Revitalizing Beloved Stories as Old as Time

Sometimes, I worry that all the great stories have already been written. It seems like so much of what we see nowadays is recycled plots and adherence to conventions of genre, to the point where we can recite lines before characters say them. I’m not convinced that whatever these characters are working through onscreen is so embedded in fundamental human truths that deep down, we know what they’re going to say. I think it’s more likely that we’re dealing with overdone clichés, and whatever we’re watching is giving us a severe sense of déjà vu.

On the one hand, I suppose it’s just a manifestation of the mindset that if it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it. If calculating villainy and breaking the fourth wall worked for Shakespeare, why change it for House of Cards? If Sherlock Holmes was such a successful character in its day, why reinvent the wheel for a character like Gregory House of House, M.D.? In fact, why not go all the way back to ancient Athens to a play called The Birds by Aristophanes, for the origin of Cloud Cuckoo Land, to be repurposed for use in The Lego Movie?

The world of art is subject to influence all the time. Throughout literature, film, music, and a whole host of other art forms, one can trace the influence of past artists on subsequent generations of work. It seems there’s no end to the inspiration one can find in one’s artistic idols. To emulate the styles and ideas that stem from their work is to be expected. And there is a boatload of artistic movements out there from which to find an artist or art form that resonates with one’s personal tastes. Not to mention that different artistic disciplines influence each other, or can be combined as in film with music, acting, and writing, for example, to create a medium of its own.

But even with all that variation, all the laudable achievements of artists of generations past, there’s a lot of commonality between works of past and present. Yes, it’s fantastic that people can read Hamlet 400 years after it was written, and still get so much out of it. The same cannot be said for the vast majority of what mainstream audiences consume today. Even so, one could see how the question of whether there are any new, groundbreaking ideas out there might seem like a pressing concern. I mean, machines are going to take over the world at some point anyway, why don’t we just let them take the composites of all the artwork out there and reproduce it? Or better yet, have artificial intelligence supplant people entirely, and have them be the artistic forces in society? Forget about It, this vision is the true horror story of the modern era. I would see no value in having a machine produce art over humans, as there must be something about the human experience that still resonates with us more than whatever algorithms and metal parts could come up with.

But every so often, one can find a show or movie that they’ve never seen anything like. Something that moves past stock characters, tired tropes, and easily-digestible formats into territory that tells you that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Now, I hate to prattle on about the glorious confusion that is Twin Peaks: The Return, but I can’t seem to let this show go. And why would I want to? The show confronts viewers with bizarre, grotesque, or otherwise startling material, and avoids any semblance of closure like the plague. It demands to be mulled over, never forgotten, and succeeds in its attempts to draw out emotions and thoughts in its viewers that would normally go unexpressed. And it doesn’t rely on white bread tactics as filler for network television.

The show will pit tender, adorable moments of rekindled romance or parent-child bonding, against gruesome acts of violence and unspeakable terrors. The effect is harrowing, and a more complete understanding of the meaning of evil emerges when placed next to those warm fuzzy moments. Everyone and their mother has seen stories unfold that hinge solely on the saccharine aspects of life, or mostly on the blatant terrors of bombastic horror films. And people find whatever makes them comfortable, knowing how the plot will end after sizing up the story, and walk away from the experience ready to rinse and repeat. There’s nothing inherently problematic with this dynamic, as many people just want to watch a story as old as time, in the manner in which they are accustomed, and do so in peace. But there won’t be anything wild happening. Nothing completely outside the norm, nothing you haven’t already seen, and nothing to contradict the notion that there’s no new art to be made. Directors such as David Lynch, with their reimagining of existing art forms, and truly original presentations of them, bring me hope that there are always new stories to be made, and new artworks to be created.

None of the great stories of the past existed before someone came up with them. And while there will likely be conventional aspects of genre that provide frameworks for stories, they will shift and adapt gradually with time. Drawing on artistic influences of the past could conceivably overshadow the minds of contemporary artists. Art inspires more art to be made, and that kind of power cannot be washed out by fretful imaginings.

Featured Image By CBS Television