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.