I get reminded in weird ways how old I am, sometimes. For instance, there was a discussion happening between some of my online acquaintances about Star Wars, specifically about the original movies (where young Luke Skywalker is the protagonist). I made a comment about what a freak I was considered to be by classmates because I had seen the show more than 13 times. And the comment made no sense to the people in the discussion.
So I had to explain that I was talking about when it first came out, and was only available in theatres. This was in 1977, when I was a teenager. Worse than that, it didn’t play in any of the theatres in the smallish town where I lived until about four or five months after it first came out. The closest place that had a big screen and a decent sound system where the movie was playing was more than an hour drive away—not only not in the same town were I lived, but not in the same state!
When you’re a high school student you don’t have a lot of disposable income, so the gas money and cost of tickets wasn’t a trivial expense. I carpooled (either using my old beater car or letting one of my friends drive) twelve times over the course of the first summer the film was out in order to see it. And then in the fall I went once to the truly crappy local theatre that finally got it, dragging a few friends I had never been able to talk into taking the longer trip.
Also at that time period, while home VCRs technically existed, they cost thousands of dollars and were huge, heavy things. Video rental stores didn’t become a common type of business for a few more years, when the technology got a little cheaper. And even then, the players were expensive enough that many people would rent both some movies and a machine from the store in order to have a movie night at home.
Cable television existed only in cities and larger towns. When cable first came to our small town, I was 19 or 20 years old, and it consisted of 15 regular channels, plus the premium channels of HBO or Showtime (Cinemax, Stars, and the like didn’t exist, yet). I write “or” because while very few people I knew had cable at all, most of those who did had only the 15 basic channels, and no one splurged on more than one movie channel. No one.
And, of course, DVDs literally didn’t exist, yet. Let alone the internet.
I had to wait three years before The Empire Strikes Back came out—by which time I was a freshmen in college. Then another three years after that before any of us got to see Return of the Jedi.
I saw all three of those movies, during their respective opening weeks, in the same big theatre in Beaverton, Oregon. It was like a religious pilgrimage for me, by then. I’d been hooked at 17 years old, and the passion still burned with the intensity of a billion suns when I was 23.
This is one of the reasons that, when I hear some of my friends complaining about how many months it will be before the new season of My Little Pony comes out, I don’t always give them as much sympathy as I probably ought.
On the other hand, I’m just as bad. The last episode of Justified season five aired eight months ago, in April, and I’ve been dying while waiting for season six to begin… which it will in January 2015. That’s less than 30 days from now. Inside, 23-year-old me is laughing so very hard at current me because I’m agonizing over having to wait merely months for the next chapter in a saga. And this is hardly the only series or movie that I have such lamentations about.
So, while part of me rolls my eyes at younger fans, another part of me is rolling my eyes at me, too.
Of course, we should remember that 173 years ago, back in 1841, people are said to have lined up for blocks in London waiting for a new edition of a weekly magazine called Master Humphrey’s Clock so they could read the next chapter of Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop. Even more fun were the stories of people meeting English travelers disembarking from ocean liners in New York at the time, to ask whether Little Nell lived, since American publication of the stories was several weeks behind the British chapters.
As they say, times change, but human nature doesn’t.
But nothing I have every concocted is one-billionth as elaborate or labyrinthine as the puzzles supposedly concocted by various historical figures in order to hide treasures, warn future generations of impending doom, explain to allies how to defeat evil forces, and so forth as chronicled in the typical suspense/thriller/historical mystery: A strange epitaph carved onto an old tombstone leads to a cryptic phrase engraved on the wall of an old building, which points to the hiding place of an old family Bible, which has more cryptic phrases hidden in invisible ink on certain pages, which leads to the map that can only be seen by finding six antique objects and arranging them in a specific formation, which shows the location of a hidden crypt, which is accessed by recognizing an obscure symbol on a brick, which leads to another hidden map, which points the way to another part of the old family Bible where another cryptic clue is hidden in almost random looking dots on the edge of a page, which shows the location of a hidden room under an old church… Read More…
I watched a teaser for a movie I’m looking forward to seeing later this year, and accidentally got sucked into the comments.
As a rule, I try to ignore comments on the internet. Wiser people than I have written extensively about why some of the worst humanity has to offer seems to congregate in the comments sections of articles and the like. Sometimes, on some sites, you can’t help be see at least the first few comments while you’re looking at the actual content.
This comments section began with someone writing a long rant about how the movie, and previous entries in the related franchise, were not original. They had borrowed this element for an older series, and that element for an older movie, and so on and so forth.
Except, of course, none of the things he cited had been original in their use of those elements, either.
Humans have been telling each other stories, constructing various finds of flights of fancy, for tens of thousands of years. Every twist of plot has been thought of, in some form, thousands of times before, for instance. Technology and cultural changes allow some of the details and contexts to change, but in some ways only on the surface. If you abstract any idea out far enough, it becomes a trope or cliché that’s been around for ages.
Which doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible to distinguish between a genuine effort to tell a story that is yours, and a lazy copy of someone else. But it does mean that pointing out some element or bit of a story “has been done before” isn’t saying anything terrible profound.
And certainly not original.