ghostsinwinterfell  asked:

I'm re reading IT right now (slowly, as adult life is getting in the way) and was wondering what other bad storytelling choices you thought king made besides the. Uh. Sewer scene? Its been years since ive read it and nothing else really stood out to me as poor storytelling that i can remember. I'll read it for myself eventually but was curious of your thoughts. Love your blog!

Thanks! Stephen King often veers into caricature with his supporting characters, and It is no exception. The way he describes Eddie’s mom and wife physically goes well beyond the narratively useful purpose of establishing how their weight disorders have intertwined with Eddie’s hypochondria and into “ugh fat people are gross” territory. I don’t think King has conscious malignance in this area, because he finds a proper balance with Ben: the latter describes in realistic detail how he lost weight over time, his mom is upset that he’s eating less but is presented humanely (as someone who associates her son eating a lot with her doing well as a single mother), and King manages to avoid shaming Ben for his weight while also acknowledging that Ben personally feels a lot better about himself after having shed it–or rather, because of the confidence he gained in himself by taking charge of the situation. The idea here is not “Ben needs to lose weight because gross” but rather “Ben needs to be in control of his body.” 

The good doesn’t wipe out the bad, nor vice versa; gotta consider them both in context. Main characters are naturally going to get more nuance than supporting characters, but necessary shorthand can easily turn into harmful caricature. And of course, a storytelling choice that seems solid in isolation can become a problem within the work as a whole. Beverly is sexualized throughout It in a way that’s often very unpleasant to read, associated throughout with violence and misogyny. Sometimes this works, as a way of peeling back the layers of petty ego driving a man’s man like her husband Tom; he explodes at her in their introductory scene because her paying attention to Mike’s call instead of him makes him feel like he’s literally not there. Other times it doesn’t, like when King lingers on the “smell” that Bev and her father “make together” now that she’s reaching puberty. We don’t need that to get the point that Bev’s father has inappropriate feelings for her–we got that from Bev’s mom asking if he ever touches her. When you put both sides of the coin together with the infamous sex scene in the sewers and the amount of time spent on whether Bev will choose Ben or Bill, it starts to look less like King was taking a stand against objectification by showing its omnipresence than that he simply didn’t know what to do with Bev as a character without constantly making reference to sex, rape, assault, and molestation. While she does get some right to response on these matters, I don’t think it’s nearly enough. It pushes back against a mindset that casually treats women like objects, but fails to establish a counter-narrative rooted in the female characters as individuals, fleshed out beyond their relationships to the men around them. It’s less a question of Does Stephen King Hate Women than one of imagination and empathy. 

Of course, some flaws are lessened by context, rather than enhanced by it. Take, for example, our protagonist William Denbrough, a blatant author insert. Bill is a popular horror author (check) whose books are increasingly being adapted for TV and film (check) and who has a rather tense relationship with critics and academics (double check). The latter is spelled out in an extended flashback to Bill’s college days, in which he takes a stand that ought to be very familiar to anyone steeped in modern media discourse:

Here is a poor boy from the state of Maine who goes to the University on a scholarship. All his life he has wanted to be a writer, but when he enrolls in the writing courses he finds himself lost without a compass in a strange and frightening land. There’s one guy who wants to be Updike. There’s another one who wants to be a New England version of Faulkner-only he wants to write novels about the grim lives of the poor in blank verse. There’s a girl who admires Joyce Carol Gates but feels that because Oates was nurtured in a sexist society she is “radioactive in a literary sense.” Oates is unable to be clean, this girl says. She will be cleaner. There’s the short fat grad student who can’t or won’t speak above a mutter. This guy has written a play in which there are nine characters. Each of them says only a single word. Little by little the playgoers realize that when you put the single words together you come out with “War is the tool of the sexist death merchants.” This fellow’s play receives an A from the man who teaches Eh-141 (Creative Writing Honors Seminar). This instructor has published four books of poetry and his master’s thesis, all with the University Press. He smokes pot and wears a peace medallion. The fat mutterer’s play is produced by a guerrilla theater group during the strike to end the war which shuts down the campus in May of 1970. The instructor plays one of the characters.

Bill Denbrough, meanwhile, has written one locked-room mystery tale, three science-fiction stories, and several horror tales which owe a great deal to Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, and Richard Matheson-in later years he will say those stories resembled a mid-1800s funeral hack equipped with a supercharger and painted Day-Glo red.

One of the sf tales earns him a B.

“This is better,” the instructor writes on the title page. “In the alien counterstrike we see the vicious circle in which violence begets violence; I particularly liked the “needle-nosed” spacecraft as a symbol of socio-sexual incursion. While this remains a slightly confused undertone throughout, it is interesting.”

All the others do no better than a C.

Finally he stands up in class one day, after the discussion of a sallow young woman’s vignette about a cow’s examination of a discarded engine block in a deserted field (this may or may not be after a nuclear war) has gone on for seventy minutes or so. The sallow girl, who smokes one Winston after another and picks occasionally at the pimples which nestle in the hollows of her temples, insists that the vignette is a socio-political statement in the manner of the early Orwell. Most of the class-and the instructor-agree, but still the discussion drones on.

When Bill stands up, the class looks at him. He is tail, and has a certain presence.

Speaking carefully, not stuttering (he has not stuttered in better than five years), he says: “I don’t understand this at all. I don’t understand any of this. Why does a story have to be socio-anything? Politics… culture… history… aren’t those natural ingredients in any story, if it’s told well? I mean… ” He looks around, sees hostile eyes, and realizes dimly that they see this as some sort of attack. Maybe it even is. They are thinking, he realizes, that maybe there is a sexist death merchant in their midst. “I mean… can’t you guys just let a story be a story?”

No one replies. Silence spins out. He stands there looking from one cool set of eyes to the next. The sallow girl chuffs out smoke and snubs her cigarette in an ashtray she has brought along in her backpack.

Finally the instructor says softly, as if to a child having an inexplicable tantrum, “do you believe William Faulkner was ‘just telling stories’? Do you believe Shakespeare was just interested in making a buck? Come now, Bill. Tell us what you think.”

“I think that’s pretty close to the truth,” Bill says after a long moment in which he honestly considers the question, and in their eyes he reads a kind of damnation.

“I suggest,” the instructor says, toying with his pen and smiling at Bill with half-lidded eyes, “that you have a great deal to learn.”

The applause starts somewhere in the back of the room.

Bill leaves… but returns the next week, determined to stick with it. In the time between he has written a story called “The Dark,” a tale about a small boy who discovers a monster in the cellar of his house. The little boy faces it, battles it, finally kills it. He feels a land of holy exaltation as he goes about the business of writing this story; he even feels that he is not so much telling the story as he is allowing the story to flow through him. At one point he puts his pen down and takes his hot and aching hand out into ten-degree December cold where it nearly smokes from the temperature change. He walks around, green cut-off boots squeaking in the snow like tiny shutter-hinges which need oil, and his head seems to bulge with the story; it is a little scary, the way it needs to get out. He feels that if it cannot escape by way of his racing hand that it will pop his eyes out in its urgency to escape and be concrete. “Going to knock the shit out of it,” he confides to the blowing winter dark, and laughs a little-a shaky laugh. He is aware that he has finally discovered how to do just that-after ten years of trying he has suddenly found the starter button on the vast dead bulldozer taking up so much space inside his head. It has started up. It is revving, revving. It is nothing pretty, this big machine. It was not made for taking pretty girls to proms. It is not a status symbol. It means business. It can knock things down. If he isn’t careful, it will knock him down.

He rushes inside and finishes “The Dark” at white heat, writing until four o'clock in the morning and finally falling asleep over his ring-binder. If someone had suggested to him that he was really writing about his brother, George, he would have been surprised. He has not thought about George in years-or so he honestly believes.

The story comes back from the instructor with an F slashed into the tide page. Two words are scrawled beneath, in capital letters. PULP, screams one. CRAP, screams the other.

Bill takes the fifteen-page sheaf of manuscript over to the wood-stove and opens the door. He is within a bare inch of tossing it in when the absurdity of what he is doing strikes him. He sits down in his rocking chair, looks at a Grateful Dead poster, and starts to laugh. Pulp? Fine! Let it be pulp! The woods were full of it!

“Let them fucking trees fall!” Bill exclaims, and laughs until tears spurt from his eyes and roll down his face.

He retypes the title page, the one with the instructor’s judgment on it, and sends it off to a men’s magazine named White Tie (although from what Bill can see, it really should be titled Naked Girls Who Look Like Drug Users). Yet his battered Writer’s Market says they buy horror stories, and the two issues he has bought down at the local mom-and-pop store have indeed contained four horror stories sandwiched between the naked girls and the ads for dirty movies and potency pills. One of them, by a man named Dennis Etchison, is actually quite good.

He sends “The Dark” off with no real hopes-he has submitted a good many stories to magazines before with nothing to show for it but rejection slips-and is flabbergasted and delighted when the fiction editor of White Tie buys it for two hundred dollars, payment on publication. The assistant editor adds a short note which calls it “the best damned horror story since Ray Bradbury’s “The Jar.” He adds, “Too bad only about seventy people coast to coast will read it,” but Bill Denbrough does not care. Two hundred dollars!

He goes to his advisor with a drop card for Eh-141. His advisor initials it. Bill Denbrough staples the drop card to the assistant fiction editor’s congratulatory note and tacks both to the bulletin board on the creative-writing instructor’s door. In the corner of the bulletin board he sees an anti-war cartoon. And suddenly, as if moving of its own accord, his fingers pluck his pen from his breast pocket and across the cartoon he writes this: If fiction and politics ever really do become interchangeable, I’m going to kill myself, because I won’t know what else to do. You see, politics always change. Stories never do. He pauses, and then, feeling a bit small (but unable to help himself), he adds: I suggest you have a lot to learn.

You can easily imagine this argument–a timeless appeal is being ruined by lefty college kids and their postmodern analyses–being made today by an alt-right YouTuber out to cleanse the game industry of SJWs. Throughout It, King keeps cutting back to an image of a librarian reading “The Billy Goats Gruff” to a group of kids, the latter enthralled (King tells us) by the primal purity of the kind of monster stories upon which both King and Denbrough have built their careers. “Will the monster be bested…or will It feed?” That’s King declaring that Bill’s his professors were wrong to wave aside his short horror stories. See? See?! I made it, and you pretentious eggheads were wrong to ever doubt me! This aspect of It is frankly embarrassing, especially as time marches on and we see how this mindset has taken root in the next generation.

But! While King very clearly believes this stuff, he’s also self-aware enough to include auto-critiques in his writing. Stan’s wife Patty picks up one of Bill’s novels and dismisses it as practically pornographic in its horror imagery. King goes too far in casting Patty’s dislike of Bill’s work as reflecting a lack of imagination on her part, but he then goes on to sympathetically explore how the grounded relatable struggles Patty has faced (anti-Semitism, her father mocking and dismissing Stan, their inability to have children) have led her to consider “horrorbooks” as shallow escapism. The real world, It admits, has horrors beyond anything the Kings and Denbroughs can come up with. “Werewolves, shit. What did a man like that know about werewolves?” 

Later on, when Ben is telling his triumphant story about calling out a high school coach who taunted him for his weight, Bill gently notes that as an author, he has trouble believing any kid really talked like that. That’s King using his self-insert to wryly poke fun at his own oft-overheated dialogue. Self-awareness and self-deprecation are absolutely vital to making a book as thematically and structurally ambitious as this one work. 

And while some of It’s politics make me cringe, other aspects make me perk up and take notice. King wrote It over the course of four years in which HIV and AIDS became a national crisis that was being largely ignored by said nation’s government. There was a growing conventional wisdom that the afflicted deserved their punishment and should be more or less left to rot. This was all part and parcel with the ascension of the religious right in American politics, especially within the Reagan White House. A huge part of the Reagan narrative (as we see in the “Morning in America” ad, also released while King was writing It) was a portrait of lily-white small-town America as a social ideal being beset by all sorts of ills that the left was either letting happen or actively supporting, and The Gays were most certainly among them.

It opens with a scene that seems to dovetail with that narrative: an idealized ‘50s small town in which an adorable innocent white boy from a good Christian family is horribly murdered by (what seems to be) a nightmarish external force that takes advantage of that innocence. Already, you can see a potential Reaganite spin–It as the Other, the “bear in the woods” threatening the ideal of Derry. 

But that’s not what It is about. The second chapter jumps forward a generation, into the mid-1980s in which King was writing, and onto a scene of violence that cannot be wrapped into the meta-narrative of the religious right. Three men attack a gay man on a bridge, their delicate sensibilities offended by his flamboyance. They beat him within an inch of his life and toss him over the side…where he finds It waiting for him with a gleaming sharp-toothed smile. Both the victim’s boyfriend and one of the assailants tell the cops and lawyers involved about the demon clown who finished the victim off, but the powers that be cover it up for the sake of a successful prosecution.

The idea being that they’re dealing with the symptoms, not the disease–the violence, but not the hand-me-down hate driving it. The bereft boyfriend tells the cops that he tried to warn his new-to-town lover that despite its cheery appearance, Derry is a “bad place,” one positively crawling with “AIDS is God’s punishment” homophobia. Moreover, he whispers through his tears, he realized while staring into Its silver eyes as It ate his true love that “It was Derry…It was this town.” 

So while the first chapter seemingly wrapped the era’s conservative politics in a cozy semiotic blanket, it was only baiting the hook so that the second can rip that blanket off like a Band-Aid. As Reagan strolled to re-election with 49 states at his back, as the Democrats’ convictions wavered and they began to drift rightward, as thousands of Americans wasted away while their government and so many of their fellow citizens watched pitilessly, here comes Stevie King to stick his middle finger in the Moral Majority’s face and say: gays aren’t the monsters, you are the monsters, you are the ones eating your children. He built a thousand-page Lovecraftian epic around that idea, and made it a bestseller. How fucking awesome is that?

Again, it’s all always going to be complicated. The good not only coexists with the bad–they’re often inextricable. The author who slipped a rant against leftist academics ruinin’ his storybooks into It is also the guy who now declares his support for BLM and his disgust for Trump, and It is both a deeply flawed work and one of my very favorite novels.

Oh hey, so I went on a backstage tour of Shakespeare’s Globe...

…and I totally forgot to upload the photos til now.

Let’s start in the ‘heavens’ right up top, where the cast pour libations for Dionysus before each run:

There’s also a bell made by the same company that made the original Globe’s bell, and a trap that goes right down to the stage. Someone fell down there during the opening season and broke their leg, and there followed a spate of leg/foot-related injuries until Mark Rylance called in a shaman, made a little paper replica of the Globe (complete with teeny paper players) and performed a secret ceremony before hiding the whole thing in the rafters. It’s still there, apparently, but no one knows where it is. 

(Spot the gold confetti leftover from Charles Edward’s Richard II… It’s EVERYWHERE.)

View from the musician’s balcony. In the original theatre, wealthy playgoers could sit up here to show off their outfits to the audience. Ditto in the pretty painted boxes to the immediate left and right of the balcony:

Next: backstage. Are you ready? 

(There are grease-stains above those little square windows because actors lean their foreheads against them to peek out at the stage, listening for their cue…)

View from the stage. Imagine the yard filled with groundlings…

The fucking detail…

I wanted to stroke the walls. And hump a pillar. And lie on the stage and cry. But I restrained myself. I am a professional. 

Then we went down into ‘hell’, under the stage, where no one has swept since forever and there is still SO MUCH RICHARD II GLITTER. 

(The tour guide told a great story about logistics of rigging up plastic drainpipes that stretched to each of the four corners of the stage so that Hamlet’s ghost could be lowered down into the trap and deliver his “SWEAR!” lines from different locations without having to scurry about under the stage. It is TIGHT under there.)

Finally: props department. I tried to hide behind a stack of shoes so that I’d get left behind and could live out my days as a little Globe hermit but they found me.

 We got to feel up some of the costumes though - all made by hand with authentic materials and techniques of Shakespeare’s time - aaand none of them can be washed (vodka and febreeze ftw). Each principle actor gets a handmade, tailored outfit of their very own to the cost of about £3,000 each. Rylance’s Prospero robes cost EIGHTEEN FUCKING GRAND. 

Oh look, fancy gloves:

I fucking love the Globe. 


This coming week marks a milestone in the public life of Dame Julie Andrews: it will be 70 years since the legendary star made her professional performing debut at the tender age of 12 in Starlight Roof at the London Hippodrome on October 23, 1947. 

As discussed in previous posts, the budding singer had performed intermittently prior to this date –– she had even sung for the Queen –– but Starlight Roof was her first fully “professional” engagement. As such, most commentators –– Julie included –– tend to regard her appearance at the Hippodrome as the birthdate of her official performing career (Cottrell, 46).

Produced by legendary impresario, Val Parnell, Starlight Roof was a glamorous West End revue of sparkling theatrical entertainments – songs, sketches, orchestral pieces, dances – performed by many of Britain’s leading variety stars. The fact that a juvenile performer of Julie’s age and inexperience was contracted to appear in such a high-profile theatrical bill is testament to the impression her talents made on the show’s production team. 

Mind, Val Parnell had second thoughts about including Julie, literally the day before opening night. He worried that she “appeared too innocent, too young to be in a sophisticated revue” and might come “across as unnecessary and perhaps even inappropriate” (Andrews, 79). But after much haranguing on the part of Julie’s parents and, especially, her agent, Charles Tucker – who also had several other clients in the show – Parnell relented and allowed the 12-year-old singer to go on. It was a decision he must subsequently have been very glad he made.

Julie’s appearance in Starlight Roof came toward the end of the first act and was staged as something of surprise novelty. At the close of a preceding sketch with Wally Boag –– an American comic whose schtick included crafting extraordinary animal sculptures from balloons –– Julie would run up from the audience under the pretence of receiving one of his inflatable creations. In the course of scripted patter with Boag and revue maestro, Vic Oliver, Julie would reveal that she liked to sing. At Oliver’s invitation, she would then launch into the “Polonaise” from Ambroise Thomas’ Mignon, a coloratura showcase of trills, leaps and cadenze that climaxes with an ear-piercing high F above top C.

To say Julie’s performance in Starlight Roof was well-received would be an extreme understatement. The star herself recalls:

“[A]t the end I hit that high F above top C. There was a hush –– and then the audience went absolutely wild. People rose to their feet and would not stop clapping. My song literally stopped the show. The aria was so difficult, and I was barely twelve years old, a sprite of a thing, really, with this freakish voice, and it caused a sensation. It was the first…major stepping-stone…in my career (80).

A survey of press reports reveals the claim is no hyperbole. “Julie Andrews, 12-year-old coloratura soprano, stopped the show in her first West End appearance,” trumpeted Cecil Wilson of the Daily Mail (3). “A twelve- year-old girl in a party frock…stole London Hippodrome’s new musical, Starlight Roof, last night from the stars,” declared the Daily Express (3). 

Even high-brow critics made mention of Julie as a highlight with The Observer noting how “a scrap of a child called Julie Andrews runs from [the] stalls and sings like an exaltation of larks” (Trewin, 2). The Stage declared that “Julie Andrews, the youthful prima donna, is fully entitled to her remarkable reception for some beautiful singing” (1). While The Illustrated London News noted that “one remembers first the smallest person in the show, a little girl called Julie Andrews who runs upon the stage from the stalls, and who turns suddenly from a child-in-search-of-a-balloon to an impressive young prima donna” (Trewin, 524).

Though perhaps the most prescient commentary on the birth of the surprise new star came from Harris Deans of Playgoer who wrote:

“Julie Andrews, a twelve-year-old-kid, shares the honours. Stage children are usually sophisticated little monsters, but here is a pleasant-looking, naturally-spoken child with a simply phenomenal voice.

 I don’t wonder Vic Oliver asked her for her autograph. He should get the kid to number it for him. Miss Andrews’ first autograph should be worth something one day” (3).

Happy Septuagennial Anniversary, Julie!


Andrews, Julie. Home: A Memoir of My Early Years. New York: Hyperion, 2008.

Cottrell, John. Julie Andrews: The Story of a Star. London: Arthur Barker, 1968.

Dean, Harris. “Around the Shows: Starlight Roof.” Playgoer. Vol 43. No. 473: 3

“Julie, aged 12, is a Show Stealer.” Daily Express. 24 October 1947: 3.

“Starlight Roof.” The Stage. 30 October 1947: 1.

Trewin, J.C. “At the Theatre: Mist and Stars.” The Observer. 26 October 1947: 2.

________. “The World of the Theatre: Under Review.” The Illustrated London News. 8 November 1947: 524.

Wilson, Cecil. “Pocket Money Star Stops the Show.” Daily Mail. 24 October 1947: 3.

© 2017, Brett Farmer. All Rights Reserved.


1916 February - COVER - Billie Burke , The Theatre, The Magazine for Playgoers by carlylehold

“If you want proof that a thing of beauty is a joy for ever, you have only to witness Vivien Leigh’s third act entrance in The Doctor’s Dilemma when she makes her first appearance after the death of her artist-husband, wholeheartedly obeying his request that she wear no mourning. Her dress is a blaze of cerise, with a corsage of garnets, while emeralds the size and shape of walnuts glitter in suspension from her delicate ears. Back in the Nineties playgoers used to gasp as Mrs. Patrick Campbell made her electrifying scarlet cloaked entrance in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray. And now to-day far more sophisticated wartime audiences at the Haymarket still gasp when Vivien Leigh appears as the widowed Mrs. Dubedat.” (Theatre World, October 1942)


Edward Gordon Craig

It may not be immediately obvious, but the abstract pictures in the photographs dating from the early 1900s and created by Edward Gordon Craig (1872-1966) are, in fact, designs for the theatre.

Craig began his career in the theatre as an actor, following in the formidable footsteps of his mother, the leading Shakespearian actress of her day, Dame Ellen Terry. To her dismay, he eventually abandoned acting in favour of theatre design and theoretical writing. However, it was in these areas that he would make a more lasting impression.

The fashion for theatre design in the early twentieth century was for elaborate and extravagant sets that tried to mimic reality. In contrast, Craig produced simple, yet striking, designs that were more symbolist and poetic in nature. One key element he used to achieve this effect was his use of lighting. Rather than using footlights, he placed the lighting in the ceiling. Another of his great innovations was to create a screen that changed and unfolded before the eyes of the spectator. As one commentator remarked he had “the power of conjuring up from nothing, before your eyes, that which amazes you.”

In 1905 Craig published the influential booklet The Art of Theatre that was written in the form of a “Dialogue between a Director and a Playgoer.” In this he argued that all aspects of a production should be guided by one man, the director, and that theatre should be considered an art form on the same level as painting, poetry and music. He also went on to found The Mask, the first theatrical journal of its time.

Despite Craig’s forward thinking ideas and breath taking designs, his work was embraced more widely in Europe than in Britain. His inability to compromise or work on any production in which he was not given full artistic control meant that he had great difficulty he securing funding for any of his projects and so, from the age of forty and for a further fifty years until his death, he produced little of note.

The book in the photographs was published in 1948 as part of the King Penguin Books series.

For further book scraps, please follow on Twitter.

On Romeo and Juliet

A while ago, shakespeareismyjam posted or reblogged something discussing whether Romeo and Juliet should be read as a tragedy or a condemnation of the recklessness of love. It was a fascinating question and one I’ve been chewing over for a while.

Personally, I think the play is a tragedy - or more precisely, a thwarted comedy. Look, we have a hell of a setup for the first two, three acts - similar to Jessica and Lorenzo in Merchant of Venice, actually. Families that hate each other, oh look young love - we know this story. Elizabethan playgoers especially know this story (see also: commedia dell’arte, which often has a similar setup). We know how it’s supposed to end, but we also know that it doesn’t end that way - thanks Prologue. You know the old thing about how you tell a story? You put your characters in a tree, you throw stones at them, you get them down. Shakespeare puts Romeo and Juliet and hell, all of Verona in a tree, throws stones at them, and then chops the fucking tree down.

Anyway. Do I think R+J has some interesting things to say about how bloody stupid teenagers can be when they’re in love? Of course, but I don’t really think that’s the point. The point is the feud. All the stupid, reckless things our inamoratae do would turn out just fine in any other play - except for the feud. That is the tragedy of this play, not that Romeo and Juliet die, which is sad, but the larger point is that prejudice and blind loathing made that outcome inevitable. Without the feud - well, you know that, you’ve seen that play. The Nurse and Friar Laurence help our young lovers run circles around their silly families, there are comic misunderstandings that almost ruin everything but get resolved just in time, probably someone crossdresses, and many dick jokes are had by all. The feud frustrates what would otherwise be inevitable, and substitute it with something fucking terrible. That is the tragedy, the frustration, and the genius of this play.

TL;dr: Romeo and Juliet is not a story where love conquers all. It’s a story where hate spoils everything.

goldenselkie  asked:

Sam, Sam, Sam, do you have many thoughts on the principle that there are plenty of new ideas out there, but not as much money in them as nostalgic/previously established projects? Just discovered the 'Jem' movie backlash.

It’s honestly not that there’s not as much money in new ideas, new stories, new forms etc, it’s that there’s not as much stability.

This started on Broadway with the Disney plays like Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. They were huge hits because they were artistically spectacular but also because playgoers knew exactly what they would get, storywise, so they were more willing to spend the $120 it then cost to get a ticket to a Broadway show. It’s incredibly expensive to mount a Broadway production and if it flops you and your investors are pretty well fucked, so people caught on real quick that mounting stage versions of films was a great way to make sure they at least made their investment back. People have confidence in things they are already familiar with. 

This idea leapt quite quickly to Hollywood, which is where the massive flood of remakes and revisionings and such started to show up in the early oughts. It’s not that you’re guaranteed a hit if you remake a classic, but your odds improve astronomically. People will buy a ticket to see a movie reimagining of a show they loved as a kid a) because they’re already familiar with the subject matter so they more or less know what they’re getting and b) because they want to see what’s new and different about it. 

It’s the same theory that drives a lot of food marketing, actually. Baking mixes are the example that comes to mind. NEW IMPROVED EASY-TO-USE MIX, SAME GREAT CLASSIC TASTE! appeals to both our desire for advancement and our fear of change. It’s also attached to the theory of why we love Pumpkin Spice so much at this time of year: it only comes round once a year, so it’s new and different from what we’re used to the rest of the year, but it repeats every year, so we know what we’ll get. It is both comforting and new. 

This whole media process didn’t used to happen. Until the mid-90s, as a culture, we didn’t look back twenty years and start recycling what was there, at least not in a mass-movement kind of way. Nostalgia has always been a factor in culture, but not as a commercial process the way it is now. And it’s not because anything was better in the past (have you SEEN the past? The past is by and large horrible) but because everything about the past is familiar, and that means everything about the past is a few percentage points more salable.

This isn’t always a bad thing. Reimagining history reminds us of its existence, and allows us to correct narrative issues to make the story more inclusive, or to bring focus to the social issues that caused the narrative ones. It reminds us of where we come from, culturally, and allows us to measure the changes over time. This isn’t always the case, but it’s not really appropriate to wholesale condemn a remake just because it’s a remake. Remakes are part of a larger cultural issue, but there comes a point where those larger cultural issues all, really, trace back to capitalism, and then what can you do but throw your hands in the air and say “Capitalism!” in a frustrated voice. 

Now, I know next to nothing about Jem (it’s about glam rockers who are also superheroes?) so I can’t comment on what that remake’s about, whether it’s a positive, artistic retrospective or a piece of crap riding on the coat-tales of a great original canon, churned out to make money. I really don’t know. But “is there more money in remakes or original ideas?” isn’t the right question to ask, because that’s irrelevant – it’s not about where more money is, but about where the chance for more money is, which will always be with the familiar, and thus will always be the choice for studios looking to make the most money for the least amount of work. 

The real question to ask is, “Why are we so afraid to encounter the strange?”

(The answer is mostly “Capitalism!” *frustrated voice* because we’re all too broke to risk our money on something that might suck.)