Remakes and Big Budget Fanfic

In a blog post entited Selling Last Year’s Model, Serdar Yegulalp laments the way the mass media constantly recycles the same characters and franchises rather than take risks in creating something completely new.

A big part of why we have a heap of broken images is because’ve managed to make it unsustainable to sell anything else but last year’s models. Curiosity has become an acquired taste, and an increasingly rarefied one. It’s easier to give people a variation on something they — and everyone else — already know, instead of trying to tickle their imaginations in a different way.

It’s certainly down to the fact that the bean-counters call the shots in the big media companies, and they’re getting more and more risk-averse when it comes to big budgets. So the end result is that since nobody will be fired for greenlighting yet another pointless remake or sequel, that’s what we get.

But Laurie Penny, writing in The New Statesman thinks the opposite. In a lengthy article about the Dr Who and Sherlock, she argues that what we’re seeing is fanfic on a grand scale, and that taps into a very long-established tradition.

Fan fiction is nothing new, and nor is the statement “fan fiction is nothing new”. Most discussions of the practice speak of Star Trek fanstories dating back to the sixties, and point to the influence of fan speculation on Joss Whedon when he was running Buffy. But actually, fan fiction is far older than that It wasn’t until the Romantic period that originality was considered an essential skill for a storyteller to have. Before then, a truly great writer would be distinguished by his ability – and it usually was his ability – to provide a new reading of a classic tale or legend, to bring a familiar character or archetype viscerally to life.

Fanfic gets a bad rep. We all remember the The Geek Hierarchy with its “People who write erotic versions of Star Trek where all the characters are furries, like Kirk is an ocelot or something, and they put a furry version of themselves as the star of the story”. But Penny highlights the positive aspects.

What is significant about fan fiction is that it often spins the kind of stories that showrunners wouldn’t think to tell, because fanficcers often come from a different demographic. The discomfort seems to be not that the shows are being reinterpreted by fans, but that they are being reinterpreted by the wrong sorts of fans – women, people of colour, queer kids, horny teenagers, people who are not professional writers, people who actually care about continuity (sorry).

Hands up who laughed at that last line…

And to finish, I can’t mention fanfic and canon without mentioning this post on Making Light. Remember where the word “Canon” comes from.

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3 Responses to Remakes and Big Budget Fanfic

  1. PaulE says:

    The problem with this risk-averse franchise recycling is that it ends up repeatedly playing to the same sector of the audience.
    It is similar to the way the major labels deal with music. And the justification in terms of giving the audience what they want is the same (they choose to ignore that it is just one sector of the whole potential audience).
    The difference for me is that with music I am prepared to put up a fight. To back the artists that make music that I like by buying albums and turning up for gigs.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Indeed. It’s easier to maximise the audience they’ve already got by churning out the same old genre-by-numbers than to make something for any other potential audences out there that are disenfranchised by the current mainstream.

    Then when somebody does take a risk, and has a hit with something that doesn’t fit a tried-and-trusted template, everyone acts surprised.

  3. I think it’s disingenuous to conflate fanfic — which is by and large done for the fun of it — with the reinvention of a classic in modern terms — which is by and large done for the green of it.