If you enjoy one or more entertainment franchises, this post isn’t for you. I don’t want to be a joyless scold; berating people for liking something. So if you are excited about the latest installment in such-and-such a series, good for you! Go have fun.
This post is meant rather for a specific group of people: namely, the people who were fans of various entertainment franchises, but who are now disappointed, upset, and perhaps even downright insulted by the latest installments.
On YouTube, for example, there is a whole genre of videos which can be described as “fans mad about [Franchise]”. Some of it is political, some of it is nostalgia-based, some of it is just people who are upset that what was once a simple, straightforward story has been turned into a confusing muddle of disjointed retcons, spinoffs, and callbacks.
I have seen this pattern over and over and over and over again. With virtually any entertainment property I can think of, it eventually emerges. Sometimes it happens fast. Sometimes it takes decades. But it always happens.
Think of a creative endeavor as a living organism. It begins as something small, often as an idea in the mind of one person or maybe a few people. They work to make their vision a reality. Doing so often requires collaboration with others. This is the growth phase, where the story is maturing, acquiring everything it needs to flourish.
Eventually, it blossoms into full flower, and if it has been nurtured well, it is a beautiful thing to see.
But then comes the other half of the cycle: decay. Decay does not mean it just goes away; indeed quite often the opposite. It grows even bigger, adding new elements and components unrelated to those originally envisioned by the creators. It becomes more complex, and complexity is another form of entropy. And entropy, dear reader, is the undefeated champion.
When you complain about what is happening to your favorite fictional universe, you are arguing against the laws of Nature.
This may strike you as absurd. “There’s no law of nature governing stories!” you might say. “An intellectual property is not a living being; why should we expect it to behave as such?”
It’s a fair question. My response is simply that it always does, even if there is no obvious reason why it should.
Once you interpret the life-cycle of a franchise this way, it really does clarify a lot of things. We could even, if we were feeling Spenglerian, categorize the life of our favorite franchises in terms of the Earth’s seasons: the fertility of Spring, the growing energy of Summer, the gradual slowing down and darkening of Autumn, and finally the eerie stillness of Winter.
Viewed this way, we also can begin to see that different people will like a franchise at different points in its life-cycle. The works produced in the Spring of the franchise’s existence will appeal to very different people than those produced in the Autumn. There is no reason to believe that either is morally superior to the other. They just have different preferences.
This brings us to the question of how a franchise dies. If we model it as an organism, we have to include some terminal stage where the thing is finally just over.
The people that this post is intended for will sometimes say their franchise has “died” when it produces something they don’t like. But this is not true. If new episodes are being turned out, then it’s not dead. Simple as.
A franchise is dead when people stop following it, watching it, engaging with it, and above all, paying for it. If no one claps, Tinkerbell dies.
If there is something different about the world today, it is that franchises are living longer. To illustrate: my parents’ favorite childhood books, films, and shows were distant memories by the time they were in their 30s. Whereas all my childhood favorites are still very much going concerns.
Perhaps there are too many vintage franchises. Indeed, one might argue that some of them need to pass on in order to make fertile ground for a new crop. There is only so much talent, creativity, and money available for entertainment; and when all of it is being directed to maintaining franchises in the late Autumn stage, there is none available for nourishing new ones into a healthy Spring.
If you agree with the statement above, then the way to fix the problem is not to complain about your favorite franchise. Trust me on this. I have walked this path. It doesn’t go where you think.
Complaining that you don’t like the direction of a given franchise is implicitly saying you are a fan of said franchise. You want to consume this content! You are begging the mega-corps to make the franchise appeal to you again. In other words, you are still held in thrall!
If you want to change things, it cannot be done through criticism or complaining. You will never harangue an existing series back into whatever you want it to be. No, what you must do is transcend it, by caring about other things. New things, the seeds of new generations of stories, that are not even franchises yet.
If all of the energy directed toward complaining about this or that well-established media property were instead focused on the discussion of new and innovative stories, that are not part of any established canon…
…Well, I don’t actually know what would happen, to be honest. But I can’t help thinking it would be a lot more pleasant than what we have now.
This perfectly describes This Is Us. A marvel of a show the first season. The second season slightly less so, and then the remainder of the series was an effort to constantly top itself in the drama department. Instead of the handful of major story lines from the first season, there was an explosion of story lines. And then the final season was a race to try to close as many lines as possible.
But yes, I kept watching because I was a fan of the show and I wanted to see how all these characters and stories ended up.
Interesting, and good to know it followed that pattern.
And here I was expecting you to bring up the “Dark Tower” books… 🙂
Sigh. That’s a whole category of it’s own.
Great post, Berthold. Very thought provoking. I’m seeing a lot of complaints amongst Tolkien fans about the upcoming Amazon series, people who fear that ‘wokeism’ will ruin it and spoil the works of Tolkien. One, it seems a bit premature to me to reject a series when the only material we’ve seen so far is a Super Bowl commercial and a handful of poster images. Two, I don’t think that making a different group of dwarves black is ‘woke’.
From everything I’ve read, the producers are deliberately not making this in the style of Game of Thrones and are keeping the whole thing very PG-13 at worst. I’m going to go into it with an open mind and hopefully come away happy.
Thank you. And I think your approach is very wise; keeping an open mind and seeing what happens. 🙂
Think Daytime dramas. The story lines, actors, and settings never change, and people get enthralled. They tape the episodes while at work and watch them religiously. My wife did this for years (made me watch them too). Finally, it got boring for her too and we stopped. There are shows like ER, Gray’s Anatomy, Law and Order franchise, etc that go on forever too. Who would have thunk that The Simpson’s would still be on?
There have been shows that I really liked that didn’t last long. The original Star Trek, Firefox, come to mind. NBC didn’t kill Star Trek, the fans wouldn’t let it. It went into animated, then Next Generation, the movies. Fans can bring a good idea back to life. Side note, I complained on my FB page about everyone on Discovery whispering and I had to watch it with CC. This last season low and behold they started actually talking, maybe others felt the same.
Wow, kudos to you; I’m not sure I could take that much Daytime TV! 🙂
It’s true; fans can bring something back. Trek is a good example. Glad to hear they started speaking louder on Discovery.
It seems franchises can be divided into possibly two categories:
1. The long running TV series and its possible spin offs (Cheers- Frasier or Buffy- Angel as examples)
2. The cinema big hit, it’s further films and TV / Comic book spin offs.
You are very incisive in the ‘organic’ observation. Some do reach the end of a cycle (or should- ‘Jumping the Shark’ anyone?). While others can evolve, consider Star Wars. I wonder if anyone has copies of every film, every tv series, every book, every comic book and links to the audio book and stream versions….Wow!
My own recent experience was with the Horror-Western-Gothic mash-up Wynonna Eryp; this started out as a Comic Book. It was then picked up as TV series, one of those staffed with excellent Canadian actors given a chance to flourish with witty, complex story arcs (Like Buffy had grown up). Three series in the company plugged the plug at a cliff-hanger- the fan base was outraged; the company realised there was more money to be made…or was that bowed to fan pressure? Anyway a final series was put together wrapping everything up, ending on a high note. I have all four series on DVD and you can see Four was the best number to go out on.
Fans also need to be flexible and accept there has to be change. The studios / companies for all their sins sometimes realise the old fan base is not sufficient and if they are astute enough will craft the next step accordingly- evolution- organic.
Thanks for such a thoughtful post.
Thanks! I’m glad you liked the post. And I really should check out Wynonna Earp; you’ve mentioned it before and it sounds very cool.
Large cast of ‘Heroes and Villans’, only a very small number of the villains are true villains, the heroes are flawed and minor characters grow in stature. Recommended.
Interesting post. There was a time I just couldn’t miss an episode of ER, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order:SVU (the one in that franchise I stuck with the longest) until I got to the point of feeling they were literally sucking the joy out of life!
These days, while I still enjoy some franchises, like Star Wars, its a case of take some and leave others that just don’t do it for me, and I don’t spend time bemoaning why it can’t be better.
Much as I love Tolkien, I know for a fact I will not be watching Amazon’s TRoP, and I’ve already said my piece on that. Knowing, among other things, that they’ve rewritten the character of Galadriel, making her a literal warrior woman leaves me with absolutely no desire to watch any of it.
However, I am really looking forward to the upcoming animated film ‘The War of the Rohirrim’ which focusses on Helm Hammerhand 😊
Oh, cool! The Rohirrim are the best. 🙂 That sounds like it should be a good show.