The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives

In the summer of 2016 everyone started telling me that I had to watch a show called Stranger Things. I was reluctant. The reluctance came from the way it was sold: the entire series was one large nostalgia fest for ‘80s Spielberg, Stephen King novels, and Dungeons and Dragons.

It’s not that I don’t like Stephen King or Indiana Jones or battling bugbears. But I had just finished consuming two pieces of media that banked heavily on nostalgia and ham-fisted homages: the show Mr. Robot and the novel Ready Player One.

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A poster for the upcoming Ready Player One, which this is not a review of.

I had walked away from both Mr. Robot and Ready Player One with a general uneasiness, a queasiness, the stomach ache that comes from too much of any one sweet thing. In the case of both of these, that one thing was the overdose of both

  1. knowing that I had consumed something whose originality was constantly undermined by heavy doses of allusion and homage and
  2. knowing that I had consumed something for which I, a heterosexual white millennial male with an English degree and a penchant for science fiction and a job in digital marketing, was the target demographic.

When I finally did watch Stranger Things, it did not disappoint me in the way that Mr. Robot and Ready Player One both had. Sure, the entire thing has major IT and The Body vibes and there was even a moment where a character is reading Stephen King’s Cujo. The entire thing is, as Stephen King himself said, crowded with Stephen King easter eggs and nods:

But there’s something different about Stranger Things. Something deeper. More tactful, subdued, and thoughtful.

(Stranger Things is not the only nostalgic work that works. FX’s Fargo, crowded with references to O. Henry and Samuel Beckett and, naturally, the Coen Brothers, is a good example of another show that executes where others fail.)

What is it that made Stranger Things work while Ready Player One and Mr. Robot both, in this blogger’s opinion, come up short? It’s a very fine line, but also a bell that, once crossed, is hard to unring, regardless of whom it tolls for. Continue reading “The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives”

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Some Thoughts and Observations That Won’t Appear in My Next Blog Post

Sometimes, I don’t want to dedicate a full blog post to an idea, but I still want to share the idea.

Is 2016 the Year of the Feral Child?

First, a fun and simple Jungle Book, which served as both a new adaptation of Kipling and a remake of the classic Disney cartoon. Then, a new Tarzan film. Soon, a remake of Pete’s Dragon, in which apparently Pete is a feral child raised by a dragon. Oh, also, Stranger Things and Eleven, its take on the feral ’80s child.

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Why all these narratives suddenly? And does it mean that we will get even more in the coming years? Perhaps a reboot of George of the Jungle? Perhaps a biopic of Victor of Aveyron? Or will we see feral children shoehorned into other narratives, like the Justice League or the Marvel films?

It was hard to tell the difference between the RNC and The Purge: Election Year

The Purge movies aren’t perfect, but they’re a sloppy and disturbing look at what America could become. Violence across the country, burning effigies, mask-wearing killers. Continue reading “Some Thoughts and Observations That Won’t Appear in My Next Blog Post”

What Should Mr. Robot Pay Homage to in Season Two?

The critically-acclaimed, award-winning cable series Mr. Robot is notable for a number of reasons, with a big twist: in the final two episodes, you realize you’ve been watching a ten hour unlicensed Fight Club reboot. One could say that the twist is “Elliot was Mr. Robot all along!” just like the twist in Fight Club is “Edward Norton was Brad Pitt all along!” but to me the twist was simply that Mr. Robot was Fight Club all along.

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Where is Mr. Robot’s mind?

Some people saw the “twist” coming, but I didn’t know I was watching a Fight Club reboot until the final few episodes, when a character is revealed to be imagined, the protagonist fights himself,  and a piano cover of “Where is My Mind” plays in the background. (Probably worth noting it was the same song used in The Leftovers, which I saw first and still think used it better.) Continue reading “What Should Mr. Robot Pay Homage to in Season Two?”