I was on the receiving end of no amount of guff from friends when I did a volte on my original "Hey, it's fun!" take on Star Trek: The Motion Sickness (2009). If anything, that only made my distaste for the movie all the deeper, because now it had any number of people willing to defend it against Teh Haterz. So I wised up, and shut up, because most people aren't in the market for having things they cherish get torn up the middle, me included. You have your things and I have my things, so let's call the whole thing(s) off.
Now it's happening all over again with Avatar, and I'm in the unenviable position of wanting to see the movie less and less because of the very manner in which its fans are defending it. They use a couple of strategies that make me steaming mad, not least of all because they're total shills but also because most of the people mouthing these points of view have no idea how shill-ish they sound.
Shill The First, "There Are Only So Many Stories To Go Around," I have done a puncture job on here.
Shill The Second is a tangentially related point of view: "There's Nothing New Under The Sun" (So You Might As Well Relax And Enjoy It). And again, I see an idea being invoked as a just-so story to defend inferior work.
Concepts like there are no new stories or there are only X stories in the world are not laws of nature along the lines of f=ma. They are opinions about the nature of storytelling, and not especially informed ones at that. Yes, it is possible to take every story that is, or could be, and jam it into one of a number of arbitrary pigeonholes. That's like saying because we have zoology and taxonomy, there are no new species to be discovered, or that mutations don't take place.
"Nothing new under the sun" may be Shakespeare, but it's also know-nothing-ism of the worst order. It's what makes it possible for studios to develop and market crap remakes of crap TV, because enough people throw money at such things to make it worthwhile. (This isn't to say that they can't be fun, but that it means that many less spaces for something truly original — and maybe that much more fun — to take root and flower.)
What I suspect these people really want to say is not There's nothing new under the sun, but Why are you picking on me? I have to wonder if this is because there are that many fewer shared cultural experiences left — that many fewer bands that appeal to everyone, that many less elements of common ground, and that many more ways (sociological, technological, behavioral, economic) to Balkanize ourselves. When something like Trek or Avatar comes along and gives a whole whopping bunch of people something to root for under a collective roof, the fans get resentful when the cultural party poopers come along to bawl them out for partying with lampshades on their heads. They did it when people turned up their noses at Harry Potter; they'll do it again for whatever else follows.
But it isn't about that. It's about the fact that Avatar (or Trek, or what have you) is arguably flawed in ways that will become only more glaring with time, and that by pointing out the flaws in such work it becomes possible to both seek out and make things that are better. More fun. More adept at jumping across borders instead of delineating them all the more unthinkingly.
What's the over-and-under for how long we have to wait until Avatar gets remade? I say fifteen years. By then the CGI will probably look dated enough that people will believe such a numbskull venture to be worthwhile.
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Other Lives Of The Mind