October 10, 2004

What's the story? - Predictable Patterns in Popular Culture

It seems to me that more and more games out there are depending upon cliché plot devices to "sell, sell, sell," a lot like the conventions that dominate popular fiction in books and other media.

After commenting on Rachel's blog entry about story-driven video games, I realized just how annoyed I truly am by the amount of repetition that is found in games and other forms of media in our world today.

It seems like the media is depending more and more upon new sequels and/or prequels, in order to carry the public's interest in one product of media over to others.

A good example of what I mean... think about all of the old horror films that have been reproduced or had their plotlines extended in recent years: Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator, Frankenstein (soon to be reproduced on the SciFi channel), The Exorcist... All of these and more are being picked up by filming companies that know their "new" films will rake in a lot of money simply because they have titles and characters that the public is already familiar with. It's almost like they don't have to put any real effort into making the plots fresh and interesting, because they will profit from the movies regardless.

Another genre of the media that really gets overdone nowadays is the whole reality TV bit. I still remember when The Bachelor first aired; it was almost revolutionary, and because it became so widely popular, plenty of spin-offs were soon created to reap the "public soil." The Bachelorette, Joe Millionaire, and other similar shows have since been given prime positions in TV programming. The original Survivor is another good example of how these producers are recycling story ideas; there have been numerous repeats which are simply played out in different settings with different people involved. Other shows, such as those "home remodeling/makeover" or "wife/spouse swapping" ones have also received the same treatment.

Perhaps the worst part is that these popular media reproductions can lead to profits through trends that make those lazy producers even more wealthy.

On the Drexel Grapevine Antiques website, the following statement is made with regards to popular culture:

"One thing I have noticed, is that publicity in the popular media can lead to trends. Items featured in Southern Living, Martha Stewart Living, Country Living, and other magazines, as well as TV programs such as Personal FX or the Antiques Roadshow, can lead to collecting trends."

So, in other words, the "popular media" is affecting even things such as antiques, giving the people who simply redo what has already been done the chance to make more and more money.

In my Popular Fiction course here at Seton Hill University, something that we discussed on the very first day of class is that publishers often ask authors to "write more of the same material, only different," in order to sell more books. Basically, this means that authors are encouraged to conform to the popular opinion's whims rather than express individual inventions in plot and theme.

Honestly, I feel that all of these things are leaving the public "in the dark," so to speak, because we are being force-fed the same material everywhere, everyday, and the day when life itself is routine may not be too far off. We need to find a way to break free of all of these conventions and encourage growth in our culture, not allow it to sink into a cycle of recycling.

Posted by ChrisU at October 10, 2004 10:47 PM

Force-fed or is this what the general public wants? Something predictable, that gives an inrinsic sense of security and control. Although I agree that this is not necessarily a "good" thing, I feel as though this is not force-feeding if it sells and sells in mass quantities.

This could be an indication of a society that stigmatizes deep thinking. Or it could be an indication that the companies of this "free-pressed," capitalistic society are giving the consumers what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear... and all for the purpose of becoming filthy rich. Thank you for a thought-provoking blog entry.

Posted by: Evan at October 14, 2004 06:50 PM
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