It Conquered the Media Property!

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.

Keelah Se’lai

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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2 Comments

  1. Rj Singh
    Posted January 30, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Hi!

    Wanted to say thanks for writing your books. I discovered and read Monster before reading In The Company of Ogres. Now, I am reading the Automatic Detective.

    Like that your style is unique and fun.

    Thank you for the enjoyment
    Rj

  2. Adam
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Lee,

    First, let me tell you how much I enjoy your books. I ran across Monster while browsing through Barnes and Nobles and fell in love with it. Finding it so unique, I did some research on your books and saw two things immediately; first, Gil’s All Fright Diner looked like it would be fun; second; being a Humphrey Bogart fan, along with a Sci-fi fan, The Automatic Detective was a must. So, back I went to Barnes and Nobles and bought them both. I devoured Gil’s All Fright Diner in less than 4 days. It was hysterical, unique, a real treat. I wanted to go back and finish Monster but, being a “cheap detective” fan, I couldn’t wait and jumped immediately into the Automatic Detective… and that’s where I became a fan for life.

    I’m only about 40 pages from the end of it and I’m trying to figure out how I can read more slowly so I can make it last longer.

    “When you get out of the hospital, I suggest you consider the following equation: whatever diminishing percentage of control you have over my systems divided by the rating of my patience index. Now multiply that by zero, and you’ll get the odds that I won’t kill you next time I see you.”

    Joining the “hard-boiled detective” genre with the “robotic” genre, is certainly a challenge, but lines like that show that you’re more than up to it! Brilliant! Hysterical! Bravo!

    Monster is my next stop. Funny, I started with Monster and loved it… but I got sucked into your other books before I could finish it. Clearly, I’m hooked.

    Now, regarding your post about Disney and JJ Abrams, yes, I can see your point about how they are dominating the industry, but I’d like to point out some other considerations. Have you read John Locke’s book about how he sold 1 million Kindle books? It’s an excellent study on how one man took on the conventional publishing industry and beat them at their own game. I’ve read some of Locke’s stuff (his prose don’t hold a candle to your work) and it’s enjoyable but not anything outstanding. And yet, by controlling his own marketing and distribution through the web, he made real strides.

    The internet really levels the playing field for guys like him. And it offers some terrific opportunities for someone with superior stories like you. Disney and Abrams my control expensive productions and massive distribution, but they also carry the burden of massive expenses. Today, it’s certainly possible to market and distribute through the web, come in at a lower price, and perhaps by-pass big corporations like Disney and Abrams all together. I’m not saying such a thing would be easy, but I am pointing out that there are new ways to address the market. I’m into internet marketing and any time you’d like to discuss this topic further, just let me know. I find this stuff fascinating. And don’t worry – this isn’t some clever sales pitch. I’m not selling anything. I’m a genuine fan, but I’m also into marketing.

One Trackback

  1. [...] Diminishing Returns of Popular Culture Posted on January 31, 2013 by Cora A. Lee Martinez is troubled by the increasing Disneyfication of popular culture, as Disney gobbles u…. Found via SF Signal. I very much agree with him (and ou know my view on J.J. Abrams’ [...]

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