Time to Tear Down Remix Culture

Prepare yourself for some Earth-shattering news: There are a lot of sequels and remakes of movies around these days. 

I know, I’m not blowing too many minds with the opinions you’re about to read here. Deep down, everyone of moderate or greater intelligence probably agrees that we’re mired in a pretty annoying trend of re-packaging the past and selling it back. The only difference is, I’m over-reacting to it. I think the trend is far bigger and far more damaging to our culture than most people realize.

“Remix Culture”, a term that I (ironically) picked up somewhere else and don’t remember the source, is a growing cancer on every form of popular entertainment. I blame the economic recession and the general corporate risk-averse attitude it’s created, but I think the bigger problem is laziness. Remix culture is both born of laziness and begets laziness. This trend wouldn’t exist if the market didn’t reward it, and reward it we have. Entertainment, obviously, is a business, and in a climate where we have to battle both a recession and a decreasing willingness among the populace to pay for their entertainment, risks don’t make financial sense. If you back a new idea, you take on the struggle of having to explain it to consumers, then place your trust in them responding to the idea. If you re-package something that was already successful, you can just say “it’s a new Robocop. You in?”

And let’s face it: Nobody would give a shit about Robocop 2014 if there wasn’t a Robocop in 1987 that already gained traction. The remake was almost unanimously declared a generic, toothless sci-fi action movie. But everyone who loved “Robocop” in the past was internally obligated to at least SEE the movie. The only positive associations it had were generated by someone else out of whole cloth, 30 years ago. And when Michael Bay unleashes his live action Ninja Turtles on us, every single person in my demo who loved the Turtles as a kid will be driven into the theater out of sheer curiosity, even though we all know it will be terrible.

That’s why this kind of laziness begets laziness. A movie doesn’t have to be good if the brand is already recognizable.

Here, without exclusion, are the subjects of all six movie news headlines on the front page of RottenTomatoes.com on March 21st, 2014:

  • Ghostbusters 3
  • A Game of Thrones movie
  • Star Wars Episode VII
  • A Jem and the Holograms movie (Seriously. Jem.)
  • Pacific Rim 2
  • A Splinter Cell movie

All sequels and adaptations. And this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. I read the movie news on RottenTomatoes almost every day, and news about an ORIGINAL idea is quite rare. It’s only getting worse.

And yet, let’s look at the 9 films nominated for Best Picture at the most recent Academy Awards:

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • The Wolf of Wall Street

All original concepts, or adaptations of semi-obscure books. Not one sequel, reboot, remake, or TV/video game adaptation among them. These movies HAVE to be of a certain quality in order to attract an audience. It’s a form of adversity that we need in order to create quality products.

I’m focusing on movies in particular because it’s the most obvious reflection of Remix Culture, but it’s happening in every medium. Sequels have always been a big thing in video games, but now, in the past 5 years we’ve seen new games titled Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, and Need for Speed. Prince of Persia has been remade twice, and those remakes had their own sequels. On TV, you can watch shows based on Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Fargo.

Remix Culture plays to our attraction to the familiar, but think about the recent movies, television shows, and video games that really got us excited and stayed with us: Inception. Breaking Bad. The Last of Us. Nostalgia is a fleeting fancy – novel experiences are what make us grow.

Of course there are exceptions to everything. Every sequel, remake, and adaptation has the potential to be great – look at Toy Story 3, Dredd, even the god damn LEGO Movie. The point is, they don’t HAVE to be great. And if you can still succeed without being great, where’s the incentive?

But the bubble is going to burst. You can only remake Spider-Man so many times before people start rejecting it. I suppose the free market will eventually make history out of Remix Culture. I just feel like it’s taking its sweet time about it. Hi.am Adam Lane

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