It’s hard not to be gloomy about entertainment these days.
Cancel Culture. Late-night propagandists. Sequel-mania. Disney crushing its brand with political maneuvers and sexualized content.
Yet 2023 gave us hope for a brighter pop culture tomorrow.
“Sound of Freedom”
The battles surrounding the Angel Studios smash were almost as illuminating as the film itself. Tim Ballard’s cinematic quest to rescue children from child sex trafficking caused the corrupt press to embarrass itself anew. It’s QAnon adjacent, reporters cried, desperate to derail the film at all costs.
On paper, the film’s sobering premise should have kept movie goers away. Instead, they sought out the handsomely mounted film and its heroic lead (Jim Caviezel).
Angel Studios’ Pay It Forward model, combined with a sense of what audiences crave, helped the film bully past some of Hollywood’s biggest franchises (“Indiana Jones,” “Fast and Furious,” “Mission: Impossible”).
Hollywood boosters should have cheered on the indie film’s shocking success. Instead, detractors unfairly dismissed the film as “Christian” and “conservative.”
Yes, Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” delivered a feminist screed buried beneath layers of pretty people and pink. It still delivered joy to millions who held cherished memories of the iconic toy.
“Oppenheimer’s” garish running time and historical trappings should have doomed it at the box office. Instead, audiences rallied behind Christopher Nolan’s brand and the film’s lush recreation of a key moment in world history.
Together, the social media meme known as Barbenheimer made movie going cool again. The films couldn’t be any different, but each addressed a hunger in audiences that Hollywood rarely satiates.
There’s no such thing as an overnight sensation. Artists labor for years in private to hone their craft, develop their public persona and prepare for potential fame.
And then there’s Oliver Anthony.
The Virginia resident gave the overnight sensation label its teeth. The singer went from an unknown grappling with addiction to having the biggest song in the nation – “Rich Men North of Richmond.”
That song, a cry against injustice that defied political labels, catapulted him to fame. His first act as a public figure? He turned down various music labels eager to sign him to a contract. He’ll stay independent going into 2024, and who knows what the new year will offer him … and us.
Louis CK sells out Madison Square Garden
No one should defend Louis CK’s habit of pleasuring himself in front of unsuspecting women, a secret that persisted for years before his victims bravely told their stories to the press. Gross. Vile. Unacceptable.
Yet many people feel CK has paid a huge and necessary cost once his confession went viral. He lost his FX showcase, “Louie,” along with future movie roles and any chance of regaining his storied place in the Hollywood ecosystem.
CK went from being one of comedy’s biggest stars to becoming unemployable.
He stepped away from the spotlight for a spell but later returned to comedy stages across the country. His fame grew once more, but this time without the Hollywood support system to promote his gigs.
No late-night appearances or fawning media profiles.
Instead, he leveraged his email list and loyal fans, selling comedy specials via his Web site for those willing to forgive his ghoulish acts.
And, earlier this year, he sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden.
CK’s stunning comeback may speak to a larger frustration tied to Cancel Culture and the Trump phenomena. Audiences are increasingly tired of being told what jokes they’re allowed to enjoy and what stars they can or cannot support.
Or what politicians they’re able to choose.
They’re also open to forgiving artists if they’ve faced a large, appropriate punishment.
CK’s resurgence may double as a chance to protest that woke status quo. It’s like supporting Donald Trump, the very act the media insists we avoid at all costs.
“Comedy Is Murder”
Pick one of the new group’s comedy sketches. Chances are it’s better than anything “Saturday Night Live” churns out.
Free the People’s series skewers targets the mainstream media won’t touch. The old “SNL” might have produced a killer clip like this. Today’s “SNL?”
Not a chance.
It’s not just Lou Perez and his “Comedy Is Murder” cohorts. Comedians like Kyle Dunnigan, Ryan Long, Tyler Fischer and Danny Polishchuk also create cutting-edge comedy that speaks to issues near and dear to Americans at the moment.
Every time a free-thinking creator gets canceled by YouTube the response is the same.
Come find me at Rumble.
The free-speech video platform isn’t in the business of blocking those with unorthodox views. The site allows artists to tell their stories, their jokes without fear of censorship, shadow banning or demonetization.
It’s why Alpha News chose to debut its haunting documentary, “The Fall of Minneapolis,” on Rumble before YouTube. The feature boasts more than 3.5 million on the platform in a month (and just 1 million in three weeks on YouTube).
The Return of Roseanne Barr
The “Roseanne” star lost everything after a single, vile Tweet in 2018. ABC fired her from her own sitcom, killed off her character and rebranded the series “The Conners.” Barr’s Hollywood career came to a screeching halt.
No crime. No allegations of abuse. Just one racially-charged Tweet for which she swiftly apologized.
Barr stayed away for a while, but earlier this year she starred in her first stand-up special since the firing, courtesy of FOX Nation. Since then, she’s started a self-titled podcast, worked the Austin comedy circuit and set up an original show on X.
She’s back, but this time on her own terms.
Barr still clings to conspiracy theories and shouldn’t be trusted as a political sage. She’s a comedian and a darned funny one. She deserves a career comeback, even if it’s without Hollywood’s permission.
This bawdy comedy couldn’t be made at any major or minor film studio. Few actors would touch the material, even those already canceled by Hollywood. Film reviewers recoiled at the film, with some refusing to give it a look.
The Daily Wire made it anyway.
The film’s audacious premise speaks to a larger concern. Should trans women compete against biological women in sports? Is it fair?
It’s a question that deserves to be addressed in art.
Satirists use comedy to tease out tough topics and give us food for thought. (“The American Society of Magical Negroes” promises just that)
It’s what “Lady Ballers” does, too.