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I Can’t Mank It Stop

Netflix’s ‘Mank,’ a dramatized story about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s writing of ‘Citizen Kane,’ has become better known as a fun-sounding meme than a piece of Oscar bait

Netflix/Ringer illustration

We had to wait six years for another David Fincher film, but Mank finally arrived on Netflix this month and the response has been, like, lukewarm at best? From a viewership standpoint, it’s not a great sign that Mank only appeared on Netflix’s Top 10 list (at no. 10) on Saturday and hasn’t returned since. (The Queen’s Gambit, meanwhile, is still in the Netflix Top 10 as of this writing, despite coming out in October.) Granted, a black-and-white film about Herman J. Mankiewicz, the co-screenwriter of Citizen Kane, isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea—if Netflix is trying to get anyone’s attention, it’s the Academy’s—but even favorable reviews are quick to point out that Fincher’s movie has its flaws. Zodiac, this is not.

Whether you think Mank is good, bad, or somewhere in between (that’s me!), there’s one thing that the notoriously prickly comrades of Film Twitter seem to agree on: Mank is a very fun word to say. In fact, I must mank a confession: I actually can’t stop saying mank. Mank—the word, not the film—has taken permanent residence in the same corner of my brain that likes to tweet incessantly about Christopher Nolan being uncontrollably horny for the concept of time and how Venom and Aquaman are unironically good movies. I have been whisked away to the land of mank-believe, and there’s no going back.

I won’t mank amends for all of these puns, but I will try to discern why the film has reduced everyone to making dank mank memes on the timeline—including Netflix. (I sincerely hope Fincher isn’t seeing all of these tweets, because I’m quite scared of him and I don’t think he would be amused.) The versatility of mank has to be part of it: The simple, four-letter word is so flexible that it can lead to plenty of immankculate wordplay. Consider … going on a romanktic getaway, indulging in a little manky-panky, or saving something for your mank bank. (I’m sorry.) Mank is just as delightful when inserted into lyrics.

In an overall win for cinema, I’ve now resorted to tinkering with quotes from other films to make them include the word mank. What if the motto of Kingsman were “manners manketh mank”? Imagine getting a chill down your spine as Vito Corleone says, “I’m going to mank him an offer he can’t refuse.” “Forget it, Mank, it’s Chinatown” should be canon. As you can see, even the very best films (and Kingsman) could mank due with a light sprinkle of noted American screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz!

Punniness aside, there’s just something funny about a star-studded film likely to net a ton of Oscar nominations, centered on the making of one of the greatest movies of all time, and directed by one of the most intense and highly respected auteurs on the planet, being called literally Mank. It’s like if England’s most famous playwright were named Bobby Shakespeare; it doesn’t feel right. Even within Mank, each time the characters say “Mank,” it briefly punctures the self-seriousness of the endeavor. My personal favorite mankism was when Orson Welles (played by Tom Burke) calls Mank on the phone and introduces himself by saying, “Mank, it’s Orson Welles,” but a close second comes courtesy of one of the guys from Billions (Toby Leonard Moore) recognizing Mank after a funeral.

Just as Jim Carrey once became obsessed with the number 23, I’ve got a high-grade, possibly incurable case of Mank Fever. Perhaps, if I’m not the only person dealing with this affliction, Netflix will pounce on the opportunity to create their own MCU. If, at this point in the blog, you have to ask what the “M” stands for, I’m going to hit you with my sled. We’ve already got two entries in the Mank Cinematic Universe—Citizen Kane, welcome to moviema(n)king in the 21st century—so what’s to stop Hollywood from turning the rest of the Mankiewicz family tree into franchise fodder?

Ted Sarandos, if you’re listening, I’ve got some ideas. Spoiler alert: Everyone in the Mankiewicz clan goes by Mank for short, ensuring Mank continuity (myriad thespians saying “Mank”) for years to come. The apex of the MCU will be Into the Mankverse, a time-hopping adventure directed by Christopher Nolan—hoping to recover from a career low point after the critically reviled live-action Fortnite movie that, for some reason, had a nonlinear structure—in which the many Manks of history discuss creating the Mankvengers initiative. (The only complaint about Nolan’s Into the Mankverse is the strange decision to have all the Manks’ spouses die tragically.) Elsewhere, the franchise’s first spinoff, 2 Mank 2 Furious—about Joseph L. Mankiewicz winning back-to-back Oscars for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve—is hailed as a “manksterpiece” by The New York Times. And Etsy becomes so overwhelmed with custom Mank-themed merchandise that it becomes its own separate category on the site. (Wait till you serve your family oven-manked ham with your own mank-themed tableware; they’ll never speak to you again!)

In a less chaotic timeline—one where Twitter doesn’t exist?—maybe we’d be treating Mank differently. Despite its flaws, Mank has a prescient message about the dangers of creating fake news for political gain—in this case, to tank socialist Upton Sinclair’s gubernatorial run in California—which seemed to be as much of a priority for Fincher as the supposed authorship of Citizen Kane. Alas, the people have spoken: Wherever one stands on Mank, it seems that the simple pleasure of saying mank has transcended some of the film’s interesting tidbits, like the potential meaning behind Rosebud. This memeable turn of events might be tough sledding for David Fincher, but as in life, we have to mank due with what comes our way.