Something at the heart of Popular Culture died on the day that we started to accept the notion that our heroes are nothing more than “franchises.”
I hear it all the time: the STAR WARS “franchise,” the MCU “franchise,” the DOCTOR WHO “franchise” — even The Universal Monsters “franchise,” although the franchising of anything, even food, was scarcely a phenomenon back in the 1930s when Universal was first spinning its shambling, misfit anti-heroes into sequels.
But fiction, art, film and pop culture are not hamburgers, although the huge multi-national conglomerates that own everything in the twenty-first century have certainly been treating them as if they should be served with a side order of fries. Today, it’s considered simpler and more cost-effective (as it probably is) to keep artificially pumping life into an existing “property” than to create something new. There’s no profit in originality, at least not a profit that’s perceptible to their tiny little business-college trained minds.
The problem is that, inevitably nowadays, the management of a “franchise” falls into the hands of someone who would rather be doing something else, and the “property” falls into disrepair in a way that is painful for the fans.
Once upon a time, people made Entertainment. Even when Television was a meat-grinder and series producers were expected to churn out as many as thirty-eight weekly episodes a year, producers still took some pride in what they were doing, in delivering real stories about interesting characters — and when those series had run their course, as happens in the real world, the tent was folded and everyone moved on to the next Big Thing.
Characters and stories. Cycles that end. What a concept!
Fictional characters, just like living people, have a lifespan. They live, and they die. We have reached a time in the death cycle of Popular Culture when long-established characters like Batman, Spider-Man, Doctor Who and Superman have been done, and done again, and again, and again, until all that is left is ridicule and disgrace. They have long outlived their natural lifespan.
Perhaps their ethics and character become incompatible with a new generation; perhaps they exhaust the potential of their notions. The time comes for them to pass on, and join the Immortals in another realm. Those of us who love them can still hold them in our memories, and continue to enjoy their adventures in the same way that we watch old serials and read old comic books, but the window for new adventures has long been closed, though we hate to admit it.
The world of the present seems inhospitable for my dusty old heroes. Time for new adventures from a new generation of heroes — if a new generation of creators can step up to the plate and deliver fresh characters and stories worthy of our time and support. The failing here is that not much of value has come down the pike, and the only thing that young creators seem capable of is mocking the work of their betters.
And so rather than give the heroes of a more civilized world a decent burial, we are forced forever to watch their crumbling, reanimated corpses lumber across our screens in an ever more tragic state of decomposition and decay. I for one am tired of it. Let our heroes rest in peace. They have earned it.