I’ve been working on more stories set in the Archwilde universe, and I’ll blog about them at a not-too-distant-future date, but I’ve had something on my mind in the last week or so that’s been slowly congealing into a blog post, and I’d like to share that first. It’s about storytelling and our emotions – specifically, it’s about the power of being “silly.” And Thor: Love and Thunder has brought it into focus.
I’ve read many articles that reference a portion of fans who are criticizing Thor: Love and Thunder for being “too silly,” “ridiculous,” “not a good enough superhero movie.” Thor’s journey in the MCU is one of the most tragic storylines, and it is told through humor, a perfectly legitimate storytelling device. Those who focus on hating the humor are missing the whole point of Thor’s character in this universe: To reflect on the real losses that even a superhero god character can’t escape. People complained the same way about Thor: Ragnarok for being too comedic and out there – but loved making fun of “Fat Thor” in Avengers: Endgame. So it’s okay to be “silly” as long as it’s the butt of a joke, but being “silly” has no other merit, is that it? Bullshit I say.
To assume a movie, book, show or story of any kind is lesser because it’s “silly” is utterly short sighted. It’s in the same vein as assuming all animation is for kids because it’s not live action, or assuming that fairy tales are for kids because they have make-believe or lore in them. Animation is as much of an art form as live action – moreso when you consider the literal art that goes in to making it. Animation can be used to tell any kind of story, and just because it’s drawn doesn’t mean it’s “silly.” Watch Grave of the Fireflies and tell me that animation is “silly.” And Disney versions aside, fairy tales are largely horrifying stories told as cautionary lessons, steeped in allegory.
Allegory is the key word there – a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. Thor: Love and Thunder was brimming with allegory. Science fiction and fantasy genres are often looked down upon as lesser literature, but these genres can say more with allegory than a lot of regular fiction does in plain “real” words.
And why don’t we as a society give any credence to “silly” in the first place? Because we are good, serious grown-up capitalists who need to think of things like Statistics and The Bottom Line. “Silly” is what we leave behind when we get “serious” about life, right? We’re not supposed to entertain or indulge in “silly” as grown-ups because it’s a waste of time, it’s beneath us, it’s not worthy. We can’t be both “silly” and “serious” at the same time—it’s impossible, right?
Bullshit, bullshit, buuuuullllllllshiiiiiiiit.
“Silly” speaks to our inner child – you know the one, buried deep in your psyche. The one who loved to finger paint, or play with Legos, or read comic books and Dr. Seuss. The one who liked to play outside and catch toads and eat ice cream and play dress-up. That kiddo is still in all of us “serious” grownups, whether we like it or not. That kiddo wants you to enjoy things you used to, even if you have a job or three jobs or have to pay rent or watch the stock market. That kiddo is, and always will be, a part of you. And once in a while you should maybe give it a minute’s thought.
I realize can’t speak to everyone’s experience, and that I’m writing from a place of privilege, but I can speak to my own. I’m a forty-something who started working as a babysitter when I was a tween and have worked my whole life since. At several points I’ve held down multiple jobs at once to pay rent, debt, basic needs and everything else. I have joys and successes, and I have deep pain and grief as well. I also have a chronic illness that gets in the way of my life a lot, which is frustrating and sometimes devastating. I, like most grownups, am “serious,” because that’s part of being a grownup.
I love to make and wear costumes. I love laser tag. I play Dungeons & Dragons and read (and write!) fantasy novels. I was raised on a healthy diet of Muppets, Mel Brooks and Masters of the Universe. I love Weird Al, New Kids on the Block, and all the Space Ghost/Brak albums. I’d rather watch Xena, Warrior Princess or Letterkenny than Breaking Bad, and I’d rather watch Lord of the Rings or Barb & Star go to Vista Del Mar than There Will Be Blood. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Just because you’re a grownup doesn’t mean you have to let these things go. Really! There is no law about it. There is no rule. There’s just societal pressure, and for what? To be miserable, always longing for something you “just can’t do anymore?” Say it with me now, everyone: Bullshit! The same goes for the stories we watch or read – just because something is “silly” or fun does not mean it is any less good or valid than something more serious. And I’d rather have some hope, laughter and lightheartedness in my superhero movies than have them be bleak wastelands of misery – especially the ones that tackle deeper emotions and storylines. There is a place for those kinds of movies and stories, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be the counterbalance.
Thor’s journey in the MCU is the perfect example of this. In Thor: Ragnarok, he loses his father, his homeworld, his best warrior friends (though thankfully not Sif!) and yes, his buddy Mjolnir. This is after losing his mother in the previous movie, and his relationship with Jane between the movies. Thor: Ragnarok is loss after loss for Thor, and its beautifully written and acted comedy is a fragile veneer over deep tragedy. It’s all of us, coping with the state of the world right now, laughing at memes to keep our sanity.
Avengers: Infinity War sees the death of Thor’s brother, Loki – another loss, and just after they finally really connect with each other. In the scene where Thor, Rocket and Groot are on their way to make Stormbreaker, we have the three “comic relief” characters quietly talking about their losses, and we see them barely holding on to their hope. It’s heartbreaking, and beautifully done. Avengers: Endgame is understandably bleak, given the plot. When we finally get to Thor, we find he is very overweight and depressed, but trying to laugh it off in a Hakuna Matata sort of way because what else can he do at this point?
It’s not supposed to be funny. It’s desperately sad. People love to make fun of “Fat Thor” because as a society we are still laughing at “fat” people for just “being fat.” But behind that visual of his character is Thor’s depression and grief, and no one wants to acknowledge depression and grief because it’s hard and it hurts. And when the gang’s all back together making a plan and Tony makes fun of Thor in the midst of Thor talking about all of his losses, it’s downright awful.
(Don’t get me started on how much I disliked Endgame. Let’s let Natasha die instead of Clint because it’s okay, she’s not a parent and he is, and so her life isn’t worth as much. And never mind that she held the entire Avengers Initiative together while Tony bailed and wait – it’s okay, he’s back now so he can run things and fix the world. Might have been different if she got her own standalone movie before, you know, she was already dead in the MCU, but them’s the breaks. We had to beg for a Black Widow movie and finally got one in MCU Phase 4 – THIRTEEN YEARS after the start of it all. Not unlike Wonder Woman – which we also had to wait until after the male DC heroes had countless iterations of their own movies made. *rage …. raaaaage* But I digress.)
Thor: Love and Thunder took all the grief of Thor’s story arc and brought it to a beautiful crescendo, using allegory and comedy to bring home a very important point: We cannot run from the hard feelings. We cannot ignore them, we just have to feel through them. Even when they hurt, scare or devastate us. Feeling through grief and fear and anger is how we heal from them. Grief is also a non-linear process – there’s no right way to grieve. We all take the journey that we need to but ultimately, we must feel it and move through it to heal. And accepting that grief never leaves us, that we just grow with it, isn’t easy to do. This movie illustrates that beautifully. Yes, with a Viking tour boat pulled by giant screaming goats. Yes with quips and goofy god scenes and the awkward Stormbreaker/Mjoilnir jokes. Yes, with innuendo and hilarious dialogue all set to Guns ‘n’ Roses music. And there’s NOTHING wrong with that.
Sure, I prefer campy to dark and hopeless. Why is that such a bad thing? Shouldn’t we all want a little more hope – especially these days? There is enough pain, hurt, divisiveness, hatred and mindless anger out there. Wouldn’t it be nice to laugh a little? To feel some hope again?
There’s beauty and power in “silly.” Maybe try embracing it once in a while. It helps the pain.