This is the very much belated first installment in my series on sequels and repetition in pop culture. In the brief essay on the index page for this series, I said:
My basic thesis, which I’ll be examining in posts to come is this: Repetition, in the form of series, serials, remakes, and quotation of various tropes is at one and the same time the most characteristic feature of modern pop culture (all genres) and also the sign of its decadence and creative decline.
In order to do that, I’ll need to lay a bit of background, starting with this post.
In his classic book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton makes this interesting observation:
The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.
The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.
It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.
This rings true. As humans, we love repetition. As Chesterton notes, “Do it again!” is indeed the refrain, the battle cry of the young child. We adults, having “sinned and grown old”, are not nearly as capable of infinite repetition without being wearied. Still, even adults like things that are familiar and reliable. Few enough things in life are, so it is small wonder that we cling to those things the we perceive as being so. I think this is a big factor in human material and intellectual culture. Nature is as it is, and is all too mutable for our taste. When we build a building or paint a picture or sculpt statues or spin tales, we are trying, by our art, to make something permanent out of the impermanence of the cosmos we find ourselves in. Aristotle noted that poetry (by which he could be taken as meaning more or less what we call “fiction”) is more philosophical than history (“nonfiction”) because while history tells us only what happened, poetry tells us what could happen or might happen or ought to happen. In short, it gives us lasting structure in an ephemeral world.
Someone I follow on Tumblr had a post recently discussing what makes for good writing in a fan fiction context. The conclusion was “good technical skills”. The idea is that, while writers and readers of fanfic may have different criteria of what makes a fic “good” than do the gatekeepers of “mainstream” fiction, and while those differing criteria are valid, good technical skills are universal, allowing you to develop the story you want to tell and to say what you need to say. Technical skills may not be the end-all and be-all; but you have to be able to control what you’re saying if you want to get anything across to the reader. I totally agree with this.
Anyway, I reblogged and added a response dealing with an aspect of fanfic that I think isn’t often realized or understood. It occurred to me that it might be worth putting up here, too, especially since I’ve been discussing pop culture–which of course includes fanfic–in the course of writing my series “Religion, Role-playing, and Reality“. I have edited it very lightly for publication here, but it’s substantially the same as the original form. Enjoy!