invest in a relationship. But is this merely a mindless addiction, or is there something more that we’re missing?
An article on Bustle asserts that the average adult spends more time on Netflix than they do on eating and having sex combined. I, for one, spend an average of three hours watching shows, every day. I juggle classes, work, engagements, and bestow my remaining brain cells on fictitious narratives. I might have felt torn upon the death of a distant relative, but what I felt when Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor stopped glowing is unparalleled. I have endured a heartbreak with less emotion than I showed during Endgame.
So, why do we feel more for these franchises than we do for people we live with or love? Why have we almost substituted quality time with family and friends with recaps of our favourite shows? Is it because what we see on screen is idea, while our surroundings are not?
I might have felt torn upon the death of a distant relative, but what I felt when Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor stopped glowing is unparalleled.
Every show or movie that resonates with us, is an external manifestation of what we desire, what we crave for. F.R.I.E.N.D.S attracted its due craze in the late ’90s, and continues to be one of the most popular sitcoms even today. In the face of modern isolation, we have lived vicariously through the lives of the six characters on the show. On days I’ve been down, I have rewatched the series, like many others, and found comfort, because that impossible friendship is something we will probably never find. We’ve all wanted a Ross to our Rachel, a Joey to our Chandler. In the age of Peak TV, audiences form close bonds with the entertainment properties they hitch their wagons too, to the point that they feel their absence like they’ve lost a loved one.
Netflix’s cancellation spree has forced fans worldwide to write letters, sign petitions, and unanimously outrage. People across borders united in anger when One Day At A Time was cancelled after its third season. Where else will we find a family that readily accepts a lesbian daughter, sympathises with and helps a victim of the immigrant ban, and encourages therapy, all on a show that champions a narrative led by strong women? ODAAT spoke freely about abuse, microaggressions, feminism, mansplaining, divorce, bullying, and endless other modern issues, in the form of a family discussion. These are scenes we wish unfolded in our living rooms. These are people who bring us hope that our family WhatsApp groups might someday outgrow the sexist forwards.
On most days, our favorite shows are like travel books for ones who cannot afford the real ticket. They are the impossible family of ultimate hype men and women, who are always on your side. Sheldon Cooper assured us that it’s okay to be nerdy. Captain America promised us that we will always be worthy. Big Little Lies reminded us why women need to have each other’s backs. Popularly known as “distractions”, we have felt more love and acceptance in their embrace than the real world has had to offer. So, don’t brush it off when we call them our family, and mock those who shed a tear or two for the Avengers.
Twenty one films feels like a journey and Endgame was the culmination of that journey – a recap of everything we will fall back on since Cap will no longer be around to say, “Avengers, Assemble!” Watching the heroes I’ve worshipped for a decade sign off for good felt like saying goodbye to my family, and I’m already homesick.
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