Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 26-02-21

Gender-Neutral Potato Head | Frasier Reboot | Daft Punk Breakup | SNP Controversy

First, the big story… Mx Potato Head

On Mark My Words this week, Mark B praises Hasbro’s latest publicity stunt—announcing a gender-neutral Mr. Potato Head. He predicts a boom in sales and puts the latest stunt in the context of the Toy industry’s long history of inviting controversy and playing with the cultural codes of the day. Check it out.

And in other trends…

Paramount Plus, Frasier & fond but fuzzy memories of the nostalgia revival

In the past 18 months, the same nostalgia trip that inspired billion-dollar reboots of Star Wars, Jurassic Park et. al. when it visited Hollywood has spread to the world of comedy.

Over here we got a modestly successful revamp of puppet-based political satire Spitting Image (though nowhere near enough to break its host platform Britbox out of the wooden box in which it arrived), a solidly successful revamp of Alan Partridge (not that he ever really went away) in One Show send-up This Time, and an uproariously successful one-off update of Gavin and Stacey.

Across the pond we saw a respectable but unspectacular revival of cult 00s campfest Will & Grace and the largely ridiculed announcement that Sex and the City would be returning without its best character.

Now Paramount Plus has entered the streaming wars; at its vanguard is the return after seventeen years of legendary sitcom Frasier (alongside fellow forerider, a CG revival of cult cartoon Rugrats).

Although many previous revivals have—despite often lacking Frasier’s critical acclaim—been at least a qualified success, this is still a risk. First there’s Kelsey Grammar, whose reputation has been battered by substance abuse, relationship scandals and his divisive politics. He limped to the end of the original Frasier which his national treasure status intact, but the intervening years have not been kind and he’s no longer the box office banker he once was. With John Maroney sadly no longer with us, this places greater emphasis on the return of David Hyde-Pierce, Jane Leeves and Peri Gilpin as his supporting cast which has not yet been confirmed.

Behind the camera there are further uncertainties. Lead writer Chris Harris is surely a fine professional, but his major credit is How I Met Your Mothera show that lost its way so badly it hasn’t even had a streaming revival.

Then there’s Rugrats. For the kids who watched it in its heyday (whose own kids are now appropriately-aged) it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s in the same echelon as Frasier in terms of reverence. In its animation, voice cast and comic sensibilities it was a family-friendly aperitif before the golden-era Simpsons main course. But it faces the same challenge every family reboot does (a recent example in the UK is Dennis—formerly the Menace—and Gnasher) of being able to maintain its carefree weirdness and include jokes for the adults too, while meeting a new generation’s political correctness standards.

Alongside Frasier, it’s been a good announcement in terms of grabbing initial headlines and giving its intended audience a dopamine hit, but there’s a lot still to get right if these reboots are going to the bedrock of a successful streaming platform.

No More Times

This week legendary electronic music duo, Daft Punk, announced their breakup.

Daft Punk’s ability to create hard-hitting house music that was catchy and accessible was unrivalled. They carved their own unique sound, whilst embodying clear references and influences from other genres. They were the first big artists to evolve the Kraftwerk aesthetic for the 21st century, fusing disco, soul, funk, and rock – a massive influence on today’s pop music and the genre bending we see today.

Despite their influence on popular music, Daft Punk had a distant relationship with the media, detaching their brand from the clutches of fame. Whether it was their anonymity in the early days, which clearly influenced The Weeknd or even Gorillaz to boycotting social media, the act had a certain level of mystique.

It was clear, they never played the fame game focusing on the music rather than developing their brand. Despite this conscious effort to stay one step ahead of stardom, their robot personas made the act so much more alluring, with a dystopian edge that makes them more relevant in this information age. They’ve kept their personal lives personal, which is a refreshing change of pace, right to the end. We don’t know why they split up, but Daft Punk have left such a huge mark on popular culture, whether they wanted to or not.

And finally….

The SNP might be on the brink…but not the one you think

Scotland will soon enter its second decade as a de facto one-party state. Like other nations in this situation, a significant factor has been the cult of personality that has formed around the dominant SNP’s last two leaders, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.

Their supporters’ devotion has been intensified by the paucity of scandal-free political talent elsewhere in the UK in this time and the steady, concurrent tribalisation of our political discourse.

The result: Salmond and Sturgeon became iconoclastic figures, synonymous with the independence movement and with political nationalism; that’s a lot of ideological eggs in a couple of baskets.

This truth was illuminated by allegations against Salmond that, despite not amounting to a criminal conviction, painted (at best) an ugly picture of his attitude towards women.

Had the SNP been able to distance themselves from their former leader, who has been out of frontline politics for more than five years, they’d still be cruising. But Sturgeon has been implicated, accused of breaking the ministerial code by lying about when she first became aware of the allegations.

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To compound things, Salmond has decided to take his former protégé down with him, alleging a conspiracy involving literally hundreds of politicians, civil servants, and his accusers. He maybe pictures himself as Samson destroying the Philistine temple (although his self-image is probably closer to another character from the same book).

The consequences of this carnage? According to an STV/Ipsos Mori poll yesterday the SNP’s lead in the polls has fallen 3%.

And yet they find themselves on the precipice, not of losing the election, but of having to dive into the political playbooks of their most hated enemies, the Tories and Donald Trump.

If Sturgeon is found to have broken the code, there will be calls for her to resign. The current defence being mooted on Twitter is that Boris and Matt Hancock haven’t resigned despite demonstrably breaking similar codes, so why should she? The questions then for Sturgeon is whether to sacrifice the moral high ground by stooping to their level and ignoring calls to resign.

Such is the strength of support for Scottish independence, the deep, pulsing hatred for the Boris-led Tories, and the ineffectiveness of the Labour Party (you think Starmer’s inert, take a peek North of the border for a lesson in how to turn an opposition party into a vacuum) that even this scandal won’t take the SNP down immediately, but without a figurehead as formidable as Nicola Sturgeon they’re a much less powerful force, and if she survives this but with reputation tainted, it may just be the first thread of a long and ugly unravelling.