The monopolistic nature of media is what worries me the most about the future.
J.J. Abrams is now going to be put in charge of two powerful science fiction dynasties. One man will control both Star Trek and Star Wars. Meanwhile, Disney defacto owns 90 percent of our fairy tale characters, Marvel Comics, the Muppets, and Star Wars.
That’s an awful lot of power for one corporation to have.
Make no mistake. It is power too. Real power. You don’t have to control what people think to control the culture. You can just as easily control what they consume because our entertainment defines us as surely as our political views and the cloths we put on our back. There is no clear demarcation between who we are and what we watch, read, etc.
Putting aside any sinister thoughts though, I can’t help but feel we’re being stifled in a new and unique way. Our stories and ideas are more and more pre-packaged. Star Wars, Star Trek, Spider-Man, Lone Ranger, etc., etc.. Each is now created with a sales pitch in mind and a story second. This is nothing new. It’s the way they used to do classic monster movies like It Conquered the World and The Monolith Monsters. Create something that looks great on a poster with a catchy title and figure out the movie afterward. The difference is that those old classics were low-budget affairs meant to intrigue passers by. The new stuff feels more and more like cynical marketeers.
The line has never been very clear. Comic book superheroes used to love putting crazy stuff on comic book covers to make the reader pause and buy a comic if only to see why Superman has a lion head or why Batman is dressed like a clown this issue. But, again, these were smaller mediums trying to stand out. They might be publicity stunts, but they were the underdog trying to get noticed.
Now they’re just the standard business model.
This is why, among other reasons, I’m excited about Pacific Rim. Some might argue that it looks like a silly giant robot movie, but I would argue that it’s a giant robot movie NOT based on anything else. It wasn’t created because someone wanted to monetize an already successful property. It wasn’t formulated because an executive thought he could trade on nostalgia. It was created because someone wanted to make an ORIGINAL giant robot movie. And that’s so rare this day and age, I’d support it even if it didn’t have rocket punch attacks. Though rocket punch attacks certainly don’t hurt anything.
The problem is that, for all our complaints about how empty these market driven films can be, they are what we really want. We might argue whether JJ Abrams is the right guy to direct a new Star Wars film, but we never argue whether Star Wars itself is worth continuing. We’ll complain about Spider-Man reboots, but we’ll never question whether Spider-Man has anything new to offer us as a culture.
Yes, I know it’s a radical idea. It certainly won’t get much traction for the die hard fans. But if you think about it, the more nitpicky and obsessive a community becomes about a franchise, a series, whatever, the more obvious it becomes to me that the media becomes less important than the culture surrounding it. Right now, Star Wars is less about the actual stories being told than it is about who is directing it, its relation to the other stories told, whether it’ll ignore or adhere to expanded universe, and so on. But the actual question of whether or not Star Wars has an interesting story to tell . . . nobody asks that. It’s just sort of assumed to be true because it once was.
I do think Star Wars has plenty of room for interesting new stories, but the problem is, if you’re creating a Star Wars story, even with the best of intentions, you probably don’t want to tell those stories. I would be intrigued by the notion of a non-Jedi Star Wars film. Such a film will never happen. I would love a Star Trek film from a Klingon perspective, without an Enterprise crewmen in sight. I would relish the chance to read a Spider-Man story where he grows up a little, stops feeling so bad about himself, and maybe gets his act together. No story like that will ever be written.
Instead, we get reboots and re-imaginings which take old, tired stories and make them look new without actually making them new. I didn’t mind the new Trek film. But, take away the slick presentation, and we’re just back to Kirk, Spock, and the gang fighting someone in space to protect The Federation.
And how many times do I have to watch Peter Parker learn about responsibility?
This is why I get the popularity of Firefly. It really didn’t get a chance to earn its devoted fanbase. It’s a promising show that never really got off the ground. But at least it was its own show, its own universe. It wasn’t a reboot. It was distinctly Firefly in a way that media (and particularly science fiction) rarely is. Heck, I can totally relate. I love Space Rangers, a show that lasted only two or three episodes and nobody even remembers, but that left a great impression on me.
Whether we like it or not, we have been conditioned to go to the movies, buy books, watch TV for nearly every reason other than the media itself. It was an intentional move by the companies in charge of such things, and it makes sense from a financial perspective. There’s probably no going back because in order for anything to be popular at this point, it needs to have that machine behind it. And the machine works best when it’s running on ideas that have already been sold to us that we buy without thinking about it.
None of this means there’s no hope for the future. Nor does it mean that new stuff can’t come along occasionally. And no media conglomerate can control everything. Not yet anyway. But in a world where, more and more, taking chances is seen as unnecessary (perhaps rightly so), it’s important for the consumer to seek out new ideas, new characters, new worlds. Those new stories might not always be great, but at least they’re worth chasing if only for the chance to experience something genuinely new and not just a variation of something old with younger actors and a different director.
And that, long answer, is why I haven’t written a sequel yet.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,