The Deaths of the Old Gods

I met a traveller from a distant land,
Who said— “Half sunk a broken bust of durasteel
Stands in the desert, whose black-helmed frown,
And angry, snarling mask of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Darth Vader, Dark Lord of Lords;
Look upon my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
~ With deepest apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelly.

Star Wars
… Star Trek… Doctor Who… James Bond… Indiana Jones… Lord of the Rings… Marvel Comics… DC Comics… Dungeons & Dragons… These names used to fill nerdy hearts with so much joy. Now, only the die-hard fans who purchase anything bearing the sigils of their favored franchises still hold true to their fandoms while everyone else who used to enjoy such works1 has either moved on to enjoy other things, rewatched the older entries in these franchises instead of patronizing more recent works, or have recorded and/or written a decade’s worth of angry, mournful dirges for these apparently fallen franchises on YouTube or at various blogs and online news websites.

The problems with these franchises and others arose for various reasons cited by numerous critics, including: the recent release of lackluster and ill-received reboots, remakes, prequels, and sequels; mismanaging game franchises like Dungeons & Dragons in naked cash-grabs; the injection of ill-conceived, preachy, unwanted and unnecessary, overly-metatextual, “smack-you-in-the-face” obvious, so-called “woke” political pandering into various entries in these franchises or into the franchises as a whole2; major studios pushing poorly-penned and poorly-produced films and streaming series in a pop cultural gold rush to establish new multimedia “universes” and failing; and Hollywood studios and their allies in the mainstream media allegedly using race- and gender-baiting accusations to silence reasonable, valid criticisms by painting all their critics as far-right racist or sexist agitators.3

Naturally, the various studios involved have lost entire fortunes over the past decade. Wizards of the Coast — the embattled Hasbro-owned tabletop and card gaming company that has become more infamous for using the thuggish Pinkertons to harass gamers while investigating leaks than they ever have been for any of the products they’ve produced — mismanaged the Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering brands enough to drive fans away (among other recent sins) and cause a $83.3 million drop in their operating profits during 2023. Warner Bros. Discovery was rocked by record-smashing box office failures from their poorly-managed DC Comics-based properties in addition to their recent animated failures like Velma and Space Jam: A New Legacy, causing the company to course-correct by appointing Hollywood “villain” David Zaslav as CEO, shelving some planned films like Batgirl, and by rebooting their DC Studios cinematic universe under Marvel veteran James Gunn and producer Peter Safran. Meanwhile, the extremely troubled Walt Disney Company — the home of Marvel Studios, Pixar, and Lucasfilm — has seen its stock drop from $145 per share on Monday, 29 July 2019 (the year Avengers: Endgame was released, when Disney set the record for the highest-grossing year for a movie studio ever) to $88 per share at market close on Friday, 10 November 2023, with its lowest stock price that posted at $82.47 per share in August 2023. At the time I am writing this post, the Walt Disney Company faces a potential civil war over the company’s leadership, with spendthrift CEO Bob Iger on one side and activist investor Nelson Peltz on the other.

The great powers of Hollywood have been shaken.4

While many in the audiences for these franchises initially responded with anger, sorrow, and frustration, these emotions eventually dissipated into apathy and ennui. As YouTube commenter JesterBell stated in her latest video about the flagging Marvel Cinematic Universe, “I’m just… apathetic about all things MCU. How can this be? I was ‘The Ultimate Marvel Fan Girl’! Just two years ago, I couldn’t stop talking about Marvel! […] Marvel was my thing for the better part of ten years, and now… I just don’t care? What happened?”

I’m not here to discuss any of that in-depth, though. Greater minds than mine, from the snarky Critical Drinker to the analytical Dave Cullen and the irreverent gang at Red Letter Media, have tackled this question to death. I came not to praise nor bury Caesar, for the state funeral has already been held.

No, I came to protest outside the wake wearing a placard stating, “REPENT, SINNERS! THE END IS NIGH!”

I understand that other media are coming up — or have already arisen, in the case of the rising popularity of anime and manga to replace mainstream comics and comic book movies for American audiences — and I understand that the fires of hope still burn somewhere. I just don’t see that hope in the decades-old American multimedia franchises anymore. Major American motion picture studios aren’t just releasing the occasional flop like Batman & RobinGhost Rider: Spirit of VengeanceX-Men 3: The Last Stand, or Catwoman anymore; almost all of their films are comparatively as terrible as those older failures now. Aside from the never-ending faith of the hardcore fans, the trust that mainstream audiences had in these franchises has evaporated.

Nobody cares about future Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Marvel Cinematic Universe properties anymore. Few mainstream viewers really believe James Gunn can turn the DC Studios films around. The hype surrounding the rebooted Star Trek franchise has fizzled down to the level of hype Star Trek: Voyager held after moving to the ill-fated UPN channel. Old fans of British properties Doctor WhoJames Bond, and Lord of the Rings have abandoned those fandoms after their most recent offerings, and old-school Dungeons & Dragons fans feel like Wizards of the Coast have chased them away from a game they’ve enjoyed since the 1970s.5 The Terminator and Aliens franchises haven’t wowed audiences since the 1990s, either, and announcements of upcoming franchise reboots for franchises like Highlander and The Crow draw more groans from audiences than cheers. At the box office, the biggest recent moneymakers have been either movies from franchises that never had major motion picture releases before (like Barbie) or standalone epics by proven superstar directors (like Oppenheimer). Even with those wins, film and television profits have been in freefall for a decade, and the future of the industry is uncertain.

For decades, major multimedia properties like Star WarsStar Trek, Marvel Comics, and DC Comics were the gods and demigods of American pop culture, the idols we worshipped in cargo cult fashion… and it seems the old gods are dying, their worshippers still awaiting the blessings of their fallen deities with downcast faces and broken hearts.

Maybe there’s a spiritual reason for this Western pop cultural downfall that none of us want to face.

Iconoclast that I am, I can’t help but wonder: maybe this is all part of the will of Adonai? With the most recent round of trouble occurring in Israel with Hamas exposing the turgid underbelly of antisemitism here in America and in the Western world in general, as well as other terrible catastrophes happening, and given how we’ve built up an entertainment industry worth $29.86 billion in 2022 and growing, maybe what’s going on with the downfall of various American pop culture idols is the Lord’s way of waking us up from our entertainment-induced somnambulance to face what may become the end of human civilization as we currently know it. Perhaps Adonai is removing our empty pop cultural distractions to force us to focus on what’s truly important in life.6

Because of this, I now refer to the past decade as the “Death of the Old Gods”.

No more bread and circuses! Let the old gods burn, and never worship them again! They were empty man-made idols anyway. It’s time to wise up and rise up, to prepare our souls for whatever the future may bring soon, and start readying ourselves to fight back against the real forces of darkness that stand against humanity.

Featured image generated via AI at PixAI.Art.

  1. I employ the term “works” because I am not only referring to movies and televised or streaming series, but also books, comics, tabletop roleplaying games, collectible card games, and video games—all entries in long-running media franchises like those I’ve named.[]
  2. According to many YouTube critics such as the controversial Midnight’s Edge, Nerdrotic, and The Critical Drinker, the satirical “Put a chick in it! Make her gay! Make it lame!” mantra introduced into the mainstream consciousness by South Park: Joining the Panderverse could be applied to the entertainment as a whole and not just to the Walt Disney Company.[]
  3. These are not the only problems with these older multimedia franchises; these are merely the most glaring and oft-repeated online.[]
  4. To say nothing of what the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes have done to the entertainment industry![]
  5. I note that none of the Dungeons & Dragons films have been great blockbusters either, despite having such a massive fanbase.[]
  6. Also, given how so many fringe fans have turned these franchises (especially Star Trek and Star Wars) into literal objects of worship, perhaps Adonai is just toppling a few silly competitors that have taken too great a stranglehold on the hearts and souls of their fans?[]

About Dunebat

Sole specimen: Desmodus desertus. Judeo-Christian anchorite/scribe/scribbler. Lover of nerds, Goths, creatives, & outcasts.

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