There’s a saying that’s almost exactly 30 years old that states that nostalgic repetition in pop culture follows a 30 year cycle. Hence, The Sandman came out on Netflix about 30 years after the comic finished its run in the mid-90s. And the Addams Family film (1991) came out just shy of 30 years after the 1964 sitcom. And Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War was published, revised, and re-released between 411 and 404 BC, some 25-30 years after the publication of the Histories by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. You know, pop culture. The question all of these second-chancers have to ask is: how to make it new? How do you balance between pleasing the old crowd and drawing in a fresh audience?
Big Cat, Little Cat
Make it New… ish
Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. After all, how do you not make it new? Meaning: how do you not start with something recycled? I’m not just talking about the most recent example of a successful Sherlock Holmes adaptation (I am referring, of course, to the Jeremy Brett version). Or the cash-cow that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I’m referring to the ways in which we all use cliches and tropes when we write. Even an avant-garde film like My Dinner with Andre was based on the oldest form of entertainment. No, I don’t mean sex-work. I mean two people sitting together and sharing food and conversation. That film would not have worked even half so well as it did if it didn’t partake of the illusion that the audience-member was sitting at that table, talking with Wallace and Andre.
And as odd a film as My Dinner with Andre turns out to be, its premise–a person arrives at a crossroads of life and feels unable to live a meaningful life within the constraints of their native culture–is the same as the Iliad, the Divine Comedy, Anna Karenina, Star Wars…
Make it… Old?
But the dirty secret is that people aren’t forking money over to Kevin Feige and James Patterson because they want something new. It’s because they want the comfort of the familiar. Familiar characters. Familiar stakes. And, of course, familiar jokes. And that’s okay. The question is whether, in delivering the familiar, entertainers are going to fall into the familiar trap of awarding money to familiar names and familiar middle-aged white men while continuing to bar People of Color, women, queer people, et al., from the halls and levers of power.
And… well… yeah. Of course they are. So have your comfort-food. But find a way to do so in an economically conscious way. Instead of Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie, give a chance to Feluda. Instead of your typical Regency romance novel, give a try to the novels of Rabindranath Tagore, like Eyesore or Gora. I’d actually like to turn it over to the readers for this one. Is inclusiveness a consideration for you when you pic a work of art to read or watch? What piece of literary or cinematic candy do you enjoy that you feel works a bit better; feels a bit more emotionally or intellectually honest precisely because it is not written by the typical middle aged white male author or writer’s room? Is this even a consideration for you? I’m not trying to shame anyone; I’m just curious.
Make it… A Little Bit New?
Mind you, if rereading Lord of the Rings for the thirtieth or thirty-thousandth time is what refills your spoons and lets you go out into the world and lead as meaningful a life as you can? Go for it. I have read that book probably three or four times in the last five years. And I’ve tried to replace it. I read The Broken Earth. Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Children of Blood and Bone. All are excellent. I recommend all of them. And if you give them a try, you might find one of them scratches an itch you didn’t realize Tolkien was leaving tragically and persistently unscratched.
Anyway, this is an ongoing discussion. One on which I’d be happy to hear your thoughts. Meanwhile, happy reading. And happy writing.
Three identical panels, in each of which two cats are sitting on a cushion, discussing life. A large orange with darker orange stripes looks down on a small grey with darker grey stripes. The large orange has a friendly smile on his face. The small grey, looking off into the distance, seems bothered by something that eludes either definition or redress.
Big Cat: Did you hear the one about the faith-healer proctologist?
Little Cat: This is going to be a pun on “holy,” isn’t it?
Big Cat: What? No! Of course not!
Little Cat: Oh. Really? Okay, let’s hear it.
Big Cat: He was a holey man!
Little Cat: Why?
Big Cat: In my defense… I was bored.
A mark in the corner of the third panel reads: Adam Katz, followed by the webpage: https://2RulesOfWriting.com/tag/big-cat-little-cat/