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The Full Lid 5th July 2019

I'm Alasdair Stuart, professionally enthusiastic pop culture analyst, podcaster and 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist. Welcome to The Full Lid, my weekly pop culture enthusiasm download. Every Friday, around 5, I’ll walk you through some of the interesting bits of pop culture I’ve encountered this week, what’s great, what’s fun and what I’ve noticed. 

Two quick points to remember before we jump on in. Firstly, this is a spoiler permissive environment. I work, wherever possible, from the assumption you’ve seen/read/played/listened to/eaten the thing already and want to talk about it. I do fudge that a little here for the Spider-Man: Far From Home piece but you’ll see why.

Secondly, this newsletter is produced for free and has been for...almost two years now! Wow! The archive, which annoyingly only goes back six months (I have the others don’t worry. And...plans...) is here and there’s a sign up link too. If you like it, share it, but if you share it please tell folks how to subscribe and where you got it. Also if you fancy buying me a coffee, the link is here.

 

Right, that’s all the announcements I think. Contents time!

Contents

New Kinds of King, New Kinds of Queen
Steven Universe 29
Spider-Man: Far From Home
The Walking Dead 193
Hope and Where It Is
Signal Boosting
So Where Can We Find You?
So How's Work?
Signing Off/Playing Out
Read More

New Kinds of King, New Kinds of Queen

Stormzy’s incandescent Glastonbury opening night set played like over an hour of iconic moments. Taking to an industrial stage, alone, wearing a Banksy-customized stab vest the 25 year old hurled himself around his hits with the focused energy and intellect of only the very best rappers. Rap, more than any other form of music, is about physicality as much as musicality. Every step, every gesture, is punctuation and emphasis and Stormzy didn’t put a single foot wrong. His sheer focus and intensity locked you to the screen, so much so that I was fully prepared for this to be the entire performance. It would have been great too.

What we got was so much more complex, important and better.

As time went on, the set slowly filled. Dancers joined the invisible, but ever present backup DJs. The stab vest was replaced by multiple other outfits. The performance shifted gear and as it did so expanded from the focused and necessary rage of the opening section to something far more inclusive and, frequently, astounding. Not just because of his ability, which is unmatched but because of the context he continually placed that ability in. Not to mention the fun he had with it. Stormzy is a focused, rapier eloquent rapper with an unmatched ability to speak his truth. So hearing him cover ‘Shape of You’ by Ed Sheeran is like watching someone go for the hardest possible combo on a video game. Almost no one manages it, but when it works it’s amazing. Real wit and affection balanced with musical versatility, self awareness and bone dry, gentle humor. After all, how many other artists, at any festival, ever, would cheerfully cede center stage to a 10 year old and SUPER fierce back up dancer?

Inclusiveness and the desire to reach across stylistic boundaries was the spine of the entire performance. Chris Martin cameo’d to play keyboards. Stormzy performed a number with Dave and Fredo, the first ever black-British rap performers to reach number one. Stormzy was second and, when they refused to leave the stage without thanking him, he was visibly moved. Earlier in the performance, a costume change was covered by BAME ballet group Ballet Black. David Lammy MP’s speech about the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic prisoners in the criminal justice system was played. Time and again Stormzy either told us the truth or put people in front of us who could do that better than him. That’s not what a King does. That’s what a leader does.

Which isn’t to say Stormzy can’t flex with the best of them, he can. He got the crowd to sing ‘Fuck the government! Fuck Boris!’ On Vossi Bop and finished with a bravura performance of the ultimate put down song ‘Shut Up.’But that last one was also an opportunity for him to stop and honor the artists who got him and his field where he is today as well as the new talent coming up behind him. That was the epitome of class; using the biggest stage he’s ever been on to boost over sixty other people. Inclusiveness, compassion, humour, raw emotional honesty. This wasn’t one man in the spotlight, this was one man becoming the spotlight for others and in doing so, growing himself. It was inspirational, defining, startling work,

Also fuck the government and fuck Boris.

A couple of minutes after taking to the stage in a pair of combat boots, a diaphanous cape and a leotard fresh from the 10th Rhinestone Orbital Funk Division, Lizzo paused and looked out over the crowd. She offhandedly mentioned that the first time she played Glastonbury there were two people in the crowd and now, she’d guess, there were ‘16 million thousand’. The old adage about working for a decade to be discovered overnight is true. And Lizzo, at long last, has finally been discovered.

If Stormzy’s set was a triumphant and clear-eyed march through modern culture, Lizzo’s was a jazz open mic night with occasional flute breaks. She’s not just a phenomenal singer and musician she’s painfully honest and endlessly, relentlessly funny. A jazz flute solo in the middle of one of her numbers is impressive. The fact she’s twerking while she does it is doubly so. The fact that it’s punctuated by a triumphant and more than slightly metal ‘BITCH!’ Is what puts you over the top. And brilliantly you’re never laughing at her, always with her. At the end of almost every song she’d get this massive, sudden grin on her face that was one part ‘I did it!’ And 100% ‘You bet your ASS I did it!’ And it made you want to applaud each time.

Stormzy’s armor is a Banksy modified stab vest. Lizzo’s is her disco commando outfit, a look so good she asked for (And got) two rounds of applause for it. Both of them wear their hearts on their sleeves.  ‘Jerome’, one of the new album’s best was given some welcome context. She hinted that the break up of her relationship with him was key to the album going platinum and, swigging what seemed to be tequila, she cheerfully admitted that if he was at Glastonbury she would ‘WHOOP HIS ASS!’. 16 million thousand people applauded. Good thing you took your ass home, Jerome. Later still, she championed the idea of self love for the crowd, asked them all to focus said love and then give to her because she’s been depressed recently. It was funny because of her total lack of front. It was sad because of her total lack of front. Most of all, it was honest and kind and unexpected. She spent her whole set cheerfully upending expectations and finished where she began; a massive smile on her face, knowing she did it, we saw it and we loved it.

Both the Lizzo and Stormzy performances are available on iPlayer for the next month on YouTube for basically ever because information doesn’t die, it just gets turned into content

Tara Asher, sign language interpreter for Stormzy and actual active service superheroine.
After another successful mission, Amethyst hits a sad spell. The other Crystal Gems know to leave well alone but Steven, worried about his friend, sets out to cheer her up.

This comic needs to be taught in schools and workplaces. Not just because it's a great piece of visual storytelling, it is. Sarah Gailey's script maps onto the big action, fast moving and weirdly peaceful world of the series and its characters beautifully. Rii Arbrego's art is expressive, kinetic and kind. Whitney Cogar's colours and Mike Fiorentino's letters nail the feel and pace of the world to a tee. If you love the show, you'll love this book.

But that's not the reason this one hit me between the eyes. It did that because this is a story about depression, living with it and living with people with depression. One that uses the vehicle of the show to communicate clearly and directly a vital message that gets lost far too often. Because as the first half of this issue demonstrates, the first instinct most of us have with friends with depression is to try and cheer them up.
Not that most of us get quite this far though.

Nonetheless, Steven's boundless enthusiasm and heart is beautifully captured here as is his biggest strength; the ability to learn. As the issue hits its comedic crescendo with a beach concert, we see Steven discover it still isn't working and instead of going bigger? He goes home. And helps Amethyst be sad instead of forcing her to feel better.
It's one of those conclusions that's so simple almost none of us make it. We all go flat out, all the time and it costs us physically, emotionally and psychologically. I've done very little but hit that endless array of walls across the last ten days and it sucks, and it hurts. Until it stops and you take the time to get better on your terms. Which, here, involves a sad nest and donuts. For me? Portugese custard tart but I was feeling fancy this week.

This book doesn't just entertain, it helps. It really IS fun and educational! As someone who has been depression adjacent most of his life, I've been Steven here, more than once. Amethyst too. I'm betting I'm not alone and given that, this really is an essential read for anyone who's dealt with depression in their lives. Or likes pancakes. Or both.

The Steven Universe comics are available now. Here's my local comic shop. Here's yours. Here's Comixology.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Far From Home is a very good time. It’s a great Spider-Man movie, a brilliant round off to Phase IIII, a better start for Phase IV and massively fun in its own right. Seriously, Homecoming is legitimately a high point for the MCU to date. There is a strong case for Far From Home being better. It’s funnier, Peter’s class get more to do, it’s more focused on his struggle to be a kid and a superhero. There’s a really funny running gag involving what Spider-Man’s name is in Europe. It’s a good time.

It’s also a movie that combines Peter’s motto/curse, with great power comes great responsibility, with the process of grieving. Peter is literally overshadowed by Tony Stark everywhere he goes. This is despite the fact Peter refuses to take his costume on holiday with him. Being Spider-Man is a constant reminder that his mentor is dead. Again. Plus, while it’s never said out loud it’s clear Peter blames himself for Tony’s death. Marvel’s Goodest Boy has almost as much guilt as he does heart and the movie is at its best when it gives Tom Holland a chance to show both.

But its very best moment comes at the end of the second act. Beaten up, terrified and cut off from everything, Peter does the one thing he can still do; call Happy Hogan. Alfred Pennyworth’s grumpy New York compatriot rescues him and the pair, finally, process their feelings. Tom Holland is one of those actors who is instantly likable on the cellular level but seeing him, tears flooding his eyes, admitting that he isn’t good enough and that he misses Tony will just rip your heart out and show it to you. Being analytical, it’s a perfect culmination of this version of Peter’s desperate need for a father figure and his total absence of luck. Being honest, it makes you want to hug the little guy and tell him everything will be okay.

Its Favreau who really gets you. Underplaying like an absolute champ , he lets Peter into the secret about adulthood we all find out in the end; no one has any idea what they’re doing, including and especially Tony Stark. Peter has, definitely, screwed up on an epic scale. But that doesn’t mean he’s unworthy of a damn thing. It just means he’s exactly the man Tony thought he was. 

Far From Home does this a lot, constantly building new stories and perspectives in the established structures of the MCU but it’s never more poignant than it is here. There’s a moment where Happy looks at the kid with something between paternal pride and sadness that will break your heart all over again. There is the most perfectly, carefully deployed Avengers fanfare. There’s a moment where you realize what’s about to happen and preemptively tear up. Then it happens, and the movie instantly hits you with a joke so you're laughing and crying at the same time. It’s sweet and kind, sad and funny and just masterful storytelling.

The movie never stops building on it too, right up through a great third act fight, a truly mesmerizing villain and to the first of the two most important end credit scenes Marvel have done in years. Breathless, enthusiastic, brimming with optimism and kindness and funny as all Hell, Far From Home works as hard as it’s lead character and is in cinemas now.

The amazing Anne-Marie Fortune begins a series looking at what WorldCon is. 
2019 is officially the year of the Endgame. Game of Thrones. the first three phases of the MCU and numerous others have all either entered their home stretch or crossed over it and kept going back to the North as Old Town Road plays. It's always an interesting time in pop culture when this happens and this week, we got another one to add to the list: The Walking Dead.

Not the show(s), those are gearing up for a triumphant second decade. The comic they're based on though finished this week. The comics retailer in my recoils at the fact no one actually told retailers until a few days ago. The comics journalist in me wonders if anyone will pick up on that. The comics reader in me? Well, he's pretty happy with this because it's a great ending to an epochal book. And The Walking Dead really was epochal. It started back when I was in retail and caught the wave of '...wait we can repackage these as books and SELL THEM AGAIN?!' perfectly. Reprint followed reprint and lo, a shambling, groaning merchandising behemoth was born.
The thing is though, even under all of that, it was always a comic that was never less than well done and often great. This last issue cements that too, as we jump forward a decade and follow an adult, married Carl Grimes on a very strange trip across the new America. A journey that begins here.
The death of a single Roamer here is a window the new status quo for both Carl and the world. It turns out that, a decade on, the world is now so safe that Roamers are kept in travelling freak shows. One of them, run by Hershel, the son of Carl's old friend Maggie, lets one escape. It makes it's way to Carl's land, he kills it and is charged with destruction of property. His response to that sets off his journey and shows us one last look at this brave, and now largely safe, new world.
The genius of Kirkman's script here is in how untidy it is. Carl is still the human embodiment of PTSD, a man who lives outside the village in every sense and is gently amused by the anachronism he's slowly becoming. He's Rick Grimes' kid. He's a rock star wrapped in a legend's clothes and it clearly makes him very uncomfortable. That lack of comfort, and the kid gloves he's treated with, drive the story and set up the conflict with Hershel with real elegance. Hershel is the son of the President of the largest human colony left in America. His childhood was safe because Carl's wasn't and Maggie's neglect of her son is an open wound throughout the issue. It's a difficult one too; on the one hand slamming one of the book's best characters as a bad mom in the finale feels like a cheap shot. On the other, Maggie, Hershel and the rest are used to communicate the book's message:

The future is untidy. Just like the present. And the past.

Carl will always be worried and traumatized. Hershel will always be the last frat boy on Earth. Trouble is always on the horizon but it doesn't always leave the horizon. As the issue continues we see that, with Carl touching base with the other characters. Some are happy and settled. Some, like Negan in arguably the best use of him the book has ever had, are haunted by their past. Others like Eugene are aging, possibly dying and too damn busy to care. There may be trouble ahead. But right now there are things to do and the time to do them in.
That's why the issue works so well. Because the careful, mournful grays of Cliff Rathburn's work, Charlie Adlard's tense, terse lines and Rus Wooton's letters all show us a world that's vibrant and scrappy and desperate to live in whatever way it can. It's there that Carl makes his peace too; finishing the issue reading the story of his father's life to his daughter. Horror rendered into fable. Monsters as tourist attractions. A quiet Earth but a live one, today. And in this book, where survival has sometimes been minute to minute, that's victory enough.

The Walking Dead is available in multiple formats and collected editions. If you can, I'd recommend these. Here's my local comic shop. Here's yours. Here's Comixology.
In the year of our Lord Keanu19, as Bill and Ted Face The Music begins filming,  a complete chronological list of his pronouncements.

Hope and Where It Is

So putting this together, I began to notice the common strands. Stormzy’s dedication to the people who came up before, around and behind him. His willingness to share the stage. Lizzo talking openly about depression on one of the biggest days of her life. Steven realizing that he can’t force Amethyst to be better, but he can help her feel sad. Carl Grimes facing the brave, and possibly dangerously irresponsible world of the future with grim amusement. Happy Hogan and Peter Parker accepting that their friend is dead and carrying on in his name. Acknowledgment of good and bad alike. Kindness and honesty in the face of cruelty, evil, darkness and oppression.

Hopepunk.

Coined by Alexandra Rowland (Whose debut, here, you really should read and whose podcast, here, you really should listen to), the term was originally an opposite force to grimdark. Rowland went on to expand the definition in this essay and this quote really jumped out at me:
 

It’s about being kind merely for the sake of kindness, and because you have the means to be, and giving a fuck because the world is (somehow, mysteriously, against all evidence) worth it and we don’t have anywhere else to go anyway.
 

Stormzy speaking the truth about our imminent new Prime Minister. Carl Grimes destroying Hershel’s Roamer herd. Neither action making any long term difference. Neither action lacking worth. Then there’s this.
 

Hope and strength comes from our bonds with each other, from the actions we take as a community, holding hands in the dark.

 

Lizzzo talking about self love and depression in the same gig. Steven realizing Amethyst needs to be sad but doesn’t have to be sad alone. Tony Stark obstinately refusing to return from the dead so his functionally adopted son and brother-by-choice do what he’d do anyway. Build something. Fix something. Do one good thing. Manufacture hope.

The world is dark and full of terrors, some malicious, some ignorant, all terrifying and only some can be defeated. But facing them matters. Helping others matters. Kindness matters more than anything, especially now, as Kurt Vonnegut knew all those years ago. Because kindness is a rebellion anyone can join and as this week’s subjects show, more and more pop culture is starting to do just that. So be kind. Do things. And remember, while there are monsters everywhere, as Cora Buhlert puts it in this excellent piece, sometimes the solution is ‘feed the monster cookies’

Jeff Goldlum. The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. Glastonbury The Jurassic Park theme. . Because why wouldn't you?

Signal Boosting

And of course, here's my Ko-Fi.

So Where Can We Find You?

At Escape Pod! At PseudoPod! At The MNT!

So How's Work?

See you next week!

Signing Off/Playing Out

This was a CHOPPY week. But it's over. And you know what's great for weekends? The Escape Artists Podcast Network!

Check out any of the shows, our teams all do great work and every episode is free. Oh and check the indvidual show sites too for lists of shows recommended for new listeners.

Why not follow the Team KennerStuart instagram too? Come see us in domestic action and adventure, which, this weekend is going to be pretty heavily Crash Team Racing themed I suspect...

Did you enjoy this? Me too! I write this for free so if you can, please drop some money in my Ko-Fi. Thank you:)

Still here folks. You and me both. Relax this weekend, rest up, stay cool and I'll see you back here in seven days. In the meantime to play us out is The Crystal Method. You may ask yourself 'Hasn't he used this before?' and the answer is probably yes but it seems appropriate. Have a great week and I'll see you back here in seven days because this?
That's a Full Lid. See you next week, folks!
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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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