Episode 21: Transcript
Our Opinions Are Correct Episode 21
Transcribed by: Keffy
Annalee: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about science fiction. I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:09] I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who thinks a lot about science.
Annalee: [00:00:12] And our guest today is Katharine Trendacosta who we know from way back—
Charlie Jane: [00:00:17] Yay!
Annalee: [00:00:17] —at iO9 when she started out as some lowly position, worked her way all the way up to managing editor. So she was—
Katharine: [00:00:24] I was the last set of interns, I think.
Annalee: [00:00:26] Yeah, from intern to managing editor.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:29] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:00:29] So, she’s like basically a superhero.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:31] Rock star.
Annalee: [00:00:32] And now she’s working at our friend the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a policy analyst with her law brain.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:39] Mm-hmm.
Annalee: [00:00:39] So, but she’s going to be here in her capacity as a cultural critic and what we’re talking about today is nostalgia in science fiction. What is it? Why do we keep doing remakes? Why it’s kind of a problem and also how our nostalgia science fiction and past times is shaping the future of this genre.
[00:01:00] So, we will be talking about all of that and also this is your reminder that we have a Patreon.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:10] Woo!
Annalee: [00:01:10] Our Opinions Are Correct has almost reached halfway to our goal, which is just to pay for making this darn show because we love you. And so, if you want to support us, that would be fantastic. All you have to do is give us a dollar or give us some pressed gold latinum, we’d really appreciate it.
[00:01:26] All right. Here we go. Is your nostalgia garbage, or is it great?
[00:01:29] Intro music plays: Drums with a bass drop and more science fictional bells and percussion.
Annalee: [00:01:56] Thanks for being on the show Katharine.
Katharine: [00:01:58] Oh, thanks for having me.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:58] It’s so good to have you here.
Annalee: [00:02:00] Yeah, it’s nice to be able to have this important conversation with you about nostalgia. So, basically when we talk about nostalgia in science fiction, we mean a lot of different things. Like, one thing we can mean is people being super invested in shows they watched as kids. So, it can be my obsession with Star Trek or someone else’s obsession with Harry Potter. Or, it can be science fiction which is itself kind of nostalgic for a previous era of science fiction. So, kind of “golden age” science fiction being made in the present. And there’s a lot of other permutations and we’re going to talk about all of that today. But, I want to throw it out to you guys, to you, Charlie and Katharine, to tell us a little bit about the most obvious kind of nostalgia that we’re dealing with right now which is reboots and sequels. So, what the fuck is a reboot? What the fuck is a sequel? What the hell is happening? Tell us more.
Katharine: [00:02:57] Uh.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:57] Yeah. Um.
Annalee: [00:02:58] Like, you’re—I can see, both of you kind of got this thousand yard stare.
Katharine: [00:03:03] Well, my like, law brain kicked in and the whole thing about like, because the way we’re seeing it right now, really, is like a capitalization on a whole large generation that is now adults with disposable income by corporations who own IPs and therefore don’t have to pay for the generation of new things. And don’t have to think too hard about whether this is going to capture interest. Like that’s—
Annalee: [00:03:26] What are you subtweeting here? Are you subtweeting Star Wars? Are you—
Katharine: [00:03:29] I’m subtweeting. Well, Disney in general—
Annalee: [00:03:31] Okay.
Katharine: [00:03:32] Just has been buying IP, right? They bought Star Wars and they bought Marvel, and they’ve been rebooting their own IP, like the nightmare that is, to my mind, even though it has a great cast, the idea of a—and it’s not live action, it’s CGI. But, doing The Lion King shot for shot the same but just in CGI.
Annalee: [00:03:48] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:03:50] Right?
Katharine: [00:03:50] Is not a—it’s because I was a kid when that came out and now I’m 30 and we have money and we’re gonna go.
Annalee: [00:03:55] And you want to—and for some reason you want to see the lion’s hair look really realistic.
Katharine: [00:04:01] And Beyoncé plays a character that doesn’t sing, like… it’s—
Annalee: [00:04:03] Yeah, what is that?
Katharine: [00:04:03] Clearly… they must have like, inserted a song, but like that’s a—that is the commercialized nostalgia that we’re seeing—
Charlie Jane: [00:04:10] Right.
Katharine: [00:04:10] Which is a very lazy form, where—
Annalee: [00:04:13] And that’s the reboot.
Katharine: [00:04:14] That’s the reboot form of this kind of nostalgia.
Charlie Jane: [00:04:17] Yeah, and the thing that’s interesting in pop culture right now versus—like, ten years ago on iO9, we were kind of like ranting against sequels and remakes and reboots and things. The thing that’s really new and different now is that it’s not just enough to bring back the old IP. Everything has to come back. There has to be like, you have to get Harrison Ford to come back and play every role he’s ever played. Like, any part that Harrison Ford played—
Annalee: [00:04:41] Or just CG him in there.
Charlie Jane: [00:04:41] —at the start of his career, he has to come back and play that role again. You know, the Star Wars movies have to bring back all the old actors.
Katharine: [00:04:48] And do the weird CGI—
Charlie Jane: [00:04:48] Jamie Lee Curtis has to come back to Halloween. Yeah. And like, all of that. You know, the new Terminator movie is gonna have Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger just to make sure that it’s got enough ties. And you’ve gotta have, like, constant shout outs to old things. You’ve got to have like, constant Easter eggs and constant, like, Star Trek Discovery had to have Harry Mudd. It had to have all these little kind of nods.
Katharine: [00:05:09] Dark Harry Mudd. Dark, murderous Harry Mudd.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:13] I know… And it’s—
Annalee: [00:05:15] With time travel!
Charlie Jane: [00:05:15] —because the audience is so fragmented, there’s so many entertainment options in 2018. There’s so many things that we can all be watching that in order to hook an audience, you have to really pander to them. You can’t just slightly pander to an audience anymore, you have to just like full on pander with like both barrels loaded with like just shout outs—
Annalee: [00:05:36] With pandersauce.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:37] —and Easter eggs and crap.
Katharine: [00:05:37] You’ve also got the circular thing where the people writing this stuff now were the fans when they were kids and this stuff is still popular. Like, the thing George Lucas had to do with Star Wars is that no one wanted to make sci-fi serials anymore so he had to make his own. Like, no one would give him the rights to remake a thing, so that’s why—
Charlie Jane: [00:05:54] He wanted to do Flash Gordon.
Katharine: [00:05:54] He wanted to do Flash Gordon. That’s what I couldn’t remember. It’s like, it’s not Buckaroo Bonzai, why can’t I remember which one it is.
Annalee: [00:05:59] It’s not Buck Rogers.
Katharine: [00:06:00] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:00] Yeah.
Katharine: [00:06:02] Yeah, he couldn’t make Flash Gordon. He couldn’t, so he reinterpreted and used it as a jumping-off point. But the people who were fans of Star Wars—Star Wars is still going. Disney will hire you to just do Star Wars.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:15] Right. Right right right.
Katharine: [00:06:16] And that’s not a bad thing, right, to have fans doing it. Like, that can be a good thing. But it doesn’t incentivize Disney to give money to other people. And when we live in a world where everything has to be a giant tent pole and there are no mid-level films supported by studios and science fiction in particular tends to need a budget more than say if you wanted to do an indie rom-com—
Charlie Jane: [00:06:40] Right?
Katharine: [00:06:40] Then, this is the problem. This is what we run into.
Annalee: [00:06:42] I want to intervene into this trashing of Disney and Star Wars for a minute.
Katharine: [00:06:45] It’s been fine.
Annalee: [00:06:45] It has—no, it’s fully deserved. But the thing that’s interesting with Star Wars right now if we discount the horrible travesty that was Solo, is that it’s not rebooting. It’s sequels. Right, I mean, there is rebooting, and there’s all these, it’s like, we have to have another spherical object in space and all that kind of thing, but we’re seeing new characters, it’s a new generation, and we’re getting a new generation of people involved. Like Rian Johnson, for example, who did come out of an indie film background. And so, it’s—when you’re saying, well, they aren’t incentivized to give money to people who are doing new stuff, it’s like, well… Rian Johnson did something that was original enough that it got people pissed. Or it like, it got Russian bots pissed, or whatever.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:29] Right.
Katharine: [00:07:29] Right.
Annalee: [00:07:29] You know, so I think that, to me, is kind of where it’s interesting to kind of tease out the difference between a reboot, which is kind of slavishly recreating the original. Like the way J.J. Abrams has doen with Star Trek, versus a reboot which is trying to reimagine a beloved universe. I’m not saying that it succeeds. I’m not saying that that’s a great thing. But I do think there’s a difference and this also gets me to the important point about Harry Potter.
Katharine: [00:07:58] Ugh. Well, I wanted to say something really quick about Star Wars because I am your requisite like, fan of the old EU. And I think, I’m going to start this off with saying that generally speaking, despite, like, what people seem to think my opinion is, I think most things are fine. Like, they’re fine. They’re not—the problem with the internet generally is that everything has to be high drama. Has to be the best thing ever or the worst thing.
Annalee: [00:08:18] Yeah, the best or the most horrible, yeah.
Katharine: [00:08:20] Whereas most things are fine. Like, I actually think Solo was fine. Like, I have no memory of seeing it, but I wasn’t mad.
Annalee: [00:08:26] I just… actually, I felt like there were some. There were missed opportunities.
Katharine: [00:08:30] There were missed opportunities, but like, all-in-all it was fine.
Annalee: [00:08:32] It should have been Lando. I’m like, Team Lando.
Katharine: [00:08:34] And like, I think that’s generally the rule with Star Wars recently. They’ve all been fine. And Rian Johnson did something unique and different. I actually was talking with someone about the old EU was real weird. Like, people did some weird things in the universe of Star Wars and when you know that, you really can sort of see the flatness in the sort of Disney Star Wars. Again, all fine. Like, the average quality? Probably higher. The quality of the old EU was… had real highs and lows, but it was always weird and people were trying to do interesting things in that universe whereas Disney seems to have given people lists of things that are acceptable and not acceptable in a much more restrictive way. And, again, it’s fine. It’s all fine. I like seeing new Star Wars. It’s fine. But there really is a difference between like the experimental days when George Lucas didn’t care. Like, he would nix certain things. Like there were some things that you were not allowed to do. But like, you know, you’ve got Jedi in droid bodies, and like, you’ve got a lot of really strange things. And that’s sort of less what you see. And in fact, you sort of often see Disney really scared of that kind of, or not ex—like, Rian Johnson’s the only one who successfully finished a movie that he was hired to make with an indie background.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:48] Yeah, that’s true.
Annalee: [00:09:50] That is true.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:50] It’s interesting. I mean, what you’re saying about Star Wars could equally be true of Star Trek. It could equally be true of Doctor Who. There was a period where the Star Trek novels were incredibly weird and incredibly experimental. The Star Trek comics, a lot of the Star Trek tie-in media. During that era when either—before the Next Generation came along, or during there was a lot of Star Trek TV on the air but the books were just kind of doing their own thing. There was a lot of really weird experimentation in Star Trek novels, especially in the ‘80s, I think. And then, the Doctor Who novels in the ‘90s were also doing—and the Big Finish audio dramas were doing some really just kind of bizarre things. Especially those novels, and like, I think that part of that is that there was a period when a lot of these franchises were kind of lying fallow, when there wasn’t as much official product or new movies or new fancy stuff. The people who owned the IP were just kind of not paying as much attention.
But I think that part of the kind of pandering that we’re seeing now is that it’s not just going to be more Star Wars or more Star Trek or more whatever. It’s going to have the elements that you remember from when you were a kid. It’s going to have them the way you remember them to some extent. It’s going to give you that thing again. It’s going to bring back Luke and Leia and Han. It’s going to bring back Spock on Star Trek Discovery. It’s gonna bring back, like… Spock has now been played by how many actors? Because like, there’s been like a bunch of Spocks.
Annalee: [00:11:07] To be fair, Spock is awesome, but yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:09] Yeah, but…
Annalee: [00:11:10] I mean we don’t—
Charlie Jane: [00:11:11] So are other Vulcans. We could have had different Vulcans.
Annalee: [00:11:12] —so are plenty of other characters.
Katharine: [00:11:13] [crosstalk] But also, the problem with Discovery tends to be when they set it, I think.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:19] Right.
Katharine: [00:11:19] It’s not just a prequel. It is a prequel running really close to a really famous series.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:24] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Katharine: [00:11:26] And, so they—
Annalee: [00:11:26] Yeah, setting up the series.
Katharine: [00:11:27] Yeah. And it sets themselves up for failure because they have to keep explaining things that they wouldn’t have to do if they didn’t do it.
Annalee: [00:11:34] It’s like a giant retcon. Like, the entire show is just like, us dancing elaborately around this retcon, and how do we make it all work.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:40] Right right right.
Annalee: [00:11:41] And I find that that’s the most frustrating part. Because I want to know Burnham’s story, like what a fucking interesting story. And like, she’s a great character.
Katharine: [00:11:48] Could have set it way in the future from the last time we were in Star Trek and she could have been, like, Spock’s descendant.
Annalee: [00:11:54] Yep.
Katharine: [00:11:54] And then it wouldn’t have been like his second secret sibling he never told anyone about.
Annalee: [00:11:57] Yeah, I like the idea of her being. I know.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:00] Oh, that’s right. I forgot about Sybok, or whatever. We need.
Katharine: [00:12:02] After they announced it, I went back and rewatched it. And I went, oh, this is. That’s a bad idea to remind people this happened.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:07] Oh my God. Oh my God. Yeah.
Annalee: [00:12:09] I wanted to just make sure that before we leave behind our feelings about reboots and sequels that we talk a little bit about Harry Potter.
So, okay. You’d think that having five new films kind of set in a different time with different characters would actually be kind of great. Like, that that would be an opportunity for them to explore new stuff. So, what the hell went wrong with the GrindleWindleZindle…?
Katharine: [00:12:32] J.K Rowling wrote Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. They’re two—I own them both—they’re two small books that are like meant to be like Harry and Ron’s textbooks or books they owned and they have notes in them. And they were like sold, the first sets were sold for like charity. I don’t understand why when they were like, let’s do new stories in this universe they plucked one of those books out and went, “Well, clearly this exists. We have to tie it to this existing book that is a textbook.”
Annalee: [00:13:02] Yeah, I wonder if it’s kind of what we were just talking about. Wanting to just somehow anchor it in—
Katharine: [00:13:07] In something fans knew.
Annalee: [00:13:09] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:09] Yeah. I wanted to change the subject slightly and just ask, are we finally at the end of like, ‘80s nostalgia. Now that we’ve had Starnger Things, we’ve had Ready Player One. We’ve had all this other stuff that’s like, just celebrating random crap from the ‘80s. Are we finally ready to be free of the 1980s and Spielberg mania and all that? Like… is that finally over?
Annalee: [00:13:29] I don’t know.
Katharine: [00:13:30] I don’t know.
Annalee: [00:13:33] I mean, I just saw Ready Player One on an airplane which is pretty much what it deserved. That was a giant pile of garbage. The book was not that bad. I thought the book was okay, but the movie was terrible. And so, there’s certain eras that we return to again and again. I feel like the ‘80s, at this point, with the generation that’s kind of running Hollywood. The ‘80s is the era we go back to when we’re thinking about High Tech Stuff. Like, somehow, even though we’ve completely surpassed every piece of tech that existed in the ‘80s, it’s still like our go-to for like, wonderment and like… you know…
Charlie Jane: [00:14:07] It’s the golden age of geek culture to a certain generation of people. What do you think, Katharine?
Katharine: [00:14:14] I think it’s the generation that’s in charge, that’s one hundred percent true, right? I was born so late in the ‘80s I have no memory of it.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:20] Mm-hmm.
Annalee: [00:14:20] That’s just fine.
Katharine: [00:14:21] So. Like, we’re not at ‘90s. When you try to think about the ‘90s what would you try to think of, like… On the other hand, ‘90s fashion is coming back in a big way so I’m really glad I kept all my chokers. Um.
[00:14:35] Like, the ‘80s is not just sci-fi golden era. I also think in terms of visual media for science fiction it’s way more iconic than you’ll find for a while. And I think that’s also why it keeps coming back, right? People want to make movies that look like those filmmakers whereas ‘90s nostalgia in this space looks like, what? The Matrix? But the Matrix—
Charlie Jane: [00:14:58] The Crow?
Katharine: [00:14:58] Yeah… but The Matrix—also, everyone remade The Matrix for like ten years after The Matrix came out and it’s—
Annalee: [00:15:03] And also, I feel like The Matrix is partly ‘80s nostalgia already, because it’s all about cyberspace, and also I feel like the style of The Matrix, just the actual, like the camera work and that kind of thing. That really became like, the 2000s, you know? That… and so.
Katharine: [00:15:19] Yeah. That’s… yeah.
Annalee: [00:15:22] So it isn’t even a ’90s thing.
Katharine: [00:15:23] It lasted so far into the 2000s you don’t really have nostalgia for that. I’m not going to make this prediction like I’m Nostradamus because I’m bad, but, I think there’s a whole big chance that we go straight to just doing the 2000s really close to the 2000s. We’re kind of seeing that again because we’re in the 400th Spiderman telling even though Into the Spiderverse is going to be great. The live-action ones we’ve just been making over and over…
Annalee: [00:15:46] Yeah. And I would just say the thing about the ‘90s is, the ’90s was not… other than, like, sort of some TV science fiction, it was not a big era. And, I mean The Terminator is ‘90s, so you could say maybe Westworld is kind of ‘90s nostalgia, but really it’s not at all. I mean, in terms of like, nostalgia for like movies about robots or something. But, the ‘90s, you know, what was really popular then was true crime. So to the extent that we have this incredible fascination with true crime now, that’s kind of a ‘90s nostalgia. And in fact, a lot of true crime stories that I listen to are about crimes in the ‘90s.
Katharine: [00:16:22] Yep.
Annalee: [00:16:24] Which is kind of interesting, so…
Katharine: [00:16:24] And the ‘80s, actually. I’m also someone who listens to a lot of true crime. Or watches shows based on true crime while reading the thing it’s based on, Wikipedia entries on the thing it’s based on while I watch.
Annalee: [00:16:35] Or listening to like podcasts that are recapping true crime podcasts. Yeah, so I don’t—I think in answer to your question, Charlie? It’s a good question. I think that we’re still coping with the legacy of the ‘80s and especially right now because we’ve entered, in the US, and in the UK, we’re in a kind of new conservative era, and so I think that’s also making people think back to the ‘80s. They’re like, wait, when was the last time we had this kind of new wave of grassroots populism. And that was the ‘80s. The Reagan era.
Katharine: [00:17:05] It is also huge late-stage capitalism and we are—not that we ever left late-stage capitalism. But like… the aware—
Annalee: [00:17:11] Still there.
Katharine: [00:17:12] The awareness of consumption is once again at those ‘80s levels where we’re looking at them and going like, what is happening?
Annalee: [00:17:17] And you know, politics and entertainment are like, merging. So, you know, because we—in the ‘80s we had a movie star president. Now we have a reality star president. So, I think there’s a lot of, like PTSD, a lot of like—
Charlie Jane: [00:17:30] Yeah, there are some interesting parallels.
Annalee: [00:17:30] PTSD is like the the flip side of nostalgia, I feel like, in a weird way.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:34] That’s an interesting way of looking at it. And like, the idea that nostalgia is sort of like the kind of the sugar-coating on the kind of pill of—
Annalee: [00:17:42] Of trauma.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:42] —of trauma, and you know, mis-suffering that we have to reenact over and over again. You know, and I think it’s interesting to think… when we did our episode about fandom with Naomi Novik, we talked a lot about nostalgia as conservativism. As like, not wanting things to change. As like, leading to these fan backlashes where people get harassed and where’s there’s like…
Annalee: [00:18:04] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:04] At it’s darkest formulation, you have, you know, fans kind of going after diverse creators and trying to hound them out of fandom. Is that the inevitable end point of nostalgia? Is that an inevitable byproduct of indulging in this kind of knee-jerk love of things from the past?
Annalee: [00:18:21] You mean, does it have to be conservative?
Charlie Jane: [00:18:23] Or does it have to turn dark and ugly?
Katharine: [00:18:25] I’m gonna once again go with my watch-what phrase. Like, everything is fine. Nostalgia—but like, as a median point, nostalgia is fine. I think the problem with nostalgia in this context that you’re talking about is that there are two kinds. Similar to like, in fandom there’s like collecting fandom and fact-based fandom, which tends to be coded as very male and very white. And then like, female and queer and people of color fandom is transformative because when you’re not represented, you have to find some way to make something your own. And that tends to be devalued in our culture. And so, I think the same thing with nostalgia, right? The white, male, straight nostalgia that causes people to come so hard at the idea that this thing from my childhood, if you change it, you are saying that because I liked it as it was, I was bad and wrong. You are now ruining my childhood. And you cannot do that because it meant so much to me. Versus—the nostalgia fandom of, I really loved this. Let’s keep perpetuating it and changing it so that it’s always around in a form, but like a form that’s better.
Charlie Jane: [00:19:32] Mm-hmm.
Katharine: [00:19:33] So there’s like, two kinds of nostalgia. There’s this thing I was thinking about tweeting recently about like, name a thing that you never saw but you know a lot about because of fanfic. I have never seen the Sentinel or Due South but they pop up in fandom constantly and so—are reinterpreted in fandom constantly, or like, their premises are attached to other things. And so I know a lot about these things I’ve never seen. And that’s a way of keeping something alive in a transformative way that I think is healthy and good and allows a lot of people to appreciate something they may not necessarily have. And then you’ve got, “How dare you make my characters, these characters from this show I watched as a child gay, my world is over.”
Charlie Jane: [00:20:14] Right?
Katharine: [00:20:14] And that’s a—that’s a different kind of nostalgia. That’s a conservative form of nostalgia versus I think a liberal form that’s a—I collected this thing and it’s going to sit here pristine, collectivization fandom form of nostalgia versus a transformative form.
Annalee: [00:20:27] It’s interesting because like, not to belabor the PTSD thing, but even the language that conservative fans use: “You ruined my childhood.” Or they’ll say, like, “You raped my childhood.” Like, it’s so interesting though, because it’s the language of trauma. It’s like, you’ve reached back into their childhood and like abused them as children by transforming these stories. And I think, you know, it speaks to something in nostalgia that like, nostalgia is this conservative. Like, it’s pushing away trauma. It’s not acknowledging historical change because historical change is often traumatic. And growing up is traumatic and having to learn new stuff is traumatic and so that’s why we cling. I think that’s why small C conservatism and nostalgia kind of fit together, because on an emotional level, it’s about pushing away knowing about that change, and pushing away—even knowing that at the time that they were enjoying Star Wars that there were all these people who maybe were being left out. And, you know, and maybe they were even being left out. That’s the thing, is, it’s not… you know, the people who have that kind of nostalgia are not always white dudes.
Katharine: [00:21:30] They’re just the loudest.
Annalee: [00:21:31] They’re the loudest, and—I mean, of course it is, they are associated but like I think that there is that urge to, like… just don’t change the thing because it hurts me. It forces me to remember my childhood in a way that I don’t want to remember.
Katharine: [00:21:45] Going back to the Harry Potter-verse again. I went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios last year. I went twice, actually. Mainly because I was giving a gift of a year pass and using it just once was insane. But I also lived close by and all of these things. But it was—I will be dead serious—it was the most fun I’d had in a really long time. And it was—reminded me, like, why I liked Harry Potter in the first place after this intense trauma of how bad Fantastic Beasts had been to my brain. But there was something about like being immersed in this world and in a place where like they hand you a wand and it like activates things around and like, re-brings back these memories of like pretending to have a wand as a kid. That was like, really great. And I really enjoyed it while simultaneously understanding the price they were charging was hilariously absurd and that everything cost way more than it should. That moment really did, like, remind me that I loved something as a kid and it meant something to me as a kid.
Charlie Jane: [00:22:45] Yeah, so moving on a little bit. Like, one of the biggest kind of debates in fan culture, and just in generally in media, is between like, remakes, reboots, sequels, versus, quote-unquote “original” stuff. And, it’s an open question. Does something being an original work, you know, being like, a brand new thing make it necessarily—it can make it better. Would we rather have things like, for example, the reboot of Battlestar Gallactica or the new She-Ra versus, name any number of things that were a brand new piece of IP that ended up just not being that great. Is there something intrinsically better about something being original? Does it give us an opportunity to tell a different story or to kind of throw out some of the baggage of the past.
Annalee: [00:23:26] I mean, I’m a big proponent of the idea that it doesn’t have to be original to be a new kind of story. Because we’re talking here about fantasy, science fiction, horror. These are genres that play on a lot of the same sort of stories over and over. Even if it’s brand new. Even if you’re telling the story of Ex Machina, which was a very original film and I think a lot of the reason why it got so much critical acclaim was that people saw it as being, like, “Whoa! It’s not based on anything, and yet it has thoughts!” But, that’s a classic fembot story. You can trace that all the way back to Metropolis and beyond, before that. So, it’s not as if that is an original idea that a robot would develop its own thoughts and be really pissed off.
There’s almost a subgenre of sci-fi that is quote-unquote “original” sci-fi. And, I was thinking about this a lot because one of the most important science fiction novels of the late 20th century, Neuromancer, by William Gibson, has never—has famously never been adapted as a movie. And it’s not because William Gibson is against it, at all. He’s like, fine, I’ve sold it a million times! Make a movie! He’s not being precious about it, right? But I was thinking about how even though it never became a franchise there were all of these films that were basically trying to do what Neuromancer did. And some of them were really cheesy, like Freejack. Lawnmower Man. Circuitry Man. Great films of the late ‘80s and early ’90s. That were basically about cyber and like jacking in.
Charlie Jane: [00:24:56] CyBOR.
Annalee: [00:24:58] CyBOR and then you had great stuff like The Matrix, which is just totally a retelling of Neuromancer right down to there’s an AI in the system somewhere, dude, what’s it doing. And jacking in, with the jack in the back of the head. There’s this series, Max Headroom from the mid ‘80s and late ‘80s depending on whether you were in the UK or the US, which was also about cyberspace. Sort of TV space and like media as politics. And so, what happened was, instead of getting a whole bunch of things that are set in the Neuromancer/Sprawl universe, you get a whole bunch of so-called original stories. So it has its own genre of like, it’s an original cyberpunk story. And yet, it’s still kind of like doing rebooting and sequeling of Neuromancer.
[00:25:43] What I’m trying to say in this long digression in which I happily got to mention Freejack in this podcast, is that really there’s not that much of a difference between a so-called original story and a story that’s based on something else. It’s really what you do with it. You can do something fantastic and original and groundbreaking with something that’s in a known brand. We were just talking about the new Spiderman animated movie which is going to be—well, I’m predicting it’s going to be amazing and interesting and different. And you can do something really lousy with an original film, that is just… boring. Or you can have something like Pacific Rim where people are pissed because it’s too derivative of kaiju movies, but they’re also pissed because it’s not a Transformers movie, and so you just kind of lose on both sides.
Katharine: [00:26:28] I actually don’t think the problem with nostalgia is fans, or whether one is better than the other. I think it’s—as with a lot of things. I’m going to name someone who I know in real life, so it’s a little weird, but Lindsey Ellis did a YouTube video about the musical boom and about how Hollywood was spending money on musicals and it killed it. It just ran out of money and it just killed the musical for a very long time. And she likens it to this kind of tentpole thing that we’re seeing now. And I think that is a larger problem is the banking on nostalgia as a money generator rather than—by studios—rather than whether you can tell good or bad stories.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:08] Yeah, I mean, I think that part of the problem right now is that, as I said earlier in the episode, there’s all this fragmentation in entertainment. People don’t go to the movies like they used to. Movie audiences have dwindled except for when there’s like one movie that everybody wants to see and so the spoils have gotten a lot bigger for like the handful of movies that actually get people to show up. But those do tend to be known quantities. They do tend to be known properties. And, I think that, what you would hope, if there’s an original, quote-unquote concept, the difference between Pacific Rim versus doing a new Godzilla movie or doing a new Transformers movie. You know, Pacific Rim clearly has a lot in common with Transformers and Godzilla and other kaiju movies. It clearly borrows a lot from them. What you hope will happen when you have a brand new quote-unquote franchise is that it can take some more risks, it can go down pathways that maybe a Godzilla movie has to include certain things because it’s part of what people expect from Godzilla, wheras the kaiju in Pacific Rim can do whatever the hell they want to, and they can be like half kaiju, half jaeger. Like in the sequel.
[00:28:15] You can things that are really out of left field and that doesn’t always happen, for sure. It’s the difference between, for example, bringing more inclusion to the established superhero universes or to Star Wars. It’s like, yes, we’re gonna do Star Wars and it’s going to be the same old stories but this time there’s going to be more people of color and women in it, versus, like having a story that actually from the ground up builds in more inclusion and more consideration of topics that are not usually allowed to be talked about in Star Wars movies. And, like… what you hope for from original franchises is that they will actually break new ground and it just doesn’t happen as often because even when you’re doing something original, it’s still part of the genre and the genre has its own expectations, I guess.
Annalee: [00:28:57] Yeah, I think that you guys are talking about two different things. Katharine is saying that there’s this limitation just that’s basically money. It’s just pure capitalism. It’s like, we don’t want to make a movie that isn’t going to make money, and we know that audiences will go for that and so that’s kind of limiting the stories that we can tell. But then, there’s also the limiting of stories by genre itself. The kinds of things that we expect from the genre, and as you were saying the thing about Godzilla, I was thinking of Shin Gojira, which is the new Japanese Godzilla film, which tells a story that’s totally weird and different and has never been told in the whole history of Gojira films. There’s never been a movie that’s about, like, dealing with environmental disasters using a flat management structure, and trying to coordinate between different government bureaus, which is essentially what that entire movie’s about. With, like, a few amazing shots of Gojira, who mostly spends the movie frozen in the middle of Tokyo. Like, it’s a story about Japanese government and bureaucracy. It’s not really about kaiju at all.
[00:30:07] Meanwhile, like you said, in Pacific Rim, it’s just straight-up, it’s monsters fighting. Which, I love. I love that. I’m so pro that, it is just my favorite. But it’s not breaking new ground in terms of what kinds of stories we tell.
[00:30:19] Segment change music plays. Drums with a bass line including bass drops.
Annalee: [00:30:36] Okay, this is our final segment called Research Hole. You know what a research hole is, you’ve fallen into them before. So, Katharine, what research hole did you fall into in the past couple weeks?
Katharine: [00:30:49] Food crime.
Annalee: [00:30:50] Food crime!
Katharine: [00:30:51] So I love heists. I love heist fiction, because I like to watch plans. And I like cons, and I like all of that stuff. And I also like it, too, because the people who are hurt aren’t really hurt and there’s very little violence in that kind of thing.
Annalee: [00:31:04] Yeah, it’s food friendly and happy.
Katharine: [00:31:05] Food crime takes that to a whole other level. Though, like, depending on the kind of food crime, people can get hurt. So, there’s two. There are actually a couple. There’s the classic, now classic because Netflix had a documentary about it, or an episode of a documentary about the Canadian maple syrup heist.
Annalee: [00:31:22] Yes. Oh my God. I love that crime.
Katharine: [00:31:23] Strategic maple syrup reserve. That’s great. In Italy, there’s a bank in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy that takes as collateral for loans from cheese makers, parmesan cheese because it takes so long to mature it properly that you have to—they don’t have money while they’re waiting for their cheese to mature, and if they want it to mature for as long as you legally need to, slash, like, actually want it to be good because they’re all artisan cheese makers, you won’t have any money for a long time. So, you can get a loan for it and then the bank keeps it in their cheese vault.
Annalee: [00:31:55] Wow. Wait, how many years does it take for cheese…
Katharine: [00:31:58] It’s like fifteen, maybe?
Charlie Jane: [00:31:59] Wow.
Annalee: [00:31:59] Wow, so that is a long-term investment, yeah.
Katharine: [00:32:02] Yeah, it is. And I read a whole thing. It’s like, they take it 80% of the value of cheese at the time because of the fluctuations in parmesan cheese prices. The bank also leases out space in their cheese vault to other people who don’t need to put it up for collateral but want a space that is controlled and inspected all the time. There was a heist of cheese from them, which I love. And then in the ‘70s, AMEX stock price dropped 50% in the salad oil disaster where this con man took out loans and put up for collateral the soybean oil and the tankers came in and it was just a few feet of oil on top of water.
Annalee: [00:32:37] Oh man. That’s actually a lot like what happened with the maple syrup heist, because they filled the maple syrup containers with water and later they were like, wait… maple syrup shouldn’t make these containers rust. Why are they rusting? Oh. It’s because all of our maple syrup is actually water.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:52] Oh…
Katharine: [00:32:52] So, food crime. Love food crime. Food crime is fascinating.
Annalee: [00:32:55] All right. Is there a particular example of a food crime story that you would recommend?
Katharine: [00:32:59] I was listening to a podcast and then I was just Googling it becauseI love food crime in drunken bars. Been like, I’m gonna write the cheese heist movie, just you wait.
Annalee: [00:33:08] Okay, so the recommendation is: Katharine future cheese heist movie.
Katharine: [00:33:12] Yes.
Annalee: [00:33:12] All right, okay. Good.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:13] Nice.
Annalee: [00:33:13] Charlie, tell me about your research hole.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:15] So my research hole has been about a song called “Ride on Time” by an Italian, an Italo House group called Black Box from 1989. I remember hearing it when I was in the UK—
Annalee: [00:33:26] So not Ital0-Disco.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:27] It was like Italo House, it was like the successor to Ital0-Disco.
Annalee: [00:33:30] Wow. Post Italo Disco. All right.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:31] It was in 1989. It really kind of jumpstarted the Italo House genre. It was a huge hit. If you were in England in 1989, you would not be able to avoid hearing this song. It was like the biggest hit in the UK in that year. It was like inescapable. It never did anything in the States but it was huge in Europe.
[00:33:49] And basically what it was, was they took this song from like, I think 1979 or 80, this disco song by the—straight-up disco song—by an American R&B singer, Loleatta Holloway who is one of the most amazing singers of all time. She died a few years ago. She had an incredible voice. You’ve probably heard her in a lot of stuff. She’s the female vocalist in the song “Relight My Fire” by Dan Hartman. She’s in—she was in a bunch of things. She was incredible, and she did this song in like ’79-’80 called Love Vibration. And, basically, they just took her vocal part from that song, chopped it up, changed it around a tiny bit, put some house beats on it and released it as a single and it became a huge hit. And the original song hadn’t been a hit at all, nobody had really heard it outside of a few gay clubs in like the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, but this new version, which basically was just the same song but remixed became a huge hit and they didn’t pay her. I think they paid her record label a tiny amount of money, but they didn’t give her any money. So she, understandably, freaked out, because suddenly her voice was on one of the biggest hits of the year at least in Europe, and she wasn’t getting any credit, and she wasn’t getting any money.
So, they finally did pay her off with a small amount of money but then this song was like in the middle of its like being number one in the British charts and they had a freak out and decided to stop pressing the version with her vocals on it, rush back into the studio, hire another singer, who was a British woman named Heather Small, who later became the lead singer of a group called M People, and just got her to copy the vocal parts from the 1979 single as closely as possible. Like exactly the same inflection, same everything, but with a Manchester accent. And they didn’t tell anybody this was a new version of the song. They kind of called it the Massive Mix but basically they just sneaked it into stores and they were like, sell this version instead. And so the radio stations were still playing the version with Loleatta Holloway’s vocals, but people were no longer able to buy that version, they had to buy the version with this British lady’s vocals in their place.
[00:35:56] A lot of people still don’t know the difference between the two versions, and like, there’s compilations that have like one or the other depending on which they licensed it from. And to this day, it’s a huge important hit in the UK and a lot of people have never heard the original version and don’t realize how much it was basically just completely a remix with slight chopping up of this single from ’79. So, I don’t know. I hope people hunt down Loleatta Holloway’s stuff because she was incredible and I feel like she was done wrong.
Annalee: [00:36:28] I think she was probably doing food crime.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:30] I don’t know.
Annalee: [00:36:31] I think that—
Katharine: [00:36:31] Stealing cheese in Italy.
Annalee: [00:36:33] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:33] She should have been doing food crime.
Annalee: [00:36:34] Yeah, she should have been doing food crime.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:34] She should have gone to Italy and stolen some cheese.
Annalee: [00:36:37] I feel like we’ve had enough research hole. I’m gonna save my research hole for another day. And, Katharine, where can we find out more about your amazing output as a cultural critic?
Katharine: [00:36:47] The best place to find me is actually on Twitter, which I am on too much, which is @K_Trendacosta. I still write freelance cultural critiques and also I just dump brain thoughts onto Twitter about cultural stuff when I have no other outlet.
Annalee: [00:37:06] Which is awesome. It’s—yeah, you should definitely be following Katharine on Twitter because she—her opinions are correct, so, yeah.
[00:37:12] All right, so, thank you so much for listening to Our Opinions Are Correct. We have a Patreon. You can support us there, we’d really appreciate it, so we that we don’t have to pay for this by feeding pigeons in the park. Because, you know, pigeons have a lot of money but humans have more, so we really appreciate your support. You can follow us on any of your favorite podcast distributors like Apple Podcasts. Please review us there. Please follow us on Twitter once you’re done reading all of Katharine’s comments. You can follow us on @OOACPod on Twitter.
[00:37:41] Our amazing producer is Veronica Simonetti at Women’s Audio Mission in San Francisco. The music is provided by Chris Palmer, and thanks. We’ll hear you again in two weeks.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:51] Thanks! Woo!
Annalee: [00:37:52] Well, you’ll hear us again. We’ll all be hearing each other again.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:54] Yeah. Yaaay!
Annalee: [00:37:55] Thanks again for being here, Katharine.
Katharine: [00:37:57] Thank you.
All harmonizing: [00:37:58] Bye!
[00:37:58] Outro music plays. Drums with a bass line including bass drops.