Friday, March 26, 2021

Why Star Wars, etc. Now S*cks

I was one of those kids who saw Star Wars (before it was dubbed A New Hope) in the theater. I was doomed to be a sci-fi/fantasy fan for the rest of my life. I began to buy comic books. I found Dr. Who on my local PBS. My mom brought home the Holmes Basic Box set. I tried reading the Lord of the Rings and found I could scratch my fantasy itch elsewhere. I even tolerated watching Star Trek with my Trekkie friends. Though for many years my entertainment dollar has rarely gone towards anything beyond RPGs and war games, I am still a fan at heart and hope that some day there is a franchise out there that I will find worthy of my time and my dollar.

Unfortunately, companies like WotC, Disney, WB, Paramount, etc. have all decided that I am toxic and whatever is the most recent flavor of -ist this week. I want Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and even Star Trek to be good; however, I don’t just think they won’t be anytime soon, I know they won’t be.

In the past, I have critiqued various movies and shows for abandoning the Divine in their story telling. God is the first storyteller. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament quoted by the writers of the New Testament and the oldest version of the OT we have today, the verb in the first sentence in Scripture (In the beginning God created) has the same root as poetry. This version of to create is only used when in association with God, and he creates (makes poetry) through speaking, “Let there be light.” Thus, just as all creation was doomed to decay and death by humanity turning its back on God, stories are doomed to meaningless drivel when the storyteller turns their back on the source of all stories.

While I still stand by this critique, there is another level of horrid storytelling that has been cropping up recently that I think needs to be addressed because it goes beyond turning its back on God and turns its back on the human person. Let me explain.

Reality can be broken up into two categories: the general and the particular. For example, I am using a computer in order to write this post. Some portion of those who are reading this post will also be using a computer to do so. While the term “computer” helpfully describes all of these devices, I am using a particular computer and the reader is using another particular computer. All computers = the general; my computer = the particular.

The crux of my critique depends on the fact the human beings always experience the particular and never experience the general. Whenever I encounter “computer” in my life, it is always a particular computer. The general “computer” is an immaterial concept that, although outside the particular experience of human beings, is nonetheless very real. The general allow us to make sense of the particular. Without the general, our empirical experience of the world would be a chaotic string of ever-changing data with no basis for interpretation or understanding.

From a Christian POV, this is how we experience and understand the Trinity. The general is God and the particular is the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is why Christ became a human being — so that we can intimately know God in the particular.

The reason story telling in the present is so awful is that the characters that occupy our stories are the general instead of the particular. Let me illustrate this my favorite literary inspiration for the Thief class — Bilbo Baggins. In JRR Tolkien’s works, Bilbo Baggins is important because he is a particular hobbit with individual quirks, strengths, weaknesses, and interests that qualify him to be the burglar that Gandalf chooses for the purpose of recovering what was lost to the dragon Smaug. If The Hobbit were written by today’s crop of storytellers, Gandalf would have chosen Bilbo because he is a hobbit and no other reason.

Characters today are largely just a collection of general categories based on immutable characteristics. While I acknowledge the reality of bigotry in the world — there is no question that bigotry exists and affects people on a regular basis — none of us have ever experienced “white,” “black,” or whatever category is fashionable in the present moment. We have, however, experienced particular human persons that have these immutable characteristics.

Herein is the insidious nature of the kind of storytelling we see in today’s popular culture, and why it is so awful. Characters are no longer human persons. They are no longer unique, irreplaceable, and valuable individuals. Characters are merely categories. As individual persons, they have no value because they can be replaced by another character from the same general category.

This type of storytelling can only produce uninteresting and valueless stories because the individual characters that occupy these stories have no intrinsic value in their particularity. As consumers, it becomes increasingly difficult to care about these stories because there is no particular to encounter — these stories deny us the very basic human experience of the particular that is our reality.

This also explains why it is so easy to label fans who demand the particular as toxic and -ists of various flavors. We are denying and criticizing the immutable characteristic — the general category — of the character. Since there is no particular and only the general, we must therefore be toxic and -ist.

All of this dehumanizes everybody. History has shown again and again that when we dehumanize the other, nothing good follows.


JB said...

I don't know, man. For me, it seems the pendulum swings both ways. New Coke gets released for a while, then Classic Coke comes back stronger than ever.

There are definite societal injustices that need to be addressed in our world (and especially in the United States). That's a fact. There's also a lot of folks who are feeling safe enough (I won't say "empowered") to speak up about gripes they've held inside for far too long because...right now...people are in a mood to be conducive to listening. Some of these gripes are very, very real. Some are kind of petty bullsh**. And while the petty BS is the thing that drives many of us crazy, it's a part of that pendulum swing that will (someday) swing back, hopefully leaving genuine "progress" in its wake.

But I get what you're saying. I'm kind of done with most of the franchise IP myself (Star Wars, etc.) least the big budget stuff. But I see things as a bit different: for me, the originality and creativity has been killed in pursuit of the almighty dollar. And catering to the currently trending wave of emotion is just another way for the corporations that own the IP to "cash in." Star Wars (for example) died a loooong time ago...circa the mid-90s, in my estimation. Long before the current round of "stuff" going on in the world.

Ryan said...

One thing that has changed recently is the way just a few corporations have acquired all entertainment and media companies. In the shift to consolidation, creativity lost out to control. "Safe" bets, low risk ventures, and wide-appeal efforts have taken over everything.

pi4t said...

I'm afraid I don't find this post very convincing. In fact, after due reflection I firmly disagree with a good deal of it.

First, it sounds as though you're implying that "God" (as opposed to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit) is just a concept. I...think there's a bit more to it than that. Of course, I don't mean to suggest that there's some distinct entity called "God" besides the three Persons of the Trinity. But from what you wrote, it sounded like you were saying that, for example, each of them is a particular example or instance of "God", like the device I'm writing on is a particular example of a "computer". I think there's more to it than that. I couldn't say "He who has seen my computer has seen Deep Blue," in the way that Jesus said "He who has seen me has seen the Father". Jesus isn't just an example of God, or a way of viewing God, he *is* God. And the same can be said about the Father and the Spirit.

It's virtually impossible to talk about the Trinity in detail without implying some sort of heresy, though, so maybe you'd actually agree with me there?

The other point, about using the general for characters in stories being a bad thing, I also disagree with. For one thing, I don't think it's really a new trend in the way you've portrayed it. Quite the opposite; the idea of portraying fictional characters as "particulars", as you describe them, seems to be quite recent, perhaps a consequence of the printing press allowing you to distribute stories without having to memorise them.

Look at old fairy stories - the characters in them don't have the particular quirks you're discussing. Think of Aesop's fables. More tellingly, look at the parables of Jesus himself. It seems to me that they are an excellent example of the sort of storytelling you're criticising! Characters in them exist as archetypes, given only those elements of personality necessary to show the things the parable is meant to show.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we learn nothing about the victim who is robbed. We hear nothing about the people who pass him by, except that they're parts of various religious leadership groups. The Samaritan is unstereotypically, well, good, considering the victim is a Jew; but that's because the Samaritan loving his neighbour is the whole point of the parable.

Or in the Prodigal Son, we again here almost nothing about the particulars of the characters, except when it's crucial to the plot. The younger son is wasteful and unfaithful; that sets the plot in motion. Then he turns around and returns to his father asking for forgiveness. Again, crucial to the plot. The most interesting "particular" we hear about is that he ends up looking after pigs, and I think that would seem a good deal more "general" to a Jewish audience. The older son complains so his father can answer the complaint; otherwise he vanishes from the plot completely. The father has a slightly more detailed personality, but that's because one point of the parable is to show us our Father's response when we repent and turn back to him. We don't get any real details about his property, or his circumstances, or what he looks like. Or even how he behaves when he hasn't just looked out of his window and seen his long lost son walking along the road!

(Hit character limit, will continue in a second message.)

pi4t said...

And I think there's a reason "general" concepts were and are used for characters. We really can't create a particular human being for a fictional character. That would require us to somehow imagine an entire human being (or hobbit, etc), of the same complexity as ourselves, understanding every particular of their personality. And then (if we could manage that) we'd need to somehow convey it to the reader through text. It's impossible. Except for God. And even he chose to use that sort of conceptual ideas for his characters when he was living among us.

The best we can do is to use concepts which are more specific, and so feel more like real people. We've got pretty good at that over the last century or two. And I agree it would be a shame to lose that, although I don't think we're in any danger of doing so. But they're still just archetypes.

Bilbo is a good example of this, actually. Yes, he's not just a hobbit. But note how Tolkien describes his unique traits. He's a Baggins, which means he's highly respectable and doesn't have any adventures - very much the epitome of a Shire hobbit. But he also has Tookish blood in him, which means he's inclined to be a bit odd, and to go out and see the world. That's how Tolkien describes it. When Bilbo is being adventurous, he's not behaving in a uniquely Bilbo-ish way; according to the narration, he's behaving in a Tookish way. When he's tired of adventures and wants to go home, that's described as his Baggins side reasserting itself. Tolkien invents (or perhaps tweaks and renames) two existing "general" concepts, and blends them together in an interesting way, but he's quite openly writing Bilbo according to those concepts.

It may or may not be true that writers are being more lazy and general with their characters at the moment. I suspect they aren't, and this is just Sturgeon's Law tinged with nostalgia - we remember the stories we liked, and forget the more lazy ones because they were boring. Even the original Star Wars is definitely using "general" concepts. Leia is the classic princess-damsel-in-distress, straight out of a fairy story. Other than a touch of snark, and a little rebelliousness in her early scenes, that's all the characterisation she gets. Luke is the classic farm-boy-turned-hero. He ticks all the boxes, far more than any real person would. And his whole character, personality and plot revolves around that. Obiwan is the classic mentor (tvtropes even named the mentor trope after him at one point). And that's fine. Star Wars (the original trilogy) was excellent, even though it's using those general characteristics for all its characters. Mostly because it does it so well. My complaints about the sequel trilogy aren't that they're writing their characters as archetypes, but that they're doing so in a way which is boring. And inconsistent, in the case of episode 8.

Dennis Laffey said...

Corporations are going to be corporate. And many that hold "nerdy" IP have realized there's just as much money to be made pandering to non-white, non-male, non-18-24, non-American audiences. The conventional wisdom was to target that specific demographic because in the past, that was the audience that would shell out for comics, RPG and video games, sci-fi books & movies. Now, everyone spends money on these things. And to draw in as much cash as possible, corporations want their IP to reflect the more diverse audience that's purchasing it. Besides, cis-hetero white dudes like myself have been pandered to enough over the decades. I don't mind seeing stuff that specifically targets other groups in my nerd media.

As for the lack of the divine in modern nerd media, that's an interesting point. I see a lot of sci fi and fantasy as actively avoiding dealing with that in the past, as well as now. Sure, Tolkien & Lewis made it central to their fantasies, but it's been pretty tangential to a lot of other writers of the genre. But I'm not the most qualified to discuss that, whereas you are. So I'll just note that I may disagree with you but don't hope to sway you to my opinion.

Finally, with regard to Star Wars, the recent movies failed in that regard. I found the "inconsistencies" of Episode 8 actually added to the realness of the characters (some of them anyway), but Episode 9 reverted them to cardboard archetypes. But The Mandalorian has done a lot to make its characters seem real. A guy who never takes off his helmet and a puppet have more personality than any of the characters in the sequel trilogy.

FrDave said...

@JB @Ryan @Dennis
I think the excuse for blaming a lack of creativity on the pursuit of the almighty dollar is a weak argument because the industry has been after a profit since forever. Big money didn't stop great movies being made from "IPs" back in the day. For example, Lawrence of Arabia cost $15 million in 1961 dollars. There is also plenty of evidence to show that movie-goers are perfectly willing to spend a lot of cash to see movies that fall well outside the Hollywood norm. Mel Gibson's Passion grossed $600 million is still called a "surprise hit."

If these companies were so interested in making money, why do we not see more Christian-friendly fare out of the Hollywood system? Why do the studios call the fans of their IPs “toxic” and “-ist”? If money were the issue, neither of these things would be true.

Rather, they make movies the way they do because the want to.

FrDave said...

This is going to get geeky, but my use of "General" vs "Particular" comes out of the Energy/Essence distinction in Orthodox Christianity. No, God is not a mere concept, but He is unknowable in His Essence. The way we experience and participate in Him is in His Energies — His particulars.

Of course stories throughout the ages have used Archetypes (which would qualify as the "General") and Star Wars is a really good example of this; however, what makes Star Wars great was the particular way Lucas portrayed those Archetypes. Leia may be the "princess-in-distress," but how many princesses grabbed a blaster and took control of a bad situation like she did? We love Leia the princess-in-distress because of the particular way she filled out that Archetype.

My problem with characters being written today is that they don't bring anything to the "Archetype" because the Archetype is what is important and not the particulars of how a character occupies it and makes it their own. A hero is the hero not because of the choices they make, but because they are the hero despite the choices they make.

FrDave said...

BTW: "the particular" in the case of the Parables is always meant to be us. We are meant to see our own particularity in these stories to understand where we are in context of the Christian story.

FrDave said...

I just don't understand the whole "cis-hetero white dudes have been pandered to" thing. Money knows nothing about sexual preference or race. A paying customer is a paying customer. Period.

Did anime, Godzilla movies, Hong-Kong kun-fu flicks, k-pop, or Bollywood ever pander to me? I seriously doubt it, yet I have paid good money to consume entertainment from all of these sources. For decades.

JB said...

@ Fr. Dave:

There are always “surprise hits.” Star Wars itself (the original) was a surprise.

You are correct that film studios (and corporations in general) have always pursued the money. But while the big historic epic, the big screen musical, the war movie, and the western were the cash cows of the past, it is the “geek IP” (what was once non-mainstream fiction) that has shown itself to be the current cash cow flavor. And thus concepts and ideas that were once more “creator controlled” (note: “more,” not “totally”) have become more corporate controlled, often with a bungling of the very things that made the original creation special and beloved to its fans.

Which doesn’t mean the actors and directors and creatives making films aren’t people that are pouring their hearts and souls into things, but with Big Money Involvement, it is far easier for things to go sideways, especially in the eyes of the fan, because of corporate interference in the attempt to cast the net as wide as possible for the greatest number of consumers.

In much of this country’s Christian community, there is a strong anti-Hollywood sentiment that has been churned up by the religious right against those “damned liberals” with all their posturing on social justice and whatnot. Many filmmakers are trying to make films that emphasize and illustrate things that frankly threaten much of the systemic bigotry that exists in this country, and even putting Christian values in the film aren’t enough to turn the hearts and minds of people steeped in denial. Still, those films get made and many get nominated for (or win) prestigious film awards...while the corporate film industry meanwhile continues to gobble up IP that can be used to make spectacular blockbusters that will attract dollars without pissing off too many people (from either side of the political/cultural spectrum). If your particular geekery falls into the latter arena, then I’m afraid your fandom will probably/eventually become a casualty.

It is what it is, Padre. Also, just for the record, I don’t think your “general vs. particular” discussion is particularly “geeky.” Seems fairly succinct to me.
; )

JB said... more point.

Consider the “cash cow” films of yesteryear compared to those of today and you’ll find a major difference: the pop films of the past were GENERALLY based on HISTORY (or mythological history, i.e. mythology). That is far different from Star Wars or Harry Potter or the Avengers, etc. Again, for the “original fans” out there something in the original creator’s vision is what first drew us to its fantasy...and the corporations count on that fandom to develop “instant customer loyalty.” This wasn’t a marketing strategy in the past because fandom wasn’t as prevalent/widespread as shared cultural narrative (histories and fables and Bible stories, for example). Now, fandom has overtaken the shared cultural narrative, in part because we are a more diverse, global society that finds more common ground with folks in the realm of fandom. That’s a double-edged sword, unfortunately, but (again) it is what it is.

FrDave said...

I would say the reputation Hollywood has with Christians is earned, not something that "has been churned up by the religious right." They have made it very clear that I am not welcome. I can think of dozens of secular/atheist/anti-religious protagonists in TV and film in the last decade and plenty of religious antagonists. How many openly Christian protagonists that portray their faith positively immediately come to mind? How many times have I had to suffer through the lazy writing of a sex scene as short hand for a serious relationship? One of my all-time favorite romantic comedies is a 16-hour Korean TV show where the two romantic leads never even kiss. There is a reason the romantic comedy in American cinema is dead. The values necessary to make them successful are not values Hollywood is interested in.

BTW the reason I used Lawrence of Arabia as my example of an "IP" was because it is an historical piece. Just because things are shared cultural narratives does not equal bad art. I would argue that the reason Star Wars was such a huge success was because it took a shared cultural narrative (the classic fairy tale) and told the story with such artistic particularity that customers were willing to pay money to experience it over and over again.

JB said...

See, I don't see Lawrence of Arabia as "IP" at all. It is a historical (biographical) film and (also) a war film. Intellectual property is something created by (often) a single creator, who then possesses rights to the creation...rights that can be sold.

While I understand that the vulgarity and secularism in the medium may have alienated you from film and television, I have to disagree with the notion that Hollywood has "earned" the vitriol that right-wing politicians uses to stir resentment and opposition from Christian voters against "blue" (liberal, progressive) issues. There's an agenda there man, and it ain't "Christian values;" it's about cultivating a power base, pure and simple.

We live in a country...and a world...that is full of a multitude of peoples, and not all of them are Christians. Secularism in entertainment is understandable when you consider that corporations are looking for consumers (i.e. dollars) not converts. That being said, I have seen plenty of Hollywood films over the last few years that have faith and Christianity firmly on display in the protagonist and main characters, films where people prayed, went to Church, turned to God for answers (off the top of my head I think of The Blind Side, Soul Surfer, Whip It, that TV show Vikings)...and I've seen other films that I find just as "spiritual" even when illustrated by non-Christian religions.

But if you're expecting to find serious discussion of theology in the next Marvel blockbuster, you're bound to be disappointed because...again...the blockbuster is designed to make as much money from as many people as possible. It's not trying to "push Christians away;" it is trying to have mass market appeal. And unless religion is central to the plot or a particular character (the Daredevil series dealt a bit with his Catholicism), it probably not going to make the cut for the 150 minute run time.

Lastly: I never said (and certainly never meant to imply) that shared cultural narratives equate to "bad art." Lawrence of Arabia is a great piece of filmmaking...I own the movie (on VHS!). Heston's Ten Commandments is another. So are Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ Superstar. There are excellent war movies, wonderful westerns, and some darn good musicals (Cats is not one of them). Personally, I enjoy historical and biographical films (often using them to spur independent research into their subject matter)...I just wish they wouldn't focus quite so much time and energy into the same subject matter so repetitively (for example, World War II or biographies of musicians/pop stars). But, again, those are the "cash cows" for the industry, sure to draw the widest swath of paying customers.

It IS a business, after all.

Geoffrey McKinney said...

"One of my all-time favorite romantic comedies is a 16-hour Korean TV show where the two romantic leads never even kiss."

My daughter is learning Korean. Please let me know the title of this TV show. :)

FrDave said...

Depending on the translation: Cantabile Tomorrow, Nae Il’s Cantabile, Naeil’s Cantabile, Tomorrow’s Cantabile

Here is the Korean: 내일도 칸타빌레

FrDave said...

I agree that the push from the religious right is about power; however, I am speaking as someone who does not agree with many things the religious right stands for.

Of course there is a market for racy, sexy, and violent films. I do not begrudge Hollywood from making them or making money off them. It is their right; however, there is also a market for romantic comedy, faith-based films, patriotic films, etc. If Hollywood was serious about making money, they would make these films on the regular. They don’t because they don’t want to. To boot, they attack and vilify people who might. Blacklisting is a thing.

All good stories inevitably have Christian themes because the Christian story is ultimately every story.

I am not asking for theological debates, just good stories and especially good characters. Theological debate follows because theology is touched upon with good characters. The best MCU film (in my opinion) — Civil War — does exactly this.

When a character is defines by immutable characteristics, choice becomes irrelevant. Characters are good or bad simply because of things they have no control over. Nothing about this is good, let alone plot, character, or entertainment value.

To go back to Star Wars, one of the reasons it was SO GOOD was that we can identify with the particular characters in the story because we can see ourselves making the same choices, irregardless of our immutable characteristics. I identify with Leia because of her feistiness in the face of authority. I aspire to be the kind of person she is. The fact that she is a princess and I am not has nothing to do with the fact that she is a great character.

Today’s Hollywood disagrees.

JB said...

Today’s Hollywood is often lazy.

FrDave said...

There is nothing lazy about what they did to Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, etc. They meticulously deconstructed and even destroyed what came before. There is a dangerous precedent in that kind of attitude towards the past. It does not end well.

Sonhonauta said...

Your analysis was very good. I don't think it encompasses all of Hollywood's ruin, but it highlights an important point, this general / particular dualism.

Today, most of the characters are empty and personalityless archetypes, they seem to exist only to propagate some political agenda. Plots also suffer from this disease, always forcing something on the viewer with the subtlety of a jackhammer. For some years now, American pop culture has been disgusting me more and more. Whenever I give any chance to some new production, I end up with a stomach upset.

This new generation has a rotten finger, destroys everything it touches. They take all the aesthetics, but discard the essence of the works of the past, like SW and Tolkien. My way out and what I consider my salvation is to search for the roots of my childhood works, love them and hold on to them with all my strength, despising all false innovations that escape the "canon".

Dennis Laffey said...

I'm not a marketing dude, but I have some friends who studied it.

It's not about what you or any individual pays money for. It's what marketing departments decide is their core demographic.

For most nerd media until the last decade or so, if it was produced in the US or Great Britain, it probably starred a hetero white dude. Because that's the audience they were targeting.

It's not necessarily the audience that was actually consuming the media. That was likely more diverse. It's the audience the companies THOUGHT would most want to consume that media.

So when we get a black guy Asgardian, or a female lead in a Star Wars trilogy, or She-Ra is rebooted with a less busty look, straight white nerds take to the internet to complain about how their childhood is being raped in the name of political correctness.

Really, I don't get it either. And I don't think you're being one of those man-babies here. But it is related to the discussion.

FrDave said...

My dad was a newspaper/magazine guy and is really nerdy about demographics, so what you are detailing here is nothing new; however, his goal was always to expand the audience, not replace it.

So many things have happened over the last decade that feel like the owners of these franchises want me gone rather than adding to the fandom. For example, it is not hard to imagine a Romana spin-off series from Dr. Who that casts an Asian actor ticking all those boxes that might tap into a new audience while embracing the fandom that already exists. Instead, BBC made the Doctor female by re-writing the entire history of the show and has lost its core audience, Brits are dropping their BBC subscriptions like crazy and the show is in danger. It just doesn't make any sense to me.

Dennis Laffey said...

Well, I can understand it with something like Dr. Who. But something like Star Wars, where each trilogy is a different generation, I guess I don't see all the fuss about non-male, non-white leads. Princess Leia was an awesome character in the original trilogy, but she was the only female with any real characterization. Compared to Luke, Han, Chewie, C3P0, Vader, Tarkin, Lando, Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, Palpatine, General Veers, Wedge, Wicket... You have to go pretty far down the list of characters in the original trilogy to get to Mon Mothma and Aunt Beru if just looking at screen time.

And in the prequel trilogy, Padme gets a lot of screen time, but her character isn't quite as fleshed out as Leia's was. There are a lot more female background characters, especially among the jedi, but how many get speaking parts?

After six very heavily male movies, they finally make one with a strong female lead, more significant female minor characters, and still a lot of white faces a more diverse cast than before, and people think the movies aren't made for them.

I get that you're saying it has more to do with tone and themes presented by the movies. Not so much race/gender. But it's hard to separate these two things going on. I'm not a fan of the sequel trilogy. They definitely made a lot of mistakes with it. But more diverse casting is exactly there to expand the demographic. They've GOT the white boys. And despite the criticism and outright hate, we all shucked out our cash to see the movies.

To be honest, while I'll still go see Star Wars stuff in the future, I am pretty much done with Star Trek. I enjoyed Picard for what it was, but it really felt different than the older stuff I grew up with. And the J.J. movies are the same. So I do understand what you're saying. I feel it too, for Trek. They've lost something along the way. I don't think it's because of the extra effort at diversity or more egalitarian division of screen time, though. Just my opinion, of course, and I am enjoying exchanging ideas with you. Hopefully this will help us both see things a little differently. :D

pi4t said...

Speaking as someone from the UK, "Brits are dropping their BBC subscriptions like crazy" shows a misunderstanding of how the BBC works. We don't pay a subscription to the BBC in the sense that, say, you might to an American broadcaster; the BBC is funded by a tax which is payable by everyone with a TV license. (Other than a few exceptions, such as certain older pensioners.)

If lots of people aren't paying the TV license, that can mean one of two things:

1) Lots of people have decided to break the law and watch television illegally. If this is happening (and I doubt it is) I'd say it's more likely to be thanks to the current government's anti-BBC rhetoric, rather than a drop in BBC quality somehow driving people to break the law!

2) Lots of people simply don't have televisions nowadays and watch things on Netflix instead and buy DVDs of any BBC series they really want to watch. This is what I suspect is happening, and it's more a consequence of the BBC's failure to update itself to the age of the internet. Or rather, a consequence of politicians' refusal to allow them to do so, since the BBC doesn't get to unilaterally decide what you can do without paying.

I'd also like to point out that they did try a spinoff just a couple of years ago, which was rather similar to what you described: Class. It failed disastrously and was dropped after the first series. I think it failed mostly for tonal reasons (they turned up the darker and edgier dial way too far) but the fact is that a new spinoff series would have been an extremely hard thing to sell right now. Particularly one which would centre around a classic companion and thus have a good deal of continuity lockout for most casual viewers and they were specifically trying to make it easy for people to get back into watching the series. And if by some miracle they had managed to get that spinoff, it would be pandering to the most committed Who fans and would definitely not "tap into a new audience". If someone wasn't interested in watching Doctor Who before they heard the Doctor was female, they're not going to be invested enough to watch a spin off about a classic companion, whatever her race and sex!

pi4t said...

Regarding "rewriting the entire history of the show"...well, speaking as a fan of Who (could you tell?) I'm actually rather confused about what you mean by this. There have been some very dramatic (and spoilery!) revelations at the end of the last season, which changed the whole history of the series, but they're not related to the Doctor being female unless I missed something.

The only other thing I can think of is that you meant that time lords being able to change genders when they regenerate is changing the whole history of the show in itself. If so, I'd have to respectfully disagree with that, or at least disagree with the implied criticism. Doctor Who has a long history of doing that kind of soft retcon; it's the only reason it's survived for so long. Off the top of my head, a short list of things that got retconned:

The Doctor being a human from the future
Susan coming up with the name "TARDIS"
The Daleks using static electricity to travel
The TARDIS using a 1960's vision of future technology (nontrivial: for example, in the third story the TARDIS develops a fault due to a switch getting stuck, in a way which couldn't happen even nowadays).
Doctor Who not being the Doctor's name. (They've flip flopped on this one more times than I can count).
The Doctor's people having weird alien biology.
The Doctor's people having extremely long lifespans. (Puts Susan's departure in a very different light.)
The Doctor's people being able to regenerate at all!
The origins of the cybermen (I can think of at least four mutually incompatible origin stories)
The nature of Time Lord society (from "demigods" with near-perfect wisdom to a bickering Roman-esque council of political backstabbers, and then through several more iterations).
What happens when you meet your past self (effects ranging from "nothing", through "electric sparks between you" up to "the universe will implode").
What happens when you change history (this has been changed so many times that nowadays the writers just have the Doctor wave his hands around and say "timey wimey" and then do whatever they think the plot needs!)

And so on; I'm only up to the end of the Second Doctor's era so far. Time Lords being able to swap genders in regenerating seems a fairly minor retcon in comparison to some of those. Especially since it's quite easy to explain why we haven't seen it: it's been established that Time Lords have some control over their regenerations (and the Doctor and the Master aren't very good at it!) It makes sense that most of them would make it a priority to stay the same sex when regenerating. Wouldn't you?

FrDave said...

I have no real issue with "diverse" characters...a good story is a good story. This is my point when I highlight anime, kung-fu flicks, etc. The sequel trilogy illustrates the reality that "diversity" for the sake of "diversity" does more damage than good because the immutable characteristics become more important than the character. In emphasizing that the Force was female, Lucas film completely forgot to give us good female characters and belittled everyone in the process — even the good characters from the past.

Unknown said...

Great analysis. Here in Brazil everybody knows Hollywood and MSM are in the stripe out christianity agenda. But the devil always convinces many that he does not exist.
Same with our hobby:

FrDave said...

When I used "subscription" I was referring to the fact that people were dropping the license fees. Yes, there are multiple reasons for people doing so. Quality of product (Dr. Who being one internationally important) being one of them.

I, too, am a Dr. Who fan. I grew up with the first five Doctors and have watched what remains of those seasons dozens of times in my life. When they "changed the whole history of the series," as you put it, they re-wrote the entirety of the Dr. Who canon. We can never go back to Tom Baker's Dr. Who and watch it the same way we did just a couple of seasons ago. What this season did to the entirety of the canon was highly destructive, to say it kindly.

All of the examples of retcons were minor details that can be explained away by the vagaries of messing with Time and having multiple regenerations. None of them forced us to re-imagine the entire canon.

So, you don't want a spin-off because it won't sell (despite the failure wasn't due to the fact it was a spin-off but because the writing was bad). There would have been plenty of ways to make a female the main character in the current series that would have been compelling. Let the Doctor die, or have a regeneration go wrong, or have him disappear...whatever. Romana returns from E-Space because the vampires are returning to N-space it the wake of the demise of the Time Lords. She locates the TARDIS, and begins a quest to re-establish the Time-Lords (including another Doctor with twelve more regenerations if you wanted). This could drive the plot for at least a season or two. By then, she could very well deserve her own series. This would have been an ingenious way to make a woman the face of the franchise while still honoring the canon and spirit of the series. And I am not even really trying.

Instead, we got a woman for the sake of having a woman. The result has been disastrous, to put it nicely.

pi4t said...

As I put it? That was a quote from you! Or, well, almost, you said "rewriting the entire history of the show".

I really don't think that the "quality of product" is directly causing people to stop paying the license fee, as I've said. It may well be causing people in other countries to cancel their subscriptions (do you have to subscribe to BBC America, or is it ad-funded?) But here in the UK, that really is a non-factor. If you're going to be watching TV from anyone, you need a TV license. If you don't have a TV in your house and will be doing everything through the internet, you don't need one unless you specifically want to watch BBC programs. If you want to break the law, it's easy enough to tell iplayer you have a license, or at least it was last time I checked. (For the record, I didn't find this out by trying to break the law myself, there's an exception for students whose family have a license.)

I still don't see how the fact that a male Time Lord can regenerate into a female one "forces us to re-imagine the entire canon." It doesn't seem like that new fact is particularly relevant to most stories. To me, it seems much smaller than, say, deciding that Gallifrey wasn't destroyed in the Time War after all (Day of the Doctor). Or the addition of a new Doctor (same story). Or the introduction of a limit on the number of regenerations (Deadly Assassin, flatly contradicting information from the Second Doctor era). Or *massive spoilers from the latest season unrelated to the Doctor's sex*.

I would certainly watch a spin-off about Romana. But I'm definitely in the minority of viewers of my age, being a fairly hardcore fan who watches classic episodes and was part of the doctor who society at university.

Are you seriously suggesting that killing off the main character of Doctor Who and putting in a substitute character is a good way to revive interest in the series?? While it might be interesting to you and I, that sounds like a brilliant way to kill off interest in the series among casual fans. People tune in to watch Doctor Who, not Companion Who I've Never Heard Of. While it's an interesting concept, and one I could easily imagine Big Finish doing - in fact, I have a feeling they've already produced something vaguely similar - trying to do it in the TV series for even a single season would stand a decent chance of permanently killing the series.

The Sarah Jane Adventures were excellent, and attracted decent viewing figures. But they never managed to compete with Who itself. And that was with the most beloved companion in the history of the show, in the prime of its popularity.

I think any "disastrous" results of recent series can be laid at the feet of either a) a tendency to become rather preachy about social issues and use the series as a soapbox every other episode; and/or
b) a willingness to ignore or change past canon, such as by having no returning enemies for a whole season, or introducing the stuff at the end of the last season.

Neither of these are necessary consequences of making the Doctor female, although obviously similar motivations were involved.

Incidentally, if we're talking companion spinoffs, I'd actually much prefer to see Jenny from the Doctor's Daughter come back over Romana.

FrDave said...

I have a hard time watching BBC fare these days because quality is low. I used to go out of my way to watch BBC stuff because it was so good. Just sayin'...

As far as taking the Doctor off the wouldn't be the first time a BBC show took the titular character off screen and work. Blake's 7 is still one of the best sci-fi shows ever made. If you set it up right, the goal of the whole season would be to return the Doctor to the screen. I would gladly watch that.

Jenny? Go for it! I guess I am showing my age. I went with Romana because she is one of my favorite companions of all time.

BTW I loved the Sarah Jane spin-off. It goes to show that with the right character and decent writing, you can do some really good stuff.

Making a woman the face of the franchise could have been awesome. The reason it didn't work is the point of this post. They made the Doctor a woman for the purpose of making the Doctor a woman. Unfortunately, there was little else to the show. Had this been well written, used the existing canon, produced an interesting character to fill out the Archetype, and that happened to be a woman, this might have worked. They didn't and it didn't.

Curtis Hooper said...

Spot on, but don't let George Lucas off the hook! Who is Qui-gon Jinn? Generic Jedi. Who is Darth Maul? Generic Sith.

Ifryt said...

Thanks for the link! Very good explaining of Mythic Underworld.

FrDave said...

Agreed. This was a great video.

FrDave said...

True. The whole Jedi thing never made sense in context of the story. How does it follow that the child of the Chosen One would be really good at the Force? The Jedi are a celibate order. They don't have children. Therefore the use of the Force doesn't seem to have any relationship with genetics. Yet, there are enough of them to be protectors of the Republic. They are all Generic Jedi.

Structured Answer said...

"God is the first storyteller." No.

FrDave said...

Do you mean "No, God does not exist" or "No, God isn't a storyteller?"