History. Nostalgia. Cult. Niche. Popular. Public domain. Forgotten.
Recently I had a conversation with my father about the heroes and stories that are popular today versus the ones that are forgotten. We went on to debate who is at fault for this. Is it the creator or the consumer? I’m still not sure of the answer and would like to work through my thoughts and maybe inspire conversation about it.
The inspiration for the 1983 project was to discover what has already been forgotten from just over 35 years ago. I have a year in mind for a 2020 project and in 2021 I’m already debating looking at forgotten media from just ten years before if not more recent. Due to the immediacy that is consumerism and capitalism we are all conditioned to absorb what is thrown in front of us and move on to the next piece. We discover something new the same way a shark eats. Constantly swimming to the next piece, bite, move on to the next one without thought or enjoyment of what was just had mere moments ago. Every so often a big popular opportunity shows up like Avengers or a dead whale, inspiring a frenzy of everyone in on the same thing only to be forgotten about the next day when it’s all over.
My father asked me how a kid today would ever discover Ivanhoe or the Odyssey. How about the Three Musketeers or the Scarlet Pimpernel (sub note, arguably the first masked hero in history)? I countered that we don’t even have to go that back in history. How about Mickey Mouse? Mickey turns 90 years old this year and I know that because there are scores of merchandise sitting on shelves. Sitting, unsold, because no kid knows who the hell Mickey Mouse is or cares. The last time Mickey Mouse was on theater screens in any memorable form was Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988. At least Bugs Bunny had Space Jam in ’96.
So who is at fault? Are the kids so busy learning common core that they don’t have time for Homer? Should the teachers not be teaching for the state test and instead work in some King Arthur and Robin Hood? Or is it the media’s fault for not putting these stories out there in any form a new audience would be interested in?
I’m choosing to blame the companies. Both the ones that exist and the ones that are dead as these heroes. The fault is two fold: zero production and zero discovery.
Netflix, Amazon, and so many other streaming companies are producing massive amounts of new works. Every day there is a new movie, series, etc. that the world obsesses over. Most of these are completely owned by these companies. It makes financial sense, make a movie that they can own forever and they never have to renegotiate the rights or pay a percentage to anyone else. It’s why the Marvel shows on Netflix have been all but cancelled and rumors abound that they will migrate over to a Disney owned service within the next few years. Why would Netflix pay Marvel/Disney when they can instead create something they own entirely? No 21st century conglomerate would own characters over a hundred years old. Netflix could make the most amazing Iliad movie but every other company can print the books, put quotes on shirts, and have their own lesser version available on DVD for $5 at Walmart. Why share the Homer market when they can own the Orange is the New Black market? It makes business sense to only put out content that can yield the most returns.
On the other side though, it also makes sense to give the market what it wants. If the market suddenly wants to rediscover the epic tales of history, they will be available in every big box store across the country overnight. The Watchmen is the biggest selling graphic novel in history, yet could not be found outside of a comic store until the movie hit. Then this same book was available 30% off at every Walmart and Target across the country. If Netflix announces today that they will start a Shakespeare shared universe of movies, the Twelfth Night will be next to the magazines at Walmart tomorrow.
The real detriment though comes from the death of not just stores, but the experience of those stores. Years ago I loved working in a now dead bookstore chain. It thrilled me to have people come in week after week, asking me for suggestions because they loved the last thing I showed them. I was a drug dealer for words and pictures. The book stores, the comic stores, the record stores, all of them had a sense of community. Shoppers come in, talk to employees who are there to help the customer first. Not fill online orders, not sell credit cards, not lie and fudge whatever it takes to fill certain quotas and algorithms. Help. The. Customers. That’s how so many of us a certain age and older discovered a world of entertainment. The employees at these stores were curators of their product and took pride in it. There was no gate-keeping. There was enjoyment of sharing a thing you loved with a new fan then creating a repeat customer who would become a highlight of the day.
Yes, the streaming services will give suggestions based on what you’ve already enjoyed. But, they put their in house content first and are also limited to what they currently have rights to play. When I get done watching Daredevil on Netflix it does not suggest a super hero show on Hulu or to buy a DVD on Amazon. It might suggest I watch the X-Men cartoon next, but they haven’t had the rights to that show in years.
Whereas, when there were local book and media shops in every city, I could walk in and buy anything from any company. Publisher and year be damned. It was there. If it wasn’t there, they would immediately offer to get it for me. Hey Netflix, when are you going to have Night Court? I asked this question years ago. Still waiting for an answer.
But I had employees at stores see my interest in comics and steer me towards heroes in classic literature. To see an interest in 80s glam rock and put 60s and 70s music on. I want to use this site as your local store. Hey, I have interests in these things and would like to expose you to them as well. Sometimes we’ll talk about the familiar. Sometimes its brand new. Either way it’s a good time.
I think other bloggers, those of us still plugging away, need to be gate openers instead of gate keepers. Share all that is cool out there. Take readers down the rabbit hole. I’m ready to pick up some of the classics today, maybe one reader out there will do the same. Then we find out about a concept album, a movie, something epic that puts the entire heroic journey out there for all of us to enjoy.
Or we can risk all of it becoming forgotten like Oswald the Lucky Rabbit or Gilgamesh. Who? Exactly.