Cultural Franchise Event, Take 2

Here is another version of my cultural franchise event thesis I posted as a comment in reply to a thread on the decline of cinema to Mark’s blog Larvatus Prodeo. I think am getting there with my thinking and explaining. If I didn’t have this bloody thign called a thesis I would write it up. (Christian, you still keen?!??!!?)

Taking a more philosophical line of inquiry, a trend that I have been attempting to think through (as a side project to my PhD) relates to the ‘event-based’ nature of contemporary cultural commodities (ie ‘franchises’). I have deliberately taken this line of inquiry to avoid cinephilic (academic or otherwise) appreciations of cinema.

There are no longer just films constituting a franchise. In the normal sense of a commmodity there are the computer games, books, DVDs, spin-offs cartoons, and so on. In terms of endorsements (that use the ‘image’ of the commodity, but has nothing to do with the actual commodity) there are fast food chain happy meals, soft drink promotions, mobile phone promotions, and so on. Then there are the more complex commodities produced by the labour of enthusiasts – fan movies, websites, other online paraphenalia, and so on. A subset of this labour of enthusiasm includes the immaterial labour commonly refered to as happening ’round the water dispenser’, whereby people discuss cultural commodoties and talk them up of talk them down. All of this different dimensions of the event add to the force of circulation and therefore at some point (I assume) to exchange.

The movie franchise was perceived to be something special (a ‘blockbuster’), because in every sense it was an ‘event’. It pierced the banal drudgery of everyday life – the ‘escapism’ thesis. This gave the cultural commodity of the blockbuster a particular social gravity in the milieu of popular culture. It had the capacity to suck people in and to send them spinning off into another herd. _Jaws_ was the first blockbuster, but _Star Wars_ was the first blockbuster franchise organised around the event of the blockbuster – the toys, drinks, food, games, spin-offs, etc.

Popular culture has become saturated by these minor actualisations of the blockbuster event, while at the same time the blockbuster quality of alleged blockbusters has declined. I should point out by ‘blockbuster’ I mean not only in the ‘common sense’ sense, but blockbuster status as determined in a relative sense by the size of the market. So Tropfest is a blockbuster event relative to the size of inner-west trendy market, plus it has spinoffs (free SMH DVD, QANTAS in-flight screenings, etc.).

The problem is that proponents of the cultural industry have drawn on the logic of the minor-blockbuster actualisations to produce what they think will be actual blockbusters. Hence the remake. The remake is just another actualisation of the ‘blockbuster’ cultural commodity event that happened 10, 20, 100 years ago. Dukes of Hazzard, Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, all the computer game remkaes, etc and so on…

Instead of movie makers exploiting cinema as an artistic medium, they exploit its position within the cultural industry’s ciruits of exchange. The classic example can be found in the recent Star Wars prequels. The race that occurred in the first prequel was purely constructed to make a more interesting computer game, and yet by the time we get to the third movie Anakin/Vader’s rebirth scene seems almost stuck on as an after-thought. Sam Raimi has bucked the trend somewhat with his Spiderman films, which is interesting.