GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
When I was growing up during the 1980s and early 1990s there was very little in the way of genre television. Unless your family was well-off enough to afford Sky or its poorer cousin BSB, you were stuck with four channels which routinely gave priority to sports coverage, meaning that aside from the occasional movie broadcast SFF fans were limited to Doctor Who (which was canned in 1989), Red Dwarf (which was primarily a sitcom), Star Trek: The Next Generation (which the UK didn’t receive until 1990, three years after its US premiere) and, eventually, Twin Peaks. There were occasional syndication runs of dated 1960s shows like Lost in Space and Buck Rogers, of course, and eventually Channel Four started haphazardly broadcasting Babylon 5 – so haphazardly, in fact, that it’s a wonder the show managed to gather a following at all - but in the main those four franchises were all that we had, and we guarded them jealously.
These days things are very, very different indeed. Most people on a reasonable income have access to Netflix, Amazon Video or cable and satellite television; for those that can’t afford these, there are still a lot of genre shows broadcasting on Freeview channels (certainly a lot more than during my childhood). Science fiction, fantasy and horror fans, for the most part, are spoiled for choice – so why do fans find it so difficult to let go of franchises that no longer appeal to them and move on to something new? Why do we feel this automatic sense of propriety and ownership towards properties which owe us neither? Why do we complain and moan, often incessantly*, about shows, movies, comics and so on that have disappointed us rather than simply letting things go?
I was reminded of this habit of ours by two entirely separate moments this month. The first was taking part in a recent episode of the Pubcast over in Ireland, having travelled there for an extended weekend to visit friends and catch Alien Covenant on the big screen**. At the risk of spoiling the podcast, my fiancée and I were the only members of the group who enjoyed the film and the others were practically offended by it. It was this bitter disappointment which led one of their number to proclaim that the Alien movies were dead and that they either needed to be abandoned or handed over to another director. Similar sentiments have resurfaced in my feeds today, following the claim by one news site that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be returning for another Terminator film despite recent reports that the franchise was done.
The second moment was a few days ago, as my fiancée, our roommate and I finished watching Twin Peaks in anticipation of the show’s return this week. For our roommate it was just one of many rewatches – she’s been a huge fan since it was originally broadcast - but for Samantha and I it was a first-time thing. Samantha, being a fan of the macabre, the obscure and the surreal, absolutely loved the show; I on the other hand, despite having been told by dozens of people over the years that the show was nothing short of a masterpiece, found it found it confusing and irritating at best and dull at worst. As we talked about the show over the end credits I found myself ranting about super-powered, middle-aged cheerleaders and souls trapped in drawer knobs, prompting our roommate – who frankly has the patience of a saint – to ask what I was so angry about. The only conclusion I could come to was that I was annoyed that Twin Peaks, which sounded from descriptions like it would very much be my sort of thing, was absolutely not for me – and that, upon reflection, made me feel like a privileged arse.
Of course, not everything is going to appeal to me, and nor should it. I don’t have a right for every piece of entertainment to be made according to my whims and expectations, irrespective of whether it’s a 30-year-old franchise that I grew up with, a cult series that I missed the first time around or something brand new and unexplored. I have a right to vote with my feet and my wallet, of course, but that’s just about where my rights end when it comes to the entertainment that I consume. It should be easier, therefore, to walk away from properties that don’t or no longer appeal to me, and yet I still have to make a conscious effort to do so, and not to widdle over the cornflakes of the people who that entertainment does appeal to.
The truth is that franchises like Alien, The Terminator and even Doctor Who keep getting (re)made because they get watched and because they make money. They are being made in a modern way to appeal to a modern audience younger than you or me, and therefore aren’t for us. If we watch them and enjoy them, great, but it’s not important for everybody to like everything. Rather than getting angry about these things, ranting on the internet or demanding that they get changed we should all take a deep breath, walk away and move on to the next thing on our “to be watched” pile. Who knows? We might just find the next thing that’s for us.
* If you think this is an unfair observation, try telling a middle-aged Star Wars fan that The Phantom Menace is the best of the films and see what happens.
** Possibly the most expensive cinema trip I’ve ever made.