Is Virgil’s Aeneid canon?
April 12, 2018 8:08 PM   Subscribe

At this point, two questions arise. Why do studios keep doing prequels if fans hate them? And why do fans hate them so much in the first place?

By placing itself in a position of temporal priority, the prequel is also claiming a kind of logical priority, above all when it claims to show the origin of important features of the narrative world — and every claim to stand at the origin is also a claim of ownership.

When people react vociferously to the latest “change” in a treasured fictional universe, we are tempted to respond that it is “just a show” or “just a movie”—but stories that have endured for more than a generation, continually inspiring new narratives and whole traditions of interpretation, are no longer “just stories.”

The problem with the current glut of prequels is not that they have chosen a flawed or illegitimate genre, but that they are so often telling the same old story at bottom: a story about how our cultural heritage belongs exclusively to the owners of capital and our modern myths exist only to increase shareholder value.

Adam Kotsko considers the prequel phenomenon through the lens of Star Trek, Star Wars, fandoms, Homer, the Bible and capitalism.

Kotsko, Professor of Humanities at Shimer College, is the author of a trilogy of books about pop culture: Awkwardness (on awkward humour), Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television, and Creepiness. He’s also published academic works on Žižek, redemption, Agamben and the Devil. List of his articles and interviews. Interesting and long-running personal blog. Previously, on not reading Hegel. Previouslier, on why we love sociopaths.
posted by chappell, ambrose (57 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
To address the titular question, the answer highlighted:

the question [of canon] is irrelevant outside of capitalism. Homer was “canon” for Virgil because he chose to write his epic as a continuation of Homer’s, and his decision placed no obligation on later epic poets who wanted to expand upon Homer’s stories.... Written under the patronage of Augustus,

This seems to immediately subvert itself: Augustus's support must have been very strong incentive indeed for most writers to accept the work. More generally, then, even in the absence of capitalism, coercion can easily determine whether or not something is canon. (Case in point: the Bible, which is the original example of canonical vs. non-canonical works.) Capitalism and copyright is merely one source of coercion, even if it's a very strong one.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:44 PM on April 12 [26 favorites]


His examples from classical literature are kind of weird.

As he does note, the Aeneid is famously a sequel, not a prequel. And I don't think one can so easily call it a prequel to Roman history, as that involves a genre-jump which, if not as distinct as it would be in our own day, at least requires separate consideration.

The Oedipus stories are the same writer treating a preexisting mythical background, so the dynamic is not really the same.

Wouldn't it have been a better example to use, say, Iphigenia in Aulis and Homer?

While I like to blame a lot on capitalism, I don't think it is entirely fair to pin "canon" on it completely. It's not like capitalism invented canonization itself or even the giving of cultural priority to certain versions of a story (Homer is not the only epic pre-Classical poetry dealing with events surrounding the fall of Troy, it's just the only that has come down to us meaningfully intact, and that's because of formal transmission mechanisms). But it's true that giving one powerful entity ability to determine the form of a story with actual legal sanction at least theoretically behind it does change the dynamic.

Finally, and JUST FOR THE FREAKING RECORD, fans have done this kind of analysis of intertextual relations for, like, decades now, thank you, Mr. Man of N+1 acting like he invented it. I know I spent some time years ago repeatedly explaining in very small words to people who professed themselves literary snobs that the foundation of the Western literary tradition is a bunch of texts retelling the same stories from different angles and/or reusing characters from prior texts, and thus that fanfic was not categorically literarily "illegitimate."
posted by praemunire at 8:49 PM on April 12 [41 favorites]


I really liked learning the detail that (I think this is the right form) Dante's terza rima—a-b-a, b-c-b, c-d-c...—was preferred in part because scribes and other authors couldn't insert stanzas in the middle of your poem without completely messing it up.
posted by little onion at 8:58 PM on April 12 [51 favorites]


so Dante was free from the medieval plague of fan edits.
posted by little onion at 9:06 PM on April 12 [23 favorites]


Alternatively, Dante invented DRM.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:14 PM on April 12 [63 favorites]


Why do studios keep doing prequels if fans hate them? And why do fans hate them so much in the first place?

I'm really grateful the internet is always there to tell me which things I hate. I don't know that I'd ever figure it out otherwise.
posted by one for the books at 9:17 PM on April 12 [9 favorites]


Why do studios keep doing prequels if fans hate them?

Because they are not for the fans; they are for general audiences who are daunted by the investment required in time and attention to plunge into a story that might account for dozens or hundreds of hours of screen time. To take the first example of a prequelized show that comes to mind: the most recent episode of Star Trek:Discovery is the 744th episode to date, sayeth Memory Alpha. I have been a greater or lesser fan of Star Trek for decades, and in that time I have seen, unless I am mistaken, every one of those 744.

Not only would I refuse to dive into that sea of sf tv if I were newly interested in it now, it would take a lot to get the non-hypothetical me to rewatch all of that.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:28 PM on April 12 [14 favorites]


Is Virgil’s Aeneid canon?


Fanfiction isn't canon.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:56 PM on April 12 [7 favorites]


pfft tell that to st. paul
posted by mwhybark at 10:07 PM on April 12 [60 favorites]


Here's the nut of his argument, which shows exactly why it's bogus:
The problem is that, in the thirteen years between the conclusion of the original trilogy and the release of the first prequel film, Star Wars had become part of our common cultural inheritance, and it felt like it belonged in particular to the most fervent fans who kept the fictional universe alive by continuing to imagine new stories within it.
First, Lucas & Co. produced dozens of officially authorized novels, comics, games, and other tie-ins during that time, which helped keep interest alive much more successfully than fanfic ever did. And second, the idea that "it belonged in particular to the most fervent fans"; as noted by ricochet biscuit above, the most fervent fans aren't the ones that generate billion-dollar grosses. They do tend to exercise influence out of proportion to their actual numbers on social media, as witness their brigading The Last Jedi on Rotten Tomatoes. TLJ still pulled in one and a third billion dollars, though.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:09 PM on April 12 [13 favorites]


Dante invented DRM

Well it wasn't digital except in the sense that he used fingers to write, so maybe ARM (analog rights management)?
posted by drinkyclown at 10:10 PM on April 12 [13 favorites]


I was working on an appropriate acronym using the D for ‘Dante’ but my shaky knowledge of Inferno would not allow me to work out what circle of Hell those who interjected fraudulent fanfic stanzas into existing epic Italian poems would be like maybe Sixth where Virgil argues that Blasphemy is violence against art or maybe the Eighth circle with other forms of Fraud and okay I have to lie down now
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:28 PM on April 12 [10 favorites]


It's fanfic, dude, they are all in the Seventh.
posted by praemunire at 11:45 PM on April 12 [6 favorites]


I thought they keep doing prequels because you don't have to figure out where the story is going, just how it got there.
posted by bongo_x at 12:04 AM on April 13 [7 favorites]


It seems that many "fans" demand that I hate prequels and reboots, and insist that an all-women Ghostbusters will ruin the original. That type of negative movie consuming existence is like trying to pigeonhole my music tastes to strictly metal at 40 years old. It drains all the fun out of pop culture. I'm glad Rogue One was made.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:10 AM on April 13 [10 favorites]


In these days of Guantanamo Bay and drone wars, I am a little impatient with the lazy conventional wisdom on TNG (reproduced by the author here) that calls Picard’s idealism arrogant and unrealistic, contrasted with all the gritty sadism and cynicism in Discovery, etc.

What part of The Inner Light was arrogant? We need Jean-Luc’s humanity more than ever. Just like we need The Doctor.
posted by johngoren at 2:49 AM on April 13 [26 favorites]


Speaking for myself, my natural reaction to a story is want to know what happens next, not to find out what happened before the story.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:35 AM on April 13 [15 favorites]


There is an issue with the structure of film that hasn't yet been solved (in this regard I mean).
It's that we expect a film to tell a significant story. They reach a conclusion.

So in Star Wars the story is of the Death Star and its destruction.
But then in the sequel, you need to up the stakes and up the victory.
Empire is a really interesting case whereby it's only a part of the story, I'm not sure that many other films have managed that. But the upshot is you need to have a bigger victory, so it's the emperor being destroyed. That doesn't leave you anywhere to go. So you have to go prequel or essentially do some kind of reboot. (Which is, ultimately what the force awakens is.)

I think with the advent of these big arc movies we'll have to start seeing some experimentation with the form.
More Empire, less Star Wars.

Marvel gets away with it to a degree because the individual films tell their own stories in the same world, but it's still a problem.

The Star Wars anthology movies should move further and further away from the action of the episode movies if at all possible. They're relatively safe from it, because in Star Wars the universe is big enough and the situation relatively static.

Star Trek has a different problem, in that technology is basically all-powerful nearing the end of Voyager.
They're holding off the singularity by the barest of plot excuses.
Though I think also TOS holds an oversize cultural footprint compared to its canonical one. (ie we still talk about redshirts, despite security wearing red for only 79 episodes vs wearing yellow for 526) so studios want to do stuff in TOS world . (Sorry, I get rambly when I'm tired... I'll stop)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:36 AM on April 13 [9 favorites]


Though I think also TOS holds an oversize cultural footprint compared to its canonical one. (ie we still talk about redshirts, despite security wearing red for only 79 episodes vs wearing yellow for 526)

What a weird way to think about Star Trek! There are only 526 episodes of Trek-like TV because people cared about TOS enough to make franchises happen.
posted by thelonius at 3:49 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


> "Why do studios keep doing prequels if fans hate them?"

A desire for money, a dearth of new ideas, and an utter lack of caring about the opinions of a relatively small number of fans regarding "canon", an issue which simply doesn't bother most people?

That would be my guess.
posted by kyrademon at 4:08 AM on April 13 [8 favorites]


Speaking for myself, my natural reaction to a story is want to know what happens next, not to find out what happened before the story.

Not a historian then? I'm frequently more interested in what happened before than after :)

(especially if the story has a good wrap up.)
posted by jb at 4:28 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


Although officially licensed literature must receive the imprimatur of the intellectual property holder, the real engine of the enterprise is not the warp drive or the Force but the unruly creative energies that build up a sense of community.

This is a bit weird, considering he directly refutes it later when he answers “capitalism.” While some fans have become novelists, it seems to me the majority of official tie-in novels are written by established authors, much the way that scripts for TV shows are written by professional scriptwriters, not the most intense fans of that show.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:30 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


Overwatch updates have, to date, been almost entirely prequels, and in fact it's explicitly stated that anything that happens in the game itself, i.e. during matches, is non-canonical (including the little interactions between characters before matches start, such as Reinhardt seeing Ana and learning she isn't dead or D.Va and Lucio meeting each other and asking for each other's autographs.)
posted by Scattercat at 4:42 AM on April 13 [2 favorites]


i generally think we’re suffering from a glut of in-universe stories, whether prequel or sequel. On the other hand , The Wide Sargasso Sea is one of my favorite novels and I kind of love Better Call Saul so I’m not exactly rigid in this belief.
posted by thivaia at 4:53 AM on April 13


Though I think also TOS holds an oversize cultural footprint compared to its canonical one. (ie we still talk about redshirts, despite security wearing red for only 79 episodes vs wearing yellow for 526)

Yeah, but those 79 are the only really canonical episodes. The rest are just glorified fan-fiction.
posted by octothorpe at 5:02 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


My first experience with bad prequels was the second Indiana Jones movie. But it’s not a new phenomenon. The Anne of Green Gables books were not written in chronological order. Not every tale has to be an Epin Addition to Canon. But it should make sense in context and be worth telling.
posted by rikschell at 5:03 AM on April 13


The use of Star Wars is a bit weird because the prequel material isn't limited to the Anakin trilogy, you also have two reasonably successful animated series, about a dozen licensed novels and comic series, and The Old Republic. On the Star Trek front, I'm more bothered by Discovery's excessive grimdark melodrama than I am by a set design that finally realizes the rich information that everyone on the Enterprise bridge was clearly talking about behind the blinking red lights. (And yes, TOS had the tablet computer as well.)

Visibility bias is also a factor in just about any writing about fandom. Like most internet cultures, fandom is likely dominated by Zipf's law where a handful of cranks take up most of the bandwidth. People who are not offended enough by prequels to protest them don't have a strong reason to yell about it online.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:04 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


The kind of fan this article refers to thinks of the story as though it were history — in the non-postmodern sense of “a series of actual events.” Changing the story or retconning anything is this seen as a betrayal because it’s seen as a lie. “But that’s not what really happened!”

But they’re stories. Human beings have always told and retold stories, adding prequels, sequels, stories of side characters, and just flat out telling different versions. We do this to highlight different themes, make different points, get at other truths the story can contain. Think of comic book superheroes. Think of stories about the gods in any culture. Think about the four canonical Gospels, for Christ’s sake. (Pun intended.)

Stories can be retold well or poorly, and retellings/additions/remixes aren’t beyond criticism by any means. But they shouldn’t be rejected just for the simple fact of being different than what came before or what you’re used to.
posted by snowmentality at 5:41 AM on April 13 [11 favorites]


Yeah, but those 79 are the only really canonical episodes. The rest are just glorified fan-fiction.

The first few seasons of TNG are also Great-Bird-canonical.
posted by Etrigan at 6:40 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Stories can be retold well or poorly, and retellings/additions/remixes aren’t beyond criticism by any means. But they shouldn’t be rejected just for the simple fact of being different than what came before or what you’re used to.

I think there is a useful distinction to make when it comes to modern narratives, though, which is that they generally tend to be presented in a visual fashion that presents what's seen on camera as an undisputed series of events; not a telling or retelling of a story but the story itself.

This means that when a contradiction comes up, it's not a Rashomon situation where different characters have different perspectives or memories - it's straight up paradoxical. So if a prequel's events are different from what came before, that really does pose an issue, in and of itself, for people following the events.
posted by LSK at 6:41 AM on April 13 [5 favorites]


The convergence of TV and cinema runs both ways, I think. The former is seeing bigger budgets and more ambition, while the later moves towards multi-episode sequences of long films, often made that way retrospectively. I think TV is better for it. I'm not so sure about film.
posted by pipeski at 6:42 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


to start: the implicit understanding here, which is a common one in lit theory, is that things that are considered 'canon' have been culturally constructed at being 'canon'

I don't think the author here thinks that capitalism has always dictated canon - he states explicitly that this was a comment made on his Facebook and he goes on to refute it by noting that the convention of the prequel has existed quite a few thousand years in advance of Adam Smith

his point, from what I can tell, is not with the prequel as a convention, it's with who has the authority to establish canon in our era - ie who we, as a society, see as having and thus give the power to control the narratives by which we compare our own lives:
When people react vociferously to the latest “change” in a treasured fictional universe, we are tempted to respond that it is “just a show” or “just a movie”—but stories that have endured for more than a generation, continually inspiring new narratives and whole traditions of interpretation, are no longer “just stories.” There is no reason that our modern myths could not play as generative a role for future culture and politics as the stories of the Greek gods or Hebrew patriarchs did for past generations. [...]The problem with the current glut of prequels is not that they have chosen a flawed or illegitimate genre, but that they are so often telling the same old story at bottom: a story about how our cultural heritage belongs exclusively to the owners of capital and our modern myths exist only to increase shareholder value
I think it's pretty clear to him that the stories of the past have not always belonged to the owners of capital who are burdened by shareholders; and I think it's just as clear to him that any story that is considered 'canon' in the West has had to pass through institutions of power (eg the Church, the landed, wealthy, educated Greek male caste, universities, etc). what's interesting to him here is that the fanbase can now call the shots regarding canon in spite of the stories the studio execs are claiming to be canonical - that groups of people are choosing to believe that, for ex, Enterprise doesn't exist as canon or, more recently, are really disappointed that The Hobbit was glopped up for a mainstream audience as the prequel to LOTR instead of the canonically established prequel, The Silmarillion. (which isn't to say that The Hobbit didn't literally take place before LOTR but rather that the links establishing continuity (like if the Necromancer was Sauron or not) are rejected by the community)

canonical as established by studio execs and shareholders and whatever is an assertion of authority by said capital owners that they are the ones who own the narrative, who can set the themes and the takeaways, who are allowed to dictate canon. but the fanbase, the ones writing fanfiction and so on, who were once less capable of the Roddenberrys (Roddenberries?) and the Lucases of the world of dictating what was and wasn't canon are now able to push back and discard whole pieces of fiction because they just don't want fucking Scott Bakula as a legendary Starfleet captain
posted by runt at 6:49 AM on April 13 [8 favorites]


Roddenberries?

expect an extra kitten in your pay envelope this month
posted by thelonius at 6:51 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


It comes down to intellectual property rights. By continuing to churn out new product for existing intellectual property, even if it sucks, the studios continue to both maintain their hold on that intellectual property, and remind people "Hey, this intellectual property exists. Go consume all the ancillary media."
posted by SansPoint at 6:52 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Not all fandoms? Harry Potter fandom was generally excited about Fantastic Beasts--what dampened the enthusiasm was casting, not that it was a prequel.

Sequels, otoh, there were a wide range of reactions to Cursed Child.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:22 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Canon itself is malleable. One of the brilliant things about the Jeremy Brett/David Burke Holmes and Watson is the way the characters are reinterpreted. Holmes is not the uber-rational thinking machine he imagines himself to be; he's quirky and mercurial. Watson is not a slow-thinking drone; he's smart and capable. Their portrayal in Conan Doyle's stories becomes then the way that Watson chose to portray himself and his friend, rather than their true selves. And this re-interpretation is true to Watson's character: self-effacing and supportive of Sherlock.
posted by SPrintF at 7:51 AM on April 13 [7 favorites]


On the Star Trek front, I'm more bothered by Discovery's excessive grimdark melodrama

Same here. It started out near the edge, then looked like it might be getting better as the writers found their way, then it tripped over itself and fell off the precipice. But you know, it is technically still Star Wars, so I'll probably keep watching anyway for a while more. It's tempting to think that making a Star Trek as good as they did in 1969 is some kind of lost art, but more likely it's just that 90% of everything is crap, and having a respected franchise to draw on doesn't improve the odds that much.

All of which seems like sufficient explanation for both the fans hating this kind of thing, and the studios doing it forever.
posted by sfenders at 8:16 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


>Dante invented DRM

Well it wasn't digital except in the sense that he used fingers to write, so maybe ARM (analog rights management)?


Surely: Dante Rights Management.
posted by cjelli at 8:54 AM on April 13


I think there is a useful distinction to make when it comes to modern narratives, though, which is that they generally tend to be presented in a visual fashion that presents what's seen on camera as an undisputed series of events; not a telling or retelling of a story but the story itself.

I think most modern audiences, in an era of reboot after reboot after reboot, are quite capable of considering works as a form of cinematic storytelling and not as documentary (with the argable exception of biopics, which are notoriously bad history but given credibility.) People are used to different cinematic interpretations of Batman, Spiderman, and Sherlock Holmes. And I'd also argue that box office numbers demonstrate that those interpretative changes are not objectionable to the audience overall.

But, I'm coming from Star Trek and comics where it's just better to pretend that the worst stories never really happened than to try to work with them as a feature of continuity. I just watched a TOS episode that concluded with Kirk pulling a sacred facsimile of the Preamble to the United States Constitution out of an ark to end a millenia-long conflict between race-coded Yangs (Yanks) and Comms (Communists). That's a plot device best left in the rubbish bin, along with Earth's twin planet, getting trapped in a quasar, and the milky way energy barrier.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:56 AM on April 13 [2 favorites]


I think TV is better for it. I'm not so sure about film.

In most ways you'd have to say TV is better, but it's also losing some of it's core value.
Most shows are like really long movies, and I often don't even want to commit to a movie.
There aren't a lot of shows you can sit down and watch without knowing a lot of background and having invested a lot of time in. I think that explains the popularity of a lot of HGTV and such, at least around our house.
posted by bongo_x at 10:01 AM on April 13


I think one major difference between the classical works and the modern works being discussed is that reworking of the classical works was done centuries or even millennia after the originals were written down while most modern works were created within living memory. Homer was mythical figure of the distant past even in Virgil's time while George Lucas still walks among us and, though some of the original actual creators have died, Marvel still exists with direct continuity to them.

I think this creates a much stronger conception of ownership and authority when the creators of the works in question are still alive and active, be they single humans or corporations, when it comes to the canon of their own works. "Canon" doesn't really have any meaning with regard to Homer since he was dead long before the question could be asked.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:18 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I know I spent some time years ago repeatedly explaining in very small words to people who professed themselves literary snobs that the foundation of the Western literary tradition is a bunch of texts retelling the same stories from different angles and/or reusing characters from prior texts, and thus that fanfic was not categorically literarily "illegitimate."

Yes, but the Aeneid is not about a thinly-veiled idealized furry Virgil self-insert having sex with all of the gods, who all agree he is cooler and stronger than they are.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:29 AM on April 13 [4 favorites]


Roddenberrys (Roddenberries?)

Roddens berry
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:34 AM on April 13 [7 favorites]


... my shaky knowledge of Inferno would not allow me to work out what circle of Hell those who interjected fraudulent fanfic stanzas into existing epic Italian poems would be (ricochet biscuit)

Didn't Dante himself suggest that such damned souls were all the way down at the very bottom of Hell, continually chewed up in the very mouth of three-headed Satan? If I recall correctly, the relevant lines of the Inferno were something like ...

"Three souls, on whom the Devil's heads do munch -
So hungry is the king of hell for sinful meat.
And Judas is the first course of his lunch:

His head is chewed, while outward hang his feet.
The second mouth of Satan bites a brute
Whose legs (it seems) to Satan's taste are sweet.

The soul thus writhes in pain, and yet is mute.
The third mouth of the Devil, though, is sick!
He vomits on a soul, just to refute

Its sin; for even Satan would not lick
The fanfic stanzas that this sinner did:
He did them in the form of - LIMERICK!

Such sin from every eyeball should be hid!
Thus Virgil said, and then we left that hell.
(And that's why you should vote #1 quidnunc kid)"
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:42 AM on April 13 [29 favorites]


but the fanbase, the ones writing fanfiction and so on, who were once less capable of the Roddenberrys (Roddenberries?) and the Lucases of the world of dictating what was and wasn't canon are now able to push back and discard whole pieces of fiction because they just don't want fucking Scott Bakula as a legendary Starfleet captain

LucasFilm and Paramount are exceptions. The current cinema craze for more and more sequels is something of a historic aberration. Many attempts at a franchise flop hard after two movies. The same is true of literature beyond the obvious trilogy. (Especially if we're talking about something where the author was nagged back into producing sequels after an extended hiatus.) Audiences have always voted "no" with their wallets.

One problem here is exactly what do we mean by "canon." The traditional literary canon consisted of those texts that humanities educators felt students needed to learn. Contemporary canon is driven by two different competing factors. On the production side, there's the attempt to wrangle multiple writers into a consistent style. On the the other side, there's a fandom conception of canon, which originally was a joke about the impossibility of trying to reconcile all of Arthur Conan Doyle's inconsistencies.

Big media franchises are very into "rebooting" their stories to make them "fresh" and "edgy." So I don't think that they're terribly concerned about maintaining strict continuity.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:49 AM on April 13


I plan on voting #1 quidnunc kid.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:03 AM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Contemporary canon is driven by two different competing factors. On the production side, there's the attempt to wrangle multiple writers into a consistent style. On the the other side, there's a fandom conception of canon, which originally was a joke about the impossibility of trying to reconcile all of Arthur Conan Doyle's inconsistencies.

I don't think this is true, at least not from the perspective of lit theory. contemporary lit theory, as I've learned it, doesn't care about individual writers or styles or who produces it - it's more about the discourse that surrounds the text, a measuring of how society has chosen to engage it, and the critical interpretation of these phenomena. we care less about what Tolkien intended and more that everyone has seen the movies, how the movies figure within the cultural zeitgeist of the time, the takeaways the audience / studios / etc have had, and how all that reflects different theories about class or gender or race and so on

the article believes that the power of determining canon within that framework should strive to omit the capitalist measuring (ie how well did this movie/book/etc sell?) from our definition of canon and makes the affirmative argument that it's the readers, the people who elevate the work, who get the final say

I mean, I don't agree with this because this, by default, completely shunts less-read non-white, non-Western writers, but that post-colonial, non-white-centered PoV is a different topic entirely and not worth engaging in until, well, we can place and contextualize the points of the above article first

(note: I am, of course, omitting the entirety of Harold Bloom's extremely distasteful white-centered, Western-oriented definition of 'canon' which, in effect, relegates critical power only to old, white, professorial tastemakers such as himself because fuck that shit and fuck him, his short stories sucked and were derivative as hell)
posted by runt at 11:24 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


there's a surprisingly rounded summary of the canon debate in lit theory over at yonder Wikipedia (which is not canonical but sure is helpful?)
posted by runt at 11:28 AM on April 13


GenderNullPointerException: Wasn't Voyager's Threshold essentially decanonized? Aside from the whole "evolving into a giant salamander" thing, the entire idea that one could actually reach Warp 10 is the sort of thing that literally breaks the series.

Which gives me a moment to rant a bit about how people talk about interplanetary transporter tech in Into Darkness breaks Trek. No, it doesn't. You'd still need ships to, you know, explore the unknown.
posted by SansPoint at 1:17 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


"So in Star Wars the story is of the Death Star and its destruction.
But then in the sequel, you need to up the stakes and up the victory.
Empire is a really interesting case whereby it's only a part of the story, I'm not sure that many other films have managed that. But the upshot is you need to have a bigger victory, so it's the emperor being destroyed. That doesn't leave you anywhere to go. So you have to go prequel or essentially do some kind of reboot. (Which is, ultimately what the force awakens is.)

I think with the advent of these big arc movies we'll have to start seeing some experimentation with the form.
More Empire, less Star Wars."

The sequels didn't need to keep magnifying the threat or superweapon, that's part of why the new trilogy seems so hamfisty. There are myriad places to go after Return of the Jedi. An inexplicable escalation of the same superweapon decades later is possibly the dumbest, laziest, and careless route to take even in a sequel-reboot.

Naw man, the Death Stars were just plot devices. Star Wars isn't the story of a space war, it's a legend following a family, the Skywalkers. Or, well, it was before Disney bought it and it's now just a thing to sell merchandise and tickets,.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:24 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


fans have done this kind of analysis of intertextual relations for, like, decades now, thank you, Mr. Man of N+1 acting like he invented it

I assure you, Adam is aware of that.

I'm really grateful the internet is always there to tell me which things I hate. I don't know that I'd ever figure it out otherwise.

"Fans" is a term that encompasses more people than just you, n'est-ce pas?
posted by kenko at 3:51 PM on April 13


what's interesting to him here is that the fanbase can now call the shots regarding canon in spite of the stories the studio execs are claiming to be canonical - that groups of people are choosing to believe that, for ex, Enterprise doesn't exist as canon or, more recently, are really disappointed that The Hobbit was glopped up for a mainstream audience as the prequel to LOTR instead of the canonically established prequel, The Silmarillion...

Emphasis added.

That still misses the point though -- it contrasts a 'neat' narrative in the past to a messy narrative in the present day. But the past is big, and the only reason it seems to be neat is because we have no record of most of the nuances.

Groups of people are choosing (currently) to not believe that Enterprise exists as canon, but comparing that to the reception of Virgil's Aenid is almost completely unfair. We don't know whether some Romans saw the Aenid as a blatant self-insert, or whether people rolled their eyes at it as their slaves read it to them after dinner. That record doesn't exist - not necessarily because it didn't happen or even because people didn't write letters about it (maybe they did!), but because almost all the written records from that era are gone.

The Star Wars prequels were loathed by most people over ten, and much of the fanbase chose to pretend they didn't exist for years. But, by now, it seems like most fans have made their peace with them -- in many cases by simply glossing over them, yes, but ignoring something isn't the same as writing it out of existence. And invoking the Hobbit doesn't even make sense in context -- the Jackson movies aren't the only attempt to adapt the book to film, so rejecting the film isn't a rejection of the Tolkien estate.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:43 PM on April 13


Yes, but the Aeneid is not about a thinly-veiled idealized furry Virgil self-insert having sex with all of the gods, who all agree he is cooler and stronger than they are.

Well, you gotta go to Dante for that.....a weekend adventure where his girlfriend's ghost sends Virgil to lead him through Hell so they can go see God on a date, and where one of the first things that happen is that Homer and Ovid vote him into the Great Poets club.
posted by thelonius at 6:28 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I assure you, Adam is aware of that.

And yet, not a hint of it to be seen here where he publishes his oh-so-clever idea.

This is not a huge deal in and of itself, of course, but let's not act like "dude comes along and snaps up credit for thinking of things women have already been saying for years" is not a cultural feature that probably antedates Homer.
posted by praemunire at 6:43 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Wasn't Voyager's Threshold essentially decanonized? Aside from the whole "evolving into a giant salamander" thing, the entire idea that one could actually reach Warp 10 is the sort of thing that literally breaks the series.

That's pretty easy to "No-Prize" away. (For those unfamiliar with the term, the No-Prize was something that Marvel Comics used to award fans for, among other things, noticing continuity errors and suggesting retconned explanations.) Sometime after the episode ends, they could have discovered that not only did they not really exceed Warp 10, but that the super-duper dilithium that the effect relied upon was highly unstable and so never mind. (The episode still has plenty of problems, and if you've been following our rewatch you'd know that we beanplate where no one has beanplated before.)

Trek in general has two main canon problems/questions. One is whether or not the animated series is canon; there are arguments for (the only episode featuring the TOS characters in which Uhura takes command of the ship; using the animated medium to feature more non-humanoids, including two Starfleet officers, Arex and M'Ress) and against (one episode, written by Larry Niven, was a light rewrite of one of Niven's Known Space stories that effectively retconned an unknown amount of KS continuity into Trek; another established the continued existence of a Costco-sized Spock clone.). The other could be stated as "Was Roddenberry Pope?" because of the late Great Bird of the Galaxy's occasional habit of declaring that episodes or movies that he didn't like didn't belong in the canon. Roddenberry never had the degree of control or ownership over the franchise that he created that George Lucas had over his, so it's kind of a moot question.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:20 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


[/snort]. Oh, right "Known Space" - -
I had read that as "effectively retconned an unknown amount of K/S continuity into Trek"

...which would certainly have been an interesting development for the animated series.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:13 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


I'm watching Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) this year, and I don't think very many fucks were given about serial continuity when the show was produced. (For that matter, I think the same is true of a lot of early Star Wars marketing fiction.) At times it's goofy and undeniably pulpy, filled with forth-wall breaking allegories, monologues, and denouements. "New worlds and new civilizations" my ass, half of the time the show presents blatant 1960 politics in tights and monochrome makeup. And some of those times, we get literal space Nazis and space gangsters.

And I love all of it, even the ridiculous revelation that an alien planet has been fighting the Korean and Vietnam war since the time of Christ, using the U.S. Constitution and flag as sacred relics. Polemic and comic SFF (Star Trek does both) is just as much a part of the tradition as "worldbuilding" SFF. But I don't think polemic and comic SFF can be understood in a strictly Watsonian framework.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 3:23 PM on April 14 [4 favorites]


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