At the time of Jane Austen, novels were considered to be poor quality, low entertainment.
When Picasso first began his career, his paintings were looked down on as being ugly and unimportant.
Early in his career, Banksy was considered nothing more than a vandal.
Throughout history, pompous intellectuals, often over impressed by their own mediocre contributions to high society, find it easy to pick on so-called “low” art, enjoyed by the masses, as an indication of how stupid the laity are, and, in contrast, how wise and intelligent the lovers of “high” are, for not being distracted by something fun and entertaining.
True art, these people insist, isn’t any fun at all. If you’re in any way enjoying something, you’re probably stupid.
So it’s hard not to take John Michael McDonagh’s opinion on superhero movies with an enormous pinch of salt.
What, you don’t know who John Michael McDonagh is? For shame! He’s a creator of the high class, quality art movie War on Everyone. He’s also, apparently, not about to be caught accidentally having fun by watching a comic book film.
“I no longer watch comic book movies in cinemas, I got tired of them," he said in a recent interview with Loaded, “I like to be on a plane and watch them on a really small screen while I am drinking, just to give them the level of attention they deserve”.
Ouch. Those are pretty harsh words, there, McDonagh.
But wait, there’s more:
“Comic book films are kids movies. Let’s just come out and say it, they are kids movies. They are made for people who are basically kids. Or for people who don’t want to think too much and just want spectacle and that’s okay but let’s not pretend they are not kids’ movies, they are.”
Well, consider everyone convinced. Well done, John Michael McDonagh, you’ve persuaded everybody on the planet that comic book movies are for stupid people.
Boy, we sure are glad that the director of a forgettable B movie has deemed us worthy of his wisdom. Now that he’s made an attempt to publicly embarrass people based on their movie preferences, we can all give up on this stagnating genre in favor of attending the opera or reading The Man in the Iron Mask in the original French.
The funny thing about “low” art, though, is it has a habit of speaking to people on a far more personal and relatable level than most art which its creators think is somehow better.
Characters like Spider-Man or even Batman have maintained their popularity over decades because they’re relatable. Readers or audiences know what it’s like to be picked on at school, or to suffer loss thanks to an uncaring world. They represent our desire to fight back, and to own up to our responsibility for making the world a better place.
It’s foolish and naïve to dismiss any piece of art simply because it’s popular. An arthouse movie can be a dire waste of time, while a big budget popcorn flick can be an inspirational, meaningful dramatic experience.
It’s hard not to reach for the Russo Brothers when considering the inherent value of comic book adaptations. The Winter Soldier tells a powerful political story, and explores the question of whether old fashioned morals have a place in modern society. The movie stands as a commentary on freedom of information, and people’s right to privacy.
By having Captain America choose to leak S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files online, the Russo Brothers essentially make the argument that Edward Snowden and other information leakers are patriotic heroes – its use of metaphor means that the message is, if anything, more powerful than any biopic based on Snowden’s life.
With Civil War, between its explosions and colorful characters, the Russo Brothers again raise deeply political questions about the role of governments in policing the world. What’s more, though, the film explores the breakdown of a friendship, and the lasting impact of betrayal and secrecy.
It’s hard to dismiss either of the Russo Brothers’ Marvel movies as simply kid’s movies—that is, as long as you actually pay attention to them. If you’re deliberately and very vocally ignoring the content of the actual films, of course you’ll only end up seeing explosions and funny costumes.
This isn’t to say that all superhero movies tell deep, meaningful stories. But the thing is, media in the Western world doesn’t need to pass some kind of culture test before it’s deemed beneficial. We’re not China.
A good storyteller can use any medium to craft an impressive narrative. Colorful costumes stand for something, whether it’s the mood of America, the challenges of adulthood, or the patient strength of femininity.
Because sometimes, a movie can actually be both entertaining, and thought-provoking.
It’s worth noting that The Winter Soldier has a comfortable 89% approval rating from critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes, while Civil War enjoys an impressive 90%. These scores aren’t designed around the movies’ cultural impact, but they are the opinions of critics who watch movies for a living, and aren’t known for tolerating “kid’s movies” with a lot of patience.
Meanwhile, War on Everyone has an underwhelming 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
This isn’t to say that there’s nothing good in John Michael McDonagh’s latest movie. But maybe the director should focus on making his own films better, rather than trying to insult everyone who doesn’t like it.