Nostalgia is a big part of our current pop culture landscape, but maybe it’s keeping us from getting the next Star Wars, or TMNT, or Doctor Who.
I think it was either Universal Studios’ announcement of their DARK UNIVERSE franchise or the latest round of “Cowboy Bebop is REALLY getting a live-action series” news that I came to the realization that we’ve given the next generation a bit of a raw deal when it comes to entertainment. Much of the movies, television shows, comic books, and pop culture that have defined our childhood have undergone a revival to aggressively cash in on our nostalgia.
In some cases I’ve been very receptive to this; see 2012’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which struck a balance between reminding me what I loved about the 80s/90s cartoon, and making something new out of it for a younger generation of turtle fans. Still, it wasn’t new, and I’d be willing to guess that it won’t have the same impact on the new generation of fans that it had on me and my generation. They inherited the heroes in a half shell from us olds, but we saw its origin.
Same thing with the Star Wars franchise. Thanks to the wheelings and dealings of the Disney behemoth, we’re getting a new Star Wars every year for the rest of our known lives. The next generation will have cool stories set in the Star Wars Universe, but they’ll always know the franchise as “that cool thing my parents liked so much,” and they won’t have any true ownership of the material in the same way we did.
Same thing with Doctor Who.
Same thing with [insert any other pop culture phenomenon we grew up with].
I’m reminded of a great quote I read from author Laura Hudson over at Slate:
It’s a valuable question for gaming culture—and “nerd culture” more generally—to ask itself: Do we want to tell stories that make sense of the things we used to love, that help us remember the reasons we were so drawn to them, and create new works that inspire that level of devotion? Or do we simply want to hear the litany of our childhood repeated back to us like an endless lullaby for the rest of our lives?
The quote is in reference to Ernest Cline’s Armada, which much like Ready Player One, plumbs the depths of our nostalgia to tell what is effectively a nice, warm blanket of a story. I’ve only read Ready Player One, but Laura’s review really hit home what I’ve been hinting at in the beginning of my post.
What are we doing? Are we more interested in the lullaby of our nostalgia? Before you get defensive, let me express that I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. In terms of religion, this isn’t all that different from the Church Calendar and how many people navigate that in their lives. Much of our humanity is built on degrees of pattern, repetition, and you could even argue that our pop culture is just “doing the human thing.”
But perhaps our rote repetition of the things we loved as children is a fundamental perversion of “the human thing” and instead we’re supposed to synthesize our culture instead of repeat it. Maybe, instead of repackaging Cowboy Bebop, we’re supposed to use it to make the next jazzy space opera. Perhaps – much like Lucas did in his day – we’re supposed to take our inspiration from Star Wars and create the next big heroes journey? By getting a Star Wars film every year, maybe we’re never going to get “the next Star Wars.”
Is that what we want?