Ben There, Done That

On the Hollywood Anti-Chrises (the Bens), Shadow and Bone's Tie-In Website, hot animated characters, and being in my Eurovision era.

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I don’t actually think the Bens of Hollywood—actors whose first name happen to be Ben—are the equal opposite to the Hollywood Chrises. While the Hollywood Chrises could be a dying breed, what with Evans’ proclivity for centrist politics and Pratt being a prat, they’re all of a similar archetype: tall, broad, blonde-adjacent white guys that helm big blockbuster action movies.

The Bens, however, are a real rogues’ gallery of Hollywood quirky girls. Each their own Zooey Deschanel, if you will.

The first Ben on my mind as of late is one Ben Barnes, or Bin Bons if you were on Tumblr during the whole Marauders craze. I’ve since learned that Barnes was part of a boyband in 2004, Hyrise, with their only recorded performance being a stint on Eurovision costing Britain the title.

Of that experience, Barnes has grown wary of releasing his own music since he left the band but is becoming more comfortable with posting covers on his Instagram. I’ve been thinking about what his role in the band would’ve been before he left after two weeks in. By leaving, does that make him the Zayn?

He also got two solos in their Eurovision song “Leading Me On”, on the pre-chorus with the falsetto no less! Whilst that fits the Zayn criteria, it also feels very Liam. I can see a bit of Liam in Ben Barnes. I think it’s the beady eyes. The song itself sounds like something out of Another Cinderella Story or the boyband in a Disney Channel sitcom. I wish I could stream it on Spotify.

I think, in another life or alternate universe, Hyrise could’ve really been something. They were sonically in the pocket of post-The All-New Mickey Mouse Club and S Club 7 era. Their wardrobe stuck in the neutrals would’ve kept them amongst the likes of Simple Plan or Hoobastank if ever they desired to make that kind of music. But hey, without Hyrise’s Hyfall, we wouldn’t have the Ben Barnessaince currently being ushered in by Shadow and Bone.

In relation to my more recent Shadow and Bone hyper-fixation, Barnes is apparently a fan of singing Shallow from A Star Is Born, both the Bradley Cooper and the Lady Gaga parts. I don’t know what to do with this information, I’m not sure you will either. But I thought I’d just put it out there.

The Dunkin Donuts conference room that went viral the other week, where Ben Affleck hosts bi-annual meetings of the Extremely Divorced and Incredibly Down Bad Society, Boston Chapter, of which he is Chairman.

Speaking of Bens I don’t know what to do with, Ben Affleck is back in the news. Affleck made headlines in Page Six and my favourite newsletter Hung Up last week as he had a little Los Angeles rendezvous with Jenny from the Block herself. Now, I was alive and well for Bennifer in its prime. In fact, the first three things that come into my mind when I think of JLo are the 2003 film Enough, her brief tenure as an American Idol judge, and Ben Affleck in the Jenny from the Block music video.

As of yesterday, a TikTok revealed that when the original poster unmatched with Affleck on dating app Raya, he sent her a video via Instagram DMs to confirm that it was, in fact, him, and not a catfish. I’m not one to laugh at another man’s misfortune1, but isn’t it just a tiny bit funny that she could’ve unmatched Affleck not because he was a fake, but because he was, well, him?

It’s pretty creepy behaviour as well, tracking someone down after they’re essentially removed you from their dating app experience. I’m not at all surprised, unfortunately, at how allegations against Affleck, including one by Annamarie Tendler-Mulaney, have disappeared from public consciousness.

Whether she violated his digital privacy for clout, or she wanted to share how genuinely bizarre it is for anyone to approach you on a different app after you’ve unmatched them, I’m not really sure what to make of it. It’s weird. And for all the world to see.

Surely no one is surprised by now that a lot of men in Hollywood are weird, creepy, and invasive. They’ve been given a pass by the illusion of social status, self-importance, and money. Their historical abuse of power—hierarchal, patriarchal, or otherwise—combined with the amount of access we have to literally anyone with an internet connection can create a lot of frustration and dissonance. I don’t think it’s a conversation about social media itself, but what about social media allows for weird, creepy, and invasive behaviour to fester and come to light.

On top of that, he’s not even the hottest guy in Triple Frontier, not even remotely close to having that title! Imagine having to live with all that? I wouldn’t be able to. I always have to be the hottest guy in Triple Frontier at the supermarket. Or in this case, at the Dunkin Donuts conference room. I wonder if he’s considered consulting The Pattern app, much like Channing Tatum has. Maybe then he’ll leave girls 20 years younger than him alone?

Another Ben that’s made the news by proxy is Ben Whishaw, although by nothing scandalous or embarrassing (just yet.) Whishaw is well-known for portraying the titular Paddington in the Paddington franchise, and Paddington 2 recently surpassed Citizen Kane as the highest-rated film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe if David Fincher made the making of Paddington 2 biopic, he’d win an Oscar. But alas, men will do anything but make a new season of Mindhunter.

Breaking the Promo Wall

I love consuming everything there is to consume about a show or a film after I finish it. Shadow and Bone has not only led me to the cast’s many Funny Moments compilations but to the promotional tie-in website that lets fans of the Grishaverse, casual or otherwise, explore a world beyond the show.

There’s something about marketing campaigns that let fictional realities bleed into our own that hit my sweet spot. Perhaps it’s my secret love of theme parks, or years of conditioning from YA adaptation marketing of my youth, like the in-universe campaigns of The Hunger Games’ Capitol Couture—a now-defunct style blog used to promote the film featuring high fashion Capitol Portraits of the cast in-character, or the initial launch of Pottermore long after the film franchise reached its end.

I’m also a fan of Westworld’s tie-in websites—Delos Destinations, Discover Westworld, and Incite—that change and crash alongside the show’s narrative arcs. Back when Season 1 was airing, you could even book a stay at Westworld from the Discover Westworld site like it was Expedia. All three sites display error messages that coincide with data dumps and corporation takedowns the Hosts have carried out. At SXSW in 2018, Westworld even went so far as to build a real-life simulation of Sweetwater, the town most of the show was set in. Visitors could eat, drink, and interact with ‘Hosts’, even so far as witnessing damaged Hosts get recalled by those Delos employees in hazmat suits.

Then there are fan-driven immersive experiences that redefine cult status, like the Forever Twilight festival held in Forks, Washington every year. I’ve watched countless Forks/Portland, Oregon TikToks of people doing the absolute most at Twilight shooting locations. The Forever Twilight festival has everything from cosplayers, scene re-enactments, and AirBnBs of Bella’s house to really give you the full Twilight experience.

With Shadow and Bone’s Beyond The Fold, you get to explore a map of the Grishaverse with interactive clips, take personality quizzes, even create your own Grisha avatar. What more could the ninth-grade girl in me want? The site tells me I’m a lot like Jesper, Kit Young’s character. According to a Ravkan Army personality quiz, I’m a tracker like my beloved Mal. Here’s the Grisha version of me, who onle looks like me in the sense that we both have sparse eyebrows:

Whenever I think of Marketing as an industry, I immediately think of Schmidt from New Girl. It takes a different kind of creative muscle and a lot of work to come up with new ways to sell and promote products to the masses, and I have a lot of respect for that. But there’s also an underbelly to that. I’ve been reading Empire of Pain, Patrick Radden Keefe’s investigative deep-dive on the Sackler Family legacy, and there’s a chapter earlier on about how Arthur Sackler was the first to market pharmaceuticals with a serious ad campaign, to the point where Pfizer (yes, that Pfizer) increased its sales force and became a household name nearly overnight in the late 40s.

To me, that’s the sinister side of marketing, the ones with a lot of ethical questions burgeoning beneath the surface of some cool typeface, like those Instagram girlboss infographics that are “trying solve racism”. On a separate note, there’s this great article about how Shadow and Bone fumbles the fantasy racism bag that you can read here.

But Shadow and Bone pretty much sells itself, given the books’ huge following and incredibly endearing cast members. The in-universe website feels like a treat. It, once more, evokes a lot of teenage nostalgia in me, in that way that you feel included by the world you chose to escape to. The marketing is working on me, someone already sold on their product. Do you know what else is a treat? This:

The Danny Phantom Effect

Like most people that are willing to admit it, my first recorded crush on an animated character was Danny Fenton, aka Danny Phantom from Nickelodeon’s Danny Phantom. I think I was more drawn to his ghost form, what with his platinum blonde hair and vat-of-acid green eyes. I do feel held by him, guy from Midsommar, he does feel like home.

Then came Prince Zuko and Jake Long, two animated boys that could breathe fire and were both voiced by Dante Basco. I didn’t realise it then, but I’m pretty sure I had a crush on Shego from Kim Possible. I’m actually not sure if I want her or want to be her.

This isn’t all that rare, I know plenty of people between the ages of 13 to 33 that have, at some point or other, admitted fairly comfortably their attraction to animated fictional characters. In their cases, it was more towards anime characters. Manga, anime, and western comic books have a history of hypersexual character designs and fanservice culture, it’s no surprise at all that fans have superficial reasons behind their favourite characters, whether they’re aware of it or not.

I’ve been watching a lot of Young Justice lately, along with other DC Animated Universe films and shows, and noticed that Nightwing/Dick Grayson and his teammates fall under the Danny Phantom blueprint, at least in their animated incarnations. I’ve also started Amazon Prime’s Invincible, where Steven Yeun’s Mark Grayson is cut from the same cloth as well. They’re all designed to be good-looking but not the hot quarterback. They’re a little angsty and a little burdened by the idea of purpose. Not quite the chosen one even if that expectation is placed upon them. It’s refreshing when the male leads aren’t the whiney Harry Potter types, or vehicles for a classic “boys will be boys” stories.

Similarly, characters like Artemis from Young Justice or Asami from The Legend of Korra bring a lot of depth outside of their character design to the nature-versus-nurture argument. Yeah, they’re hot girls. Sure, their backgrounds have shaped who they are, but they ultimately rise above all of it. Of course, all the characters I’ve listed are designed to be conventionally attractive, thin, and conform to Eurocentric beauty standards in some way. Miss Martian/M’Gann M’orzz struggles with this in Young Justice, hiding her true white Martian form and choosing to pattern her human form after Beast Boy’s white mother who was a former actress on a sitcom she watched on Mars.

Like everything in this newsletter, it’s a long-winded way of saying a) I probably “have a type” and b) I can’t stop thinking about this one thing and struggle to put it into words. There’s a lot more to unpack about the Danny Phantom Effect; especially across Western animation. But for now, let me ask you: who are some of your favourite animated hotties? Let me know:

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In My Fire Saga Era

Much like Ben Barnes, I’ll be doing Eurovision this year. Alongside some really stellar acts, I’m competing in Piñata’s Euro Isioñ Song Contest, an alternate Eurovision song contest streamed live on NextUp Comedy. I’ll be representing my community (Sexy Asian Singles) through song. I’m quite proud of the song and the video for it. You can check out the trailer below and get tickets here. I hope you come to the show. I hope you vote for me. And I hope we all do Rachel McAdams in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) proud.

That’s all for this week! Catch you next time!

1

A lie.