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Cycles, Sequels, Spin-offs, Remakes, and Reboots

Cycles, Sequels, Spin-offs, Remakes, and Reboots
Multiplicities in Film and Television

Surveying a wide range of international productions, this collection of essays by established and emerging scholars investigates the important cultural work performed by repetition, or multiplicities, in film and television

March 2016
Available
$29.95
367 pages | 6 x 9 | 50 b&w photos |
ISBN: 
978-1-4773-0817-2
Description: 

With sequels, prequels, remakes, spin-offs, or copies of successful films or franchises dominating film and television production, it sometimes seems as if Hollywood is incapable of making an original film or TV show. These textual pluralities or multiplicities—while loved by fans who flock to them in droves—tend to be dismissed by critics and scholars as markers of the death of high culture. Cycles, Sequels, Spin-offs, Remakes, and Reboots takes the opposite view, surveying a wide range of international media multiplicities for the first time to elucidate their importance for audiences, industrial practices, and popular culture.

The essays in this volume offer a broad picture of the ways in which cinema and television have used multiplicities to streamline the production process, and to capitalize on and exploit viewer interest in previously successful and/or sensational story properties. An impressive lineup of established and emerging scholars talk seriously about forms of multiplicity that are rarely discussed as such, including direct-to-DVD films made in Nigeria, cross-cultural Japanese horror remakes, YouTube fan-generated trailer mash-ups, and 1970s animal revenge films. They show how considering the particular bonds that tie texts to one another allows us to understand more about the audiences for these texts and why they crave a version of the same story (or character or subject) over and over again. These findings demonstrate that, far from being lowbrow art, multiplicities are actually doing important cultural work that is very worthy of serious study.

Contents: 
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Introduction (Amanda Ann Klein and R. Barton Palmer)
  • Chapter 2. The Kissing Cycle, Mashers, and (White) Women in the American City (Amanda Ann Klein)
  • Chapter 3. Descended from Hercules: Masculine Anxiety in the Peplum (Robert Rushing)
  • Chapter 4. The American Postwar Semidocumentary Cycle: Factual Dramatizations (R. Barton Palmer)
  • Chapter 5. Cycle Consciousness and the White Audience in Black Film Writing: The 1949–1950 "Race Problem" Cycle and the African American Press (Steven Doles)
  • Chapter 6. Vicious Cycle: Jaws and Revenge-of-Nature Films of the 1970s (Constantine Verevis)
  • Chapter 7. Familiar Otherness: On the Contemporary Cross-Cultural Remake (Chelsey Crawford)
  • Chapter 8. Anime's Dangerous Innocents: Millennial Anxieties, Gender Crises, and the Shōjo Body as a Weapon (Elizabeth Birmingham)
  • Chapter 9. It's Only a Film, Isn't It? Policy Paranoia Thrillers of the War on Terror (Vincent M. Gaine)
  • Chapter 10. Doing Dumbledore: Actor-Character Bonding and Accretionary Performance (Murray Pomerance)
  • Chapter 11. A Lagosian Lady Gaga: Cross-Cultural Identification in Nollywood's Anti-Biopic Cycle (Noah Tsika)
  • Chapter 12. Re-solving Crimes: A Cycle of TV Detective Partnerships (Sarah Kornfield)
  • Chapter 13. Smart TV: Showtime's "Bad Mommies" Cycle (Claire Perkins)
  • Chapter 14. My Generation(s): Cycles, Branding, and Renewal in E4's Skins (Faye Woods)
  • Chapter 15. Extended Attractions: Recut Trailers, Film Promotion, and Audience Desire (Kathleen Williams)
  • Chapter 16. Retro-Remaking: The 1980s Film Cycle in Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (Kathleen Loock)
  • Chapter 17. I Can't Lead This Vacation Anymore: Mumblecore's American Man (Amy Borden)
  • Chapter 18. Serialized Killers: Prebooting Horror in Bates Motel and Hannibal (Andrew Scahill)
  • List of Contributors
  • Index
Excerpts: 

Introduction

Amanda Ann Klein and R. Barton Palmer

Textual traditions are often understood as a succession of distinct singularities, that is, as individual texts with a claim to being considered unique. But in practice, individual texts are hardly self-contained in that sense, being joined by various bonds to other texts and often participating in more than one series or grouping. These multiplicities or textual pluralities take a number of distinct but hardly mutually exclusive forms, including adaptations, sequels, remakes, imitations, trilogies, reboots, series, spin-offs, and cycles. The cinema has, from the beginning, depended on such multiplicities, as opposed to promoting the unique value of individual films, and the reason is simple. The reuse, reconfiguration, and extension of existing materials, themes, images, formal conventions or motifs, and even ensembles of performers constitute irresistible adjuncts to continuing textual production, supporting the economies of scale upon which the film, and later the television, industries very quickly began to rely. Furthermore, the connection between texts becomes an important aspect of media consumption as the ties that link texts to one another—what Gérard Genette terms their “transtextuality”—afford the opportunity for complex forms of aesthetic enjoyment. Multiplicities invite viewers to appreciate the new in the context of the familiar and already approved, sanctioning readings that crisscross textual borders. Genette suggests that criticism should focus on “every connection joining a text B to a text A anterior to it” (our emphasis), and this is particularly true of cinema and television, textual forms in which reuse and recontextualization are, for institutional reasons, especially prominent (Genette 1982, 11).

This dependence on the transtextual makes all forms of media—including cinema, television, and the Internet—thoroughly traditional, their rich multiplicities having often been anticipated in earlier periods of intertwined production strategies. In the Middle Ages, for example, the ever-expanding and eventually vast corpora of connected texts were recognized as constituting “matters” defined by their general subject. The so-called matter of Britain focused on King Arthur, his Round Table, and the tragic history of his kingdom, affording generations of poets and prose writers unending opportunities for linked intervention and extension, remaking, recontextualization, serializing, and cycling. Medieval Arthurian matter, in fact, can be considered an immense cycle of tales that intersect, repeat, revise, and reformulate in inexhaustibly inventive fashions that remained productive for several centuries. Criticism of this textual tradition, then, searches for “some principle by which individual texts form a meaningful whole, some unity that might be discerned from a multiplicity of parts” (Sturm-Maddox and Maddox 1996, 1). We might say much the same about visual media. In replicating the compositional flexibility of the novel, however, commercial filmmaking and television productions have always been open to the adoption, in every sense of the word, of new material. To date, media studies has not produced a general term to describe the trans-singular results of these joining processes, for which we propose to adopt the term “multiplicities.”

Of course, the fact that multiplicities have become a central feature of these media’s dedication to continuing forms of textual creation and renewal has hardly escaped critical notice. For example, in “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture,” a seminal essay that, though published in 1979, continues to establish a useful framework for understanding the textual “flow” of mass culture, including the commercial cinema, Fredric Jameson echoes the antipathy of Frankfurt school thinkers toward forms of art produced by industries motivated strictly by the profit motive. Popular films, he avers, are “texts” only in the special sense that they cater to a public eager and willing “to see the same thing over and over again.” Such “repetition effectively volatilizes the original object,” with the result that those who study mass culture can locate no “primary object of study” (Jameson [1979] 1992, 19–20). Through strenuous efforts to establish originality and uniqueness, so-called high art, by contrast, strives to avoid repetition (Berger 1992, 46). Jameson argues convincingly that modernism, with its aesthetic of textual self-containment, can be seen in part as a reaction to such volatilization, and that it strives, sometimes through extreme measures, to ensure “the survival of the primary text,” for such texts can offer “a stable reality” to which the reader “can return over and over again” ([1979] 1992, 20). This is a form of repetition (ironically dependent on a dubious understanding of hermeneutic stability) that Jameson valorizes without further comment. In his view, the opposition of singularity to multiplicity in cultural production is affirmed by the difference between high art, on the one hand, and industrially produced entertainment on the other, in which repetition and other forms of reuse entail a lack of stability even as they allow the cinema to exploit a paradoxical desire for a sameness that is always different.

Jameson emerges as a defender of the customary highbrow understanding of this opposition, but only in general. He parts company with Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and the other Frankfurtians in declaring that mass culture is no “empty distraction,” no purveyor of false consciousness. Like modernism, popular forms such as the cinema entertain, although in different ways, “relations of repression with the fundamental social anxieties and concerns” forming the raw materials to be transformed by both forms of artistic practice (Jameson [1979] 1992, 25). But textual multiplicity poses a problem for the media studies scholar. Volatilization disperses critical attention across textual borders that are readily displaced or replaced by the continuing flow of texts, yielding no “stable reality” that can serve as the object of hermeneutic inquiry. Instead, the critic of multiplicities must attend to the fact of dispersal.

Grounded in an analysis of the cinema’s mode of production (which is motivated by the desire to repeat and thus extend pleasure), the concept of volatilization usefully underlines the significance of the textual multiplicities that constitute the continuing manufacture, distribution, and exhibition of commercial media, particularly film and television. Artistic modernism may be characterized by the persistence of the “original object” in cultural circumstances that threaten its autonomy and impermeability, whereas commercial cinema and television have been essentially defined by the genres, series, remakes, adaptations, cycles, remakes, reboots, and spin-offs that enable the continuing provision of a sameness marked indelibly by difference. These processes are obviously not generated by some simple desire on the part of viewers to consume the same object over and over again. The “same thing” that the viewer sees time and time again is always different from the “same things” that precede and follow it. Commercial media production does not support an absolute distinction between modernism’s fetishization of individuality, on the one hand, and the devotion of the culture industries in general to assembly-line sameness on the other. Dismissing popular films as essentially “the same” is a cultural judgment akin to Horkheimer and Adorno’s of the cinematic medium’s purported valuelessness, which fails to take into account the necessarily relentless devotion of the media industry to discover and promote a “new” that is always in some sense the “old.” Dispersal of this kind generates different forms of individuated multiplicities more often than singularities tout court; that is, it is a process that works with but also against the technologizing of modern industry, which plays an important, even if finally limited, role in film and television production.

The dialectic between “new” and “old” in film and media production answers the industry’s need for both regularity (the auditorium seats that must be filled and refilled in order for a studio to stay afloat, the ad dollars or subscription fees that must roll in for a television series to continue to run) and originality (viewers always desire the yet unseen, tire quickly of the “new,” are ever susceptible to the exciting promise of “coming attractions”). This paradoxical need can be negotiated and then satisfied to some degree by the assignment of productive capacity to genres. It is self-evident, perhaps, that every genre either lacks (or has somehow lost sight of) an “original object,” and that what is repeated through innovation is a pattern whose precise ontology is unclear. That is because a genre exists only culturally, as a transindividual concept, similar to the forms of language, and is capable, like them, of generating an infinite number of “never yet spoken” statements. By contrast, the process of volatilization can be glimpsed more clearly in multiplicities such as the adaptation, the authorial oeuvre, the sequel, the cycle, or the reboot, in which a “new” text (a designation that any given entry can be assigned only provisionally, since it too can be “followed”) replaces and yet does not (in fact cannot) replace what has come before. These forms of multiplicity volatilize the original by underlining its insufficiency, by announcing that there is a “more” that the urtext does not contain and likely does not anticipate, in the process revealing that there is a desire for continuation or repetition that the original cannot satisfy. At the same time, the existence of an original text undermines the claim to self-sufficiency of what follows; later texts are revealed to be volatilizations in the sense that, textually speaking, they can be properly understood and valued only when their connection to what came before is acknowledged.

In Convergence Culture (2008), Henry Jenkins studies the interdependence of media industries in an era of horizontal integration. No longer regarded as self-contained texts, big-budget blockbusters and high-profile television programs stretch across an extensive landscape of supplementary markets, including sound tracks, video games, toys, comics, and conventions. Jenkins coined the term “transmedia” to describe “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience” (Jenkins 2007). The essential nature of such multiplicities in film and television is thus a paradoxical transtextual, transmedia textuality dependent on the insufficient sufficiency of the artistic object. A more recent text is characterized as an emergent singularity and a part of what has gone before, as an entity for but not entirely in itself, as a textualization that is sufficiently insufficient, never hermetic, but instead always open to extension. For this reason, multiplicities such as the sequel seem to be a perfect reflection of the mediascape’s dialectic of textual provision, which is dependent on the simultaneous valuation of what is present and of what is yet to arrive.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the cinematic program itself, which has for many decades included an insistent, self-promoting invocation of some awaited form of newness that is always said to up the ante on pleasure, extending the range of the already consumed and enjoyed. At the time of announcement, that pleasure can be glimpsed only in fleeting, fragmented moments stitched teasingly together in a rapid montage that substitutes for, even as it anticipates, the deferred moment of encounter. Jenkins, however, notes an extra dimension of transmedia texts: “We are drawn to master what can be known about a world which always expands beyond our grasp. This is a very different pleasure than we associate with the closure found in most classically constructed narratives, where we expect to leave the theatre knowing everything that is required to make sense of a particular story” (2007). The volatilization of the original object emerges as an essential element of film’s and television’s modes of production and exhibition, and of their self-understanding. Entertainment now includes the promise that pleasure does not have to end after the lights go up or the series finale airs, that limits can always be exceeded by what the immediate future will bring if only the viewer will return. The moment of enjoyment is thus ritualistically preceded (and its possible satisfaction, in effect, undermined) by an enticing prospection. The essence of the institution, and not just the text, is thus this carefully calculated instability. In the forms of multiplicity in which repetitiveness both defines and eliminates textual boundaries, film and television offer a mass-cultural countermeasure to the “hermetic” text of modernism, characterized by that retreat from context (and thus also from any succession of texts) that Joseph Frank usefully terms “spatial form.”

Multiplicities in Practice

In 2010, Hollywood industry papers reported that production on a new blockbuster, Battleship (2012, Peter Berg), starring A-list talent such as Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgård, had begun. The punch line, of course, was that the film was “loosely based” on the popular Hasbro board game of the same name. With this news, the blogosphere exploded with incredulity over commercial cinema’s seeming inability to come up with original ideas for motion pictures. For example, Eric Eisenberg (2012) lamented: “More than just being about the quality of Battleship, a big part of the reason people were turned off of the movie was because the idea of a film based on a board game is ridiculous. I understand that Hasbro loved all of the money they made from the Transformers movies, but seriously, we don’t need a Hungry, Hungry Hippos adaptation.”

Although Battleship went on to receive a fairly positive critical reception (many reviewers expressed surprise over how “not bad” the film was),1 the film did poorly at the box office, making only $300 million on its $200 million investment (Guadiosi 2012). Then, in 2012, it was announced that several other board games would receive the big screen treatment, including Monopoly, Action Man, and yes, even Hungry Hungry Hippos (Child 2013). Critics like Eisenberg find it “ridiculous” that Hollywood could found a major blockbuster franchise on a board game adaptation, though it is not strictly accurate to call these films “adaptations” of board games. Hungry Hungry Hippos and Battleship are brands, names, and images, but they are not narratives or characters. And this seems to be precisely Eisenberg’s point: the problem with contemporary commercial cinema (epitomized by Hollywood) is that it is more concerned with making money than it is with telling a quality story or creating an indelible character.

As demonstrated by the strong negative reaction to Battleship, commercial cinema’s attachment to the linked processes of repetition, replication, sequelization, and rebooting—to films that appear in multiplicities—is generally understood in a negative light in the popular press. With the announcement of every new sequel or reboot appears a new think piece decrying the loss of creative innovation and the steady decay of the cinema. Indeed, in a think piece in Vulture, Claude Brodesser-Akner (2012) describes the critical reaction to Universal’s multimillion-dollar deal with Hasbro toys this way: “The reaction from many in the creative community was scorn, followed by resignation: Had it come to this? A latex rubber doll filled with gelled corn syrup was now what passed for intellectual property?” Brodesser-Akner concludes his piece with a sigh of relief, “With Candy Land finally out of its system, here’s hoping Universal will recover from its insulin shock soon and get back to making the meat-and-potatoes entertainment that made it great all those years ago.” There is a generalized sense that commercial cinema is losing its ability to come up with new ideas and, in its drive for profits, is finally scraping the bottom of the story property barrel.

But most of these think pieces confuse the need to make actionheavy, dialogue-light tent-pole films that do well internationally with the drive to make films out of known story properties, something now called “preawareness” (Epstein 2013). These are two different production strategies that just happen to work well together. For example, Hollywood’s dysfunctional love affair with blockbusters—movies that can potentially make or break a studio—is a relatively modern phenomenon. Throughout the 1960s, the major US studios lost money at the box office for several interrelated reasons, including the rising popularity and widespread availability of television, “white flight” to the suburbs, and the slow dissolution of the studio system form of production. To recoup losses, studios began investing their production money in fewer, very expensive “event” pictures. This new mode of production proved problematic when these pictures failed to recover their production costs at the box office. Famous flops like Cleopatra (1963, Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Star! (1968, Robert Wise), and Hello Dolly! (1969, Gene Kelly) put major studios such as Twentieth Century–Fox, Warner Bros., and United Artists on the brink of financial ruin. After a brief flirtation with making films for urban African American audiences, leading to the creation of the blaxploitation cycle of the 1970s, studios discovered that fans would go to see movies like Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg) and Star Wars (1977, George Lucas) over and over, thus ushering in the era of the modern blockbuster.

Ironically, it was the directors of these first blockbusters, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who recently made headlines when they predicted the “implosion” of the film industry: “There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm” (quoted in Child 2013). In these formulations, multiplicities (or at least big-budget tent-pole films, which are almost always part of a multiplicity) threaten not simply American cinema’s ability to be seen as art—but also its ability to exist. And so, as is often the case, history winds up repeating itself.

Although the US blockbuster did not emerge until the 1970s, the practices of basing films on pop-cultural ephemera like popular board games and duplicating familiar story properties and characters has been common in filmmaking since its origins. For example, in 1905 Thomas Edison released The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog (Edwin S. Porter), a film based on a popular souvenir postcard image. The film’s appeal was based on its ability to create a moving, breathing version of the popular postcard art featuring this humorously named family. According to Charles Musser, Edison put his mark on the film by adding a dinner scene in which the “Dam dog” attempts to steal the father’s seat: “On the eve of the nickelodeon era, this combination of novelty and familiarity was the formula for commercial success” (1991, 319). It is not a big leap from a successful film based on a souvenir postcard to a successful film based on a board game. The drive to exploit audience interests in comic strips, magic lantern shows, vaudeville, popular songs, and other films and then to replicate those successful formulas over and over until they ceased to make money is foundational to the origins and success of filmmaking worldwide. Indeed, in his study of cinema produced in the years 1902–1903, Tom Gunning found exactly that: “A large number of films in these two years are based on characters, stories, or situations that audiences would find familiar from other forms of popular entertainment, and often from several such sources in combination . . . Early films offered versions of images that circulated through popular culture, endowed with the novelty of motion and projection” (2009, 120).

In other words, the cinema has always been rooted in the idea of multiplicities—that is, in texts that consciously repeat and exploit images, narratives, or characters found in previous texts. Carolyn Jess-Cooke explains: “The culture of copying in early cinema was rooted in a collective endeavor both to capitalize on popular trends, themes and productions, and to articulate the ever-changing modern experience” (2009, 22). Self-cannibalizing cycles and sequels, and even the practice of making films out of toys and board games, are filmmaking strategies dating back to the industry’s first decade, not a symptom of contemporary culture’s inability to create anything new.

It isn’t just the cinema that relies on multiplicities to generate sure profits. As this anthology demonstrates, the television industry also relies on the replication and repetition of successful formulas as a central part of its production strategies. And although this process of creative stealing is central to capitalism itself, it is, as in the case of cinema, a generally denigrated process, as if the entry of capitalism somehow contradicts the possibility of art. Unoriginal art, in critical parlance, is an oxymoron. Indeed, a think piece on the blog Grantland, that, ironically, can be seen as a copy (or, at the very least, a spin-off) of the numerous similar essays by TV critics lamenting the end of the so-called golden age of television, tellingly attributes the
perceived contemporary creative decline of US television to an apparent uptick in multiplicities. Andy Greenwald laments: “Rather than innovating or acknowledging risk, ratings-obsessed programmers at even the most respected channels have fallen back into a disheartening pattern of pandering, copying, and outright cannibalism” (2013). Greenwald offers a quick history of the legitimization of television, a process that, he argues, mirrors the “creative awakening” of US cinema in the 1970s.

Since television is a younger medium than film, the field of television studies is currently grappling with the same conversations that film studies scholars were having in the 1970s, and only recently has television itself reached the stage where it is able to “legitimatize” itself and make claims for its status as art. But critics like Greenwald feel that the current golden age of television (which many critics date to the premiere of HBO’s The Sopranos in 1999), like the “golden age” of cinema in the 1970s, is in a state of decline due to its insistence on repetition.2 Greenwald calls the current state of television the “Zombie Age,” in reference to the seemingly mindless repetition found in contemporary television: “Yet the Zombie Age is marked by a persistent, undeniable decay. Corpses are picked over. Ideas, once devoured, are regurgitated and feasted on again” (2013). The use of this zombie metaphor, with its concomitant imagery of carrion and scavengers, is unequivocally negative. Of course, as Todd VanDerWerff notes, “The dirty little secret here is that essentially every decade except the 1960s has been proclaimed the ‘golden age of TV’ at one time or another” (2013). In other words, critics and historians of television, much like their counterparts in cinema studies, are constantly searching for that ideal moment when the art form they love was considered to be at its purest, to be reaching its richest potential. But what tarnishes each of these supposed golden ages? The presence of multiplicities.

In the 1950s, during the early days of television ownership, most American set owners were upscale and urban. They were what we now call “first adopters,” and they had the money to invest in a new and untried form of home entertainment. The industry was based in New York, and for a variety of reasons, including sponsors’ ownership of time blocks, live televised theater was one of its dominant forms. These teleplays featured adaptations of works by the nation’s most notable authors (Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, et al.). Television playwrights, especially Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky, were national figures. This early television programming was modernist in its insistence on the unique, isolated text, and hence was distinct from the forms of multiplicity— especially the situation comedy and the continuing dramatic series— that soon came to dominate programming.3 The world of television changed as new forms of financing evolved and more Americans acquired sets. Television subsequently became understood as a “lowbrow,” commercial mass medium that could be experienced by anyone who owned a television.

In Legitimating Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Studies (2012), Michael Newman and Elana Levine argue that beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, when the concept of “quality television” increased the possibilities of targeting programming to desirable (that is, affluent) audiences, television began to once again aspire to become a “highbrow” medium. Other technological changes, such as the practice of putting entire seasons of television on DVD, as well as the amount of serious writing (that is, other than reviews and recaps) that critics began to devote to their favorite shows, like The Sopranos, created the sense that US television was finally being appreciated as an art form, but only because television was being compared to already established art forms, particularly the novel and the film (Newman and Levine 2012, 6–10). According to Levine and Newman, “Legitimation always works by selection and exclusion; TV becomes respectable through the elevation of one concept of the medium at the expense of the other” (13). Indeed, HBO’s famous ad campaign from the 1990s, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO,” is a good example of how television can be legitimated as art only if it is distanced from the medium of television itself.

As Brenda Weber argues in relation to the current demonization of reality television, we are inherently suspicious of the popular: “Popularity speeds the decline of one’s claim to artistry, simultaneously heightening the venom of critique” (2014, 15). Furthermore, those gatekeepers of the world of media appreciation, who are paid to dispense their good taste—film and television critics, but also media scholars—reify and limit the sphere of what constitutes good taste. Therefore, it makes sense that most of the texts that fit under the broad umbrella of multiplicities, such as film sequels and cycles, television remakes and spin-offs, are most frequently discussed as “guilty pleasures,” when they are not dismissed outright as harbingers of the end times of cultural production. Newman adds: “Serial forms have historically been associated with children (e.g., comic books) and women (e.g., soaps). In other words, there is cultural distinction, a system of social hierarchy, at play” (qtd. in Bordwell and Thompson 2012, 17). Texts that appear in multiples are most frequently associated with simplistic tastes, and as a result, academia is slow to respond to and analyze these texts, despite their obvious critical value.

Texts that appear in multiplicities are understood to be worth “less than” those texts that stand alone, a model of art appreciation borrowed, to film studies’ and television studies’ detriment, from the world of fine art and the valorization of “aura.” Critical disdain for texts appearing in multiplicities is rooted in the neoromantic belief that art should somehow not be concerned with making money, that a television series that unabashedly courts the audience’s desires is somehow less artful, less complex, or less worthwhile than one that exists to thwart, complicate, or comment on those desires.4 Likewise, multiplicities are often viewed with suspicion because they refuse to end, denying the kind of closure necessary in, or at least desirable for, literary forms in which the material object of the book shapes forms of storytelling. Multiplicities insist that no texts have firm limits— they can be constantly told, retold, reconfigured, and spread across platforms, no matter how many times the monster is defeated or the world is saved. But this distrust of texts without end, these multiplicities, belies the fact that narratives themselves are never closed: “There is nothing intrinsically unimaginative about continuing a story from one text to another. Because narratives draw their basic materials from life, they can always go on, just as the world goes on. Endings are always, to an extent, arbitrary. Sequels exploit the affordance of narrative to continue” (qtd. in Bordwell and Thompson 2012,
13). Thus, the study of multiplicities highlights how, as viewers and critics, we simultaneously embrace and disavow what is most central to popular media production: repetition, continuation, and profit.

Film studies scholars have recently begun the necessary work of understanding how multiplicities work. Examples of significant work on multiplicities include Andrew Horton and Stuart Y. McDougal’s Play It Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes (1998), Jennifer Forrest and Leonard R. Koos’s Dead Ringers: The Remake in Theory and Practice (2002), Constantine Verevis’s Film Remakes (2006), Carolyn JessCooke’s Film Sequels: Theory and Practice from Hollywood to Bollywood (2009), Claire Perkins and Constantine Verevis’s Film Trilogies: New Critical Approaches (2011), Amanda Ann Klein’s American Film Cycles: Reframing Genres, Screening Social Problems, and Defining Subcultures (2011), and Thomas Leitch’s Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From “Gone with the Wind” to “The Passion of the Christ” (2007). These monographs and anthologies carve out spaces in film scholarship for serious considerations of sequels, remakes, trilogies, adaptations, and film cycles, categories that are often “absorbed into broader discussions of sequelization, repetition, and recycling” (Perkins and Verevis 2011, 1). While we agree with Verevis and Perkins that sequels, remakes, and trilogies, as well as reboots and cycles, are rich enough to warrant their own book-length studies, this collection seeks to bring these categories together under a single umbrella: multiplicities. We do this not to undo the work of these scholars, but rather because we see value in studying these kinds of texts together in order to make a case for the significance, ubiquity, and critical potential of cinema’s long history of investing in and creating multiplicities through reboots, remakes, and cycles.

The study of multiplicities has made its way into television studies, too. Jonathan Gray’s Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (2010) examines the role that media paratexts play in the way we understand film and television. Jonathan Kraszewski’s The New Entrepreneurs: An Institutional History of Television Anthology Writers (2010) historicizes adaptations of TV anthology dramas into books, plays, films, and television series. Heather Urbanski’s The Science Fiction Reboot: Canon, Innovation, and Fandom in Refashioned Franchises (2013) looks at television reboots from the perspective of fandom. Carlen Lavigne’s new anthology Remake Television: Reboot, Re-use, Recycle (2014) offers a variety of perspectives on remake themes in popular television series. Like these studies, Multiplicities offers analyses of series based not on their perceived “quality,” but on the way these series rely upon the repetition of familiar characters, plots, and entire series; ultimately, we argue that multiplicities allow the critic to put a particular television series in conversation with a larger body of narratives. Our section on television addresses the value of studying these television series as multiplicities rather than as discrete television genres, modes, or formats.

Content Overview

The appearance of sequels, remakes, reboots, spin-offs, and adaptations of lowbrow story properties (comics, television shows, toys, theme park rides) most commonly spark debates about the demise of film or television. Despite all the perceived (and real) faults of multiplicities, audiences love them. It is precisely this love, this fan devotion that prompts film and television studios to churn out copy after copy of the next “big thing,” and that justifies a critical study of the production, reception, and analysis of film and television not as separate disciplines, but together. Multiplicities analyzes popular media texts that appear in multiples: sequels, trilogies, adaptations, and cycles of films; television series that beget other television series (aka, spin-offs); reboots and remakes. We are interested in media texts that are recycled, duplicated, and repeated. We examine how such multiplicities come to exist and why they exist. And most importantly, we feel that the concept of multiplicities is a productive way to highlight the links among all forms of visual media. In light of the increasingly transmedial nature of contemporary screen cultures, it is time to find cohesive ways of discussing transgeneric groupings, and Multiplicities stands as an intervention into these discussions.

This collection investigates the relationship between audience, industry, and culture in relation to multiplicities, and reflects on the presence, meaning, and function of multiplicities in US and international cinema, television, and popular culture. The collection places a large emphasis on Hollywood and US television production, since the United States is the source of some of the most pervasive and commercially oriented examples of multiplicities; but the collection covers media production in global markets such as Italy, Japan, and Nigeria as well. It is our intention to promote the use of the umbrella term “multiplicities” in order to emphasize the fundamental relatedness of plural textual forms. Although the studies in this collection center on examples of media multiplicity, the term “multiplicities” is not yet in general use and, therefore, does not make an appearance in every chapter.

The book moves chronologically, beginning with Amanda Ann Klein’s consideration of the cultural and production history of one of the earliest examples of a cinematic cycle, the “kissing cycle” (1896–1906), in order to understand how it evolved from a voyeuristic spectacle of sexual intimacy to a negotiation of the new rules of heterosexual mixing in public. In addition to demonstrating how the kissing cycle managed several intertwined desires and anxieties—the desire to see sex acts filmed in close-up, the changing nature of public heterosocial socializing, the high stakes of objectification, and the (symbolic) policing of white male sexuality—it illustrates how film cycles have been present in US and international cinema from their origins. Next is Robert Rushing’s detailed historical analysis of the popular peplum genre—sword-and-scandal epics that have appeared in cycles in Italy, the United States, and beyond—over the last hundred years in both film and television. Rushing acknowledges that the genre as a whole can be analyzed as dealing with a group of concerns: about masculinity, about the concomitant virility of the nation, and about the “West and the rest.” But his contribution focuses on how each successive peplum cycle has maintained the continuity of the genre while innovating at the level of the cycle. His analysis reveals how each cycle conveys increasing anxiety about a stable meaning for the heterosexual male body in a world of bodies that are increasingly “other”—belonging to different races, different sexual orientations, different sexes.

R. Barton Palmer’s chapter considers Hollywood’s postwar semidocumentary cycle, including several true-story-style productions about Nazi espionage (The House on 92nd Street), urban criminality (He Walked by Night), and counterfeiting (Southside 1-1000). Palmer argues that when studied as a cycle concerned above all with stealth assaults on a barely aware US society, the films reveal how the rhetoric employed to persuade isolationist-minded Americans that increased military preparedness was called for was then deployed to rationalize and defend the power of the state. Steven Doles continues Palmer’s discussion of postwar cycles in the United States with his analysis of the reception of race-problem films from the 1940s, focusing specifically on Lost Boundaries (1949, Alfred L. Werker). He highlights a particular way of writing about these films that expresses an awareness of their membership within the cycle, or what he terms “cycle-consciousness.” Doles argues that this cycle-consciousness allowed writers in the black press to draw distinctions between the cycle and earlier representations of African Americans in The Birth of a Nation (1915, D. W. Griffith) and Gone with the Wind (1939, David O. Selznick), and to call attention to repeated narrative patterns.

Constantine Verevis’s chapter on “revenge of nature” films from the 1970s works as both a micro study of individual multiplicities and as a macro look at the way different forms of multiplicities come together and are understood by the industry, the press, and contemporary audiences. He considers the relationship among terms like “remake,” “sequel,” “series,” “cycle,” and “genre,” explaining how each category can be contested (or is contested) in or through this description. Verevis’s structural study is followed by Chelsey Crawford’s work on the cross-cultural nature of multiplicities, specifically, American remakes of Japanese horror films and the way that knowledge of a text works across nations and audiences. The popularity of these films, often even when the originals are available, demonstrates not Hollywood’s domination of the global market, but rather a capitalizing on cultural difference and otherness that nonetheless allows for cultural uniqueness.

Elizabeth Birmingham likewise bases her study in Japan, tracing the growth of one anime cycle that developed as a subset of the much-investigated “magical girl” genre. These conservative television shows were about convincing Japanese viewers that girls should be controlled and contained, for if the future is dangerous, it is dangerous not for young women, but because of them. These series foreground how popular-cultural products situate cultural unease in the sho¯ jo body, the bodies of girls occupying that space between childhood’s innocence and the feared power of adult female sexuality. Vincent Gaine examines cultural dis-ease, too, with his chapter on US conspiracy films from the 2000s. Gaine argues that films such as State of Play (2009, Kevin Macdonald), Rendition (2007, Gavin Hood), and Green Zone (2010, Paul Greengrass), when treated as a cycle, present a critical view of post-9/11 foreign and domestic policy, expressing concerns over the role of US governmental and corporate entities in the contemporary era of globalization. Gaine highlights how Hollywood films and their viewers participate in the circulation and recirculation of cultural discourses, particularly in the Internet age, when discourses disseminate faster and more widely than ever before.

Next, Murray Pomerance considers the case of the recasting of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter transmedia franchise, following Richard Harris’s unexpected death during production, tracing the practice to other franchises with a rotating cast of leads. Thus, Pomerance shows how this particular multiplatform multiplicity required audiences to both “already love and know” and “awkwardly refuse” the inhabitation of a continuing (and central) character. Noah Tsika continues Pomerance’s discussion of casting in multiplicities via his study of the direct-to-DVD releases produced in Nollywood, southern Nigeria’s flourishing and idiosyncratic video film industry. The chapter examines three interrelated phenomena: the relationship between Nollywood’s rapid, profit-minded pace of production and its self-conscious generation of discrete cycles; the emergence of a particular cycle, the anti-biopic; and the complex and contradictory definitions of race and class that Nollywood’s antibiopic cycle has generated.

Studies of multiplicities ground televisual analysis in pragmatics, that is, in how television is used by audiences, critics, and the industry. Drawing on rhetorical, media, and feminist theories, Sarah Kornfield’s chapter differentiates between television subgenres and television cycles. She situates four American prime-time broadcast programs—Bones (2005), Fringe (2008–2013), The Mentalist (2008–), and Castle (2009–)—in relation to both previous crime drama programming and contemporary cable and international programming, and analyzes the gendered representations in these popularly celebrated “gender reversed roles.” Analyzing these series as a cycle of crime dramas reveals how such programming works to silence feminist voices that call for gender equity by representing US culture as so progressive that it is “gender reversed,” and yet simultaneously asserting patriarchal gender norms by systematically favoring the male detectives. While Kornfield looks at how heterosexual TV detective partnerships are circulated across several broadcast networks, Claire Perkins examines how multiplicities function within a single premium cable brand: Showtime’s so-called bad mommy cycle of The Big C (2010–), Weeds (2005–2012), United States of Tara (2009–2011), and Nurse Jackie (2009–). Perkins argues that by linking the series in its advertising campaigns and other public discourses, Showtime foregrounds its network brand as a venue for scripted shows with subversive content. She considers the internal consistencies of this cycle by examining the series’ transposition of the sensibilities of cinematic “indie” culture, specifically the concerns of another cycle: the “smart” cycle of films visible from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.

Kathleen Williams brings the collection’s discussion of multiplicities from text to paratext as she analyzes fan-made recut trailers of popular films (uploaded to YouTube) and how these paratexts often serve as their own form of multiplicity. Williams outlines the numerous ways that recut trailers play with the temporality of a feature film’s promotion, as well as the ways that they may shift our understanding of what constitutes filmic multiplicities. Recut trailers allow users and audiences to revisit, rework, and augment their memory of a feature film, identifying latent story lines, shifting the genre of a film, or allowing a character from a film to exist in a newly imagined film. Her work is followed by Faye Woods’s examination of the defining drama of the late-2000s blossoming of British youth television, E4’s Skins (2007–2013), and MTV’s efforts to bring the brand to US television. The Skins brand thus functions as its own kind of multiplicity by offering a framework of form, aesthetics, and ideology within which each new cast cycle and its accompanying set of stories are constructed. While the US cycle of Skins imported key elements of the Skins brand of excess and “authenticity,” including key motifs, storytelling structures, and the use of youth voices in its creative process, the cancellation of Skins US after a single season can be viewed as the result of the incompatibility of the “gritty glamour” of the Skins brand and the US teen-television model it was originally created to oppose.

The next chapter in this section examines how multiplicities form not just around a single popular text but also around an entire cultural era, in this case, the 1980s. Kathleen Loock argues that contemporary remakes of beloved and iconic feature films and television series of the 1980s, such as The Karate Kid (1984/2010) and The A-Team (1983–1987/2010) are openly nostalgic for a decade that directly preceded the radical societal and technological transformations of the 1990s and 2000s. Unlike the majority of remakes, the films in this 1980s retro cycle rely on their source texts’ cult status and presence in the collective memory as their primary marketing hook.

Amy Borden focuses her chapter on another contemporary American film cycle, mumblecore, which, she contends, is marked by its engagement with masculinity in its relationship with bisexuality, femininity, and queer femininity; examples include Hump Day (2009, Lynn Shelton), Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007, Joe Swanberg), and Alexander the Last (2009, Joe Swanberg). Though they share certain aesthetic traits, Borden believes that films of the mumblecore cycle have been discussed as such in the context of their protagonists’ projects of masculine self-construction, which come in response to the cycle’s representations of female sexuality.

The final chapter examines the 2013 premieres of Bates Motel and Hannibal, two television series that fittingly demonstrate how multiplicities can link up film, television, and popular literature franchises. Andrew Scahill examines how these series function as both prequels and reboots, considering them to be an altogether different mode—an origin remake, or what he calls a “preboot.” Bates Motel engages in inverted repetition, in which familiar events are replayed with roles reversed as a way to rewrite or deconstruct assumptions about the original text. Hannibal engages in incomplete repetition, in which character types or events mimic familiar moments, but in a way that lacks the “trueness” of the original. He concludes that continued study of the preboot offers an opportunity to examine how narrative extension and reiteration may make new and dynamic demands upon audiences’ memory, recognition, and identification.

When read together as a collection, the studies in this book offer a broad picture of how cinema and television have used multiplicities to streamline the production process and capitalize on and exploit viewer interest in previously successful or sensational story properties. The authors discuss seriously forms of multiplicity that are rarely analyzed in those terms, including direct-to-DVD films made in Nigeria, cross-cultural Japanese horror remakes, fan-generated trailer mashups on YouTube, and 1970s animal revenge films. By studying these texts as multiplicities, that is, by the way they make meaning when read together, this anthology offers important perspectives not available when the texts are considered as singularities. A multiplicity approach allows the critic to create a snapshot of a text’s historical moment, because any text that becomes part of a multiplicity, that is, any text that is popular or resonant enough to engender a multiplicity, is a text that is doing important cultural work. By considering the particular bonds that tie texts to one another, the critic can understand more about the audiences for these texts and why they seek out versions of the same story (or character or subject) over and over again. Likewise, a critical turn to multiplicities in film and television (and the way those multiplicities function across time, nation, genre, and media) offers not simply a useful critical lens, but also a method of expanding our definition of which texts justify scholarly attention. The fact that multiplicities have remained a media studies bugaboo—a cause for populist celebration and elitist scorn—makes their study, heretofore neglected, all the more important. As Brenda Weber argues, when we deny certain popular texts the “engaged critical analysis that would better expose their ideological mandates . . . this contempt also plays into centuries-long debates about what constitutes legitimate art, and thus what justifies scholarly attention” (2014, 16). Multiplicities therefore functions as an intervention into this historically and critically marginalized aspect of media studies.

Reviews: 

“A strong and very necessary addition to the growing body of work that contends with filmic repetition and the commercial and cultural complexities of film and television production and reception across multimedia platforms. The range of essays is impressive.”
Carolyn Jess-Cooke, University of Glasgow, author of Film Sequels: Theory and Practice from Hollywood to Bollywood and coeditor of Second Takes: Critical Approaches to the Film Sequel

“This volume expands on Amanda Ann Klein’s American Film Cycles to open up an extremely fruitful approach to serial and related media phenomena. It will no doubt be adopted as a supplementary text for a wide range of courses in film and television studies.”
Linda C. Badley, Professor of English, Middle Tennessee State University, and author of Lars von Trier and many other works on film