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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Let Them Eat Freedom Fries, and Ten Other Headlines to Anticipate in 2017

It’s early December, which means two things: time to start recapping 2016 and predicting 2017.

While not as exhaustive as The Economist’s The World in 2017 or as doomsday-esque as some other lists that I won’t link to, this is my list of the headlines and stories I expect in the coming year.

Netflix Starts Original News Programming

I don’t watch Netflix original programming much. I think it is the most lowbrow of available television services, churning out binge-friendly quantity over quality that peddles in nostalgia as Buzzfeed peddles in cuteness. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of their content is just good enough to keep you watching and just bad enough to end every episode with a cliffhanger.

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Obviously, there are exceptions. I loved this show.

That said, there is something I do like about Netflix: it’s a great equalizer. Republicans watch Fox News and Democrats watch MSNBC; young people watch Vice and old people watch 60 Minutes; everyone watches Netflix. You don’t need cable, money, or a confirmation bias. You just need a couple dollars a month and a desire for something to watch.

Which is why it’s time for them to start serving as a news source, and I think 2017 is the year we will see it. It’s not like it would be considered an untrustworthy news source: people are currently getting their news from spam websites shared by strangers on social media. If anything, Netflix becoming a news network could actually bring some reality back to the post-truth America.

Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart to Collaborate

This one was once unthinkable, but now I think it’s months away from happening. Both Stewart and Beck seem to be on introspective vision quests, two of the only American public figures seeking truths beyond the party line.  Continue reading “Let Them Eat Freedom Fries, and Ten Other Headlines to Anticipate in 2017”

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”