We are doomed to reboot the past

Human immortality has been reached. Not through the de-fictionalizing of suspended animation, nor through the ability to upload your conscience into a mainframe, but rather through the backwash of intellectual property.

The death of creativity was foretold by Francis Fukuyama in his 1992 attempt to cryogenically freeze the progress of humanity, preventing any life from forming after the neoliberalization of the world. Fukuyama predicted that Western-style liberal democracy will take over the world, and with it, capitalism. Since then, we’ve seen the rise of megacorporations, like Disney, who buy major media properties and smaller media megacorporations, subsume their intellectual property licenses, and spit out iterations of the same four franchises to make easy money on nostalgia-clouded adult fanboys. 

We see this most profoundly in the recent announcement of a new Ghostbusters rebootGhostbusters: Afterlife comes after the failed 2016 reboot, one that was met with universal mehs and accusations of leveraging nostalgia for a movie that was ultimately forgettable. Between the 2016 release and near-universal panning of the all-lady Ghostbusters and the 2020 release of the edgy, sepia-toned reboot, we can assume no producer learned a lesson. 

If the reboot of a well-beloved movie fails, why be willing to bet that a second reboot will do any better, especially one that strays further from the original in terms of major tropes and tone? For the same exact reason they even made a first reboot: to leverage nostalgia into sales. 

See, nearly everything doing numbers on the big screen comes in two flavors: nostalgia bomb or thing referencing nostalgia. There is no future that does not look like our current world, there is no new media that is not riding on the backs of past works. Not in a smart, “great artists steal” way, but in a way that there will never be any new intellectual property ever again. As the second Star Wars reboot-trilogy comes to an end, Disney has assured us that this is not the end of Star Wars, but simply the end of the Skywalker saga. Meanwhile, Baby Yoda, hand-crafted for easy tsum-tsum-ification, [regular old Yoda voice] for a new generation, becomes the fan favorite. 

And like Star Wars, superheroes are reaching reboot saturation, enough for every generation to have a Spider-Man reboot-and-a-half, as well as two unique Batmans. In numbers, that’s six Spider-Men flicks across seventeen years starting in 2002, not counting cameos in Avengers nor the animated Spider-verse movie about a different Spider-Man. And counting Batmen? From 1989 to now, there are ten Batman movies, not counting the only good one, which was 2019’s Joker. To make matters more dire, it is not as though audiences are paced through these reboots. No, in fact, the turn around from Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man series, to Tom Holland’s first-appearance in the Spidey suit was a measly two years. So little time, one might not be able to tell they are different series, rather than reverse puberty for Garfield. 

It is no secret that franchises, remakes, and retellings garner major box-office moolah. Of the fifty top-grossing movies of all time, fewer than a handful are original properties, not based on existing franchises, in existing universes, or retelling existing films. Adjust for inflation, and the top-grossing film of all time is still based on an existing property. Get ready for the Scarlett O’Hara cinematic universe to really take off in the 2020s.

Remakes have been around for decades, sure, but the rate at which we are having a story we have already seen repackaged with a handsomer lead and an HD-er camera into this strange zone where media megacorporations hope that no one will not want to see the same origin story seven times in two decades. When they remade A Star is Born for the millennial crowd, at least they waited forty-two years since Babs had her chance (who had waited twenty-two years since the Judy Garland version, which was also a remake). 

As established above, remakes and renewing franchises are not novel. But they do not only exist in our visual media. One of the key elements of Fukuyama’s curse is that every nation and people will produce their own rehashing of liberal democracy, until the world knows nothing beyond neoliberalism. That every country will lay itself at the altar of free-market capitalism and democratic forces, and with it, the repeated failings of bootstrapism, of first-past-the-post, of campaign finance and cable news. There will be hiccups, and minor steps backwards, but there is no dialect beyond the one we currently live in. That our media should reflect our politics–prepare the people to learn that they won’t get anything new ever because it’s risky to the bottom line–is an incredible bout of luck.

The end of history and the end of creativity are interlocked hands, praying that no one sees through their well-financed lies. We are fed the same garbage from the 80s ad nauseam because we will never heal from the wounds dealt by Reagan and Thatcher and their international allies. We will never heal from the 80s because that’s when the whole world went to shit

The end of history is the end of the cycles that propelled us forward. That every so often there was a great war, and every so often there was an economic crash, and every so often there was a major Kennedy-based news item. No, the end of history is that, like our political and economic systems, our entertainment will halt, with no world imaginable outside of what we’ve already seen.

We are doomed to reboot the past.

(Originally published: January 2020)

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