Tor.com’s Best Pop Culture Essays of 2023: A Year of Reflection and Exploration

Tor.com's Best Pop Culture Essays of 2023: A Year of Reflection and Exploration

Delving into the world of film, television, and gaming, Tor.com’s collection of essays offers insightful perspectives on popular culture in 2023.

As we bid farewell to 2023, Tor.com presents a compilation of its most captivating and thought-provoking essays from the year. While the entertainment industry faced challenges due to strikes and labor disputes, it also brought us a plethora of remarkable shows and movies. This collection of essays delves into various aspects of popular culture, exploring genres on the rise, dissecting movie moments, analyzing horror in film and TV, spotlighting superheroes, and diving deep into the world of Star Trek and gaming. Join us as we reflect on the year that was and celebrate the diverse and compelling narratives that shaped our cultural landscape.

Genres on the Rise: Competence Porn and Cozy Fantasy

Exploring the allure of competence and the comfort of cozy fantasy.

Competence Porn Is Comforting — Where Can I Find More of It? by Rachel Ayers
In this essay, Rachel Ayers delves into the appeal of competence porn, a subgenre that celebrates individuals who excel in their chosen fields. Ayers explores the satisfaction derived from witnessing characters realize their full potential and the joy that comes from their flawless performances.

Sixties Fantasy Sitcoms and the Rise of Cozy Fantasy by R. Nassor
R. Nassor takes us on a journey through the world of cozy fantasy, a genre that infuses magic into everyday life. Drawing parallels to the ’60s fantasy sitcoms, Nassor highlights the enduring elements of comfort, home, and friendship that make cozy fantasy a beloved and heartwarming genre.

Movie Moments from 2023

Unveiling the profound impact of standout movie moments.

To Every Other Jobu Tupaki After Jamie Lee Curtis’s Oscar Win by Maya Gittelman
Maya Gittelman explores the bittersweet reality of a story that resonates with specific traumas and yet fails to give due recognition to the queer girl at its core. Gittelman reflects on the power of storytelling and the importance of diverse narratives in cinema.

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How a Chonky Dragon Wyrmed His Way Into Our Hearts by Leah Schnelbach
Leah Schnelbach takes a closer look at the endearing charm of Themberchaud, a chonky dragon from Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Schnelbach delves into the unique characteristics that endeared Themberchaud to audiences, showcasing the impact of memorable characters in film.

I Said I’d Make a Woman: Barbie and the Pygmalion Paradigm by Kristen Patterson
Kristen Patterson examines the story of Barbie and its connection to the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. Patterson highlights the enduring theme of transformation and the desire for self-actualization, drawing parallels between Barbie’s journey and the broader context of magical realism and science fiction.

Perspectives on Horror in Film and TV

Unveiling the deeper meanings behind horror narratives.

“Not Much Choice”: Disability and Monstrosity in the Alien Franchise by Jay Kang Romanus
Jay Kang Romanus explores the representation of disability in the Alien franchise, shedding light on the societal prejudices and challenges faced by disabled individuals. Romanus analyzes the journey of self-acceptance portrayed by Ellen Ripley, drawing parallels to the experiences of disabled people in the real world.

The Horror of Powerlessness: Skinamarink and the Rapture by Sarah Welch-Larson
Sarah Welch-Larson delves into the horror film Skinamarink, examining its portrayal of powerlessness and the fear of the Rapture. Welch-Larson unravels the film’s slow cinema approach and its ability to elicit contemplation and reflection, highlighting the underlying themes of childhood fear and vulnerability.

Science, Fiction, and Fungi: What The Last of Us Gets Right by Corrado Nai
Corrado Nai explores the realism and relevance of stories like The Last of Us, which transport us to a present world threatened by fungal pathogens. Nai emphasizes the importance of raising awareness about fungal pathogens and the potential impact on vulnerable populations.

Spotlight on Superheroes

Analyzing the significance of superheroes in contemporary storytelling.

How Miles Morales Reclaimed His Own Story in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse by Monita Mohan
Monita Mohan discusses the significance of Miles Morales, the lead character in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Mohan explores the themes of identity and belonging, highlighting Miles’ refusal to conform and the empowering message it sends to audiences of color.

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Eugenics and the Human/Animal Divide in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 by Leigha McReynolds
Leigha McReynolds delves into the exploration of eugenics in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, highlighting the Guardians’ rejection of hierarchies and the ethical implications of genetic technology. McReynolds challenges viewers to critically examine the acceptance of eugenic systems in society.

Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, and Terrence Malick Meet at a Diner to Discuss Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania by Leah Schnelbach
Leah Schnelbach presents a whimsical fictional conversation between renowned directors Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, and Terrence Malick, discussing the film Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. Schnelbach explores the clash of artistic visions and the intersection of high art and blockbuster entertainment.

Deep Dives Into Star Trek

Unraveling the complexities of Star Trek’s characters and narratives.

Why Did Star Trek: Picard’s Final Season Focus on the Wrong Family? by Emmet Asher-Perrin
Emmet Asher-Perrin reflects on the final season of Star Trek: Picard, questioning the narrative focus on the wrong family. Asher-Perrin delves into the significance of Beverly Crusher’s character and her underutilization in the series, urging a reevaluation of storytelling choices.

“A Critical Division of Starfleet Intelligence”: Section 31 and the Normalization of the Security State by Jaime Babb
Jaime Babb examines the portrayal of Section 31 in Star Trek and its normalization of the security state. Babb highlights the problematic acceptance of Section 31’s crimes by the show’s protagonists, challenging viewers to question the implications of such narratives.

Ben Sisko’s Non-Linear, Non-Binary Arc in Deep Space Nine’s “Emissary” Saved All My Lives by Jonathan Alexandratos
Jonathan Alexandratos explores the non-linear and non-binary arc of Ben Sisko in Deep Space Nine’s “Emissary.” Alexandratos delves into the profound realization of existence beyond linearity and binary constraints, drawing parallels to the human experience and the power of self-acceptance.

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Gaming Is Life

Examining the significance of gaming in contemporary society.

I Am a Mature and Responsible Adult Who Will Attach Rockets to Anything Just to See What Happens by Kali Wallace
Kali Wallace celebrates the importance of fun and pleasure in a world driven by productivity. Wallace emphasizes the value of video games as a medium for pure enjoyment and the freedom to explore without the constraints of practicality or achievement.

The Very Small and The Very Large: Outer Wilds as Interactive Space Opera by Melissa Kagen
Melissa Kagen explores the unique blend of intimacy and vastness in the video game Outer Wilds. Kagen highlights the game’s ability to ask profound questions while maintaining personal connections, drawing parallels to the essence of space opera storytelling.

How Baldur’s Gate 3 and Honor Among Thieves Finally Captured the Soul of D&D by Tyler Dean
Tyler Dean examines the successful adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons in Baldur’s Gate 3 and Honor Among Thieves. Dean emphasizes the importance of capturing the sense of belonging and found family that defines the essence of D&D, highlighting the transformative power of these narratives.

Conclusion:

Tor.com’s collection of essays from 2023 offers a rich tapestry of insights into the world of pop culture. From the allure of competence and cozy fantasy to the profound meanings behind horror narratives and the significance of superheroes, these essays provide a comprehensive exploration of the diverse and captivating stories that shaped the year. Whether reflecting on the complexities of Star Trek or examining the impact of gaming, these essays invite readers to engage with popular culture in new and thought-provoking ways. As we look forward to the year ahead, let us continue to celebrate the power of storytelling and its ability to shape our understanding of the world around us.