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Modern culture paradoxes can be explained by a popular Friends question

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Bruce Willis?

Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

There’s a popular paradox conundrum in film and television best summed up by one of the biggest debates around Friends: Wouldn’t Joey, Ross and Chandler realize that Rachel was dating Die Hard’s Bruce Willis?

It’s firmly established that the version of Die Hard we all know so well exists in Friends. A season seven episode, “The One with the Nap Partners,” finds the three aforementioned friends watching Die Hard for the hundredth time. The episode premiered in 2000, almost 12 years after Die Hard was first released. Considering that Friends takes place in the same time portrayed on television, it’s safe to assume that Ross, Chandler and Joey saw Die Hard before watching it on Ross’ couch. If we can safely assume that, why don’t the men have a more appropriate reaction upon learning that Rachel is dating a man played by Bruce Willis? Willis doesn’t play himself in the series, but it’s hard to suspend disbelief when the show references Die Hard so blatantly.

The question essentially boils down to this: If Friends acknowledges that Bruce Willis exists as an actor in Die Hard, then wouldn’t they recognize Bruce Willis in person? The discourse, however, is much more interesting. We’re expected to suspend our disbelief just enough to not point out singularities when they appear.

This paradox has repeated since then, numerous times in a series of different movies and TV shows, but none are pointed to as much or often as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

A new Reddit thread with close to 14,000 upvotes points to Black Panther as the latest culprit in this scenario. The case being made is as follows:

In Black Panther, there is a scene where T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye enter a hidden casino in South Korea.

As they enter, the song “Pray for Me” by Kendrick Lamar and The Weekend [sic] is playing. Unlike most songs in movies, this song is actually playing in the the context of the scene. The characters can hear this song. Therefore, we can conclude that Kendrick Lamar and The Weekend exist in the MCU. However, this is where we run into trouble. “Pray for Me” was released on February 2, 2018 as apart of Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar. This album was created specifically for the movie, and many songs were inspired by the film.

This creates a paradox, as Kendrick Lamar clearly exists in the MCU and wrote the song “Pray for Me”. However, he would have never wrote this song or the rest of the album, had it not been for the movie Black Panther. So we can conclude, that in the MCU the real Black Panther exists, and the film Black Panther exists. Or we can also accept a different conclusion: that Kendrick Lamar and his album somehow exist out of time.

It’s a Shower Thoughts conclusion; one that is simultaneously interesting and eye-roll inducing. It’s not the first time, however, that diehard Marvel Cinematic Universe fans can point to a paradox conundrum in the franchise — and it gets a lot more incestuous.

Star Wars, one of the biggest movie franchises in the world and a Disney property like the MCU, is referenced in a couple of movies. Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, for example, all reference Star Wars. Wouldn’t someone like Captain America or Iron Man point to Nicky Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and say, “Hey, weren’t you in Star Wars?”

There are some theories examining this exact issue. The most common theory is the Star Wars prequels, which Jackson starred in as Mace Windu, don’t exist. It’s just George Lucas’ original trilogy that the superheroes are referencing.

“You know, that bothered me for a while after watching Civil War, but I came up with the simple explanation that the MCU is both blessed by not having the prequels existing in their universe, therefore cursed with no Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan,” one person wrote on Reddit.

Or what about Natalie Portman, who played Jane Foster in Thor and Thor: The Dark World, and also portrayed Padme in the Star Wars prequels. Other people have suggested that it’s a Last Action Hero situation, comparing the Star Wars/MCU paradox to the 1993 action film’s decision to turn Sylvester Stallone into the star of Terminator 2.

The heart of the issue is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s size and its pop culture references that are included in many of the films. The MCU is simply too big, with too many well-known and successful actors, that unless disbelief is suspended, it’s nearly impossible to incorporate any film references at all. Essentially, there’s no Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and therefore, no Robert Downey Jr. films.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is chock full of paradoxes; Black Panther is just the latest example. But like many of our modern pop culture conundrums, it can all be explained by the Friends-Die Hard paradox.