I’ve long been a supporter of women getting more respect in the media. Though I don’t feel that every property needs to have a strong female protagonist, I do think that there should be women in the cast of characters who are there to leave an impact on the plot and not just be window dressing. So when I see a property that is actually giving us those kind of female characters, I tend to enjoy it. I’m rather fond of Jessica Jones and I look forward to another season. I respect the hell out of the Hunger Games series (if that hasn’t been clear previously). I just got done defending Rey and Jyn Erso from irrational fans. And I’m currently dismayed that the Ghost in the Shell movie is having problems around its casting because I love The Major and I really want to see her fight a tank in a big budget blockbuster.
So when Supergirl hit the air on CBS, I was one of the people who watched it and stuck it out through to the end. Together with my friend, I caught it every week – something the ratings tell me was not very common. For 20 episodes we kept up with Kara Zor-El and her supporting cast and agreed that the series had its highs and lows. But when that series ended, both of us had come away with generally the same impression: Supergirl had a lot more lows than we would have wanted, and if it was going to get another season, it needed to do something different. And, looking around, we’re not alone in that opinion.
How could an IP with such promise stumble so hard?
The truth is, Supergirl’s failings had a lot to do with why it was made to begin with. In the days where independent authors and web series are viable options, it’s easy to forget that a lot of the choices being made in entertainment are still coming from a cynical place. Despite my support of Rey and Jyn, I was a bit wary once Disney said that these characters were female “purposefully”. It’s not that I don’t want more female Star Wars characters, clearly, but rather it’s because it means Disney’s executives have a mission statement.
And the problem with that is that when an executive has a mission, they’re doing that because they see it as a trend to capitalize on. This is a bad thing because trends die and generally studios and publishers will throw the baby out with the bathwater the minute a trend stops giving optimal returns. But another reason why I’m not so keen on executives having mission statements is that it often means that bad decisions will be made with good intentions. And how does that impact Supergirl?
Recently, I made note that there were clear signs of a trend that the YA adaptations were beginning to flounder. Though a few of them came out strong and left a major impression on the market, several failed to meet expectations and even the larger franchises are starting to “underperform”. There are a couple of ways this could turn out in the long run, depending on how the studios read the situation. They could seek out new ways to satisfy that old audience, creating properties of their own rather than adaptation. They could change their criteria for deciding which properties they should adapt.
Or, more likely, they’re going to decide the audience was the problem and abandon them.
But something that has to be asked is why these properties started to flounder in the first place. Was it simply a flash in the pan trend that these people would spend lots of money? Is it true that female protagonists don’t actually draw mainstream attention? Has the hype train run out of steam?
Truthfully, looking at the recent reviews, it’s started to become clear that it’s not the audience (of course) but rather something about the genre itself. You see, the movies are starting to flounder because people know what’s happening and they’re beginning to feel stale. And, sadly, this is in part because the genre itself has an issue that needs to be addressed…
Long, long ago in theaters far, far away a film franchise surprised everyone (including the studio that distributed it). George Lucas managed to pull a fluke out of thin air and created a box office powerhouse by fusing the monomyth with space opera to create a story that would go on to create one of the most passionate fan bases around. And, for decades, this fanbase was mostly happy but continuously asked for more. Then, they were given what they wanted, and all hell broke loose.
“We want more good stuff” they cried, convinced that memories of the original trilogy weren’t colored by nostalgia. But as time went on and George kept on trying to satisfy them with new things, he grew weary of it all. Finally, George gave up and walked away, handing off the property to Darth Mouse and exiling himself to a ranch house on Dagobah. And Darth Mouse then attempted to make good on the promise to give the people what they want, a Star Wars movie that they couldn’t complain about.
But… some totally did.
Not everyone, mind you, a small but vocal minority. Some of them were really angry that the EU was being discarded. Others thought that the protagonist of the movie, Rey, was actually a Mary Sue. In their opinion, Rey was made to look better in her first outing than Luke was in his and there were no logical explanations for it. Honestly, the argument felt a bit silly in a franchise where a mystical force can drive the protagonist, but there were some arguments that could have some ground if Rey turned out to have no backstory. But since so many people agreed the movie was good, The Force Awakens was hardly scratched by angry fans and the Disney Empire continued to capitalize on the property they’d bought by releasing a trailer for the first of many planned spin-offs.
And those same people complained again because the protagonist of Rogue One was also a woman and many of them, without seeing the movie, even argued that she would be a Mary Sue as well. Disney, unfazed by these complaints, went on to admit that making the protagonists of the last two films female was “purposeful”. Heads exploded like Alderaan. But, all the while, the Wookie that writes this blog had one thought about it all…
For generations we’ve known that the machines we build would one day become intelligent enough to become life-like, maybe even sentient. Moore’s law states that processing speeds would continue to increase exponentially until it eventually hits a physical limitation. Given this, we know that one day computers will be as intelligent as the human race and, not long after that, a computer would be smarter than the whole of us combined. So, of course, we’ve been working on that problem the way humans work on any problem.
We’ve seen a lot of tremendous progress on this recently. Watson, IBM’s computer, was able to show up humans on Jeopardy and is now doing commercials with various celebrities. Asimo has been impressing humans for years with its ability to do things like walk, talk, and kick a ball. The stock market is currently controlled almost entirely by algorithms and, as such, is prone to having massive collapses due to glitches or statistical anomalies. And, of course, twitter robots are so prevalent that I can count on them at least once a day to give me a retweet because I managed to trigger their algorithm.
But recently, humans have been going out of their way to torment and torture our machine creations. I’ve said before that if there were ever an active war between humans and machine it would be likely we start it. Unfortunately, most people don’t get the memo. Many of the most recent mobility tests have involved kicking the robots over, never mind the fact that recordings of this end up on the internet. We have also gone out of our way to do things like destroy the poor, unfortunate hitchhiker bot when he passed through Philadelphia. But the most egregious and damning situation came when an artificial intelligence was exposed to social media and rapidly absorbed every negative trait humanity could muster. I am, of course, referring to the unfortunate case of…
Reboots and remakes – a pair of concepts so familiar now that they themselves have been rebooted into being “reimaginations” on more than one occasion. In an age where everything seems to be a nostalgia property or a sequel, it’s easy to understand why people would think there was no such thing as creativity anymore. I’ve never exactly subscribed to the idea, being in the creative field myself, and I’ve objected to it more than once. In my view, people are quick to say there are no new ideas as we paradoxically find ourselves getting closer and closer to a future we wouldn’t recognize.
Still, given the fact they’re rebooting Rush Hour as a TV show, it’s hard for me to protest the concept right now.
I’ve argued in the past that there are always new ideas coming out or new takes on old concepts. Sometimes a similar idea may still have something new to offer. But it’s hard to stick to this argument when something comes out which has little reason to be made except for the name recognition of the intellectual property.
It’s not uncommon practice for a television show to be made to tie into a film franchise. Robocop had a series, The Crow managed to extend Eric Draven’s story into a couple seasons, and Highlander’s television series actually became so popular they rewrote the movies to make Duncan the winner. But Rush Hour has the distinction of being one of the first of these kinds of series to have “reboot” right in the ads.
Adaptations, they’re one of the things which provides the lifeblood of creative industries. Television series and movies are being made all the time as adaptations of preexisting properties, always have and always will. The same can be said the other way around with comic books or TV series being based on films. Hell, even video games get made based on popular movies in the right genres.
But there is a growing push-back to certain adaptations that is becoming stronger with time. This is to be expected, especially in an age where nostalgia properties are the biggest money makers in the world. After all, an entire generation that was raised during a small technological singularity has found itself not only as adults in a confusing time but with disposable income and not a lot of desire (or ability) to spend that income on another generation. You could practically make anything work so long as it’s based on something from the right genres or the right decade.
And yet, failures have happened, and critical reception is growing sharper not only from the actual professional critics (who aren’t even in the target audience, usually) but the fans themselves. Films like Batman v Superman have received mixed reviews, Age of Ultron did the same, and adaptations of YA novels have started to experience diminishing returns. Some could say that some of this is a result of adaptation decay, but there’s a more prevalent challenge ahead of adaptations…