On “remake culture” and our propensity towards the past and the way that Revelation can bring us forward.
Between reboots and remakes and franchises of Ghostbusters, Power Rangers, Edge of Tomorrow, Jurassic Park, Star Trek, Fuller House, Gilmore Girls on Netflix, Star Wars, etc., Hollywood seems to be getting a little stale. Instead of letting ideas go, Netflix saves series that might deserve to die (Arrested Development). Many critics lament the dearth of new ideas in Hollywood as the end of good story telling. Good movies are turned into franchises and “cinematic universes”, meaning that movie producers can continue to produce sequels and related films without the fear of backlash: they’ll be successful because this is a Marvel film, right! Right? Critics bashed Star Wars: The Force Awakens for being a beat by beat remake of A New Hope. We’re tired: bring us into a new horizon, a new adventure, a new way of looking at the world, please!!
Many of these movies, too, are filled with constant winks and nods at the source material as if to say, “You remember that this is a remake, right? Here are your favorite parts, again!” Most of the time these nods fall on deaf ears. Sure, we loved it when Michelle said, “You got it, dude!” but I think most of us rolled our eyes when drunken Stephanie, DJ, and Kimmy yelled “you got it, dude!” into Michelle’s answering machine after a bachelorette party. We get it, we seem to say, we love those, too. But dang it, we loved them on our terms. Not you’re capitalizing on these phrases we loved so you can share them in a trailer or a commercial. They were special at a time, before you knew they were special. Writers seem to reintroduce phrases for a cheap laugh, a cheap emotional connection, a cheap way to pad a script.
But we are full of contradictions as humans. And, wouldn’t you know it, as movie critics. Unique ideas, like Jupiter Ascending, become box office flops (not to say that every unique idea should be rewarded with box office success!). We simply do not support unique stories: I wonder how many people gave Jupiter Ascending a chance. Now, I do acknowledge that I had to choose a pretty bad example, but my point still stands. As we beg for new adventures, we don’t choose to view those who don’t take us anywhere special.
Not only that, but we continually go back to old music, old TV shows, and old books again and again. Recently, a friend shared a ton of “nostalgic” videos, mainly theme songs from old cartoons and public access TV shows. At work we discussed our favorite Disney Channel Original movies, recalling our favorite lines and struggling to remember the names of different movies. We reveled in our nostalgia, getting more joy out of our memories of Power Rangers than we did out of the idea of Rita Repulsa’s new costume. Nostalgia is a powerful force, but it can only bring us so far before it runs out of steam.
This contradiction runs deep inside of us: we’re tired of the same old stories, rebooted again and again, and we’re tired of our nostalgia being commmercialized; but at the same time we don’t support original stories, and we constantly look back to our childhoods as a means to escape our current life circumstances. The conversations about our favorite shows from our childhood turned into a discussion about their pitfalls, their failures, where they did not stand the test of time, and the places that we wished they would have changed. Original stories are boring, or uninspired, or simply ignored at the box office.
How is this tension resolved?
I think we find our resolution in the book of Revelation. Not only does it capitalize on telling new stories, a story that we can get behind because it tells the story of the victory of the Son of David, and of the victory of the Father who makes us sons, but it utilizes the past in a way that points us to the future hope of the Second Coming of the Christ.
The Book of Revelation tells us an old story, but it shows us the old story’s progression toward the end of all things, the final consummation of the kingdom of Christ. The story is an old one: the Davidic King faces the beast from the Sea to claim his throne; the Seed of the Woman faces the Seed of the Serpent; the Son comes into the world to build a temple and to win his bride; etc. All of the familiar aspects of the stories we love in the Bible find themselves in the themes and grand tapestry of Revelation. Revelation is a blend of stories we already knew, and share on our Facebook wall to relive our childhoods, but it doesn’t leave them there. Revelation takes the unfinished aspects of those stories, the places those stories were stuck, and brings them forward.
Familiar tags and catchphrases are used throughout the piece. John quotes from or alludes to every book in the Bible in his vision to bring to mind some of our favorite lines. We’re reminded that we are a kingdom of priests and kings; we’re reminded that we are God’s people; we’re reminded that the tree of life exists and will be made open for those in the true Adam. But we’re not re-living these memories for the sake of a punchline or a cheap attempt to touch our emotive sides. These phrases are woven together in different and new orders to paint new pictures of the world in terms that we already understand and already treasure.
Not only that, but Revelation brings the best parts of the stories we love, the phrases we treasure, and brings them forward. No longer “trapped” in the past, Revelation taps into our nostalgia to bring us to desire something bigger: the kingdom of Christ and his resurrected saints. Rather than being stuck in our past and holding on to the fleeting distraction of nostalgia, Revelation brings us forward to the final resurrection and a final picture of beauty.
Revelation says, I know what you love and what you love to hear. Jesus is not content with telling us the same old stories for the sake of making a quick buck. Jesus is not content with repeating himself for the sake of a cheap emotional response. No, Jesus is telling and showing John a new story, one that he knew and lived in, and said: You don’t need to live in the staleness of the stories around you. The story of Empire, and of reboots and remakes, is passing away. The story of the fresh newness of God’s resurrection is here to tell us a new story, a better story. A story we know, but don’t know. A story we have followed, but a story we’ll experience as it moves to completion.