The Breakfast of Champions: Chadwick Boseman, Media Diets and the Hollywood Hate Machine

Take an unpleasant moment to think back to the seedy, covered-up days of Harvey Weinstein; the daily scandals facing Donald Trump as Anonymous delivered receipts on the tycoon-turned-President’s ‘model-judge’ past; and the fallen-angels in Victoria’s Secret former CEOs. What happens when you think of all this? It becomes evident that the Media Industry is fuelled by hate.

They feed on hate like it is sugary breakfast cereal. The Weinsteins, Trumps and everyone-else-like-them have been given more screen and air-time; even after their indiscretions have put them to centre-staged-alleged-shame.

Why?

Back in the day, getting riled-up sold newspapers; and these days, it causes a reflex action in our index-fingers to click links. As consumers of the media: readers and retweeters; we have pandered to this beast.

We have sustained this.

It feels as if things are only getting worse, too.

A global pandemic means there is no good news. It seems that the best we can hope for is falling death rates in our locality; in lieu of a complete end to the pandemic.

In terms of the media, we are consuming this  breakfast-cereal diet; only instead of sugar-hoops drenched in milk, it’s nuggets of ‘news’. It’s exactly like when we were kids, our eyes glued to the TV screen as we sat too-close; not caring that we were damaging our eyes and upping our blood sugar despite our parents’ warnings. Only now, this media-cereal diet comes in the form of doom-scrolling, (fuelled by the fact many of us are still stuck inside; or afraid to go outside). All it does is feed anger, hate, panic, and click rates.

Then, along comes the news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing.

There is definitely no good news.

Definitely no hope.

There is no good time to die; no time when his; or anyone else’s death, would have felt like less of a wrench. But now, Boseman’s death feels particularly raw – like a particularly dark point – in an already dark sky.

Too young.

Too soon.

How much worse will things get?

Now is definitely the time to digital detox.

Or is it?

In a Covid-current world, it’s easy to forget that as a species we are plagued by other diseases, like cancer, that also, like Covid; do not discriminate. This feels like a reminder, that the world is actually out to get us. It feels like there is nothing positive out there.

Too young.

Too soon.

There is the expected outpouring of grief: but this doesn’t feel like empty platitudes. There is a real sense that Boseman will not be a mere hashtag for the hours following his passing, and then consigned to history. The words spoken about him, neither feel like the click-bait of the Donald/Harvey Media-Machine. Things feel different, somehow.

He’s not just talented – he’s kind.

Not just famous – he’s good people, gone.

Of course, this only serves to make things worse.

It is not merely a saying that ‘the good die young’. It feels true in Boseman’s case.

There is a collective mourning: from those who followed his every career move to those who had ‘never heard of him.’

I can’t pretend for a moment to be a long-time Boseman-fan. Yes, I knew of Boseman from Black Panther, and Black Panther alone.

Will I rewatch it? Yes.

Will I watch his wider work? Yes.

This will be a private vigil new-found, and long-time fans will hold for the star in the coming weeks, months and years; as we all ruminate on the couldda-woulda-shouldda that should have been Boseman’s stratospheric rise to fame.

I wonder who, and what, I am mourning.  I wonder if, in part, I’m grieving the loss-of-potential that is 2020. I wonder if I’m mourning for the Media Machine itself. Or, am I mourning because, I’ve only just found out, (most certainly too late), who Chadwick Boseman was.

After all, there are celebrities that permeate the cultural consciousness because they cover every magazine; appear in every commercial; cause every controversy (remember there is no such thing as bad publicity)… we know who they are because they are an integral part of the very Media Machine that will eventually turn against them.

Is my grief really inward-turning anger?

I am the overgrown kid, who has been feeding on the unhealthy media-diet of click-bait gossip. I’ve been sitting too close to the screen. I’ve focused on the celebrity feuds; the public court cases; Donald Trump’s Hair; the girl on Twitter who swears profusely to get more followers…maybe I was told about Chadwick Boseman in good time; maybe I didn’t look closely enough – because I was distracted by the Hate Machine.

Maybe I’m one step away, one bad day away, from becoming like the rest of them: the ranting girl on Twitter who tears people down for what they eat and drink and what football team they support (there are people like this out there – I’m hard-blocking then when I’m done writing this).

In part, Boseman’s death is a warning, for me, and everyone else that participates in the media machine. I may not be a celebrity, but it will consume me. Even the Twitter-folk that rile me – surly even my buried reaction, is what the media machine wants?

When it comes to the media, maybe we, now, more than ever, need to take back control. Maybe Chadwick Boseman can teach us.

As more and more details emerge of Boseman, it  becomes clear that we are mourning someone who had a remarkable level of control, in the face of astonishing adversity.  In a world that makes sharing information and private thought easier than ever (just like writing this article); Boseman’s choice to keep his health issues private is all the more inspiring. It reminds us, in a small way, that we don’t have to play the Media game if we don’t want to. So many people express the need daily for a ‘digital detox’ when in actuality, we need to remember that we are in control. Every aspects of our lives does not warrant communication to the world – that is, unless we want to take things in that direction.

People on social media who spew hate impact us in negative ways because we let them. There are bigger things. They are just words on a page. We need to regain control. We are very much chasing this sugary breakfast-cereal high.

So what’s the answer?

Smash our phones?

Log off forever?

Never click another link?

I suggest we take our lead from Chadwick Boseman. It is clear that he was someone who used his platform not to look down on others, but to raise them up (think of the moment Boseman gave his MTV award to James Shaw Jr, the Waffle-House hero). In life, he was turning the Hollywood Hate Machine on itself. So many past award ceremonies are arenas for celebrity feuds, or fashion-blunders – where Boseman used them to give voices to the unsung – to remind us that celebrity does not automatically equal heroism and that every-day, normal people are the true heroes.

As we mourn Boseman, and find out more about the man beneath the Black Panther suit, this information forms a new sort of media diet. This information becomes, in a sense, an antidote and an antithesis to our current situation.

It has long been argued that the only good news are the adverts and commercials. There is no high or joy like that commercial for that new sofa. But as we say farewell and pay tribute to Boseman, we can come realise that he was good news.

Don’t believe me?

I’d suggest watching the Jimmy Fallon clip of fans telling Boseman what Black Panther means to them; right before he appears from behind a screen) if you want to smile from ear-to-ear for the rest of the day. This is a better sugar-high than the Media-Hate diet. This will bring you more joy than that commercial for that new sofa.

In the days after his passing, one thing becomes very clear: what I wrote at the beginning of this piece is wrong: there is no dark sky. Yes, Boseman’s death is a low point; but he is no diminishing light. The sky is not starless, now.

Boseman has in fact, gone Supernova.

In death, Chadwick Boseman has turned the Hollywood Hate Machine in on itself. He has turned the spotlight on himself – one that was, arguably, reluctant to shine fully on him, during his life.

If is only in his death, that I and so many others have learned of not only of Boseman himself, but his resolve and his unfettered kindness. If anything, the closing words of this piece should be seen as an open-letter to the media and its users: Do not fuel the (Hollywood) hate machine.

Lead by Boseman’s example.

It seems in part, as if this is already happening. Boseman’s death already feels like a digital extension of the #BlackLivesMatter protests, with more and more of his words being shared; more and more of his movie trailers are being linked. In what feels like a hopeless time for so many reasons; his body of work already feels like a renewed positive force.

Learning of his cancer diagnosis and that he completed the work (that he will undoubtably become most famous for) whilst seriously, seriously ill is one of the saddest things about his death… it is also one of the most remarkable. At a time when people are sharing openly, their feelings of fear and anxiety; Chadwick’s story is a reminder of strength and human resolve. There is a general feeling, already, in the online tributes, that the body of work Chadwick Boseman leaves behind is bigger than him. The words Chadwick Boseman will be forever entwined with the toxic year that is 2020; but maybe part of his legacy will teach us to look at things a little differently.

Maybe 2020 is the time to #BeMoreBoseman.

So I suggest we look at our media diets a little differently. After all, in these times, our phones are a valuable method of communication and maybe logging off entirely is not an option.

Maybe we can use platforms, as Boseman used his ‘platform’ for something positive. Maybe we shouldn’t give into; or feed into the hate machine?

What if, instead of panicking, in this current climate, we adopted Boseman’s resolve: who completed movies whilst undergoing cancer surges and treatment. What what if we took Boseman’s words (from his 2018 Commencement Speech) to heart: “Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things that you are here to fulfil.”

Things look bad – but we’re not done yet.

There is so much more we have to give.

Next time we feel like the giving up, maybe we should look to Boseman, and think back to him on the Jimmy Fallon show; smiling – making everyone else’s day, in-spite of what he was going through. Maybe this should be what’s next for us.

And what of Chadwick Boseman, now?

I’d argue that he is destined for even greater things; and when the posthumous awards come flooding in, I suggest we retweet and share these. Do not airtime to the undeserving, the greedy or the hate-filled. Why am I so certain that the coming months will belong to Chadwick Boseman and be filled with deserving recognition? Because it’s like T’Challa said, “Death is not the end; It’s more of a stepping off point.”


Liz Wride is a writer from Wales. Her short fiction has appeared in Okay Donkey Mag, Milk Candy Review, Trampset, Fiction Kitchen Berlin and others. In 2014, her Dylan Thomas centenary play ‘No 5 Cwmdonkin Drive’ (produces by Welsh Fargo Stage Company) was performed in Wales and London. Autumn is her favourite season. 

Categories: Essay

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