We have seen an influx of ‘reboots’ lately, especially kids/general audiences’ shows that long ended more than a decade ago, and the generally negative reaction towards these works. And I understand.
I have a confession to make: I’m a gamer (no that’s not the confession) and…I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the ‘reboot’ version of the Devil May Cry franchise. If you’ve been around that time of when, how, why and what happened, then you know and I don’t care if you stake me for that opinion. I love the ‘reboot’ version. But also take note of the ‘quotation’ because I need to put a point down when it comes to fiction media ‘reboots’/’remakes’/’reimagines’.
It’s undeniable how the public’s opinion about these ‘reboots’ lately sways on being suspicious to outright rage because many believe that most of these entertainment networks/corporations are simply banking on our ‘nostalgia’ (or are trying to). There is also this pervasive notion of how 3D/computer animation is equated as superior, so therefore the classics of decades past should get an updated treatment. This was the case of the 2019 Lion King.
There is also the continuities of sagas such as the Star Wars, whose legacy has a lot of ups and downs; and I will make the long-time fans to make of what Star Wars has become. While not a ‘reboot’, Star Wars as a franchise, to my observations, still falls to the entire point I must make regarding the way mainstream (and usually rich) production treats fictional media.
There’s a discourse about the weaponization, or even something I personally feel, the exploitation, of nostalgia. Most specifically, intertextuality. I have a background as a Literature major, but just as a summary, intertextuality is a way of shaping the text (in this case, any fictional medium, book to movies, etc.) with another text (book, movie, etc.). It makes references, allusions, parodies, pastiches, etc. to help put into context what or where the story/characters/tropes are going for or, and this is connectedto nostalgia, where they were from initially.
In video games, these could be in the form of easter eggs. Cameo appearances in Disney animated films can be a form of small intertextualites, where many hardcore fans will point out Rapunzel’s presence in Frozen, among many other examples, as a way of tying together how each film is made by Disney. In the case of Star Wars, there are a lot of recurring characters as well as a mirroring of the first Trilogy to Rey’s progression. Even online memes are a form of intertextualities! Memes and their surreal or unique forms of humor are made by so many different users and each one puts more meaning to it by adding other memes to support the context of the meme/s they want to present.
Let me just bring up old scholarly notes from school and introduce you to Roland Barthes. From him, (and without being too nerdy) he explains that the meaning of the text doesn’t simply reside in that text alone, or from author to reader; rather, from the experiences of both author and reader, from having derived many more meanings from other texts the author and reader has encountered (and will encounter).
Even the term intertextuality, coined by Julia Kristeva, had quite an interesting intertextual history, as well as discourse to its other related terms and ideas. But I will let you deep dive into these yourselves.
In itself, intertextuality is a trope and a tool used by so many fictional media creators. But unfortunately, it seems there has been many instances where it’s used as a crutch rather than as a foundation to build up from. Nostalgia, or rather our way of comparing the past and its trends versus now, seems to be the only thing they keep putting their energy on when they should be concentrating on learning the source material/s they’re ‘rebooting’ from, and create their own fresh off-shoot/adaptation/’reboot’/ret-con, etc.
And from here, I must vent about my own frustration in regards to how we even define/interpret a ‘reboot’. Or remake. Or remaster.
From this day and age, and under the context of exploiting intertextuality specifically using already successful, past franchises/media, it’s hard not to see them as buzzwords. Each nuance of these terms, as well as purpose/reasoning as for the need to ‘reboot’/’remake’, feels lost and the creation of them half-hearted. I believe major productions also do not give a lot of focus on understanding the medium they’re tackling, especially since it’s highly significant for the audience to know where they will be or what the context/premise of the new, supposedly fresh take the ‘reboot’ medium is going for.
I will say that this isn’t always the case, that is, there are works that execute their ‘reboot’/whatever medium to positive success; and this is regardless whether they’re being exact or loose with the source material/s. It, however, cannot be ignored how important the source material is and it’s going to be a big issue when tackling recognizable and successful media/franchises, for instance, the Powerpuff Girls.
Now I want to highlight the former sentence’s idea above. To me, it isn’t because creators should be cornered to only rely on the source material 100% that would make a ‘reboot’ a good medium (although, just to be clear, the book-to-text adaptation feels like an entirely different discourse, as these types are putting the story from one medium to another. Reboots/remakes are usually reserved in one medium). To me, what makes a created fictional medium good, whether an original/new or a ‘reboot’, is fundamentally how well-crafted, well-executed, polished and passionate the team/creator/s are in the story they’re about to make.
Basically, if there’s effort put into it, it will show. And technically, this is what every creator is going to go through in every project anyway, whether it’s the final sequel or a new story!
That’s the ‘ingredient’ that I feel is missing to a lot of these ‘reboots’/’remakes’/’reimagines’, etc., whatever it is they want to call it. A lot of these ‘reboots’ are already exploiting our memories of what we love before, they’re also hollow, using intertextuality as an unnecessary crutch. This is more apparent when it comes to contemporary sets.
Most of the ‘reboots’ today/coming out are going to be set in our zeitgeist, with smartphones, social media, memes and slangs (which get dated/misunderstood more often especially with hyperfast or niche communities using them as inside jokes or everyday humor of ordinary people), as well as supposedly creating representation and inclusivity, costumed to reflect modern sensibilities or tastes. However, they’re so out-of-touch, cliched, and/or feels shoehorned, as an attempt to be modern/contemporary. And regarding inclusivity/representation, THIS is going to become another token issue and we’ve had enough of that.
This isn’t to say ‘reboot’ shows have to be realistic, because Realism as a movement/genre is a very broad spectrum and, from the way these mainstream producers are treating the projects that already has a legacy, will probably fly over their heads, and miss the mark. (this is also not to say this happens all the time; this is happening, by observation, to popular franchises coming. i definitely do not have a strong opinion to any shows already airing/aired; their audience already has them and may have pros & cons [and I personally hope the pros outweigh…])
What I believe is always, always best in tackling a ‘reboot’ medium is to treat it fresh. Treat it with care, and I know this sounds corny, but treat the medium like it’s your most important baby yet. Nurture the content, keep track of what could or what won’t work, but shelve the ones that won’t work for another possible project. Treat them with fresh eyes, even with the source material right there. There’s always another angle! Because, from observing fandoms, audiences, readers and critics, everyone’s already got a different perspective, nuanced within the crevices of people agreeing and disagreeing.
And from there, I think the best sources are actually the people who watched/read/played them (and it’s no surprise how certain successful media/franchises are created by fans)! The audience’s take is significant, especially when creators want to surprise the audience with something that’s out-of-the-box. It may be true that nothing’s original, but only because we’ve only treated fictional media as only the craft of the creators, especially those in the corporate side of this industry; especially if many of us are hesitant, or worse, refuse to hear voices and see perspectives of people who are not from the majority, the privileged and/or from outside urbanized, geo-static societies.
Passion, discipline, effort, teamwork…
…you know, like how the rest of us do!
And from the tone of this post, and from someone who is simply a hobbyist in artistic activities, this is likely targeting large and wealthy networks/corporations in the entertainment industry, but ultimately this post is coming from some nobody. I’m sure they’ve heard of this criticism a thousand times over and are content with a few tokenisms, colored representations of the current ‘reboots’ or a spotlight on edgy, punk-esque looks, street hip-hop aesthetics and appropriated ‘exotic’ styles, as if to say “they understand”, but they don’t (and as a rock music enthusiast and appreciates the ethos and history behind them, this boils my blood a lot). Everything is surface level: shallow, hollow and draining.
To me, I want a reboot that’s exciting and just turns our expectations inside out, even to the point of challenging. Or it can be the other way around; vulnerable, emotional, intimate and pulls the audience in to another world or even another person’s perspective, something they’ve never had the comfort to talk about in the mundane world outside of fiction. What I want, and maybe what we all want, isn’t just a suspension of disbelief or an escapist fantasy (though it’s something we instinctually do anyway and inherently nothing wrong), but to surrender our weary cynicism and believe in humanities’ capabilities through art.
Because stories aren’t just ‘fantasy’; they’re about us.
So please, big brand networks/corporations (and this is a stretch….) get your shit together.