Thursday, August 9, 2012

Article: Remakes as Modern Folklore

The New Gods

Io9 had an article a few days ago that builds off of one of my deeply head beliefs. I think that pop culture is the new modern myth. We have heroes whom we emulate (Iron Man, Buffy, Claudia Donovan). We follow their stories and retell them in our own ways (blogs, gifs, fanfiction). We try and share them with our friends and pass them on to the next generation.

Io9 goes even further to say that remakes are actually a good thing: they are the perpetuation of modern folklore. After discussing the nature of folklore, they make an interesting point:

"Originality is a Myth
 If you look at remakes and reboots in the context of how most people enjoyed stories for thousands of years, it's easy to see that they are a natural part of human storytelling. When we hear a good story, we long to retell it in a slightly different way. Historically, people might have heard different people performing the same folk tales and songs over and over again in their lives. What made these stories entertaining was hearing the familiar tales tweaked slightly. The fun was in the variants. But it was also in hearing the story again.
The idea that "originality" is what makes stories good is actually a twentieth century idea propagated by a bunch of radical artists and thinkers who called themselves Modernists. They wanted to jettison what they considered the superstitious, narrow-minded thinking of people who loved folklore. So they embraced art and narrative that valued weirdness and novelty over storytelling. Novelists like James Joyce and William Faulkner wrote deliberately difficult stories that tried to express ideas about human experience too complex for oral traditions.
Philosophers like Theodor Adorno praised Modernism for refusing to use the tropes of pop culture that make a story easy to follow. Decades later, punk and indie rock embraced Modernist values too, scorning pop music as unoriginal. Even today, many of us are taught the Modernist perspective in school, and wind up believing that what makes a story "good" is originality."
Our society is obsessed with new ideas and originality, but sometimes the old ideas stick around for a reason. They are the story of our culture, the values we believe in, the patterns that we follow, the path we wish to take. They keep appearing again and again because they serve as an inspiration to us, as a way we look at the world, as a model of what should be. Each remake changes the story to make a statement about the current times, so the same story that spoke to us in each age adds a little spice to speak to the issues facing the next generation.
"Why Remakes Are Good
While there's no denying that Modernist stories can be fascinating and beautiful, that doesn't make them better than folklore. In fact, when it comes to storytelling, one could argue that folklore has had a much more profound influence on civilization than Modernism. We've been telling and retelling stories for thousands of years. We enjoy seeing remakes of our favorite stories because there is pleasure in seeing a twist on a beloved story. But this isn't just about enjoyment. It's also about how we learn. By sharing stories, we explain to each other how we see the world, as well as how we define good and evil (after all, folklore usually has a hero and a Big Bad).
By retelling stories as variants, we do something profoundly important. We show how our views of the world change over time. We reveal that our definitions of good and evil aren't fixed; they can change to reflect new information. If you don't believe me, just compare the novel Dracula to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh yes, both are variants on the same story, about vampires from another world invading a nice city. Both are about gangs of vampire hunters who track down and kill the vamps... In Dracula, the vampires are unambiguously evil, grotesque Eastern European monsters who want to steal our women and have no place in London. But in Buffy, you can see that our relationship to the vamps, those "others," has become a lot more complicated. Some vamps are good. Some humans are evil. Women aren't there to be "stolen" by anybody.
Unlike "original" stories, which remain frozen in the amber of history, folk tales are alive. They change with us, and pass along new stories about our evolving civilization. Every variant, no matter how bad, is a sign that our stories are still vital. And if you don't like this remake or reboot — well, there will always be another. Maybe you'll make it yourself."
This is why I get so excited when I see fairy tales and myth emerge in popular culture. They are the most ancient stories speaking to people today.


  1. I know what you mean, especially in the last two lines. c:

    1. Thanks! I love your post about the community story telling aspect of it!